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Neil Pryde - a brief history and opinions on kites at the Olympics

Will kites fly at the Olympics? - Sail World talk to Neil Pryde about his career, his company and the future of kites at the Olympics ...

Full article: http://www.sail-world.com/index.cfm?nid=91802&go=103912

Kiwi born sailor Neil Pryde is the largest builder of windsurfers and kiteboards in the world and he has strong opinions on these two disciplines at Olympic level. The Neil Pryde RS:X is the windsurfer being sailed at Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships and the kiteboard, now ISAF recognised, is tipped as being a demonstration event in Brazil in 2016.
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‘Until 1991 we were in Hong Kong and we then moved to China. We were actually pretty big at that stage and in peak times in the 80’s we were making well over 300,000 windsurfing sails a year. ‘They were the real ‘go-go’ days of windsurfing; pretty simple sails and not high tech like they are today, but big numbers. That’s how we really got started in the windsurfing market, as a mass producer of cheap sails.
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‘We were originally just sails and then in the early 90s we were one of the very first producers of the carbon fibre rigs. The next thing was wet suits as we thought ‘everybody’s going windsurfing so they need wetsuits’. ‘We didn’t actually get into the windsurfing hulls until we bought the JP Australia brand in 1999, with Jason Polakow, the Australian windsurfer who was one of the big guns.
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‘ISAF were looking for bids for a new one design windsurfing class for the Olympics and we won selection with the RS:X. We are still there today and aiming to be there for Brazil 2016.
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‘Cabrinha is arguably the world market leader and we built about 25,000 kites a year.
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‘Windsurfing is shrinking but kiteboarding is definitely growing by probably five percent a year, but not everywhere in the world. It’s started to slow a bit in Europe because one of the major considerations of kiteboarding is beach space. ‘Kites need a lot of manoeuvring space. In terms of being able to go on the beaches in Holland or France, the popular beaches, it is becoming an issue and on some beaches kiteboarding is not allowed.

‘Kiteboarding is only just getting to point where they are seriously looking at competition type sailing. It has been very much a freestyle free ride, more a having fun type of sport, particularly emphasizing travel and life style.
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‘Olympic sailing is all about one design because the emphasis of Olympic sport is on the athlete not the equipment and I think kiteboarding has a way to go to get to a one design standard.

‘San Francisco is much more advanced in racing. We were quite involved with the St. Francis Yacht Club and in fact we sponsored the first events that they put on in kiteboarding, through our American company. They were probably the most successful events so far run. Even so, while they have good competition and it is spectacular to watch, I just don’t think that they are ready for Olympic status and I say that even with my Cabrinha hat on my head.
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‘But kiteboarding is still up in the air and right now in the RS:X class we are up and running, and probably have over 200 competitors at the ISAF Sailing World Championships' summed up Pryde.
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The largest regatta in Asia, the Phuket King's Cup, ran a demonstration kite boarding event last week, with 20 KiteBoard Tour of Asia sailors providing a strong fleet. While the keelboat fleet sailled on each of the six days of the event, the kiteboards were unable to sail on four of those days because as soon as wind speeds dropped below eight knots, the kites fell in the water. That meant on days when wind speeds averaged 10-12 knots, the kiteboarders were unable to start.

In practical terms, kiteboard racing using the existing kite technology, plainly will not fly across much of Europe and Asia.

Going forward the push to bring kiteboarding in the Olympic playing field will need either new kites or winder venues.

http://www.sail-world.com/index.cfm?nid=91802&go=103912

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