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Para Kiteboarding special feature: World Sailing CEO declares "big future" for Para Kiteboarding

by World Sailing 29 Jun 00:06 PDT
Frances Osorio Rivera © Giovanni Mitolo for World Sailing

World Sailing's first ever Para Kiteboarding Development Programme has concluded after four days of action on Lake Garda, Italy, where 11 coaches and athletes from seven countries were put through their paces as part of World Sailing's vision to increase the growth of Para Sailing globally.

Top athletes and coaches from Australia, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Netherlands and USA convened at the Univela Sailing Club in Campione del Garda from 23-26 June for on-water and classroom sessions to build out an international competition and growth framework for Para Kiteboarding.

Athletes in the spotlight

"It's been intense - we've been on the water from 7am, then back in the classroom, hammering out frameworks for what Para Kiteboarding could look like on a global, organised scale," explained Florida-based Frances Osorio Rivera, 34, a US Army veteran, below the left leg amputee, kiteboarding instructor and Cabrinha/Dakine sponsored athlete and sales representative.

Willem Hooft, the 32-year-old athlete representative from Netherlands, had a motorbike accident five years ago which left him in a wheelchair: "Despite regularly hearing that my plans to kiteboard were not realistic - too difficult to learn and the risks too big for someone in a wheelchair - I decided to go for it.

"I broke the height record for sit kiting last winter in Cape Town - going above 10 metres," added Hooft, who is now a motivational speaker and travels around the world as a professional kiteboarder in the international team Slingshot Kite and as a team rider for Wind Voyager.

Chris Ballois, 50, is a sailor since the age of 12, windsurfer and the Guinness World Record Holder for the fastest person on a kiteboard across a nautical mile - he has done all this one-handed, born with one full arm:

"It's been amazing being here all together to develop kiteboarding - looking at every aspect of this sport, to see how athletes with different support needs can compete at a high level. What is very clear is that the kiteboarding community wants this - a fully inclusive, truly international sport and this vision can definitely become a reality."

Kiteboarding future

David Graham, CEO of World Sailing is an avid kiteboarder and sailor - he took to the water with the athletes and coaches:

"The appeal of kiteboarding as a Para sport, with its fast action, adrenalin-fuelled tricks and easy adaptability, is clear.

"Now, World Sailing can visualise a real global opportunity to evolve this sport, growing it internationally.

"We're seeing athletes with wide-ranging physical needs, using equipment that is easily adapted for kiteboarders with prosthetics as well as seated athletes.

"It's clear from this programme and the discussions we've been having with athletes and coaches around inclusion, development, racing and safety that Para Kiteboarding has a strong foundation and a big future to develop.

"We're confident that we will see Para Kiteboarding at major dedicated global events like Foiling Week, which starts here in a couple of days."

Expansion on horizon

World Sailing selected the 11 participants from seven countries for its first Para Kiteboarding Development Programme through its Member National Associations and is looking to expand this number significantly in the future.

"This first Para Kiteboarding Development Programme has given us the opportunity to dig deep into organising the sport on a global level - as soon as we're finished here, we'll be planning clinics around the world, so athletes and coaches can take part easily," explained Massimo Dighe, Paralympic sailor and outgoing World Para Sailing Manager at World Sailing. Dighe joins the International Paralympic Committee as Deputy Director of World Para Sports on 1 July.

"It's definitely been special spending my last days at World Sailing here on Lake Garda where I did all my Paralympic Sailing training. And now, after creating World Sailing's Paralympic Development Programme in 2017, we have this evolution of our sport - it makes me very proud," added Dighe, who today leaves the shores of Lake Garda by train direct to the Bonn headquarters of the International Paralympic Committee.

Graham concluded: "In sailing, we're constantly searching, evolving and adapting. This is the nature of our sport, and the people in our sport because we're always dealing with the natural elements that dictate where we go and how fast we get there.

"We're also very lucky to have people in our sport around the world that have been willing to spend the time to make sailing accessible to all.

"On Lake Garda, we've had the personal support of Mirco Babini, President of the International Kiteboarding Association - like everyone, he's been keen to see this clinic run alongside the Formula Kite Grand Prix, with a view to one day this sport being part of it. And we've had tremendous support from the sports community on Lake Garda who have dedicated boats, resources and time to make this wonderful program happen.

"Sailing - and kiteboarding as seen here - is incredibly adaptive. By focusing on development we are well on our way to increasing worldwide Para Sailing participation to 45 nations on five continents by 2023."

LA28 - Paralympic Reinstatement

World Sailing is now just one week away from submitting its application to the International Paralympic Committee for sailing to be reinstated at the Paralympic Games in Los Angeles in 2028.

Since launching its #BacktheBid global campaign in October 2021, the global sailing and sports community has come together to publicly endorse, write letters of support and use social media to engage with followers to spread the message - see how you can help #BacktheBid here.

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