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From 5O5s to Kite Foiling: Mike Martin Embraces the Speed

Sailors are no doubt familiar with the name Mike Martin. In 2019 we shared the news that US Sailing had named Mike and his crew Adam Lowry (both International 5O5 World Champions and both from Mill Valley) as Rolex Yachtsmen of the Year. In February 2020 the pair were honored at the awards ceremony aboard the USS Midway in San Diego. In the same ceremony, IKA Formula Kite Class World Champion Daniela Moroz of Lafayette was awarded Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year for the second time. Did rubbing shoulders with Moroz inspire the champion 5O5 sailor to take up kite foiling?

Mike Martin was competing at this year’s Delta Pro kite foiling event at Sherman Island, Rio Vista, CA, when Kite Foil League caught up with Martin to talk about his transition to kite foil racing. A big thanks to Kite Foil League for sharing this interview with us. Here’s a transcript:

Mastering the Foil with Mike Martin

At California Triple Crown event number one, the Delta Pro at Sherman Island, Mike Martin took charge of the Masters Division leaderboard. We caught up with Mike to find out about his path so far, on the foil.

So Mike, you were ripping out there at the Delta Pro — when did you start foiling and what has that learning curve been like?

I started foiling in 2014. I saw that the future of sailing was foiling, and kite foiling seemed like the best way get into it. Compared to the other options, Moths or cats, it was simpler, less expensive, and faster. As far as the learning curve [goes], it has not been as steep as I would have liked. It is interesting to see that in foil kiting, youth is a big advantage. In pretty much every case that I have seen, younger riders pick up skills quicker than older riders. That said, for any age the sense of accomplishment in improving kite foiling skills is super-rewarding.

Obviously a lot of people know you from your successes in the 5O5, 18-ft skiffs, I 14s — a lot of two- or three-person boats — but now you’re out there on a singlehanded foil, going three times the speed. Was it a daunting transition?

Singlehanded sailing is nothing new to me. When I was younger I sailed Lasers, winning the North American Champs in a year before most kite foilers were born :-). I also did Finn Olympic campaigns for ’88 and ’92. As for speed, I have always gravitated toward the fastest boat around. Believe it or not, Lasers were considered fast back in the day. Likewise, 5O5s were the fastest dinghy when I started racing them. The same is true for 14s and 18-ft skiff. In the ’90s the windsurfers were the fastest thing on the water so I did a bit of that. So when kite foiling came along it was the next step. The speed is definitely daunting, but that is what I like.

You won the Masters Division at the Delta Pro and were mixing it up with a lot of the younger riders in their 20s and some even younger. Do you think your racing experience gives you an edge? Are you thinking about the race course the same way you do in the 5O5?

Racing experience definitely gives me an edge. It helps make up for everyone [having] better boat- [board-] handling skills. The basics are the same as any boat; it is still racing. You need to assess which side of the course is better based on wind strength, direction and current. You need to determine the cost of doing a maneuver vs what you can gain from it. This is true in any boat.

After racing you seem like the ringleader who rallies the whole group, and gets them to sit down for a debrief. Where did that start, and how has that impacted the learning curve?

Sharing of information started in our 5O5 training group in Long Beach. Everyone gains, which forces even the top sailors to keep improving to keep up. This philosophy has spread to the whole West Coast fleet with amazing results. In the last 5O5 Worlds West Coast sailors were 1,2,3,5.

Do you have any tips for sailors who may have a lot of racing experience, but who are on the fence about learning to race on the foil?

Go for it. It is lots of fun and it will improve your regular sailing. If you have never kited before [it] is probably best to start on a twin-tip and a tube kite until you are comfortable flying the kite. Also, if you have questions, ask the top sailors; they will be happy to help you out. The crew that was third at the last 5O5 Worlds, Eric Anderson, is getting into it, so look out for him in the future.

Final question: I saw that your 5-O [5O5] crew, Adam Lowry, is registered for the Seabreeze Invitational in July, so I have to ask … Who’s going to win the head-to-head!?

Good question! Adam is a bit faster upwind, I am a bit faster downwind, and we both need to work on our maneuvers. When we go head-to-head on Thursdays, whoever sails better comes out ahead, so it should be a good matchup.

Thanks Mike, and good luck in Long Beach at the Seabreeze Invitational!

The Seabreeze Invitational, the second event in the California Triple Crown, was held last month at Belmont Kite Beach in Long Beach, CA. Martin, who competes in the Masters Division, finished the weekend with his “first top-five race finish of the Triple Crown,” which puts him in sixth place in the overall standings. The last event in the series will be the Leadbetter Classic on August 20 – 22 in Santa Barbara.

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