Inaugurated in 1987 to celebrate the 60th birthday of His Majesty the King of Thailand, the event has been held every year since during the first week of December. The Regatta began with a mixture of keelboats, catamarans, Lasers and even windsurfers, but more recently the Regatta has become a big boat event, attracting keelboats and ocean-going catamaran teams from around the globe. The Phuket Kings Cup is considered internationally as one of the top sailing events in the World and is Asiaâs largest regatta, so quite something for the KTA and kiteboarding to be invited into.
Being part of such a major regatta has been quite an experience for us all, be they riders, race team or supporters, but from top to bottom there has be a great welcome, fantastic support and a lot of keen interest from everyone we met. Kevin Whitcraft, President of the regatta committee summed it up in one of the events news items saying, ‘ISAF is promoting kiteboarding and it could be an Olympic demonstration event as soon as 2016 in Brazil. We thought it was important for the Phuket Kingâs Cup to be a leader and bring kiteboarding into this event
For the racing itself the pre-event plan was for the kiteboarders to join the fleet starts at one of the two course areas the regatta sets â the north island courses and the south island courses. For those of you that know Phuket or want to check out on Google Earth the kiters were racing out from Karon Beach, which put us with the south island start boat Saraph. So the plan was to start the kiteboarders as the last fleet in the sequence and for us then to run up to three back-to-back races on a shorter course while the larger boats set out on their courses around the islands.
Unfortunately due to the winds being on the light side and the regatta running on the off-shore side of Phuket the start boat had to be pushed further out to sea to find the wind than the original 2nm planned, putting it beyond a safe operating distance for the kiters and added to which day one saw no wind at the beach for kiters to even launch. Day two a different race plan was hatched as the wind had improved allowing the kiters to get on the water, so Saraph was moved back in from the fleet start line at 4nm shoreward for the kiters. However, the wind was to prove to be completely fickle and decided to die as the riders headed to the start, giving the rescue crews a very busy period to bring everyone back to the shore.
The wind pattern and forecasts were sticking to a morning only option for racing for everyone, so with this in mind and the kiters starting as the last fleet giving them less wind time it was decided to run a separate kite course and start boat for the rest of the regatta. Itâs no small task to suddenly find extra boats, markers and race team members in the middle of a regatta but the Kingâs Cup Race Director Simon James came through for us brilliantly and helped us to give kiteboarding its inaugural day of racing at the regatta on day three.
With the wind up to around 20kts in Karon Bay the riders at last had their chance to show all the other sailors what kiters can do and blasted around the courses, with some well overpowered from earlier light wind kite choices to put kiteboarding in a world class sailing regatta for the first time. Pro-rider Olivier Dansin from France took the two races of the day, with Asian champ Yo Narapichit Pudla battling him all the way for his second places. Philippines Ken Nacor and Turkeyâs Salih Alexander fought it out for third and fourth places, with Hong Kongâs Jay Chau having some great race action to take the fifth slot. Unfortunately the exhibitions fleetâs other pro-rider Blazej Ozog had to pull out after twisting an ankle that stayed locked into his foot strap after he got hit by a vicious gust during the first race.
That night though the kiters could finally exchange race stories with the best of them at yet another of the regattaâs lavish social bashes being hosted each night in top resorts around the area. Certainly they know how to live at these sailing regattaâs just check out the riderâs hotel we all had to put up with for the week. It may not have been a kite comp with big prizes or points a stake, but we were certainly looked after well.
Stubbornly though the wind kept its distance for the next two days, one of which was a reserve day for the regatta in any case, but thankfully the final day was to give us what we wanted and allow us to finish the week in style. With the wind strength again getting up to around 20kts the riders made their way from beach for the first race of the day and completed a full three before returning home. With a triangle course set the riders were tested on each wind direction and again put out some stylish racing with more battles at the top of the fleet between Yo, Olivier, Salih and Ken. The day also saw a number of the sailors joining us at Karon Beach and loving what they saw unfolding, with many of them seeing kite racing for the first time. Key moments mentioned by them where the riding skills as people tacked and gybed at the marks, the perfectly timed start run by Salih, Yo and Olivier to all hit the line together as class flag fell for race three, and the outright speed which at one point saw the riders pulling away from one of the safety Ribs when it was chasing them at 32kts.
At the end though the day belonged once again to Olivier Dansin, although Yo did take one race from him which pleased him no end. Also showing well and worth a mention was Britons Dave Barnes who as one of the fleets least experienced racers was to pull through into overall 5th position by the end. Li Peng from China also turned in three great races to come right back up the rankings after some harsh errors that cost him on the first day.
With the racing done and dusted all that then remained was the overall prize giving for the week and wow was that a different affair to anything us kiters have ever been to or the KTA has ever presided over itself. With a proper dress code and award receiving procedure demonstrated for each winner to follow a wonderfully fitting Royal Awards Ceremony took place with the Kings Royal Representative, awarding each trophy on behalf of His Majesty the King of Thailand. The regatta was then completed with another great beach front party and feed which was of course be followed by a goodly number of after parties to see everyone safely through to the wee hours as it should be.
So kiteboarding at a major sailing regatta a success? Well lessons were learned for sure and a different approach was already being discussed before the end of the week to make it all run more smoothly for the kiters and the regatta in the future, but it certainly proved what both the Kings Cup and the KTA had set out to do and that was to show that kite racing can operate as part of a multi-class sailing event. Certainly we had a great deal of interest and support throughout the week and for the riders it was a challenging and unique experience, which we will build on in 2013 if the Kings Cup Regatta is good enough to have us on-board again next year.
For now though a big thank you to the Kings Cup Organising Committee for giving kiteboarding the opportunity to be part of things this year. Special thanks to Simon James for pulling out all the stops to make racing possible for us in the conditions we had and to Duncan Worthington and his media team for getting everything we did well and truly noticed. From our team big thanks as well to our race officers Stephan Hertig and IKA class rep Phil Mandeau for putting it together on the water for the riders and to the safety team Chris, Willy and Neil , with Windy completing the picture as our event beach marshal making sure that we got back everyone we sent out.
Massive hats off also to all the riders who presented some great racing in very tough conditions and did kiteboarding proud at every level throughout the week. A final cheers also for the support from Kite Zone, Cabrinha and Maelstorm whose inputs helped in a big way to also make this a great event.