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1st – KiteFoil Gold Cup Switzerland!

I’m Stoked to have pulled off a victory at the second stop of the KiteFoil Gold Cup here at Lake Silvaplana, Switzerland! The conditions were a bit all over the place this week with lots of rain (and snow up the mountains), but we got 9 races off in the first two days. The shifty lake sailing made the racing really tactical and fun. There were tons of lead changes and opportunities to pass so it was a never give up kind of event, and I was able to pull of 7 bullets.


KiteFoil Gold Cup Switzerland

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This event marked a big shift for the foil fleet as the big performance jump was not under the water but in the sky. Nearly everyone showed up with parafoil kites (gotta love not touching a pump all week), and those who didn’t wish they had! The wind on the lake seemed to cycle from 8-15 knots and my 15m Chrono was the perfect kite to cover this range. In the puffs the thing locks in and shoots forward without dragging me sideways, but it has the grunt to get me through the lulls also. And downwind…well…I passed a few people :)


I’m excited to head home to San Francisco and get more time on my smaller kites in preparation for what is likely to be a windier final tour stop in Townsville, Australia at the end of September. I’ve got a small lead going into the final event, but anything can happen in the tour standings which determine the KiteFoil World Champion.


Top 5:
1: Johnny Heineken (USA)
2: Olli Bridge (GBR)
3: Nico Parlier (FRA)
4:Maxime Nocher (FRA)
5: Benni Boelli (GER)

Thanks to Ozone, Silicon Valley Bank, Mike’s Lab, St. Francis Sailing Foundation, and Taaroa Hydrofoil for making this possible.



La Ventana KiteFoil GoldCup 2014

I’m just back from the first event of the 2014 KiteFoil Gold Cup in La Ventana, Mexico. It was awesome to get down to Baja for a week as I missed my annual trip down with the Bay Area crew this year.

We really scored with the conditions, seeing a wide range from a relatively light qualifying day to a nuking final series. I was really happy with my performance in the light air qualifiers–while my upwind angle wasn’t quite as good as Maxime, Nico, and Julien, I was able to pull of second place finishes if I sailed smart and avoided big wipe-outs. Maxime was pretty unstoppable in those conditions and qualified in the lead.

La Ventana KiteFoil GoldCup 2014

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The final series was held in almost all 7m conditions. I have to say this really was the most fun racing I’ve done in a while. The starts are pretty radical–full speed yet nearly silent until someone tweaked out and exploded. I was happy to see my upwind speed was more competitive in the bigger breeze and I was able to win many of the first beats. Downwind, however, was another story. I’m not sure if it was just lack of time on the board leading up to the event or subtle equipment tuning issues, but I was a wreck! It felt like nearly every race on the last day I would round the top mark in first, and maybe hold onto the lead for a lap, but eventually explode to watch Maxime sail right by. I’ve gotta give him credit, I’m not sure I saw him fall once!

The American continence was almost able to snag 3 of the top 5 spots but not quite. Those Frenchies are pretty quick…we’ll have to get them next time. Joey beat Bernie  in a tight battle for 5th, and Chip came on really strong in the Silver Fleet with a bullet on the last day. Cynbad Brown also killed it finishing second woman overall! Erika has got some work to do to catch up…

Thanks to Cynthia and Kent for hosting us, to Robbie and Jess for squeezing in as much racing as possible, Playa Central for opening their doors to the first of the KiteFoil tour events, and of course the sponsors–Ozone, Silicon Valley Bank, Taaroa, Mike’s Lab, and the St. Francis Sailing Foundation

Final results:

1: Maxime Nocher (FRA)
2: Johnny Heineken (USA)
3: Nicolas Parlier (FRA)
4: Julien Kuerner (FRA)
5: Joey Pasquali (USA)
6: Bryan Lake (USA)


Back in SF now and it feels like summer. The westerly is building and I’m heading down to the beach to practice sailing downhill!

Foiling – Bridge to Bridge Record & California State Champion

What a season! Lots of kiting, learning, falling, and some bruises….big bruises. Since the Canadian Nationals in July I’ve been focusing on riding my new foil and learning how to get this thing around the racecourse. It’s been a ton of fun being on the steep part of the learning curve again. The feeling of making the first couple foiling tacks and gybes got me fully hooked.

Kitefoil California State Champs

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When the annual Ronstan Bridge to Bridge Race came around in September I knew I had to try it on the foil. This is a downwind race from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge (about 6 miles) that all about optimizing equipment for downwind, and pushing yourself to the edge of explosion, but not beyond. Windsurfers, 18ft Skiffs, and kites have all won it in the past.. Last year we had pretty epic conditions and I set the course record at 14 minutes 14 seconds on a courseboard with small fins.

This summer I learned that foils can be faster downwind…the trick is staying upright. Just before the start of the race I did some downwind runs well powered on my 7m Edge. It felt like the right kite for the conditions, but I wanted to be overpowered for this race so I ran in and grabbed my 9m Edge off the beach and sailed lit up to the start line.

The start was crazy. There were 70 entries on the line with inconsistent breeze and not that much space. Bernie match raced me a little so I had to slow down and dive behind and below him. On our Sword foils we both extended and it was clear the race was between the two of us. I was a little deeper on my 9 compared to his 7 and eventually pulled away. The wind was south enough that we never had to gybe, making it true record setting conditions. Down by Alcatraz the breeze built and the chop jacked up. I had extended from the fleet and knew I had a good time going but was on the edge trying to keep it together. Somehow I kept the foil in the water and never exploded. What a relief! 12 minutes flat…more than 2 minutes off the record. Sweet!

With foil fever in full effect in SF, Robbie Dean agreed to run a foilboard course racing event at the St. Francis YC. We were fortunate to have four good French sailors come over, including Remi Delahaye who makes the Sword Foils. This was awesome for us because we’ve been sailing on our own and have no idea how we’re going compared to the guys who’ve been foiling for a long time. In three days we sailed 12 races in everything from 10kts to low 20s. The range of equipment and abilities was huge, and that was part of the fun. Everyone is progressing really rapidly and having a great time.

My speed was good all around the course but I was really able to excel in maneuvers and starting. It’s amazing how much you can gain by nailing a foiling tack when the other guy touches down and takes a second to accelerate again. I ended the event with 10 bullets in 12 races and some really good experience going around the course close to a bunch of other foils. I’m looking forward to a lot more of this…



Here’s a quick video shot last week…turns out the old Submarine Lagoon in Alameda is a great place to work on maneuvers.

Filmed & Edited by Betsy Pfeiffer

North American Champion!

What a great week here in San Francisco for the North American Championships. This was the best fleet I’ve sailed against since the Worlds last year and man, everyone has stepped their game up!

2013 North American Championships

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Robbie Dean at the St. Francis came up with a great new format for this event that culminated with exciting racing between the top 10 but didn’t completely throw out scores from the prior days (we’ve been struggling with winner take all formats at major events). This proved to work really well. The “Platinum Fleet,” as it was called, raced four races on a slightly shorter course on the final day. This meant a solid performance was essential to making the podium, but since we carried in all our Gold fleet points a consistent performance throughout the event was still rewarded.

I’m really happy with how I sailed. I went into the last day with a slight lead and pulled off straight bullets in Platinum to solidify the win. Bernie and Rikky had a really tight battle for second and in the end Bernie pulled it off. Erika also sailed a great event and was the standout women finishing top 30 overall. Congrats!

Check out the video below if you want to get a glimpse of what it was like. I love the tacks right under the Race Deck at StFYC.

Friday Day 4 2013 Kiteboard North American Course Racing Championship Finals from james donaldson on Vimeo.


1st Place in the African Continental Championships!

Soma Bay - Egypt

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After five days of racing here in Soma Bay, Egypt I’ve pulled off a first place in the African Continental Championships! This was the first major event of the year, and will for sure be hard to beat. I didn’t know what to expect from Egypt and I’m totally impressed. This place is beautiful, windy, and everyone has taken such good care of us. 61 guys and 15 women showed up to race.

This year we get to register four kites and I decided to go with 7, 10, 13, and 17m Edges. Normally I wouldn’t use a 7 but the two days before the event were super windy so I figured it was the safe move. I sailed consistently during the first two days and qualified into the gold fleet in 3rd overall behind Ricardo and Florian. The first day of gold fleet was 25-32 knots and perfect for a 7m. I looked pretty smart for having one as the rest of the top guys struggled around the course on 9s. I won all 4 races solidly and took the lead. On day 2 of gold fleet we sailed 5 races in everything from 7 through 13m conditions. I continued to have really clean starts and was able to pull off straight bullets once again. I am really proud of this performance over a huge range of conditions in such a good fleet.

Erika also stepped her game up on days 3 and 4, and moved solidly into second. She won a bunch of races and was knocking right on Steph Bridge’s door.

The last day we completed in the medal series, which is a controversial trial format that weights the last day an incredible amount. Gold fleet points are reduced to single scores carried forward into a 3 race series. This was rough for me because I had gained a considerable lead in Gold Fleet only to lose it to a format change. I ended the day with two second place finishes, one hole in my board, and only a 1pt lead over second place. This small lead felt pretty ridiculous after posting 9 bullets and 2 second place finishes, but I had at least held on. Florian moved into second and Maxime ended up third after fouling me in the first race of the day and not spinning. Ricardo dropped from second to fourth place overall, a finish not representative of how well he sailed in the gold fleet.

In the women’s fleet Steph sailed a really solid day and held onto first, in front of Erika in 2nd and Katya in 3rd. Congratulations!

Ok that’s my rant on the format. Otherwise this was truly one of the most well run events I’ve ever attended. We ate, kited, ate, slept, and repeated to our hearts content. Race management was flawless, The Breakers Hotel and 7Bft Kite House welcomed us with open arms, and Royal Dream Tours is continuing to make sure our time in Egypt is well spent. Thanks to all!


2012 US Rolex Yachtsman of the Year

I’m honored to have been named the 2012 US Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. It’s an amazing feeling to be involved in a sport that has come so far over the last five years. Thanks to my family, friends, and sponsors for the endless support throughout this journey.

Official Press Release HERE

Rolex US Yachtsman of the Year Nomination

For the second year in a row I’ve made the shortlist of nominees for the Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Award. What an honor! Second time’s the charm right? And who happens to be up for Yachtswoman of the Year? Erika!

Official press release HERE

This year’s accomplishments for all nominees HERE

Results are announced in January, but either way having three kiters on the list is a win already.



Scuttlebutt Interview


American Johnny Heineken has been caught in the middle. His world,
kiteboard course racing, has been under intense scrutiny. The Olympic board
event had teetered for much of the year – windsurfing or kiteboarding. Both
sides were passionate, and weren’t afraid at disparaging the other.

At 24 years of age, Johnny helped develop the kiteboard event, and has won
the past two world championships. Now that ISAF has decided for windsurfing
to be the equipment used at the 2016 Olympics, Scuttlebutt checked in with
Johnny for an update.
* How disappointed are you about the Olympic decision?

JOHNNY HEINEKEN: I have mixed feelings about this whole thing. I’m
definitely disappointed in that this was the one shot I had to be involved
with a sport at the highest level. It’s not often you’re at the top of a
game that all is suddenly adopted into the pinnacle of sporting events. We
got more attention over the last six months than ever before. But along
with that has come added stress, increased gear regulations, silly formats,
and involvement of people who have never raced kites let alone seen us

I am very relieved to no long have to defend the sport I love from ignorant
criticism. In my opinion, kiting is the most fun and free form of sailing
in the world, and one aspect of this is that we can now beat almost every
other craft around a windward-leeward. All this will remain true, maybe
even more so without the hindrance of Olympic involvement.

* Is there a kiting vibe that would have gotten lost as an Olympic event?

JOHNNY HEINEKEN: Definitely. We have a great feel right now. I love going
sailing, even after a hectic summer of traveling and racing. I plan to keep
having fun with this as long as I can–that’s the most important thing for
my success.

Read the entire article here

2012 World Champion!


What a year! It’s been packed with great racing all over the world, and culminated last week with the World Championships in Cagliari, Italy. With over 150 men and 40 women, this was the biggest course racing event ever held. Huge props to the race management and event organizers for running 48 great races in 4 days!

For the first two days the men’s fleet was split into three groups of 52. These standing would be used to determine Gold, Silver, and Bronze fleets. The first day was 7-13kts so I rode my 17m Edge. I’m a San Francisco boy so light air has always been a bit intimidating for me, especially against all the European sailors.  I also had Adam Koch in my fleet, he won a very light European Championships the prior week and definitely was the guy to beat in those conditions. My goal was just to get clear starts, stay conservative, and sail my own race. It worked—I got three bullets and a pretty solid confidence boost that I could hold it together in the light stuff. That’s no to say it would be easy, but possible.

Day 2 was solid 13m conditions, and a similar story. I had to battle another of my American training partners, Bryan Lake. Two of the four races were really close, in the last one we swapped the lead at least once per leg. After a tactical mistake at the leeward mark, I was in catch-up mode and was able to just barely squeak into the lead on the last run. So I managed to keep my picket fence going, and ended the qualifiers with seven straight bullets—1st place at this point! Equally exciting is that my sister Erika had won all the women’s races as well, and she was already racing against the entire women’s fleet. Killing it!!

Day three – Gold Fleet. All the top guys on the same line, finally! This was where we really got to see how everyone would stack up, and where points really started to matter. We carried in a single race score determined by qualification round standings. My game was working so I tried not to change a thing. I started away from the fleet, sailed fast, and didn’t put myself positions to make any major mistakes. I generally got to the weather mark in second or third (to those who had risked port-tacking the fleet on a slightly pin-favored line), but worked my way up to the top in every race. I have to say if there’s one day of sailing I’m very proud of this year, this was it. I finished the day with straight bullets and a 10pt lead, in the Gold fleet at the Worlds. It doesn’t get much better than that!

But then on to the really stressful stuff. We tried a new format—a winner take all medal race series on the last day for the top 10. Once again, current standings were carried in as a single race score. What does that mean? 2/3 of the regatta is the last two races of the event, and my 10 pt lead was compressed down to a 1pt lead. This was pretty hard to stomach in my position, because at that point I had won 11 races (of 11) and would normally be going into the last day with the goal of sailing conservatively and consistently. Instead I was in a position to lose everything with one mistake, or worse, someone else’s mistake. And this almost happened; in the first medal race I had a solid start and was in a position to round the top gate in first, but was blatantly fouled and briefly tangled. Luckily I got free and caught back up to second, right behind Adam who got free and sailed a flawless race to claim the bullet. So going into the last race I was 1 pt ahead of Adam, which meant I had to beat him or else we would tie and I’d lose the tie breaker based on last race scores. Talk about stressful! Well…all or nothing, so I chose all. Great start, got to the weather mark in second to Bernie, passed him downwind and sailed away from there. What a relief! I feel like I had to win this one three times to finally get the title.

But now the coolest part. Erika had almost an identical battle in the Women’s medal series. Stef Bridge had a killer first race and tied it up, so the last race was winner take all between them. I swear I was more stressed out watching her second race but she sailed flawlessly to beat Stef and claim the women’s World Championship Title. It’s not often you get to share the podium at a World Championship with your sister. I’ll remember this one forever…

Thanks to all my sponsors, my family, teammates, and the SF fleet for supporting me throughout this journey. It’s been incredible…and I don’t think it’s ending anytime soon.