Friday, June 14, 2024
From The MagPro RidersPro File: Frances Kelly

Pro File: Frances Kelly

Hometown:  Sidney, British Columbia, Canada

Board: Ocean Rodeo Creep and I also have a prototype surf-specific board designed by Reece Myerscough.

Kites: Ocean Rodeo HL CRAVE

Years on tour: Since 2019 

Top finishes: Second place Morocco 2022,  fourth overall 2019 rookie year. Two-time Canadian strapless freestyle champion.

Only a small handful of North American athletes compete on the Global Kite Association world cup tour. With most of the events on the other side of the Atlantic, the commitment needed to compete, let alone make it to the top, is huge. One athlete to make that commitment is Canada’s Frances Kelly. She recently finished second at the GKA wave event in Dakhla, Morocco. Kitesurfing Magazine caught up with Frances Kelly the day after her victory to find out what it takes.

Kelly ripping infant of the Westpoint Hotel in Morocco.

Kitesurfing: Tell us about the journey from local Canadian girl to GKA finalist! Where did you train?

Frances Kelly: I spent January-to-March in Cabo Verde, where we put some serious hours in and scored some great waves; that’s the only wave kiting I’ve had this year until arriving in Morocco. I only had one day kiting here before the event. It took us five days to make it from Canada to Dakhla due to a mechanical problem with our first flight. We missed the next three connecting flights and almost couldn’t get a new flight to Dakhla in time for the competition! There were some tears, but I’m happy to say it all worked. We used our delays to research where we could find some waves in Casablanca and had the most fantastic experience in Dar Bouazza with our Airbnb host. I’m just so happy it all worked out, I got some waves, explored a new city and we made it in time for the competition!

I’ve spent the last three months training purely on strapless freestyle; it’s my weak point. I am super motivated to work on that and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. Our local summer spot, Nitinaht Lake, is where you’re guaranteed wind in Canada’s summer months. Thermal winds turn on like clockwork and the campground is steps to the kite launch, surrounded by old-growth forest. Sometimes you’re lucky to find some small standing waves, but it’s mainly a wind swell, flatwater spot but very choppy. When the wind ramps up it produces some excellent kickers to launch off.  It’s world-class wind! 

Second place GKA finish in Morocco.

Kitesurfing: You finished fourth overall in your rookie year in 2019 and then COVID shut the world down. What was the following year like for you?

Frances Kelly: Ah, my rookie year. I think that will go down in my books as one of the best years of my life! It was a dream come true to land on the pro circuit and travel and compete full-time all over the world. I saw conditions of a lifetime, travelled to countries I hadn’t heard of before and got to do it all with my boyfriend Luke Millard. We got engaged halfway through the tour year, making it the best year ever.  

Coming off such a high in 2019, I was fired up to improve on my fourth place, but financially we had thrown everything into the previous year. COVID shutting the world down was almost a blessing in disguise. It made it clear that I wanted to be competing and I spent the year training and seeking out sponsorships. Financially it was hard, but the waves that year were pumping and I spent a lot of time surfing. We are fortunate where we live; I can run down from my house to one of my favourite waves. COVID made it hard for aspiring athletes like myself to make a career out of their sport. It was a tough sell to potential sponsors. I got asked a lot about the certainty of events running and got a lot of potential sponsors but none came through. I knew I had to get financial assistance to make it back to the competitions and I didn’t let any of the rejections stop me from pursuing it. I used this year as an opportunity to work a lot on my mindset and kept focusing on the dream: to be a professional athlete and train with the dedication of a world champion. Ocean Rodeo called me and offered me a new contract to compete for the 2022 tour year; I was over the moon. Ocean Rodeo has been there since day one for me and I can’t thank them enough for always believing me in and helping me get to the next level.  

Kitesurfing: We have a few Canadian friends that have moved to Australia for a while. What’s the process like? What was your experience like living in Australia?

Frances Kelly: Australia feels like my second home. Luke’s family is fantastic and he has all his childhood friends there, so it’s always a good time. The Aus life is the good life; wake up and run down to the beach for a surf and kite in the afternoons. We have a van in Aus, so when we’re not staying with family or friends, we’re cruising the East Coast chasing forecasts. We do a lot of our filming for our YouTube channel Flukes Kitesurfing, a learn-to-kite tutorial channel we started to help others get into kiting and share all that we’ve learned. We started the channel four or five years ago because, at the time, there really wasn’t anything like that on YouTube. I struggled learning to kite, so Luke had the idea to start making tutorials; we wanted to help introduce the sport to new people and help those getting into the sport progress. We are both IKO qualified kite instructors now, I do teach in Canada, but Australia is super strict about work permits; I’m just a tourist here. So we just spend the time filming heaps of content, the long sandy beaches, sunshine and colour of the water comes across really well on camera.

Kitesurfing: Where is your favourite place to ride in Australia? Why?

Frances Kelly: One of my all-time favourite places to ride in Australia is at the Merimbula Classic; participating in this event kicked everything off for me in my kiting career! It’s a fun weekend event of kiting down in Merimbula; it’s all about participation and getting the most time on the water as possible. Events like these are so important to meet the kiting community, gain experience and really have fun kiting!  

Kitesurfing: Where is your favourite place in the world to ride waves? 

Frances Kelly: I thrive on the adrenaline/fear of kiting big powerful waves, so my favourite places to ride waves are Mauritius and Cabo Verde.

Ponta Preta in Cabo Verde, that wave is insane. Those are the most significant waves I’ve ever surfed and kitesurfed and where I’ve also had my worst wipeout. It’s a right-hander that can handle a lot of size, and the waves are super powerful. I love it and have a slight fear as well, which I kind of enjoy; I love to push my limits.

Mauritius is probably my all-time favourite place to park up for weeks on end and ride the waves. I’m kiting backside there, but the quality of the wave is so good. It’s a long ride with a great barrel section. That was my first time kiting proper reef break; super punchy and powerful. It’s a long tack out to the reef, so you can’t always tell from the beach how big it will be. I love it. 

Kitesurfing: What do you do when you are not competing and travelling the world? Does the search for waves ever really stop?

Frances Kelly: I enjoy shaping surfboards; it allows you to try and create precisely what you want for certain waves. We made boards, especially for Mauritius and Cabo Verde. When the wind is offshore and you accelerate down the line, it’s nice to have a heavier board to handle the speed and any chop on the wave face. Strapless freestyle is a different game, so I prefer to have a lightweight board.  I’m just a hobbyist shaper but I enjoy the process of shaping and putting the work into a board and testing it out and seeing how it performs. It’s very satisfying surfing or kiting your own boards.

Kitesurfing: What’s your most memorable moment from Morocco this year?

Frances Kelly: The most memorable moment from Morocco was waiting for scores to drop from my semi-final heat against J.C Edin for the spot in the final. Hearing my name called out was the best feeling in the world; it was my first ever final!  

Kitesurfing: What are your future goals now?

Frances Kelly: To win my first world tour event! 

I’d also love to start hosting kitesurf camps and clinics to help other girls get into the sport; that’s my other biggest goal.

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