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Glide, fly, and surf the sky

Published on May 22nd, 2018

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
While working in the trenches during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the chatter about changes to the Event program filled the hallway. Change was needed, a fact the International Olympic Committee made clear in their Agenda 2020 document.

It was evident in Rio how Sailing was an oddball in the Games. Think about Athletics, and the difference between the 100 meter dash, the pole vault, and the hammer throw. Then think about Sailing. Here’s what I said:

“From the outside, all the Sailing events look too similar. We have ten events diving off the same 10m platform but wearing different bathing suits. For sailors, the differences are critical. For the other 95% of the people that watch the Games, not so much. Sailing needs more obvious variation in its events. A steady diet of similar boats on windward-leeward racing won’t cut it.”

After reviewing the 10 Events at Rio, among those I felt had to endure was the Men’s and Women’s Windsurfer. Here’s what I said:

“Trust me, we need windsurfing. I’d say we need more board sports. The IOC wants sailors to look like athletes, and if they can be beautiful, this Event checks that box too. These are long, lean, and attractive people. They are also chill. They are not yacht club people, they are beach people. Heck, these are the beach volleyball players of sailing. Beach volleyball was one of the few stadiums that was full in Rio, and if you could wrap grandstands around their course, it would have been full too.”

With windsurfing now retained through Paris 2024, along with the addition of a kiteboard event, I am pleased the decision makers felt this way too. Among the most mesmerizing windsurfers in Rio was Dorian van Rijsselberghe (NED). So dominant, winning over half the races, everyone else was racing for second. His aura so strong… gosh he was having fun. If Sailing needed a posterboy, it was to be Dorian.

While the RS:X board is to be used in Tokyo 2020, 2-time gold medalist Dorian is eager for windsurfing to elevate its profile in 2024. Here’s the direction he’d like to see for his Event:

After the 2020 Games, everything in windsurfing will revolve around one thing, the foil, or as close a word we have for it in Dutch: ‘draagvleugel’! But we’re going to take to the sky people; windsurfing is literally going to take itself out of the water…. Yes!

The decision of the IOC, to keep both men’s and women’s windsurfing in 2024, is justified. Windsurfing is the most demanding of Olympic water sports, at least physically, which is reason enough to keep the class.

A ‘foil’ is wicked
That physical element remains, because if you don’t go fast enough, the foil will not lift you. Next to that you’ll still need your body to move forward. There will always be times with little to no wind. But when there’s a decent breeze, a ‘foil’ is wicked; it opens up a whole new dimension in my sport.

And it’s about time too. Foiling is the future. I’ve been practicing it for a while now. Sometimes I’ve been given a foil here and there to try out…. I’m a fan! And there are more positive changes to come. For example the course, the ‘track’, will be adapted to the weather conditions -sometimes shorter, sometimes longer – making it more dynamic and even greater fun to watch.

And it’s likely there’ll not be one sole manufacturer making the material, as is the case with the current RS:X class. Due to competition, the gear will become cheaper, making it easier for the youth to get into it. So a little gutsy boy, or girl, could be flying over the water soon. Cool!

Kitesurfers welcome!
It’s good that kitesurfing (which after previous attempts will be Olympic from 2024) isn’t pushing my sport out, for there are as many countries where a sail on a board is as popular as a mattress in the sky. Soooo … maybe I think it’s all so cool that I’ll continue until 2024.

Ha ha, you never know. Can you wait to see the future of windsurfing? I can’t!


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