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Wingfoil Racing World Cup: Abu Dhabi ready for world's best wingers

by Andy Rice 15 Mar 09:14 PDT 15-19 March 2023

Reigning World Champions Paula Novotná (CZE) and Mathis Ghio (FRA) are ready to begin their defence of the women's and men's titles at the 2023 AD ports group WingFoil World Cup Abu Dhabi.

Taking place from 15 to 19 March on Al Mirfa Beach, one of the best watersports venues in the United Arab Emirates, the first event of the 2023 Wingfoil Racing World Cup Series will be an important marker to gauge how equipment and techniques are progressing in this young and rapidly-developing sport.

In the women's competition, Novotná was the stand-out talent of the 2022 season and it's up to the likes of Orane Ceris (FRA) - title runner-up last year - to see if she can get closer to the world-beating performance of the Czech star. Unfortunately sharks got in the way of Ceris being able to train in New Caledonia, her idyllic home in the South Pacific.

"There were three shark attacks in three weeks," she said, "so I haven't done much winging since the end of last year. I've been skiing with my family, taking some time off after last year. But I hope I can get closer to Paula this season."

Another French rider, Kylie Belloeuvre (FRA), was also one of the fast-improving riders of the past season, taking third place at the final event of the 2022 circuit and keen to prove she can step up to a level for 2023. Belloeuvre is hard at work studying for her engineering degree, so has also been short of training time. But she has changed her equipment to be more racing and speed oriented for this season.

Belloeuvre is looking forward to the competition on Al Mirfa beach. "The wind can be quite light so it's going to be important to be able to stay on the foil through manoeuvres, and picking the right equipment. I have a 5-metre and 6-metre wing to choose from, but my 6-metre gives lots of power so that should be good for this week."

Beyond the strong French squad, there are some good talents from other nations. Italy's brightest female hope is Margherita Barro (ITA) who finished third overall on the 2022 circuit. Karolina Kluszczynska (POL) is competing at her first wingfoil racing event, having come through the Olympic windsurfing circuit. "I have no idea where I will fit in with fleet, so this week is about seeing where my level is and telling me where I need to improve," she said.

The men's circuit has so far been a face-off between the best of France and Italy. Mathis Ghio's (FRA) dominance of the final day of competition in Brazil last December was just enough to give the young Frenchman the overall world title ahead of the older and bigger rider from Italy, Francesco Cappuzzo (ITA). Another Italian to watch is Alessandro Tomasi (ITA) who was looking very fast towards the end of last season and will pose a threat to Ghio this year.

The French have a strong and keen squad, a number of whom have emerged out of the Olympic windsurfing circuit and decided that wingfoil racing is where their professional future lies. Bastien Escofet (FRA) is one of many strong French entries for Abu Dhabi. Local interest will focus on Pierre-Louis Courson (UAE) who represents the United Arab Emirates, while furthest travelled is Jeremiah McDonald (NZL) from New Zealand.

There's still an enormous diversity of equipment on the wingfoil racing circuit, with the top riders always learning new waterstart techniques to enable them to stand on smaller boards powered by ever-smaller foils. The smaller the equipment, the less hydro and aero resistance for better top-end speed - but all at the expense of more difficult take-off techniques.

Alan Fedit (GER) was racing for France last year but this year represents Germany. He is working with a 52-litre board which carries him across three different disciplines in wingfoiling.

"I'm moving between freestyling, waveriding and racing, and you can't take multiple board bags around the world with you on the plane, so my board works pretty well for me across all types of winging," said Fedit. "My board is quite square which is good for take-off but maybe later in the year I'll go to something longer and thinner which might be better for [reducing] aero drag."

Since the concluding event of 2022 in December at the idyllic Brazilian destination of Jericoacoara, the professional riders have been working closely with the wing and board designers to produce more efficient equipment for the coming season. Abu Dhabi will be the moment of truth to see who has made the best use of the brief off-season to improve their take-off speed and top-end speed.

Competition will take place across a range of course formats and will incorporate upwind and downwind starts. The first race takes place on Thursday 16 March.

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