After 41 races across three events in their first season running competition in the US, The Kite Foil League's top two competitors were still neck and neck for the title going into the final race of 2021. It seems the crew cracked a winning formula when it comes to delivering the appeal of intense racing action while still focusing on an 'all-are-welcome' spirit to further spread the warmth of kiting culture KFL co-founder, Willie McBride, has a background in Olympic class sailing and coached the USA's women's Skiff team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. KW associate editor, Kyle Cabano, caught up with him to see how they're encouraging more foil racers in the US scene
Words: Kyle Cabano
Photos: Emma Deardorff / Kite Foil League
The media output from your events was very impressive this year. Who is behind The Kite Foil League? The idea of the Kite Foil League was hatched back in May 2021 between myself and a small group of friends who have all grown up sailing, surfing and kiting together. Back in 2013 I was coaching a group of high school sailors and when they graduated the foil phenomenon was just getting started. A lot of that group - Riley Gibbs, Evan Heffernan, Quinn and Dane Wilson and others - got hooked on the speed of kite foiling and went down the rabbit hole. When kiting became a class for the 2024 Olympics we all sat down to talk about how to develop the skill level without losing the kiting culture that is so unique. The Kite Foil League was the result. Gear is now faster and safer than ever before, while there's also a solid second hand race gear market developing due to the high demand for Olympic gear. As more second hand race equipment becomes available people are getting hooked on the speed and then looking for a place to go test themselves against other fast riders. In short, everyone is hungry for more kite racing! How did things go at the start? The first event of the series took place in Sherman Island from 18 - 20 June. Being from Southern California, we know there is some serious localism at a lot of our surf beaches and we worried that the Sherman locals might not be pumped to see a hoard of foil kiters descending on their spot. The reality was exactly the opposite! Everyone was super pumped to have more kiters on the water and to get to check out this new aspect of the sport, with weird looking foils and massive, tubeless kites. This experience really shaped our mission. We realized that unlike surfing, where the best competition only has two riders in the water at a time, kiting only gets better the more kites you have in the air.
As such, our mission is to create a community around the KFL that will spread the love of kiting and the stoke of racing to get more people on the water.
The first three events that we ran were part of a series called the California Triple Crown, and we crowned our first Champion - Markus Edegran - at the Ledbetter Classic. After 41 races, he and Evan Heffernan went into the final race essentially tied - the winner would take home the crown. With three events under our belts now, we’ve been super busy regrouping, debriefing those events and looking to the future. We’ll definitely be launching a national title event or series before too long.
Who are the kite racers competing in your events? The community of riders at the Triple Crown were the highlight for us; from engineers to sales people, 16-years-old to 71, we pretty much had it all. Many of the top riders right now are naval architects or engineers who moonlight as kite foil engineers or board shapers. Will Cyr grew up sailing in Michigan and his engineering background is evident from the moment he rolls up in his kite-converted minivan. Will’s background in naval architecture makes it no surprise that he builds his own boards as well as many of the boards that others in the fleet are riding. Other board builders in the fleet include Nico Landaur and Ken Adgate who has built many of the boards you see coming out of the Bay area that look like fine art that you might want to hang on your wall. One trio of top riders - Kai Calder, Cody Stansky and Casey Brown have designed a new foil - the Indie foil - that is a freestyle foil designed with special wingtips to give it a groovy feeling on the water. Many other riders are software engineers, entrepreneurs, real estate developers, restaurant owners and more, who just enjoy getting out for a rip with friends. More and more though, the top riders are committing to the full-time pursuit of racing to get an edge on the fleet. With the first ever kite racing medals on tap at the 2024 Olympics in Paris, four time world champion, Daniela Moroz, is all in. After completing a few semesters of school at the University of Hawaii, she realized that a gold medal would require a full time campaign. She landed a gig with the Team USA SailGP team where she gets to train on the F50 Catamaran circuit and dove in headfirst to her kite training. Markus Edegran shares a similar path, living the van-life in search of the best wind for training on a daily basis. Xantos Villegas from Mexico hit all three Triple Crown events this summer, and rounded out the season in 4th overall. We had seven countries represented this summer and we hope to have more in the future, but we're really focused on growing the sport in our smaller communities where foil racing isn't quite as mainstream as in Europe.
How do the races differ from the Olympic racing format? When we first started brainstorming, a lot of our ideas focused on how to create more Olympic format racing here in the United States, but we pretty quickly realized that we were building something that we didn’t want to put into that box. While the Olympic format is really accelerating the growth of the sport, the rules there are all about restricting gear. We feel that right now the more kiters you have out there the better the competition will be, whether everyone is on the same gear or otherwise. Throughout the fleet we’ve seen some awesome battles. Several young riders started in the middle and worked their way up the leaderboard to nip at the heels of the top guys. We have the masters (over 40-years-old) fighting it out with the weekend warriors in the middle of the fleet. A big component of the action has been the local fleets showing up to participate and battle it out amongst themselves while learning from the top riders in the front. The reality is that there will always be a big divide between the guys who are kiting full time, five days a week, and the weekend warriors. At this point, we don’t think that restricting gear is going to change that. Instead, we hope that as the numbers grow we can continue to find fun groupings within the fleet to keep everyone engaged, having fun and learning from each other. What is the typical foil wing size range that the top riders are using in the races? The top riders are generally using much smaller and higher aspect foils than those used by recreational foilers - closer to 500cm2. When you’re doing 30-40 knots downwind, the high aspect foil stabilizes really well and smaller wings just help to give you that extra speed edge. What wind range allows for kite foil racing to take place and how much space is required for you to run your races? The starting wind range seems to be right around 6-8 knots, with most of the top guys able to make dry laps around the course on 21 metre kites in just six knots. That said, it’s definitely a game of attrition at the lower wind speeds and it requires a lot more motorboat support. We picked our venues for reliability of the breeze and we lucked out with 13-16 races at each event. The size of area needed is one of the biggest challenges that we found. A standard race course is between .7-.9nm, and finding venues with the right balance of high quality racing, near-shore spectating and reliable wind is not super easy. Who funds these events and do the riders have any prize incentive? This season the league was made possible through a collective of rider donations, volunteer support and sponsors chipping in to cover the costs. We had some awesome swag for the riders who made the podium, but no cash prizes this go-round. As we grow we’re working really hard to understand the best way to create value for sponsors and create a sustainable business model through sponsorship.
“The community of riders at the Triple Crown were the highlight for us; from engineers to sales people, 16 years old to 71, we pretty much had it all. Many of the top riders right now are naval architects or engineers who moonlight as kite foil engineers or board shapers.”
18-20 June: Delta Pro Sherman Island 16-18 July: Seabreeze Invitational Long Beach 20-22 August: Leadbetter Classic Santa Barbara
2021 FINAL PODIUM POSITIONS