Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Letting the Elements Take Me for a Ride

Move over, Maria Sharapova. You're a looker, and you're a great athlete, but the world of sailing has a contender in both of those realms. The name is Sjoukje Bredenkamp.

"Letting the elements take me for a ride on the wild side" is how Sjoukje Bredenkamp describes kite sailing. She also says, "If you disrespect Mother Nature, she will give you a hiding."

Now Sjoukje Bredenkamp, still a teenager and still respectful of Mother Nature, is the fastest woman on water under sail. The resident of Langebaan, South Africa has a new speed record of 42.35 knots set at the Luderitz Speed Challenge in Luderitz, Namibia.

This was not shot on a record attempt, but I think the image goes to the heart of what Sjoujke's talking about . . .

And this . . .

The new speed of 42.35 knots over a measured and monitored 500-meter course awaits ratification from the World Speed Record Council, at which point it will take over the spot from windsurfer Karen Yaggi of Switzerland. Sjoukje has been the female record holder on kites since October 2006, at a speed of 37.24 knots.

The 500-meter overall record remains with windsurfer Finian Maynard of the Virgin Islands, who set his mark of 48.70 knots in April, 2005 at the specially-dug "ditch" in the south of France. But are kites coming on in the speed department? Looks like it. At Luderitz, Alexandre Caizergues made 47.92 knots and is breathing down Maynard's neck.

Some words from the organizers about the Luderitz Speed Challenge:

Similar to the moon, but colder, Luderitz is a speed sailor's dream.
A natural speed strip with a great angle provides conditions perfect for breaking the outright WSSRC 500m record. Luderitz is normally windy for a four-day period without a break at least 3 to 4 times a month. It is a 10-hour drive from Cape Town, easily done overnight. The 500 meter course is set up in second lagoon wetland.

Sjoukje was using a new kite design from the Naish Sigma series, something I can't talk about myself, so here are some words from the company's promotional material:

The Sigma Series is the natural evolution of depowering kites; a whole new angle on kiteboarding. By incorporating straight segments in the leading edge from strut to strut, canopy tension is kept constant. Wind pressure is not necessary to maintain the canopy profile, and at low angles of attack, Geo-Tech keeps the canopy from collapsing. By maintaining a consistent aerodynamic leading edge, Geo-Tech provides a wrinkle-free canopy, large depower range, and stability at broad angles of attack, where historically kites with a large depower range have experienced distortion. Combined with the Sigma shape, Geo-Tech creates the most precise and controllable kite ever, which maintain this feeling and control through an amazingly broad wind range. The Sigma outline provides two significant advantages: first, it changes the center of effort in the kite such that this point does not move during the depower range, and secondly, Sigma allows the kite's wingtip to twist in a manner that initiates lightning-quick turning.

So do we really have a kitesailing equivalent of tennis' Maria Sharapova?

I think so. The World Speed Sailing Record Council can take its time. Around here, Sjoujke's ratified. And now take a look at what kites are doing at the famed surf site, Mavericks—Kimball