One of the mysteries of sailing is why windsurfing is so massive in Europe, and unpopular in Australia. Australia has a perfect climate year-round for windsurfing, as opposed to some countries where sailors break the ice off the lake before going for a sail! And compared to so many other forms of sailing windsurfing is attractive, it is cheap, the gear is easy to transport and store, and you don't need crew!
Like everywhere, the windsurfing craze hit Australia in the 80's and 90's. It was big. But over time interest seemed to wane. Why? One of the reasons is that windsurfing became an off the beach activity. Without proper structure, facilities and safety, it became a sport enjoyed by an ever-shrinking group of people. Identifying this challenge become the base for improvement.
Australia now has a Windsurfing Centre of Excellence - a facility that is about to change things around.
The facility was opened during the recent, highly successful World Raceboard Championships at Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron in Brisbane. The idea was to create a program and a structure to support windsurf training that can be rolled out at clubs across the country, to allow Australia to re-join the world in windsurfing.
The idea first came about three years ago as Australian Sailing was interviewing for a Head Coach for Windsurfing. The plan was to get the best coach possible, prepare athletes for the Olympics, while in the background creating a syllabus, improving instructor training and finding ways to introduce windsurfing to junior sailors. It had to be done properly otherwise the grassroots program would fail to deliver results.
Five-time World Champion in windsurf disciplines and the first person to sail across the Baltic Sea on a windsurfer, Max Wojcik came from Poland to take on the position of Australian Head Coach, and started training athletes and instructors. The next step was to buy equipment and build a facility at his home club RQYS to see if the program could be self-sufficient.
"The numbers are working out," Max says. "The course brings a surplus. In the long term this will cover the cost of the infrastructure and the equipment, as it proved to do with Tackers. So over time it will prove to be a self-sustaining program available to every club in the country. Things are so much easier as the Tacker program (Opti boat sailing for kids) delivered the processes and connections with schools that otherwise would take ages."
The Centre of Excellence is the pilot program. The next step is to meet with other clubs, share the business plan and equipment choices, share lessons and inspire instructors, parents and kids.
In the meantime windsurfing offers a full program to any primary or secondary school that can apply for Government funding. This is a great opportunity, especially now in Brisbane where things are about to blossom.
Max is starting to tour Australia, running free learn-to-windsurf courses to show clubs how easily the program can be rolled out.
"The biggest difference is we are now concentrating on managing groups of kids rather than giving one-on-one sessions. This is an important shift, as this enables the instructors to deliver quality and fun training to more kids. A lot of games are essential for our courses," says Max.
In the link HERE
, you can find a 3 min video showing how is it done in Brisbane.
There's been a massive upswing in kids learning to sail in Optimists. However, it's a big gap to the next option, be it 29er, 420, Nacra 15 or Laser Radial, which are expensive crafts.
Windsurfing can fill the gap but can also expand the pool of interested kids to try something new and even more exciting. Bic Techno is a cheap option, you don't need crew, and it's fun. But until now there was no program.
The Windsurfing Centre of Excellence will change that, providing a pathway for kids who have the talent and are interested, and spreading the sailing fun for all.
Max Wojcik is confident. "The Tacker program is super successful. I can't see why windsurfing wouldn't be more successful. Maybe I'm biased but windsurfing is so much better than slow boats!"