It was a record entry for the Kings Cup Regatta in its 25th Anniversary year with more than 120 craft taking part and amongst them for the first time ever was kiteboarding giving a new edge to a week of multiclass racing in Phuket Thailand. Although the riders were racing as much under their country as much as they were their brand it was still a strong showing by Cabrinha in the 18 rider exhibition kite fleet.
Inaugurated in 1987 to celebrate the 60th birthday of His Majesty the King of Thailand, the event has been held every year since during the first week of December. The Regatta began with a mixture of keelboats, catamarans, Lasers and even windsurfers, but more recently the Regatta has become a big boat event, attracting keelboats and ocean-going catamaran teams from around the globe. The Phuket Kings Cup is considered internationally as one of the top sailing events in the World and is Asia’s largest regatta, so quite something for the KTA and kiteboarding to be invited into.
The Kings Cup Regatta takes place on the offshore side of Phuket, good for the boats as this gives them a sheltered anchorage at nights but tricky of course for the kiters when it comes to leaving the beach. In the end race days wise, two days gave us the wind to go and two days not, but great action when things did slot into place, though challenging for the riders for sure.
With the wind up to around 20kts in Karon Bay, the area the kiters were located for the regatta, the riders at last had their chance on day three to show all the other sailors what kiters can do and blasted around the courses, with some well overpowered from earlier light wind kite choices to put kiteboarding in a world class sailing regatta for the first time. Pro-rider Olivier Dansin from France took the two races of the day, with Asian champ Yo Narapichit Pudla battling him all the way for his second places. Cabrinha riders Ken Nacor from the Philippines and Turkey’s Salih Alexander fought it out for third slot with Hong Kong’s Jay Chau having some great race action to take the fifth place in the end. Unfortunately the exhibitions fleet’s other pro-rider Blazej Ozog had to pull out after twisting an ankle that stayed locked into his foot strap after he got hit by a vicious gust during the first race.
Stubbornly though the wind kept its distance for the next two days, one of which was a reserve day for the regatta in any case, but thankfully the final day was to give us what we wanted and allow us to finish the week in style. With the wind strength again getting up to around 20kts the riders made their way from beach for the first race of the day. With a triangle course set the riders put out some stylish racing with more battles at the top of the fleet between Yo, Olivier, Salih and Ken. The day also saw a number of the sailors joining us at Karon Beach and loving what they saw unfolding, with many of them seeing kite racing for the first time. Key moments mentioned by them where the perfectly timed start run by Salih, Yo and Olivier to all hit the line together as class flag fell for race three, and the outright speed which at one point saw the riders pulling away from one of the safety Ribs when it was chasing them at 32kts.
At the end though the day belonged once again to Olivier Dansin, though Cabrinha riders were in the thick of it throughout seeing them take overall 3rd and 4th positions for the regatta – Salih Alexander and Ken Nacor in that order. Li Peng from China also on Cabrinha turned in three great races to come right back up the rankings to finish overall 6th after some harsh errors that cost him on the first day.
So kiteboarding at a major sailing regatta a success? Well lessons were learned for sure and a different approach was already being discussed for 2012, so looks like kite racing will be back. For now though this year has shown what both the Kings Cup and the KTA had set out to do and that was to prove that kite racing can operate as part of a multi-class sailing event.