Another nail in the sailing world’s coffin

Published on January 29th, 2020

Ben Barger, who was the U.S. windsurfing representative at the 2008 Olympics, once compared his event to the marathon. Due to unrestricted sail pumping, he found the exertion and recovery to be extreme.

Assisting at World Cup Series Miami 2020, Chicago Yacht Club’s On-the-Water Director Jay Kehoe referred to RS:X Olympic equipment as windwhakers. “Off the start line, with all the pumping, the snapping of the sail creates this ‘whack-whack-whack’ sound.”

To watch the video from the RS:X Men Medal Race in Miami: click here.

Bruce Matlack was the first US National and World Windsurfer Champion, so he has been witness to windsurfing for a very long time. Now 76 years old and still going strong, he shares his view of free-pumping:


Back in 1979, Paul Henderson wrote an excellent article exposing this kinetics disease with reference to the 470 class. In 2006, I felt so strongly about this developing curse, that I made pumping illegal in the class rules of the new Kona windsurfing class.

We were model successful in North American racing but less so in international events with even more on-course judges present. The top 15% “over there” cheated whenever the backs of these judges were turned. It has been discouraging. No longer is our game controlled by the ethics of competitors. The new unspoken rule is, “Hey, if you can get away with it, do it!”

Recently the original Windsurfer was reborn as the Windsurfer LT Class, and despite my best efforts, the Class Association decided that pumping would be allowed for up to 30 seconds after the start and unlimited downwind. The Class President explained, “We’ve been unable to control it, so this is the working compromised system.”

In my opinion, that is total B.S. The true answer, I believe, is “We don’t want to control it.” So, sailboat racing has evolved into soccer. Sportsmanship on the field, or on the water, is mostly controlled now by umpires with their yellow and red flags waving in the major championships.

The natural progression in sailing is how a class decides to eliminate all or part of Rule 42 (Propulsion Rule). While this might be fine at the elite level, it is a participation killer further downstream, and is just another nail in the sailing world’s coffin.

By the way, the Windsurfer LT Class in North America has agreed to honor Rule 42 as it is written in the Racing Rules of Sailing, as we have in the Kona Class for 14 years. For anyone interested in joining these two classes, rest assured it is about sailing and not sail pumping.

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