Learn from the past for a better future

Published on February 4th, 2020

The demise of windsurfing in North America occurred when the focus wandered away from recreational one design class racing on the bays and tributaries, promoting instead technical gear better suited for big wind and waves. This evolution cycle developed costlier gear, requiring greater ability, thus diminishing the market.

But the movement to bring back windsurfing at the one design class level has gotten traction through the Kona Class and Windsurfer LT Class Organizations, with the later board getting endorsed by a couple of the people who witnessed the early success of the genre.

Among the rule issues being debated is pumping, which has a substantial impact on upwind and downwind performance, but also requires significant physical conditioning to execute. Here are some strong views on the topic:

Robbie Naish, 4-time Windsurfer World Champion, 1976-79:
Pumping should absolutely not be allowed. It completely changes the conditions of racing in a negative way. It creates an ugly dynamic visually and gives tall and skinny racers a clear advantage. It makes for a much more endurance-oriented activity, which is not something that I feel is needed or desired in a sailing/windsurfing class. I imagine that not allowing pumping at all will be a bit difficult in this day and age, but it would sure be nice to keep the racing clean.

Bruce Matlack, Windsurfer World Champion, 1973:
I will never forget my experience where I said, “Enough!” It was in the US Nationals some 14 years ago. It was near dead calm, I was on port tack with 8-10 boat lengths of safety ahead to the weather mark when a guy on starboard began rapidly air rowing over to tap me, yelling, “Protest!” The incident got me thinking of all the other interference with other racing rules that this disease can cause.

With how the technique of air rowing has been perfected, especially off the wind where the big gains are made over the fleet, it has to be banned. It has developed into a motorized regatta fleet competition which has little interest to me – even if I was not 75 years old.

Sailboat racing is a sport that one can enjoy for a lifetime. I had counted on windsurfing to be the same as other classes in this area, as there are too many participants to be lost by “motorizing” the sailing. With pumping within the recreational ranks, I suspect it will be like the attorneys advertising on billboards along the Florida highways, always looking for new clients because they cannot keep old ones.

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