Not since 1992 has a windsurfer representing the United States won an Olympic medal, when Mike Gebhardt won the silver medal in Barcelona, Spain. In 1984, the inaugural year for Men’s Olympic Windsurfing, Scott Steele won a silver medal in Los Angeles, and Gebhardt won the bronze medal in Seoul, South Korea in 1988. Women’s Windsurfing became an Olympic sport in 1992, and to date no American woman has won an Olympic Windsurfing medal.
During his coverage of the 2008 Olympic Regatta in Qingdao, China, Gary Jobson (now President of US SAILING) stated that the USA needs to reboot its sailboard program. Indeed, a 5-person team known as the Windsurfing Task Force had been formed earlier that year at US SAILING’s spring meeting in Providence, RI with a goal of “developing talent & depth for the 2012 Olympic Quad and a medal at the 2016 Olympics.”
To learn more about the Windsurfing Task Force and the newly formed Youth Development Windsurfing Team, we spoke with Nevin Sayre, a member of the Windsurfing Task Force, a five-time U.S. National Windsurfing Champion, Junior Sailing Programs Director at Bic Sport North America and father of US Sailing Team Alphagraphics member (and WindCheck contributor) Solvig Sayre.
WindCheck:What are junior sailing programs in countries like Great Britain and France doing with windsurfing that those in the USA need to emulate?
Nevin Sayre: Windsurfing is fully integrated into most junior sailing programs in the UK and France from the get-go. Kids go back and forth, or they focus on windsurfing or dinghies (or multihulls, in many cases in France) as they grow up.
WC: Who are the other members of the Windsurfing Task Force?
NS: The Windsurfing Task Force is chaired by Bryan McDonald, who is an avid sailor and US SAILING judge from San Francisco, CA. Our Junior Performance Coach is Britt Viehman, who has a windsurfing school in Clearwater, FL. Susan Epstein of Sharon, MA is on the board of directors of US SAILING and the National Women’s Sailing Association. Dan Weiss, who lives in Boston, MA, is the Northeast Region Director of US Windsurfing.
WC: What are your “bottom up” and “top down” strategies?
NS: From the bottom up, we’re trying to get windsurfing into junior sailing programs. The technology has made it possible, and that wasn’t the case ten years ago. You didn’t have one board that an 8-yearold, an 18-year-old or an 80-year-old could sail. With different size rigs, that’s now very possible with one board. The rigs have developed to a stage where you can have an affordable rig that even an 8- year-old can pull out of the water and go windsurfing with very little effort. Windsurfing is far and away the most affordable form of sailing. For the price of one-and-a-half 420s you can get a fleet of eight windsurfers and 12 different rigs to fit sailors of all sizes and abilities. From the top down, we’re creating events for kids who aspire to compete, and opportunities for more high-level coaching.
WC: How is US SAILING’s new Windsurfing Instructor course working?
NS: US SAILING has always had a 4-day course where you become a fully certified instructor, but that just wasn’t working because most sailing programs cannot afford to send an instructor (and certainly not two or three) to a 4-day course in Florida. Now, if you are a Level 1 dinghy certified instructor, you can take this 2-day course that basically gives you all the fundamental tools you need to run a windsurfing program. Are you fully certified? No. Does it really matter? Most people don’t think so. Even if you’re not an expert windsurfer, you can teach a kid how to windsurf. If you give a kid who sails one hour of good instruction on a Techno 293 One Design [the designated international youth development board for ages 5 - 17] in 5 to 12 knots, they’ll be windsurfing around for the next hour all by themselves.
WC: What is the Youth Development Windsurfing Team?
NS: It’s a youth pipeline team endorsed by the US Olympic Sailing Committee, comprising kids who are very committed to training and getting good international results. They’re selected nationally, not just in the Techno 293 but also the RS:X Olympic class or other windsurfing classes. We want to get these kids together so they can learn from each other, receive higher level coaching, and get as much support as they can to go to international events. Americans get our butts kicked when we go over to Europe! Last year, we brought a team of Americans to the Techno 293 World Championship for the first time. There were 300 kids age 16 and under at this regatta in England, and it was a big eye-opener for these kids who had raced in, at most, fleets of 20. The skill level was very, very high and our results reflected that. Last month, Ian Stokes, who is the 2007 Opti National Champion, finished mid-fleet at the Civitavecchia Techno 293 Open Regatta in Italy. Kids like Ian, who is very good sailor, need exposure to international windsurfing competition where the starts are really tough and the level is very high. We’re catching up slowly but surely, but it takes a lot of coaching and getting to those regattas, and we need to keep raising by having our own high caliber events.
WC: Have there been any such events in the USA?
NS: In March, we had 30 kids from Mexico, Canada and the USA at the Techno 293 North American Championship in Merritt Island, FL. That was a bigger event than we’ve ever had before, and the top girl and the top guy qualified for the first Youth Olympics in Singapore in August. That’s a new event and most people haven’t even heard about it. Everyone knows the Summer and Winter Olympics, and from now on there will be a third event, the Youth Olympics. There’s a very narrow age range for this event. You have to have been born in 1994 or 1995, so you can easily be too old or too young. We selected the top kids from this continent. Margot Samson from Florida will be representing the USA, although a Puerto Rican kid and a Mexican kid beat out the American guys to represent North America. There’s a remote chance that we’ll get a wild card berth, and someone like Ian Stokes might represent the USA. [Sayre’s son Rasmus, age 12, won the U15 division at the North Americans.]
WC: Where are this year’s US SAILING Junior Olympic Windsurfing Festival events being held?
NS: The first one is in Merritt Island, FL in June, then there’s a Sailing Festival in Rock Hall, MD in July that will include windsurfing for the first time. St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco is hosting one in October, and I will be hosting the East Coast Junior Windsurfing Championships at Vineyard Haven Yacht Club on Martha’s Vineyard August 3 - 5. Kids from Canada are registering already and we should have a good turnout. We really welcome kids who are just starting out. The Gold fleet is for kids who can blast around the course, and the Silver fleet is for those who may have never raced before but can get upwind. They realize, ‘Wow, this is a lot of fun!’ and get the bug, and maybe they’re in the Gold fleet next year. The 2011 Techno 293 World Championships will be at St. Francis Yacht Club, and people are gonna be amazed because there will be 300 kids age 16 and under rippin’ around San Francisco Bay.
WC: What are the best online resources for young windsurfers who want to compete?
NS: They should check out the Techno 293 website (techno293.org), US Windsurfing (uswindsurfing.org) and Team USA (teamusa-windsurfing.blogspot.com). [Editor’s note: Windsurfers can sign up for professional online coaching with former World Windsurfing Champion Micah Buzianis (and purchase cool “WtF” t-shirts) at the Windsurfing Task Force website: homepage. mac.com/sailing/wtf/wtf2.html.]
WC: What’s your prognosis for windsurfing in the USA?
NS: Everything is pointed in the right direction. There are more junior sailing programs that now have windsurfing, more events and more excitement, and it’s coming back...I only need to look out at the harbor in Vineyard Haven. You’d see windsurfers out there every day in the early 80s, and then for a long time you didn’t. Now you see windsurfers again, and it’s because the gear is easy, it’s affordable, and it’s just flat-out fun.