Making windsurfing cool again

Published on November 23rd, 2020

If you want to increase activity in your class of boat, nothing works quite as well as an engaged booster to pull people in. On Piddinghoe Pond, an inland lake near the coast due south of London, that’s happened as one man made it his mission to single handedly make windsurfing cool again.

It is Nick Blackburn, a chippy (carpenter) and he’s at Newhaven and Seaford Sailing Club getting people out on boards. He isn’t a former world champion or famous sporting hero… he just loves windsurfing.

Over a year ago the club had just a few “old” windsurfers. However, for the last year Nick has made it his mission to turn up every weekend, come rain, shine, and most importantly wind, to open the windsurf shed, get out all the equipment, and encourage the “other lot” to come and have a go at windsurfing.

He isn’t paid. The club doesn’t charge for this. He doesn’t get anything more than the satisfaction of seeing windsurfers fill the pond. A true Windsurfing Ambassador is what you do hear people say. Nick the Windsurf Bloke is what anyone who turns up calls him.

He does not care if you have never windsurfed before. If you’re old or young. He even doesn’t care if you normally sail a Laser, an Opie, and even a catamaran. He wants to get you out windsurfing.

And it has worked.

Most Saturdays Piddinghoe Pond is full of windsurfers. The club sailing pond is shared with a fishing club, gig rowers, and sailors. However, now windsurfers often outnumber them all.

The younger members of the club love it. Youngsters who compete in national sailing competitions. Some who are barely big enough to hold the sail. They are all there windsurfing.

Thomas is one younger member who is an extremely competent and successful young sailor who regularly competes against and beats much older members.

“It was a real life saver when we first came out of lockdown. I don’t know where we’d all be without Nick’s generosity with gear and commitment to sorting us out every week. The improvement we have all made this year, along with all the new sailors Nick has got into it is brilliant and couldn’t have happened without his encouragement.”

In these tough times for many, when hand washing and risk assessments (Nick’s a windsurfer and they are not known for their love of risk assessment) take up much of the time of those organizing sports, Nick has managed to keep to the rules (yes you heard it here – windsurfers can follow rules) and make windsurfing work.

And this has been of great benefit for the health and well-being of sailing club members of all ages. A quick bomb across the pond does wonders and puts a smile on your face. Even if that involves a wipeout and trudge along the muddy bottom of the pond before remounting the board.

Zoe is an experienced sailor, instructor for Cadets and herself a teacher. “Learning how to windsurf this year has been a blessing in these uncertain times,” she reports. “I could not have done it without Nick’s full support.

“Encouraging me to go back out after a nasty wipeout. Sending me pictures of boards for sale to ensure I had the right equipment. And giving me advice on how to set up the kit in different wind conditions means I may not be a great windsurfer but I am however now a windsurfer.”

He finds equipment and rigs for those wanting to take part from within his windsurf shed, the back of his van, or often from his own equipment. His many windsurf contacts give him equipment so that all of these novices can take part.

One young member who has benefited from this generosity is James. “Nick has greatly improved my confidence in windsurfing since I joined the Saturday morning windsurfing club. He inspired me to progress from my F2 Lightning to a Bic Techno 152 litre board, and to try using the harness more (which I now use consistently).

“Earlier in the year, Nick encouraged me to increase my sail size from a 5.5 sq. metre sail. Shortly afterwards, and out of the blue, he donated a camber-induced 7.2 sq. meter sail to me to try out!

“I have since gained the confidence to get planing using the sail in Force 4-5 winds, which has been great fun. He has since encouraged me to start using the footstraps, which is my next challenge!”

Nick takes time with everyone, shows them how to set up their rig, gives them advice, and shows them what to do. And this investment of time pays off as they come back week after week.

Don’t think poor Nick doesn’t get to go out and hammer it still himself. He still gets to get out and sail. For him that’s more often when the beginners have gone in because the wind has got too mad or they have fallen in for the twentieth time. He then gets to bomb across the pond and show everyone how it is done.

Many don’t know that he learnt to windsurf on the very same pond a number of years ago himself as a kid, and now he is creating a new generation of windsurfers to follow in his wake.

Windsurfing on the South Coast is in safe hands with Nick the Windsurf Bloke – Windsurfing Ambassador.

Source: Damien Jordan, RYA

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