Image credit:
Robert Hajduk / IKA media
Two kitefoilers float over the water.
Image credit:
Robert Hajduk / IKA media

From a trend sport to an Olympic discipline: a boost for the kitefoil scene

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The water sports world has been eagerly awaiting the 2024 Summer Olympics in Marseille! We spoke to Ariane Imbert, national coach of the French kitefoil team and coach at the French Sailing Federation. She reveals how the team is preparing for the Olympics, why kitefoiling could become the next hype and how the industry wants to make water sports more sustainable.

Floating over the water at crazy speed, almost as if you were flying? That's possible with kitefoiling. A kite propels a board equipped with hydrofoils so that it floats over the surface of the water at top speeds.

The discipline will even become an Olympic sport next year. Two new sailing disciplines will be added to the program at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris: windsurfing with IQFoil and the "form kite", also known as kitefoil.

Someone who is particularly well placed to assess the changes in the world of sailing? Ariane Imbert, who trains the French kitefoil team and works closely with the French Sailing Federation.

The insights at a glance:

  1. Coach and hopeful for the French national team
  2. Preparation for the home game
  3. A typical training day
  4. The foil, the new equipment for flying kiters
  5. The attempt at sustainable sailing
  6. Mixed kitesurfing teams
  7. A sport that inspires dreams
  8. Flora Artzner as a pioneer for change in the world of sailing
  9. The most important facts about the 2024 Olympics in Marseille

Coach and hopeful for the French national team

Ariane Imbert: "I come from Nice and grew up between the sea and the mountains. My first passion was snowboarding and I competed for several years. After obtaining a STAPS license (sciences et techniques des activités physiques et sportives/science and techniques of physical and sporting activities) while accompanying an educational project for children, I focused on coaching, skiing and training. After a few years away from the sea, I came to Hyères where I discovered kitesurfing. I then decided to get my professional kitesurfing license so that I could teach. I then set up a kitesurfing school and started teaching children. In 2012, the discipline developed into a top professional sport. The French Sailing Federation now works closely with my school."

"You learn faster through competitions."

Preparation for the home game

"In my training concept, the focus is on the athlete. He/she takes on the organization of the project and creates the desired environment. The coach is there to advise him/her and provides the right conditions for the learner to develop. Mindfulness is important to me, so I am responsible for strategies to develop and organize actions. I am there to encourage, push and motivate in difficult moments. I run the surf shoes according to an American management style, where everyone knows their tasks and only intervenes when there are problems. I have the role of a person who regulates and motivates, but also helps to develop new strategies depending on health, the shape of the athlete and the weather conditions. I boost my students in strong moments, but sometimes I also slow them down."

"My vision is not to decide everything, the athlete is at the center of the project."

A typical training day

"When sailing, it's very important to know the water and its characteristics. During training, we practise in different conditions. Navigation styles vary depending on wind strength and direction, water conditions, swell, waves and many other influencing factors. The conditions in Marseille are technically demanding, which is why we also use similar water areas in France and abroad for practicing. We try to develop strategic patterns. To do this, we follow the international competition calendar to complete different types of training nationally and internationally. We work with regatta coaches and take part in competitions. So we are well positioned for the Olympic Games and have optimized performance at all levels. Feeling good mentally is also important. The athletes shouldn't succumb to the pressure of this event, which will take place at home for the first time."

"When it comes to training routines, the better you know your field of action, the better you will perform in the competition."

The foil, the new equipment for flying kiters

"Equipment is very important in water sports. It is the key to performance. Kitefoil is a sport where the results depend heavily on the choice of equipment, the settings and the condition of the water surface. We have different types of boards and sails to adapt to the climatic conditions, the wind and the swell - that's essential. Foils will replace fins for the first time at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Unlike a boat, which floats according to the Archimedean principle, foil boards are advantageous for speed. Foil (water wing) and IQ foils are connected to the board via a kind of mast. It is actually comparable to an airplane flying through the water. It generates minimal air and water resistance and exerts very little pressure on the surface. This means you can ride in lighter winds as it slows you down less. The angle on the wind and the speed are also better. With the IQFoil, the same principle applies to the rear wing. The water flows in on the underside of the wings and accelerates on the upper side, creating an overpressure that carries upwards. At the rear, the tailplane has an inverted profile that carries downwards. The interplay of forces creates a feeling of flying and floating.

The kitefoil has one more sail that resembles a paraglider, which is connected to the harness. This kite generates traction that is opposed to the lift of the foil. This phenomenon of pull and counter-pull allows us to move forward and glide very quickly."

"You can't compete in a Formula 1 race with two horses, it doesn't work."

The attempt at sustainable sailing

"Environmentally, we are very committed, because if the sea is polluted by plastic or algae caused by climate change, we can't foil. Lauriane Nolot, who I'm training for the 2024 Olympics, once fell in the water because of a plastic bag. We work with Surfrider™ and Clean Ride™, collecting litter in the sea and on the beach during training. There are also areas where we need to improve, especially in terms of equipment and travel; unfortunately, top-class sport is not always compatible with ecology, and we are aware of that. We use a lot of material - sunscreen, boats, drones, cables and data waste ... Surplus equipment is therefore donated to young people on the French national team or to disadvantaged athletes. I take part in a program run by the Sooruz™ brand, which takes back suits to recycle them. We aim to live a local lifestyle, so we consume local organic and seasonal products and have a special program for certain athletes. For sailing training, we only use the sea and the wind, but I still need a motorboat, which is not really compatible with environmental protection. This is a global social problem for which there is no solution at the moment.

As far as competitions are concerned, we need to travel by air so that everyone can take part and the competition remains fair. Competitions must therefore take place all over the world. Electric boats could perhaps be used for training, although of course batteries also have disadvantages.

We are appealing to the association to act locally and find a balance between exhaustion and performance with the energy this consumes."

Mixed kitesurfing teams

"For mixed competitions: We had a lot of boys and one girl, it was pure chaos at the beginning. We designed a selection and recruitment cycle so that we now have more female athletes at a very high level. This density brings more people to our sport. In the French Sailing Federation, we have two female coaches in ten classes: Françoise Lecourtois, coach of the national team in the 49er (dinghy type), and myself. Unfortunately, sporting experience and success are often incompatible with family life. You can't compare yourself in that respect, because when you have enough experience, you're at the age to start a family, and sometimes that's not compatible. My philosophy: don't ask questions, you just have to do it."

"In my career, I've taken a wave out of passion and I'm riding it to the end. In life, you have to look forward."

A sport that inspires dreams

"At the Olympic Games, we expect good reactions from the public because it is a wonderful sport. The aesthetics and technique of this sport are amazing and the speed makes you dream. Especially when you set off, the proximity to the athletes is impressively beautiful. At the moment, there aren't many people in the world practicing this sport. It could become a hype because it's so much fun. On the other hand, the rules of the sport are complicated because you have to understand the wind."

Flora Artzner as a pioneer for change in the world of sailing

The relationship with the environment, the contact with the water, the feeling of freedom while gliding, the movement that clears the head and increases feelings of happiness are what make this sport so special. Kitesurfing and surfing can change the environment and society, and the best athletes are showing us how. This was also the core of Flora Artzner's speech at the Surf Summit 2023. Flora is a biodiversity engineer and marine environmental consultant as well as an elite athlete and proves that a conscious, inclusive and low-tech approach is possible. She points out the contradictions of high-performance sport. In her discipline, she mentions problems with the material of the boards, even if progress can be seen with the first boards made from recycled carbon. Competitions on the other side of the world and the lack of inclusivity are difficult for her to cope with. To overcome all these challenges, she organized the world's first eco-responsible foil competition in Hyères in 2021: La Roca Cup™. The next one will take place in April 2024. To promote environmental responsibility in the industry and avoid environmentally harmful practices in the broadest sense, the Eurosima™ and Surfrider™ Europe associations have signed a reference document. By signing these standards, they want to tackle the problems of chemical waste, microplastics and greenhouse gases together. Often, it is also non-profit organizations that are concerned about the consequences of industrial production (e.g. The microfiber consortium, Ellen Macarthur foundation, Sea shepherd).

The most important facts about the 2024 Olympics in Marseille

The most important facts about the 2024 Olympic Games: The RS:X board was recently replaced by a foil board called IQFoil, the Finn kiteboards by the Kite Foils. The mixed competitions have been reorganized to offer a women's and a men's competition. All sailing competitions, including IQKite and Kitefoil, will be held in the Marseille marina, where test races were already held in July 2023.

Kitesurfing is not just about mastering the technique; it's about overcoming fears and facing the challenges of the elements. This new, little-known discipline is a great development opportunity for outfitters specializing in sailing. Nevertheless, young flying sailors still have a long way to go to showcase the beautiful and aesthetic sport that requires strength, discipline, instinct and letting go.