Growing Youth Windsurfing in the USA
Published on October 24th, 2016
US Windsurfing is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting the sport and making the whole experience of windsurfing a more positive one for those that choose to windsurf in the USA.
As the 2016 Techno 293 Worlds gets underway in Lake Garda (attended by more than 450 kids under the age of 17, including a team of 7 kids from the Miami Yacht Club), Jerome Samson, President of US Windsurfing, shares this report on growing youth windsurfing in the USA…
Over the past 3 to 4 years, Miami Yacht Club has been the only US club to take part in World and European competition in Techno 293, and for the most part in youth RS:X as well. This is thanks to the dynamism and personal involvement of folks like Tomas Nores and Florencia Barletta, and the unwavering support of Leandro Spina, U.S. Olympic Youth Development Director. Even Dominique Stater, who lives in D.C., shows up at those competitions under the Miami banner.
So it’s no surprise to see Miami represent the U.S. again at the 2016 Techno 293 Worlds in Lake Garda. However, having a country represented disproportionately at international event s by kids from one single club happens in other countries too.
Most Polish kids are from Sopot. Most Israeli kids are from Eilat. Most Italian kids are from Civitavecchia. Most French kids are from Brest. Most Spanish kids are from Cadiz. There are clubs in these areas that simply do it better, and have a long history of exposing their young talent to the thrills of international competition.
Of course, in those other countries, there are many more clubs taking part in national-level windsurfing competitions. In the U.S., besides Miami Yacht Club, there are simply no other clubs right now seriously invested in grooming talent for this type of competition.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t kids around the country who windsurf every chance they get. In fact, we have more pockets of youth windsurfing around the country now than we had 5 or 10 years ago. The sport is just too cool and much easier to approach than it was back then.
I’m a big believer in the power of kids to motivate each other to try something new. Give a new toy to a kid, make it super fun, let him show it off to his buddies, and tomorrow you’ll have five kids doing the same thing, and evangelizing it to their own circle of friends.
We’ve been running circles with our windsurfing gear around the youth sailing fleets in Clearwater for years, and now, pretty much all the kids who are on traditional sailing racing teams (Optis, Lasers, 420s, Cats) are also windsurfing. While the previous generation of youth windsurfers in Clearwater raced Technos and RS:Xs, this new generation races Konas, and that’s terrific. They’re building up windsurfing skills, and perhaps some of them will aim their sights on the Olympic track in the future.
There’s no secret to growth: the pump needs to somehow be primed. We owe the current wave of enthusiasm in Clearwater to when the 2014 RS:X Youth Worlds were held there. While I thought at first that seeing 100 of the best international youths racing the RS:X on their local waters would inspire the Clearwater kids to jump on the RS:X themselves, that didn’t happen. However, they jumped on the Kona instead, and at the end of the day, I’m thrilled either way because they’re becoming lifelong windsurfers. This kind of foundation will help windsurfing grow further, and ultimately improve the US Olympic Team’s chance in this event.
The formula for growth is simple. You have to organize events to bring windsurfing to your community and then set up a local program, sell it to the local club, seed it with proper equipment, get a dedicated instructor, and make sure it remains fun for the kids involved. This takes time, money, energy and patience, but it also requires some type of structure to make it all work.
While the US Olympic program works with the top of the pyramid, the rest of us must figure out how to help develop the base of the pyramid. The base doesn’t need advanced training camps, coaches at regattas or traveling money. It needs equipment, instruction and time on the water. We’ve tried many times in the past, but I think we have the right conditions to make a successful run at it now:
1) Young Olympians to serve as role models;
2) Top manufacturers eager to help out if we can show a clear road map;
3) World-class events coming to our shores in the next couple of years;
4) A college windsurfing program currently in prototype mode;
5) A renewed focus on youth development at US Sailing, and the resources to make it happen;
Tactically, we have two World Championships coming to the U.S. in 2018: the World Sailing Youth Champs in Corpus Christi, and the Kona Worlds in Clearwater. There’s also talk about the 2018 Techno 293 Worlds coming to the USA. Let’s seize these opportunities to not just bring the international windsurfing fleets to the U.S., but also to invest in local windsurfing programs.
I’d like to see 15 boards and a full-time windsurfing instructor at each of those venues starting in early 2017. This will serve as a base of operation to develop local talent, send a signal to international teams to come and practice and, more importantly, the infrastructure will be in place to capitalize on all the excitement after the event.
Let’s not shy away from the numbers: we’re looking at $100K at each location to make it work. But that’s money well spent if there’s a master plan. College programs are less costly to set up because we can tap into matching university funds and alumni networks, but there’s no question that some seed money is necessary to get those programs off the ground. In our experience, $25K will fund a college program for the year.
We’ll do our part at US Windsurfing to help orchestrate all of this, bring parties together, supervise and certify all instructors, and spread the word to all corners – but we need help to kick-start the initiative. Bring on the movers and shakers!