SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Just off the shoreline, you may spot someone ripping through the water on a board that’s propelled by a kite flying high in the sky.
This is formula kiteboarding, a brand-new sport that’ll make its debut in the 2024 Summer Olympics.
The figure swiftly sweeping across the ocean is Evan Heffernan, a homegrown Santa Barbara boy who plans on taking his talents to Paris.
“Santa Barbara has a deep history with a lot of Olympic athletes,” he says. “That’s kind of been something I’ve always been intrigued by and encouraged to kind of pursue.”
Heffernan is currently the top-ranked American kiteboarder.
However, this didn’t happen without hard work from the 23-year-old, who grew up surfing and sailing in Santa Barbara.
“Sometimes when there’s dolphins or whales out there it’s really cool to be that close with nature,” Heffernan says.
Family friend Jerry Shalhoob constantly comes to the beach, watching Heffernan blow by everyone else.
“He’s going almost 20 miles an hour faster than everybody else, so it’s black and white,” Shalhoob said. “It’s like having a Ferrari out there and we’re driving a Model A Ford.”
When it comes to the U.S. national team, competition is cutthroat out on the water. Only one man and woman from America will qualify for the Olympics in Paris.
“It’s definitely a competitive environment,” Heffernan says. “The really important part of our group training is the coaching.”
His current coach is Willie McBride, a former UCSB sailing team member, who has since coached the Gauchos along with Olympic sailors.
“I think Evan’s work ethic is something that really sets him apart from a lot of the other kiters who are campaigning for the Olympics,” McBride says.
To be the best, practice makes perfect.
“I’m always out here tracking my practices, looking at the data, watching my hours over each month,” Heffernan says. “I’m really trying to put in as much as I can to really become the best.”
Kiting is an expensive sport, as all equipment must be fined tuned at the top level.
Although Heffernan earns his living as a mobile app developer, he still needs help to pursue his passion.
“For Olympic sports in the U.S. it’s all primarily private funding,” Heffernan explained. “To do it well, most people run a campaign to help fundraise for the expenses they incur.”
With this in mind, the Santa Barbara High grad started an online fundraising campaign. Hoping to get the community support that he’ll need in order to eventually commit to kiting full time.
“To be the first representative for your country, for your city, for the community around you is huge,” McBride says.
“I think it would be pretty awesome to represent Santa Barbara, it’s a great little city and a great community of people,” Heffernan concluded.
With a chance to become the next trailblazer in a long line of local Olympians, Heffernan’s goal is gold.
To donate to Evan’s Olympic campaign, you can visit his website.