The International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) has so far been a controversial organization since its inception in 2008, but the gossip and chatter surrounding it and other large kiteboarding organizations has reached a fever pitch over the last few months. Most kiteboarders, the staff of this magazine included, has had a very hard time seeing through the accusations and claims each of these organizations is putting forward, so this article is our attempt to make sense of it all. So far, everything going on has only directly affected a small number of competition riders, but what does this all mean for the rest of us?
A Brief History of the IKA:
The IKA was formed in 2008 by a group of speed kiters in an attempt to get the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) to recognize the kiters’ records as legitimate speed-sailing records. The ISAF recognized all disciplines of kiteboarding as a class of sailing, and the IKA was appointed to be the head of kiteboarding under ISAF. Originally formed as a rider’s association, the IKA changed in 2009 to be an association of national associations and industry and tour representatives. Currently, there are almost 20 national kiteboarding associations affiliated with the IKA with another 15 expected to join this year.
The stated goal of the IKA is to unify and bring together all major national associations and create a rule book, world ranking system, and judging and race directing standards. Almost immediately after the IKA was recognized by ISAF, the Kiteboard Pro World Tour (KPWT) joined the IKA, while the other major tour, the Professional Kiteboard Riders Association (PKRA) opposed joining. According to the IKA, the result of this was that KPWT gained events while PKRA lost events. PKRA and IKA sat down to work out their differences, eventually coming to a working agreement. At the same time, the relationship between IKA and KPWT fell apart (more on this below). Before this season began, IKA issued a statement that any riders who participated in a KPWT event would be ruled ineligible and therefore not allowed to compete in any IKA sanctioned events, including PKRA events.
KPWT vs. IKA:
The relationship between the IKA and the KPWT seems to have completely fallen apart. According to Richard Gowers of the IKA, “KPWT failed to fulfill its contract and had IKA sanction withdrawn. It was KPWT seeking separation by breaking the IKA sanctioning agreement; riders as well as organizers have to decide if they support the KPWT or the rest of the kiteboarding competition scene.” However, according to KPWT’s Frederic Gravoille, “Due to severe breaches of contract and no belief in what the IKA was trying to achieve, the KPWT chose to support and work with a federation that is looking towards a democratic and positive future for the sport of Kiteboarding.” The other federation Frederic refers to is the International Kiteboarding Federation (IKF), which was founded by the same people who are behind KPWT.
Apparently, the issue at the heart of the IKA ban on KPWT riders is KPWT’s claim to be a “World Tour,” a term that the IKA claims is rightfully theirs. IKA claims that they have exclusive use of the terms world tour, world champion, etc. within kiteboarding. There is currently a lawsuit, filed by KPWT against IKA, claiming, “The prohibition of the use of the respective terms (world tour, world champion, etc.) has no legal basis. In particular, neither ISAF nor IKA have world-wide or European trade mark protection in relation to these terms that could exclude any other parties from its use.” We were told by an IKA representative that if the KPWT dropped the usage of the terms world tour and world champion, they would not uphold the ban against their riders. However, the KPWT currently has major problems of their own, as their first event of the year, located in Jamaica, was cancelled after the local organizer completely dropped the ball and only 15 riders showed up.
What About the Olympics?
With the development of an international framework for competitions, many people think that kiteboarding course racing is heading for the Olympics, and this will be a huge benefit for kiteboarding. IKA’s Richard Gowers said, “The Olympics showcase the pinnacle of every sport; it brings more publicity and positive coverage than anything else. Equipment for the Olympics is usually for light wind, so it will encourage the development of equipment that works in a pretty wide range.
Also, becoming an Olympic sport opens up a lot of funding from the governments for riders.” Mauricio Toscano from the PKRA, when asked about kiteboarding as an Olympic Sport, said, “The benefit of being in the Olympics for kiteboarding would be more exposure for the sport. However, if it was only racing similar to other sailing classes it would probably be minimal exposure. If one day there is a way to incorporate kiteboarding freestyle into the Olympics, it could generate huge exposure for the sport as it has done for snowboarding with their half pipe event.” We tend to agree with Mauricio.
While it would be cool to see kiteboarding in the Olympics, course racing is not the best discipline to show the world what the sport is capable of. Don’t forget that windsurfing racing is in the Olympics, and when was the last time you saw any exposure of that?
What Does this All Mean? Does Anyone Care?
According to the IKA, because of their efforts, there will be a unified world ranking system based on points accumulated by all riders collected from various events – overall and one for each discipline. The PKRA will decide the Freestyle World Title. There will be freestyle tour titles from the new Asian and European tours, giving up-and-coming competitors a clear pathway from their national events to the world-level events.
There will also be World and Continental Championships in Speed and Course Racing. When asked how being associated with the IKA benefits the PKRA, Mauricio Toscano said, “It’s difficult to say at the moment, but I believe now that some of the things the IKA are doing, like standardizing competition formats and rules throughout the world, are beneficial for the sport of kiteboarding.”
By creating rule books (racing and freestyle) and judging and race directing standards, the IKA is doing a good thing by helping to standardize kiteboarding competitions. They plan on offering judge courses and, eventually, a certification program for judges. Whether this helps the sport outside of major competitions has yet to be seen, but there can be no argument that kiteboarding needs more regional and national competitions.
If a framework exists to make it easier for a small organizer to create an event that is consistent with the standards of the large events, riders, sponsors, and spectators will have a better idea what to expect out of an event.
We are against the fact that the IKA is threatening to ban riders from its sanctioned events, and we cannot see how this benefits the sport in any way. They should continue to work to promote the sport and to make events more consistent. Hopefully, the IKA will bring a level of organization and communication that so far has been lacking from kiteboarding, but only time will tell what impact, if any, the IKA will have to the average kiteboarder.