Santa Barbara Kiteboarder aims for the Paris Olympics
Evan Heffernan hauled $ 3,500 worth of carbon fiber to the shore at Leadbetter Beach.
“Don’t touch the wings,” he warned. “They are sensitive to oil. This would disrupt the flow of water. The two wings, or hydrofoils, were attached by a four-foot-long mast under the board Heffernan was going to drive out to sea. He described the assembly as “an underwater plane.”
Curious spectators gathered as Heffernan unfurled a sail stretched out on the sand. The breeze was steady, and now he was ready to roll. He put on a padded coverall and a shockproof vest, then a helmet. He harnessed the sail and raced through the waves with the board, securing his feet in straps. The blue sail, a giant kite, rose and filled with air. Under his traction, the board instantly lifted above the surface. Cutting through the water, Heffernan passed the swimmers’ buoys, and he flew downwind so quickly that he was just a point outside the breakwater in seconds. He would spend the next few hours frolicking offshore, the foils sometimes breaking the surface as he spun through the air.
Welcome to the sport of the 21st century that is kitesurfing.
Heffernan, 23, is from Santa Barbara and learned the basics of sailing with his older brothers through the Sea Shells program. He played water polo – “It made me feel comfortable in the water,” he said – and at SB High he got into competitive sailing. But he was somewhat frustrated with the conventional equipment.
“Evan didn’t want to navigate slow boats,” said his trainer, Willie McBride.
The sight of kiteboarders off Leadbetter Beach piqued Heffernan’s interest. “The advice from the locals helped me get started,” he said. The business appealed to his desire for speed, as well as his interest in cutting-edge technology.
“It was scary,” he said of his first thrill ride on the water. But he was addicted to it, and it got better quickly. Tracking his speed with a GPS watch, he reached 41 knots (47 mph). In an average race, he said, foiling kitesurfers are going at 38 knots downwind and 25 to 28 knots upwind.
The sport got a classification, Formula Kite, and two years ago it was approved for inclusion in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Since then, Heffernan’s ambition is to represent the United States in this competition. That’s why he takes to the beach whenever he gets the chance, following Malcolm Gladwell’s maxim that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to hone a skill set.
“Evan is a student of the game,” said McBride, who also grew up in the Santa Barbara sailing community, is a former student of the UCSB sailing team and has since coached the Gauchos as well as the Sailors. Olympic. “He focuses on what makes the foil boards go fast and how to play the tactical game while racing. It’s so quick that every decision is made worse.
Heffernan is earning an income as a mobile app developer, but he needs help funding his trips to competitions around the world as well as acquiring the best equipment. Donations can be made via its website, evanheffernan.com.
Heffernan saw European sailors – who have dominated recent Olympic competitions – bring in entourages of psychologists, nutritionists and physiotherapists. He plays all of these roles for himself.
Leadbetter’s other kiteboarders are helping, Heffernan said: “We’re keeping an eye on each other in case something happens.”
Joseph Bottoms, who started kitesurfing four years ago at 63, is inspired when he sees Heffernan running at full speed. “It’s like he’s ice skating on water,” Bottoms said. “I know he enjoys the experience so much. It’s not just boards, sails, lines and harnesses. It is the vastness of the ocean. These are all the species around you, dolphins, fish and pelicans.
Everyone who supports Heffernan “gives him time on the water,” Bottoms said. “How remarkable it would be to see Evan at the Olympic Games in Paris.”
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