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2023 KiteFoil World Series Final in Zhuhai - Preview

by Andy Rice 29 Nov 2023 16:28 GMT 30 November - 3 December 2023
Hazy Wednesday afternoon for the practice race © IKA Media / Robert Hajduk

International riders have been getting ready for the climax of the KiteFoil World Series 2023 in Zhuhai China. Racing in the Lakewood Hills KiteFoil World Series China begins on Thursday and concludes this Sunday.

A renewal of rivalries

One of the fascinating rivalries of the Olympic kitefoiling scene is set to continue on the Pearl Sea on the warm waters of Zhuhai, just across the border from Macau and a short distance across the water from Hong Kong. The 2022 World Champion, Toni Vodisek of Slovenia, has just arrived from a few weeks of training on the east coast of Australia. He will be lining up against the 2023 World Champion, Max Maeder from Singapore, who pipped Vodisek to the world title in The Hague back in August.

This is Vodisek's first competitive outing since the Worlds, and he's here to check in on his progress and measure his speed and all-round performance against Maeder as well as a host of other world-class talent. Just last weekend Maeder lost out to Qibin Huang at the Formula Kite Asia & Oceania Championships in Shenzhen, a few hours along the coast.

Chinese have become world class

Huang's success is indicative of just how much stronger the Chinese have become in recent years, as Germany's Flo Gruber acknowledged this afternoon after the practice race was cancelled due to lack of wind. "I have been to China about seven times, the first time in 2013," said Gruber. "It's amazing how the sport has developed in that time. When we first came here there were just a few Asians on the water and very few Chinese, but now almost half the fleet is from China. It's crazy how this sport grows here.

"The Chinese have a lot of riders now and if you bring a lot into the game, a few will reach the top. They have been working really hard on their skills, they go out in any conditions, don't mind if they break equipment or if they crash. They just go out and train and that's why they are getting better."

Nolot will be the benchmark

Last week in Shenzhen the top female rider was Jingyue Chen but the Chinese rider knows she will have to lift her game again to meet the challenge of the newly arrived French competitor Lauriane Nolot. After a sensational season which culminated in victory at the Formula Kite World Championship, Nolot is keen to win the overall title in the KiteFoil World Series and take her share of the 50,000 euro prize money pot in Zhuhai.

"It's my first time in China and I must admit I was really scared about the food, but actually in our hotel you can have anything you want," Nolot said. "There is a big choice of Chinese and western food, but I am going to stay safe with my choices. I have been training a lot since the last events in Austria and Sardinia and the French team ran a big training camp, so I am feeling great and can't wait to get on the water."

Italian women

The Italian women's squad is also here ready for action, Sofia Tomasoni, Tiana Laporte and Maggie Pescetto are all keen to put recent training sessions back home into practice on Chinese waters. "I was in Hainan five years ago so this is my second time in China and it feels a lot different, a lot better this time," said Pescetto. "I've been here a few days and just two days ago there was nothing here but a beach, and suddenly there is a whole event site. Things happen quickly here."

With the beach close to the high-rise apartments on the other side of the main road, the unpredictable wind can create difficulties for the riders as they leave and return to the shore. Vodisek says he's going to being erring on the side of choosing his big kite for this week's competition. "I prefer to ride a bit overpowered, so my big kite will be the 'go-to' for this competition."

Crystal balling

Last week's event showed just how important it is to make the right kite selection at the right time, as the riders rushed ashore to change up or down in size with the variable wind. This week could present a similar conundrum, which is why Vodisek is keen to test his new skills. "The best thing is to predict the future," he grinned with a wink. "Which is why I have been visiting the woman with the crystal ball. She told me I will have a lot of painful moments, a lot of hard work, a lot of long nights - not from partying - but working hard because the coach is pushing me hard."

The Slovenian has a reputation for enjoying a good party but with just nine months to the Olympic debut for Vodisek and his friends on the kitefoiling circuit, there's a sense that the party animal is getting serious about what's at stake. This week's competition will be the last competitive outing for the kiteboarders and a crucial opportunity to gauge progress. "We have come to the other side of the world for this, so it's time to make some smart choices and work out what we need to work on and what we need to improve."

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