Will Jones reports about some home-truths on the state of the windsurfing industry and muses over possible solutions and what the student population is actually doing to power on through…
The current state of the UK windsurf industry is perhaps not like it was in its glory days. Kit prices have been increasing and just affording the fuel to get to the ideal spot is beginning to have its impact. Unfortunately to some people the sport is becoming less and less accessible. It's a problem but there are some hidden glimmers of a shinning light.
Firstly, there are still plenty of people who want to go windsurfing. I know I'm far from alone in finding myself having a quick break from work most days to check the weather forecast for the coming weekend. Whereas in the past I would have spent the week looking for the best forecast in the country, then come Friday packed the car up and disappeared off for the weekend. Now more often I will just settle for a slightly less full on session at my local spot.
It's not just us long time windsurfers who have to feed our addiction. There are plenty of people who have never tried the sport that would love to have a go. I get asked fairly regularly by my non-windsurf friends if I could give them a lesson some time. I would love to be able to do this. Of course, they don't understand that it would be fairly tricky to try and teach them on my gear. It would be a small miracle if a complete newbie to windsurfing managed to uphaul on my wave board and I definitely don't have the spare cash to buy a set of beginner kit to teach them on.
So what are the options for people who want to give the sport a go Well, if you can afford it, I would guess the best option is book yourself a holiday somewhere hot and sunny, with racks of windsurfing kit on the beach and plenty of fit tanned instructors to teach you. The next best option is a course in the UK. These can be found for a reasonable price. If you live local to a course that is running it can even be done to a reasonable budget. If you don't have one nearby then you have to include the price of getting there and accommodation and suddenly the cost of going abroad doesn't seem as so far fetched. I think, however, that by far the cheapest and one of the most enjoyable ways to windsurf has to be to get involved with a club.
Clubs seem to have a pretty simple formula. You pay a small fee to join, say £25 for the year. The club organises regular sessions to go along to with tuition from other club members. You all meet up, go windsurfing and make lots of new friends doing it. The club provides some kit which it pays for through the membership fees and probably some sort of sponsorship or discount they negotiate from a local shop in return for their business. It's a great way to learn and enjoy windsurfing at an affordable price. Unfortunately clubs like this seem to be in short supply. Perhaps due to the ever increasing cost of windsurfing this formula doesn't seem to work as well as it might have done in the past.
So, just last week I met Will Rycroft who despite all the challenges facing him is determined to start a windsurfing club in Northumbria where he has just started University. I caught up with him to find out more about his plans for the club . . . Read the interview on Boards Windsurfing Magazine on-line
I really do believe clubs will play an important part in the future of our sport. Being at Uni in Cardiff I was very lucky to have the opportunity to get involved with a well established and very successful club. Cardiff today continues to be flourishing each year, attracting a healthy sized group of new members. In addition the advanced sailors can regularly be seen tearing up the beaches of South Wales and have scored some good results on the SWA series this year. However I think in the first year I was involved (2009/10) the Cardiff club was definitely at an all time high. So what made the club so successful that year?
First of all I think credit where credit is due; Leah Pickering was an exceptional club president and she had the support of a dedicated committee. Leah was a very capable windsurfer but no superstar; it is by no means a requirement of the president to be the best windsurfer in the club. She was super organised and put beginners and club members windsurfing ahead of spending time herself on the water. At socials and events she led from the front, pretty much always the most enthusiastic party animal.
Secondly at the centre of the club was a solid windsurfing core. That year myself, Rob Richardson, James Goody and Seb Willis would take every opportunity to get to the beach, and I seem to remember we were lucky enough to enjoy what seemed like a never ending spree of 3.7 sessions. Leah and the four of us attended every one of the SWA events that year, joined by a good group from Cardiff at most of them, and we were pretty successful with results on the series. That year the SWA was supported by Plasma and I think between us we have the entire catalogue of T-shirts. Seb won the overall race series and both Seb and Goody scored well in the freestyle series and some good results in the waves. One highlight of the year was Rob, Seb and I winning the team racing at Nationals and Cardiff bringing home the BUCS trophy. I dont think it was our windsurfing level that helped the club to flourish. I think more just the fact that we took every opportunity we could to windsurf and were eager to help out the rest of the club; teaching beginners and coaching improving windsurfers.
Further, attached to that windsurfing core was an equally core group of members with varying degrees of dedication to windsurfing but an absolute devout dedication to the clubs social side. Our socials would regularly see 40 or 50 members turn out with often a further splattering of friends, not attached to the club, brought along just to see if windsurf nights out lived up to their reputation. Windsurf nights out that year were legendary (and really have continued to be so ever since).
One other particularly important factor that made Cardiff a very successful club and continues to do so today; is the support we have fortunately received from industry. Just a few miles out of Cardiff is the head quarters of industry leader Puravida who have supported the Cardiff Uni club for several years now. This year Puravida has taken their support of students to the next level and become the lead sponsor for the wave series. Further to that Puravida are the lead sponsor to the BWA and sponsor a number of team riders too. I caught up with managing director Jim Brooks to help explain what Puravida do.