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Epic conditions anticipated for first Wingfoil Pacific Coast Championships

by St. Francis Yacht Club 21 Mar 2023 20:51 GMT 14-16 April 2023
Wingfoil Pacific Coast Championships © St. Francis Yacht Club

Making the leap from kiting to wingfoiling these past few years has been a refreshing change and a new challenge for Erika Heineken.

The two-time world champion formula kiteboarder is excited to compete in the first Spring Wingding & Wingfoil Pacific Coast Championships, hosted by St. Francis Yacht Club, April 14-16, 2023. An engineer by day, Heineken took time off after her success on the international kiting circuit to start a family. The lure of this new fun sport, which combines elements of kiting with simplified gear, has gotten her back into the racing scene.

"I've competed course racing kites, but I've never competed course racing a wing, only racing slalom," Heineken said. "It's going to be a learning experience and it may be all new to me. I'm still at that amateur level where going upwind is challenging and I appreciate ebb tides to help me out," she added, laughing.

Spring Wingding is open to all wingfoil competitors and follows on the heels of the successful No Strings Attached wingfoil event hosted by StFYC in 2022, the first of its kind on the West Coast supporting this relatively new sport. Performed on hydrofoil boards with handheld wing-shaped sails, the sport has evolved rapidly, in large part because participants have adapted what they learned from kitefoiling to wingfoiling.

The 2023 Spring Wingding & Wingfoil Pacific Coast Championships builds on the success of St. Francis Yacht Club's 2022 No Strings Attached, the West Coast's first wingfoil regatta, drawing dozens of competitors for a weekend of fast, fun competition on San Francisco Bay.
Watch the recap video for a glimpse of the action.

"A lot of our course development and international organization is modeled after what kiting went through, which took 15 years. For wingfoiling, this timing has compressed to around four years," Geoff Headington, event chair, noted. "Wingfoils are a different animal from kites as they don't go as fast, but you can get them to race in very close proximity without the risk of tangling like kites and they are more maneuverable."

With a couple of seasons of casual Friday night racing to draw on, locals like Headington are learning what works best on the Bay for wingfoiling, noting that courses are evolving from slalom, which were fun, quick and close, enabling a lot of races to be sailed, to a concept called course slalom, which caters to more challenging courses while maintaining proximity and high speed.

"It's just easier to change direction on a wingfoil than on a kite so we can play with different courses whereas with kites it really boiled down to windward-leeward courses with a leeward gate," he said. "A course slalom racecourse has traditional sailing elements like an upwind start leg around a windward mark, but with slalom course elements in the latter part of the race where the fleet is a little spread out. We want to prioritize safety but also make it fast, fun and interesting for spectators on the beach."

The three-day event will feature a combination of course slalom, distance racing and freestyle competition. The distance race, known as the San Francisco Bay Challenge, includes a long windward-leeward course from Crissy Field to Berkeley and back. Windsurfers and kitesurfers are also invited to compete in the San Francisco Bay Challenge. On shore there will be competitors' meetings prior to racing and social events each evening.

One of the lead sponsors of the event is NJS Designs, a board designer and manufacturer owned by Nils Stolzlechner and based in Puerto Rico. Stolzlechner builds some of the most highly sought-after wingfoiling boards in the world, drawing on his long experience building the first twin tip boards for kiting, then kite surfboards followed by kite racing boards. He recalls his first encounter with wingfoiling a few years ago at Crissy Field as he watched a couple of guys with huge standup paddleboards trying to wingfoil.

"I thought it was a joke, and I thought, 'what else are they going to think up?'" Stolzlechner laughed. "Shortly thereafter I realized these guys, including Johnny Heineken, were paving the way and winging went from a sport that I thought was created for nonsense to one that we all believe will be in the Olympics within eight years."

A key component of the wingfoiling community are the groms—kids leading the charge in freestyle with fearlessness. Sixteen-year-old Morgan Headington is co-chairing Spring Wingding with his father and organizing the grom panel for one of the evening events where a moderator will check in with the kids about the state of the sport and where it's headed for them, for example discussing the appeal of freestyle versus course racing.

"Freestyle and course racing are two different things and up until recently I probably would have said I preferred freestyle, but going to a recent Olympic Development Program in Hawaii and seeing how course racing has progressed, they can be equally as fun and both have a lot of potential in the future," the young Headington noted.

Between now and Spring Wingding, he'll be on the water anytime it's windy.

"It should be high competition with the adults and the groms so any practice helps even if you're not focusing fully on racing," he said. "I'm going to gear my sessions towards actual racing instead of going up to the bridge and riding waves which I do easily. I'll haul upwind best I can and when I'm going down will try to race other people going downwind."

Competitors, register by March 31, 2023, to receive a discounted entry fee.

Notice of Race and Registration here

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