For Barbara Kendall this weekend’s inaugural wingfoil national championships at Manly Sailing Club is an important addition to New Zealand’s sailing calendar and, she says, a first step to what could be inclusion in future Olympic Games.
The decorated Olympian is part of the group behind the regatta and says its genesis was inevitable given the sport’s unprecedented growth.
“Wingfoiling is probably the fastest-growing water recreation sport out there at the moment and it is evolving very fast around the world – from where it was when we started getting into it four years ago, it’s remarkable,” Kendall said.
The former windsurfer, who claimed Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals and has spent many years working with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since says she sees many similarities between the evolution of “winging” and windsurfing in the 1980s.
“While it has always been important to (Wingfoil NZ president) David Gunn and the rest of the group that we keep it social there are just so many people doing it now that it made sense to have a national champs,” Kendall said.
“When you look at establishing a class, you've got to make it really easy for people to turn up and want to race and just have fun.”
Close to 50 entries have already been confirmed and organisers are hoping for even more before the first race on Saturday.
Kendall’s daughter Aimee Bright, who took out the women’s title at the Australian nationals in New South Wales in February and finished fourth in the surf-freestyle competition at the GWA World Cup in Tauranga a month later, is expected to battle it out with the Bilger sisters Stella and Lucy.
Stella Bilger has just returned from San Francisco where she won the female category at the SailGP Inspire event sailing a Waszp.
Kiwi windfoiling star Josh Armit, fresh off impressive results at consecutive European events, is also entered along with former 470 Olympic sailor Paul Snow-Hansen and rising talent Hugo Wigglesworth.
Formalising the class in New Zealand is an important next step to ensuring more international exposure which will, in turn, help improve the quality of the Kiwi fleet, said Kendall.
Another is having representation at the Anoc World Beach Games for the first time this year.
“At the moment, no one really knows how well we’re doing. It's evolving really fast, and the equipment keeps changing," she said.
“If our performances at the GWA (Wingfoil World Tour) event is any indication, we are right up there but until you actually race on the European circuit, where most R and D (research and development) of equipment is happening, it’s hard to know how fast we’re going.”
Bright and Snow-Hansen will represent Oceania at the World Beach Games in Bali in August, against 38 other competitors from across the globe.
“Being at the World Beach Games is a stepping stone to the Olympics, and while it’s not a given that wingfoiling will get into the Games, as it is still maturing as a class, it would not surprise me if it does,” said Kendall, who manages the IOC’s Athletes Career programme in Oceania.
What is she hoping to see at Manly this weekend?
“We’ll have a good fleet with about five or six women, which is very encouraging,” she said.
And, of course, a lot of fun.
“The speed with which young people are picking up wingfoiling is phenomenal and it’s because it’s fast, and relatively cheap to get into.
“The learning curve is really steep, it’s addictive and fun.”
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