Ellie Aldridge distinctly remembers the first time she went sailing, for all the wrong reasons.
“Dragged” on to a boat as a seven-year-old by her mother, it capsized – the “very scary” experience leaving her understandably reluctant to take to the water again.
Yet she did, and nearly 20 years on, Aldridge is on the cusp of an Olympic debut as one of the world’s best Formula Kite racers.
But if you’ve paused reading there to ask ‘what on earth is Formula Kite?’, you will not be alone.
Formula Kite – also known as kite foiling or kite boarding – sees athletes racing above water on boards with hydrofoils, propelled by kites to speeds of more than 50mph.
As one of two new disciplines added to the sailing programme for next year’s Olympics in Paris, it is an exciting time for the sport, and one of huge change.
“It’s really exciting to have a sort of refresh for sailing,” Aldridge, 26, tells BBC Sport.
“It’s very different to what it used to be. For the sport, it’s incredible.”
Sailing is in Poole-born Aldridge’s blood. Following in the footsteps of her parents and grandparents, she grew up on the water and competed in a variety of boats, but kite foiling was something solely reserved for fun on the weekends.
That, she says, was what kite foiling was all about back then – “a beach lifestyle sport”. But that all changed in 2020 when, in a bid to increase gender equity in Olympic sailing, it – alongside the IQFoil (foiling windsurfing) – was added to the programme for Paris 2024 and beyond.
“When I first started, everyone would travel from event to event racing, having a good time, and everyone was friends,” Aldridge says.
“Now, for sure, as more countries are putting more support behind their athletes and there’s a lot more pressure on everyone to secure funding or secure a space at the Olympics, there’s a lot more of a drive to win at all costs.
“So, for sure, it has changed. But I think that was always going to happen when it becomes an Olympic sport, it becomes a lot more serious.”
At the time kite foiling was added to the Paris roster, Aldridge was still finding her feet in her new sport. With “pretty much no-one in the UK” kite foiling, she had answered a talent ID search at the end of 2018.
“I spent the winter learning how to do everything, going from being quite high up in the sailing class that I was in to going to the beginning again,” she says.
The following year, she was competing at her first European Championships; by 2021 she was a World Championship medallist.
And having just won silver at the Olympic test event in July and her third world medal – another silver – last month, Aldridge, ranked fourth in the world, is in prime position to fill Great Britain’s sole female spot at next year’s Games.
“The past four years of my life have been completely dedicated towards [the Olympics],” she says. “It would mean a lot.
“It’s crazy to think it’s within touching distance. I think part of me imagined it, but part of me was kind of kidding myself.”
But before Paris comes Portsmouth.
From 19 September, the Formula Kite European Championships descend on the waters off Eastney Beach, with qualifying rounds taking place during the week before finals over the weekend.
Aldridge is one of 12 athletes – six male, six female – set to compete on home waters for the British team, with Olympic quota places up for grabs for nations who have not yet secured one. GB’s women’s fleet, featuring Aldridge, bagged their spot at August’s World Championships but the men are yet to guarantee a place on the Paris start line.
For a sport in which Mother Nature has a lot to say, the weather on the south coast is looking “fruity” over the coming days, but that is doing little to dampen the excitement around the regatta.
“It’s almost four years to the day that I was competing in my first ever European Championships, so it’s really nice, a year out from the Games, being in the UK, being at home,” Aldridge says.
“Tuesday and Wednesday could be quite tricky. It looks very windy. We can go out in quite a lot of wind, but if it becomes dangerous then it’s not a great idea to send everyone out on the water, but the rest of the week actually looks really good.
“We qualified at the Worlds, so there’s less pressure than if we hadn’t, but we still want to perform.
“This whole year, there has been a lot of pressure on every event. You want to prove that you’re the best and should be picked for the Olympics.”