Please select your home edition
Hyde Sails 2022 One Design SALE LEADERBOARD

Get to know Kite Foil Racing and Australia's Brieana Whitehead

by Lisa Darmanin 11 Dec 2022 22:24 PST
Racing action at IKA World Championships © Robert Hajduk -

Kite Foil racing is one of the classes making its debut at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, and Townsville local Brieana Whitehead will be one of the athletes to watch in the exciting foiling discipline.

Whitehead, who started kiting just six years ago, has made her mark as one of the newest members of the Australian Sailing Team off the back of a very impressive 2022 international season. Where she placed sixth at the European Championships in October and backed it up with an impressive seventh place at the World Championships in Italy.

The 22-year-old started her sailing journey at Townsville Yacht Club and progressed through Lasers and 29ers before discovering her passion for kiting. On her introduction to the new side of the sport Whitehead shared, "I lived near the local kite beach and once I discovered that racing on the foil was a possibility, I was really determined to learn how to do it.

"I can't forget the first time I finally stopped crashing every 10 seconds and started to properly foil, just the feeling of flying over the water. Everything goes quiet and it's just you the wind and the waves."

The Queenslander started competing internationally in 2018 and impressed in 2019 with a bronze medal at the World Championships and a fourth at the World Beach Games.

For those watching ashore, it can be tricky to comprehend the elements at play, however, Whitehead confirms that it's just like racing a sailboat, except a lot faster as they foil above the water at speeds beyond 30 knots over a 12-minute race.

"There is a lot going on that's for sure," she laughed. "Once you have the foiling skills, the racing feels very similar to sailing, most of the tactics and strategy I learnt through racing dinghies and skiffs applies, but everything happens really quickly.

"The close racing gets pretty intense though; with so many kites, lines and people on foils all trying to get around the marks without tangling or crashing in the water."

One might be wondering just how they avoid or recover from entanglement. With the racing rules of sailing applying, Whitehead explained, "Everyone has pretty good respect for each other because usually it doesn't matter who is right or wrong, you both end up with a big mess of kite in the water.

"Sometimes it's easy to get out of a tangle, but often both kites wrap around each other and end up in the water. So, you're out for that race and however long it takes you to untangle your kite back on the beach or rig up a new one if you're lucky to have another size that fits the conditions."

It requires some time to get your head around the racing format. Unlike traditional sailing races there are progressive stages of knockout, and the further you proceed the more critical race wins become.

The top 10 competitors from fleet racing progress into the final round, with first and second in the standings fast-tracked to the Grand Final. The riders ranked third to eighth are split into two even Semi-Final groups, with the winner of each semi proceeding to the 4-person Final.

Both in the Semis and the Final, it's first to "three wins", with a point structure skewed to benefit those with a strong qualifying position. In the Semis, the highest-ranked rider needs one win to move through to the Final, the second-ranked rider needs two, and with third and fourth needing three.

The Grand Final mirrors this structure with the overall regatta leader given two "wins" ahead of the final whilst second is granted one "win", whereas the Semi-Final winners go in on a clean slate in the first to "three wins" battle.

Whitehead commented, "What makes the Final so exciting is that anyone in the top ten could win overall. Race wins mean everything - it's brutal but extremely exciting to watch, once you work out what's happening."

Formula Kite racing also has the element of equipment choice, with competitors allowed to register four different size kites to account for the different conditions, however they have just one foil setup for the duration of the regatta.

"We pick the kites on the day or for a particular race," Whitehead explained. "We can change kites between races, but have to get back to the beach to do this, so making the kite decision is really critical.

A lot of the preparation for the day goes into making this choice from the weather forecast alongside how quickly I know I can change the kite in the venue we are racing at."

Brieana trains alongside her brother Scott Whitehead and is looking forward to a big stint in the Southern Hemisphere with a stacked program, including both the Australian and New Zealand National Championships.

"My big focus for the summer is the format of the finals and being able to perform under the pressure and intensity that goes along with the new finals format."

Whitehead has her eyes firmly set on Paris 2024 and is looking forward to showcasing the sport to the Australian sailing fans and a wider audience in Marseille in just a few years.

"I'm really excited for the world to see just how exciting Kite Foil Racing is," said Whitehead.

"Hopefully it encourages people to get involved in water sports, being outside and enjoying the ocean, lake, or wherever they can experience and value the world we live in."

Related Articles

Thank God he didn't!
Back at Sandringham YC in 2014, I met a strapping young West Australian... Back at Sandringham Yacht Club, in December of 2014, I got to meet a strapping young West Australian lad. Incredibly personable and quite worldly already, especially considering his years, Matt Wearn was a delight to speak with. Posted on 27 Mar
On The Path: 49erFX
Meet the three Australian teams who are working together under a new coach In the first of our On The Path series, we go behind the scenes of our recent 49erFX squad camp in Melbourne. Posted on 26 Mar
Wearn finishes 3rd at ILCA European Championships
A difficult week of sailing in Andora, Italy Matt Wearn (AST) has finished best of the Australians competing at the ILCA European Championships in Andora, Italy, while Tokyo Olympian, Mara Stransky (ASS), has come out the top Australian in the ILCA 6 in what has been a difficult week of sailing. Posted on 18 Mar
Wearn remains on top at ILCA Europeans
Light airs with a big swell returned on Day 5 Light airs with a big swell returned on Day 5 of the ILCA European Championships in Andora, Italy, where two races were held in the ILCA 6 and ILCA 7 fleet on a day when an unprecedented protest was held ashore and Matt Wearn (AST) retained his lead. Posted on 17 Mar
Matt Wearn takes lead at ILCA Europeans
The best winds and most stable conditions so far Day 4 of the ILCA European Championships in Andora, Italy and Australian sailors came into their own in the best winds and most stable conditions to date, the ILCA 6 (Women's fleet) reeling off three races and the ILCA 7 (Men's) two Posted on 16 Mar
Australian Sailing Hall of Fame nominations open
Established in 2017 to recognise the greats of the sport Australian Sailing in collaboration with the Australian National Maritime Museum are excited to announce that nominations have now opened for the prestigious Australian Sailing Hall of Fame. Posted on 15 Mar
ILCA Europeans: Wearn and Stransky in form
Matt Wearn and Mara Stranksy are leading the Australian squad Tokyo Olympic gold medallist Matt Wearn and Tokyo Olympian, Mara Stranksy, are leading the Australian squad after Day 3 of the ILCA European Championships in Andora, Italy Posted on 15 Mar
Mara Stransky best in light air at ILCA Europeans
Conditions continued light and shifty in Andora, Italy Conditions continued light and shifty at the ILCA European Championships in Andora, Italy, where an attempt at a race in the ILCA 7 was abandoned and just one race in the ILCA 6 (Women's) completed, with Mara Stransky the best performed of the Australians Posted on 14 Mar
Matt Wearn wins opening race of ILCA Europeans
The reigning Olympic gold medallist starts well in Andora, Italy Australia's Matt Wearn, the reigning Olympic gold medallist in the ILCA 7 class, has won the opening race of the ILCA European Championships in the ILCA 7 (ex-Laser Men's) being held at Andora in Italy. Posted on 13 Mar
Australian ILCA sailors prepare for Europeans
Racing is to take place from Sunday in Andora on the Italian Riviera Sixteen months out from the Paris Olympic Games, the European cycle of Olympic classes events start with the ILCA European Championships in Andora on the Italian Riviera. Posted on 10 Mar
North Sails 2021 Innovation - FOOTERRS Sailing 2021 - FOOTERLloyd Stevenson - Equilibrium 728x90px BOTTOM