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More on the Olympic decisions by ISAF - a personal view

Paul Henderson, former President of ISAF thinks windsurfing is no longer relevant. For many of us windsurfing is a personal thing and both the Olympics and ISAF are not particularly relevant, however it is a significant world stage which raises the profile of the sport and brings in new blood. Imagine what it would be like if windsurfing was freed from the constraints of being a sailing hybrid, and was allowed to show its true colours! This is my personal response to this view and I'd appreciate feedback (Bruce Spedding).

Response to Sail-world.com article - The Pope speaks on the 2016 Olympic Events


These comments are my own personal views and do not represent the views of Windsurfing NZ.

The Pope? Well, we all know how hard that particular group hang on to the past and tradition in the face of change.

Leap of faith Mr Henderson? We jumped a long time ago and you still haven't even noticed the gap.

If the criteria for inclusion in Olympic sailing is being new and extreme then kiteboarding and windsurfing are the only disciplines that should still be there, so clearly a double standard is being applied. In fact if both sports were allowed to appear in their true and popular forms then Paul Henderson would see what new and extreme really mean. He would also (perhaps) understand why the version of windsurfing contrived to not offend the sensibilities of the traditionalists is not universally followed by the windsurfing community, and if he's looking for a car on the motorway with an RS:X board on the roof he's probably going to have a long wait, because these days most windsurfing equipment fits inside the car, including the board. Here in New Zealand we are seeing a significant resurgence in windsurfing, just not in the RS:X class - no surprises there.

Windsurfing has a longer learning curve than most sports, and in fact the learning curve never flattens out as the new challenges and possibilities seem to appear faster than even the most talented sailors can master them.

The forms of racing available to windsurfers include the obvious ones, course racing, slalom, long distance and match racing. In addition, boarder cross is a dynamic race format which requires sailors to race a downwind slalom course in a heat format while also having to perform mandatory manoeuvres including loops and jumping over barriers.

Freestyle windsurfing is essentially gymnastics on the water, done on small boards at planing speed with an amazing range of spins and loops which seem to defy physics. In situations where events have been organised and there has been no wind competitors have even used towing to get them up to planing speeds!

Wave sailing is equally fantastic, combining aerial manoeuvres with radical wave riding to provide a continuous out-and-back display. While Mr Henderson's RS:X boards would have trouble getting off the water in most cases, the new wave sailors are now attempting forward and backward triple loops and reaching heights of 20m (60').

Speed sailing is also a developing sport, especially with the general availability of GPS, and until recently windsurfers were the undisputed speed kings of sailing.

Windsurfing is even done in indoor venues to very enthusiastic crowds.

So lets review windsurfing as an Olympic sport if it was allowed to exercise its full potential and not squeezed into the sit-down-sailing mutation.

Windsurfing offers an incredibly broad range of disciplines which means that some sort of competitive event can staged under any conditions. It offers speed, acrobatics, endurance, colour and excitement. Every four years the event would be a show case for the latest tricks and styles as competitors continue to push the limits. The possibility of operating a multi-discipline format with individual as well as overall medals. The ability to adapt the sport format to the venue available, including indoor or artificial if necessary. The low cost of entry into the sport, and the fact that generally it does not require any significant local or national infrastructure to allow an individual to become internationally competitive opens it up to a much broader group than conventional sailing. Young people the world over can watch all the latest action on the internet and then go out and try it for themselves (try that in a yacht).

Kiteboarding of course offers a similarly rich vein of actual and possible disciplines.

So the sailing community sees windsurfing as an unwanted 'bastard child', and with another orphan knocking on the door and nobody wanting to make room, guess who is getting the heave ho!

Its gratifying (but not surprising) that one of the strongest advocates for windsurfing seems to be the kiteboarding community, and they will be very conscious of some of the commentary that has been appearing. I also want to acknowledge the support from some (less staid) parts of the sailing community.

Having followed this debate so far, and the outcome of the latest ISAF meetings I have decided that it is probably time that windsurfing acknowledged its true nature. It may be time for the board sports to step up and demonstrate that they are not some sort of hybrid form of sailing but are a complete package in their own right, with scope and potential that leaves sailing in a dark corner.

I think (as has been suggested by others) that its time for a board sports to have their own category at the Olympics - including windsurfing, kiteboarding and the various forms of surfing. Free of the traditional sailing attitudes these three disciplines would have the potential to become a real centrepiece to the summer Olympics.

Imagine the possibilities!

Regards
Bruce Spedding.

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