The in-out Olympic status of kiteboarding fired the niche branch of sailing into the media spotlight and opened a lot of doors, culminating in the announcement of double kiteboarding course racing world champion Johnny Heinekin, as US Sailing's 2012 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year.
Heinekin accepted the award alongside 2012 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, Jennifer French, the 2012 Paralympic Silver Medalist in the SKUD-18 class.
Heineken and French, each gave heartfelt speeches after being awarded specially engraved stainless steel and platinum Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Masters, symbolic of their achievements in excellence, by Rolex Watch USA President and CEO Stewart Wicht.
Heineken took the stage after being introduced by 2011 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Bill Hardesty, who said, “Johnny has taken kiteboarding to the next level; he makes it look easy.” In fact, Heineken is a back-to-back kiteboarding course racing world champion (2011, 2012) after spending most of his life windsurfing and sailing. It wasn’t until 2009 that he learned to kiteboard.
“Kiteboarding is an evolution of sailing, not a new sport,” said Heineken, “and the fact that everyone is seeing it that way is pretty special. I’m amazed to have my name added to a list of sailors I’ve grown up idolizing.”
“Sailing has always been about speed to me,” he said, adding that he started out windsurfing with his father and progressed to racing a 29er in high school. “I’ve been working with the best guys to stay on top of the game, and I’m fortunate that many of them are from the Bay area here. We’re seeing the sport take off, on the racing side especially; people are noticing they can go sailing in lighter and lighter conditions and still have fun. Kiteboard course racing is popping up all over in little clusters of local fleets.”
French took several seconds to leave her wheelchair to stand during her acceptance speech, utilizing a neuroprosthetic system she helped pioneer after a 1998 snowboarding accident left her a quadriplegic.
“I am so honored to be amongst the fantastic sailors who were nominated in 2012 and even more honored to win,” said French. “It’s a huge move forward for disabled sailing, the only sport where sailors can leave their wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs behind and go out and compete against able-bodied people; that’s why it attracts me.”
Rolex Watch USA first presented timepieces to America's Cup defenders in 1958. The United States Sailing Association (US Sailing) is the national governing body for sailing.
27 February 2013 7:35 GMT