On the third day of the IKA Kiteboard Course Race World Championship, current title holders Johnny Heineken and sister Erika continued their domination. But as competition intensified, the siblings showed they were human after all with a few blips in otherwise flawless performances in a series of races in perfect 20kts winds and flat water.
Johnny Heineken (USA) withdrew from the first race of the day after tangling with Riccardo Leccese (ITA), while Erika Heineken (USA) was passed by Steph Bridge (GBR) in several races, only to snatch back victory by the finish line.
Yet the slight stumbles had little effect on the leader board with the pair retaining top spots in the five-day competition in Boao, Hainan, which is being organized and locally managed by Kite Tour Asia (KTA) and the resort of King Bay, the main sponsor.
With Johnny Heineken competing among the top riders – after the 120-stong fleet was graded into gold, silver and bronze medal groups after the first two days – the racing was hotly contested.
Florian Gruber (GER), who had been joint-leader with Heineken at the start of day three, grabbed a first after the American’s retirement and continued to snap at his heels in each of the following three races, snatching two seconds and a third place. He ended the day second in the overall standings.
Bryan Lake (USA) also enjoyed a strong showing with high placed finishes in the mixed conditions that alternated between squalls and sunshine, which prompted most of the men put up 9m and 10m kites to blast over the waters of King Bay.
But Olly Bridge’s (GBR) stellar racing in the gold fleet was among the more surprising performances. The 16-year-old European course racing champion notched up several fourth place finishes among the fastest men in the world, and stands in fourth place overall.
'I qualified for the gold fleet in eleventh position, so I was pretty pleased,' said Bridge. 'Today has been fully-powered, 9m weather. If the wind drops a little I might be able to reel in the leaders a bit. I’m strongest when it’s lighter.'
Bridge’s mother Steph again fought hard with Erika Heineken, but came off second best in each of the four women’s races. In the day’s third race Heineken, usually faultless, fell on the downwind leg to allow Bridge to pass at the mark. But she regained her position on the second lap to win.
In the final race Bridge was leading at the end of the first lap and even held on at the last rounding of the weather mark, but Heineken’s superior downwind speed told and Bridge was overhauled to give the American her eleventh straight win of the series.
Another sixteen-year-old, Elena Kalinina (RUS) held her position with a series of third place finishes hard on the heels of the two older and more experienced women.
'The wind is really strong for me,' said Kalinina. 'In such conditions I’m not really good because I don’t train in this weather. Erika Heineken is very fast, perhaps unbeatable in this wind. But at least I can learn something from the girls that are ahead of me.'
Nuria Goma (ESP) is also having her own battles, but was disappointed with her finishes which are slightly off the pace as she is just returning from an ankle injury that hampered her training.
'I’m not going so well,' she said. 'I broke my ankle ligaments so I was expecting to drop down. At the same time, all the girls have improved a lot and got much faster. The level of girls racing is so much better.'