A more than successful event for Koen Schepers and Evan Kruger. Both riders performed very well in the Dutch hydro foil competition and took a trip to the Hydrofoil Pro tour in Montepellier France, here’s their experience:
Evan: “It took some preparation: some months of training, insurance policies, registration fee, medical check, helmet + floatation vest and dodging exploding truck tires in a 12hr car drive to France. A refreshing thunderstorm welcomed us at the beach of Montpellier. We’re finally here: the Hydrofoil Pro Tour.
Upon arrival, no riders on the beach and the event area still under construction we decided to prepare our campsite for the weekend.”
Koen says: “It’s 4 years ago that I’ve last visited Languedoc in the south of France for holidays, friendly people and beautiful surroundings sure, but kiting, not really. Didn’t have any wind for weeks, eager to get a sesh in I put a 13m Fury up on 50m lines, cruised downwind for a bit and that was it.
Back then I couldn’t have guessed going back to those same beaches to take part in the Hydrofoil Protour. This time however, I was equipped with state of the art material from the same sponsor I had back then: Peter Lynn Aero kites, kites with which I had the pleasure and honour of testing and improver over the past couple years.”
Friday: Race Day 1
Nerves, hustle and bustle, chaos, heat and exhaustion. Just some words to summarize the day.
“We started with a medical inspection” Koen said. “If I could do 25 squats. That’s what the medical examiner asked me. Early on the first race day, apparently in France it’s custom to ask each participant in an sporting event for a medical clearing so the organisation had arranged for a physician to check those participants that didn’t have a clearing. Good thing I’m a sporting instructor and in good health, but they didn’t have to ask me to those same squats at the end of the day, my word, what a challenge to do 4 × 20km races on one day! In the evening my legs were on fire and my back was hurting, hot shower, painkillers, tigerbalm, lots of water and off to bed early!”
Evan: “A fleet of 60 foil racers is enormously impressive to navigate. I started at the end of the pack which gave an impressive image of 60 kiters crossing the starting line. there were more than enough slower riders so the overtaking could begin. And what kind of catching up, the upwind buoy was nowhere in sight, so just follow the fleet until there was something on the horizon while trying to keep clear of all the others around you.”
That first buoy we saw was the one we had to round on the downwind leg. Although, downwind was more half wind so instead of bearing off deep downwind what you normally do at 30kn speed with not that much leg pressure we now had to stay fully focused on a more half wind direction trying not to speed out of control while still keeping enough control to overtake the others while your legs were still burning from the longest upwinder in a Protour race ever. Finally there was the "halfwind" buoy, the real downwind could begin where the Aero did outperform every other kite around me.
Wind was increasing, the second round I was even overpowered with the 17m. Made some mistakes and crashed; ended up racing against a Frenchman downwind who stayed just a few meters ahead of me.
Overall, despite the backaches, crashes and some silly mistakes a very neat 33th place for Koen and 31st for myself, nice to compete in the middle, three more days to go!
Saturday: Race day 2
Cloudy, early on, light weather and rain.
For a long time it seemed to be a windless day because the thermal wind did not have a chance to build with all these clouds. Nevertheless, it started to blow and the starting process was started immediately, even though it was still blowing around 4-6kn, so everyone was preparing for a swim.
As if the race director knew it, the wind at the 5-minute signal went up to 6-10kn which kept the first two races. I was forced to lengthen the lines with 4m to 18m to avoid looping after a bad tack.
Was this time a bit better at the start even though the light wind costed me some upwind VMG compared to the others, I quickly fell to the bottom of the field, stuck in the pack which still had the idea that we had to go all the way upwind to the African coast as the day before tacking way to late to hit the layline on the upwind mark. Also the thing happened what I was afraid of: we had to cross the front riders of the fleet who had already rounded the mark an came downwind at full speed and had the right of way. Fortunately, there was a hole just in time to punch through the field.
In other races I was not so fortunate and had to dodge other riders to prevent to get tangled. Many riders struggled around the chaos of the buoys, getting tangled and needed to be rescued.
Meanwhile, the wind was picked up and the sky in the west became increasingly darker. Certainly on the 18m long lines, the gusts sometimes became too much to remain in your track and had to bear of off and put the kite high to kill the power.
Towards the last gybe, I was overtake a group of riders, unfortunately, I stepped next to my strap after a successful gybe and crashed full speed, letting a top 30 place slip away when the whole group overtook me again.
Sunday: Race Day 3
Koen starts: “The third raceday was real hard for me, an old backinjury was plaguing me, I worried too much about performing to really enjoy myself.”
Evan : “Today the fleet is divided into two, 1 to 31 became the gold fleet and 32 to 61 silver. They plan to sail two races per fleet back to back and then the other fleet two races.
Rui Miguel Pombero from Portugal was not paying attention during the skipper's meeting the second day and only raced two laps finishing 3rd. He was honest enough to admit his mistake, leaving him just a few places underneath me instead of above so I moved up to the Gold Fleet!
The wind picked up good enough to race the 3rd and 4th races well powered on the 14m. After some rest I lost all stress and everything clicked: good start, keeping up with the rest, no missed laylines, perfect manoeuvres. With the entire fleet clean over the finish, got a 25th place completely on my own strength! The tension was already gone with making it to the gold fleet, now with a 25fth place between the best riders on this planet nothing could destroy my big smile anymore! I still got tears of joy only thinking about the fact that I pulled off a perfect race amongst the gold fleet!
At the start of the fourth race, I had to dodge Axel Mazzella who crashed full force into Benni Boelli's kite just 50m in front of me forcing me downwind falling to the back of the field.
The rest of the race went well again and still managed to catch a few riders on the downwind. With the loss of a few riders who tangled at the upwind mark of the second round, I managed to finish this race 23rd. Also good to see the top riders finishing on the beginning of my last downwind leg, they’re not that far ahead anymore!
Also really refreshing to start between the top 31 riders that all know exactly what they are doing without the crashing riders with strange tactical decisions of the lower part of the field, this really boosts your own performance!”
Monday: Race day 4
Low wind, few races and a podium!
Big chance it would be a short day, was the message at the skipper's meeting. Latest possible start could take place no later than 15:30h in order not to get in trouble with the award ceremony at 17:00h. Predictions were 8 knots at most and south-east wind instead of the thermal south-west. Long it seemed to be a total windless day, but short after 14 o'clock a 6-8kn breeze came in. Enough to race two gold and one silver race.
Koen: “First start, good timing, one of the first to tack, unfortunately another rider fell short right in front of me, shit. 7/8knots so no real chance of a quick relaunch so I end up in rear of the pack.
Hmm, no way I’m gonna let this happen again, not after the 3 days before. So seconds start, I ride calculated and avoid risks, with a certain attitude I force other riders to give me right of way (this is allowed and correct in racing regulations) and I’m happy to have my 17m Aero pull me through this last race. I must have passed some 15 other riders and I passed the finish line in 5th position.”
Evan: “At the start of the first race, I was able to stay just upwind of the tangling kites at the pin. Miraculously, I even managed to stay in front of few riders and even overtook some on the downwind legs, despite the fact that the 17m on long lines was a little on the small side. Just big enough that could tack without needing to loop the kite, unfortunately I missed the layline to the upwind mark, losing costly time with some extra tacks.
The second race I had a good start again. Unfortunately, fell in the water at the first tack needed to loop to come back up on the foil sadly leaving all the other riders in front of me. The wind was still around 6-8kn on average and the battle to overtake some riders went well, the downwind keeps puzzling them: I could either go deeper or a few knots faster on the same course, making them shout in anger as I overtook them, although some more power in the kite had been nice.
The biggest surprise was that we both were on the masters podium as 2 & 3. After hearing my name as 3rd, Koen had to run to the car to get my board for the picture. Koen was already on his way when his name was also called out, forcing him to run back to the car and sprint to the podium with two boards!”
We have learned where to improve ourselves and the kites, something we would have never learned when only racing locally. Up to the second European Hydrofoil Pro Tour stop at Fehmarn at the end of August with the full Dutch Peter Lynn racing crew!
Koen finalizes : “With all that I’ve experienced and learned, the rush of securing a place on the podium plus the drive to get back to my family made the drive fly by. 12hrs later I sat at breakfast with my wife and kids. My oldest boy Sam is already asking me when we’re going to build him a board. An hour later my workday started, which was a bit unreal after flying a meter above the water for 4 days!
Thanks to my proud family and friends for their mental support, and a huge thanks to Peter Lynn Kitesports, Bracuru, Dakine and Levitaz for making it possible for me to practice this beautiful sport at this level!”
Koen ads: “I have to really compliment the organisation, running up to the event we had our doubts that maybe the French mentality of regulations was going to spoil some of the fun but the opposite was true! Everything was perfectly arranged, from closed down beaches watched over by police to the volunteers doing all kind of jobs to make the event go as smooth as possible. Helpers in boats and waterscooters were always nearby during the races, food and drinks were all available for the racers, not to mention breakfast, lunch and diner. The best thing was to see how everyone involved was proud to see the worlds best racers attending ‘their’ event. Fantastic!”
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