AUCKLAND HERALD ON SUNDAY 20 /2/2011
Windsurfing lost out to cheaper extreme sports but is again attracting the attention of the young - and not so young.
By Dennis Cole
FIND A breath of wind and you'll also find collections of little sails racing round the harbour, and closer to shore than the Lasers and Pclasses you will find windsurfers.
The sport has died down since its hey day in the 1980s — a combination of expensive, inaccessible equipment and a rise in other extreme sports such as snowboarding and skateboarding took the wind out of the sport's sails. But recently windsurfing has been changing its look: rather than racing from buoy to buoy youngsters are being drawn to free style windsurfing—flipping and spinning in the air to land tricks you'd more likely see on a snow or skateboard.
Windsurfing New Zealand president Bruce Spedding has been windsurfing for any of his 60 years.
"Windsurfing did die away. What happened is windsurfing was the extreme sport 20-25 years ago. lt really was the sport that everyone was getting into. Then all the other extreme sports like mountain biking, snowboarding and skateboarding came in. Compared to a lot of these other sports windsurfing was a challenge."
Spedding says large events such as Wellington's Harbour Blast would attract up to 150 competitors and national windsurfing races like the Rheineck series would tour the country. As interest waned in the 1990s many local manufacturers went out of business as demand and for their products dropped off.
But the boards of today are much different and user-friendly, especially for beginners, said windsurfing teacher Pete Smith. He has been teaching windsurfing all over the world for about 20 years and is currently based at Auckland Windsurfing based in Pt Chevalier, Auckland.
"What really killed off windsurfing was the equipment — it was too expensive and inaccessible to use. Then around 10 years ago windsurfing was revolutionised by wide boards."
Most boards today are much shorter and much wider than their heavy ancestors, making them easier for riders of all levels of expertise to use.
"Beginner boards are super-wide and quite short, but they handle a lot of wind and turn very well. Forregularwindsurf ersthey couldget goingin lesswind butt or beginners it made it 10 times easier to use.ln my opinion. thatswhat's changed windsurfingthe most."
Smith said a lot of the younger learners come through wanting to be taught the freestyle side of windsurfing.
"We do get a lot of that from the youngsters. It's become much more spectacular. That was another problem with windsurfing — people associate it with racing and going rounds a course. Spedding says there have been some interesting developments in the classification of Olympic windsurfing. Currently windsurfing is classed as a type of yachting but freestyle windsurfing is more closely related to kiteboarding, said Spedding.
Spedding would like to see freestyle windsurfing included in the Games with a points system resembling that of half pipe snowboarding,
There has been a push to make the Olympics media-friendly and yachting does not always make good television.
"Yachting is not seen as media friendly: it doesn't have that immediacy and drama of other sports." he says. Freestyle windsurfing would provide drama and excitement.
A junior event aimed at kids in their early teens to go out and leam freestyle is taking place next weekend. Youngsters have a chance to get a taste of this spectacular sport at the Madloop Junior Freestyle Competition to be held in Lake Pupuke on February 26.
"Its run as a - competition but it's also encouraging kids to come a long."
Judged by some of the top freestylers in the country. "it's about getting them [kids] involved in the sport and having fun".
Windsurfing's not all for the kids, though — Spedding says many older people are dusting off their old gearand getting back in the water. "My personal experience with windsurfing is there are more people my age, older people who are finding that their kids have left home and they are still very active. Some of these people are getting back into windsurfing or are discovering it for the first time.
"It's not something you retire from when you're 30, I'm 60 and planningto go for a lot longer."