It’s a well-known fact that every yachtie has, at one time or another, harboured aspirations of taking to the water by kite. A popular weekend activity both in the Caribbean and Mediterranean, kitesurfing is a growing watersports phenomenon which has grown to typify ocean-cool. Its stars are folk heroes among the relatively small but global community of practitioners of the sport, and those who strap themselves into a harness and speed out to sea at the mercy of wind and waves are undoubtedly the type of thrill seekers some of us can only dream to be.
Many of you will have travelled to Antigua, a nation inside the ‘Leeward’ Island chain which forms the larger part of the Northern Carribean territories. It’s important to note here the definition of the word Leeward itself meaning ‘towards the wind’, as the conditions on the Atlantic side of these islands are just about as good as it gets for just about any sport which involves making use of wind and water to generate raw speed.
It is here in Antigua that Tiger Tyson, a kitesurfing protege and Olympic hopeful, first took to the water under the guidance of his father Mick – relief captain at the time of iconic superyacht Leander G. Their early sessions together at the legendary Antiguan kitesurfing destination Green Island would form the basis of a deep passion for both father and son and a hunger to do more.
“I was seven years old when I was first introduced to the sport, and I fell in love with it instantly,” Tiger explains to us, currently training hard back home in Antigua. “I loved the fact that I was the youngest kiter out there. Every day after school and every weekend my dad and I would go out kiting together, we couldn’t get enough of it. It was just a matter of time before I got my own gear and was independent. I loved the look on peoples faces when they saw a little boy ripping up and down the bay!”
Having impressed many of the local pros with the speed of his skill development on a board, Tiger Tyson’s fanbase grew and soon his father began to wonder if he could be ready to compete.
“I was trained in freestyle by ex-world champion Andre Phillips (Dre) who was born and raised on the small island of Antigua. Dre got me up to a high standard of freestyle, and at that point, it had just been announced that kitesurfing was going to be the next new Olympic sport. This, of course, got me super excited- the only problem was that I would have to compete in racing. At the age of 13 I changed my focus from freestyle to speed. Straight away I learnt how to foil because nowadays anything that moves on water is faster with a hydrofoil on it, and that is the future of competition in kitesurfing.”
As the sport is so new, the landscape is constantly changing on the competitive scene, and it was only recently that the International Olympic Committee decided to begin talks about including kitesurfing in the games at all. The sport hasn’t been confirmed to be taking place in the official 2020 Tokyo Olympics yet, but will definitely be a showcase event (which means it isn’t for a medal). It will be a fully fledged event in 2024 Olympics though- likely to be held in France or the USA.
Kitesurfing is already part of the next Youth Olympics Games (YOG) in 2018, held in Argentina- and Tiger Tyson is aiming to compete. At the games, the race course will be a downwind slalom boarder cross using a twin tip board. This means that competitors have to perform around 6 gybes. On the course each mark is more than 150 meters apart, with a ‘boarder cross’ which is an inflatable cylinder shaped buoy, about 5 foot high (though the height may change) that must be cleared. Competitors also have to perform a jump after every gybe; this means that although it won’t be a long race, to win you’ll need pure power right up until the end.
In the run up to the Youth Olympics Tiger is busy juggling school and training, which is no mean feat given his already hectic schedule travelling around the world to keep up with his Dad when he’s on leave from the yacht.
“My coach, Michael Gebhardt (Gebi) who is a five-time Olympian for the USA, one silver and one bronze medalist for windsurfing, is now teaching me his racing ways. Since the beginning of 2017 my focus has been on downwind slalom boarder cross and now that I’m training with Gebi I’m improving faster than ever. At the moment I am getting out on the water as much as possible and every day I am exercising and stretching to keep fit and stay in shape, putting your all into kitesurfing really beats up your body up if you don’t look after it.”
In between all of this, Tiger and his Dad (who is currently the captain of another 74m Motor Yacht) are refining his equipment and searching for new sponsors. Tiger turns 15 this May, and a win at his first competition in South Korea would be the best possible start to the year.
“My first competition will be in May in South Korea, the TTR open. I have ordered 4 new kites, all Ozone Edge V9s. In my opinion, these are the fastest twin tip race kites out there. The kites have only just been released so production on them is only just starting now. It’s a really tight schedule, and if I’m to compete in May we are really going to have to push hard on all fronts to be ready in time. On the lead-up to this competition, I’m training hard, and sleeping and eating well so I’m in the best possible form.”