The RYA and Team 15 is all about getting youngsters onto the water, Boards learns more about why the next generation are loving windsurfing from future star Kieran Martin .Introduced to the sport simply because his older brother did it, RYA National Youth Squad member Kieran Martin, took his first tentative steps into windsurfing at Carsington Water when he was just eight years old.
Now 10 years later, despite being rated as one of the world’s most promising young talents and having multiple junior and youth level World medals to his name, Kieran can still recall the excitement and adventure he felt that very first time he got off and running alone.
It’s a feeling that is replicated across the country by hundreds of rookie youngsters every year and it’s the reason windsurfing is more popular and accessible than ever for kids.
“I was a bit wobbly to start with!” the 2010 Youth Olympics bronze medallist admits, “But the feeling of going alone for the first time was really good. There are so many gains you can then make really quickly; it just made me want to keep learning right from the start.”
There were almost 750 entrants nationwide in last year’s Team15 (T15) Inter-Club Championship and these are just the youngsters who wanted to take part in the racing. There were many more young windsurfers, either new to the sport or more interested in exploring freestyle and wave routes who also enjoy weekly sessions at one of over 80 T15 clubs in Britain.
There is little doubt that T15, set up by the RYA in 2001 to help make windsurfing more accessible and appealing to youngsters at a grassroots level, continues to play a massive part in opening up more doors for kids to discover a windsurfing lifestyle.
But fundamentally kids have got to want to do the sport in the first place.
So what is it about windsurfing which captures the imagination of youngsters like Kieran Martin, Izzy Hamilton, the Sills family and George Shillito, Team15 graduates who are all now doing amazing things internationally in racing, freestyle and wave.
Sam Ross is one of the country’s top windsurf instructors and a T15 coach. He says over the past two years the biggest demand he’s had has been from kids. He’s in no doubt as to why.
“For sporty kids windsurfing’s a great sport, but for non-sporty kids it’s just as great. You may think you have a nervous group to start with but within an hour they’re throwing themselves about and the confidence, fearlessness and banter just comes out of them.
“Windsurfing is one of the few sports they can be fully independent really quickly. In other sports, like rowing, dinghy sailing or team sports, you always have an instructor with you or teammates around you. But very quickly on a windsurfing board they can be up and running completely on their own. The sense of achievement is massive. You can see how happy they are, and how much they are absolutely loving it the first time they get going on their own.
“The best thing is by the end of a one hour session, they are all doing it. There is no end game when you first start; it’s not about how fast or far you can go, the achievement just comes from standing up and moving, wherever they end up on the water.”
Sam backs up Kieran’s experience, that once you get going that first time there are then loads of little steps to improve really early – things like introducing a turn, changing feet position to balance better and adjusting the rig position to go upwind or downwind. Tiny steps in the great scheme of things but each one a massive motivating achievement.
Sam believes the most important thing when first introducing youngsters to the sport is not getting hung up on the right terminology but allowing them to familiarise themselves with the kit and get a feel for it all first and foremost. This includes carrying the board and sails, standing on the board and trying to balance it, then gradually drip-feeding in the names of the different parts. It’s learning through the experience rather than making it feel like school.
He believes that the developments in kit has also made a massive difference in attracting kids to, and keeping them involved in, the sport in recent years.
Sam adds: “When I first learned to windsurf 15 years ago I learned on small adult kit. I remember it being the hardest sport I’d ever tried! The only thing that kept me involved was the enthusiasm of my instructor.
“Now the kit is so much lighter and there are specific boards and sails depending on the size and experience of a child. All centres and schools have realised the value of having this kit and invested accordingly. All kids are now learning on kids’ kit. I’m blown away by the number of kids windsurfing at such an advanced level at such a young age now.”
That ‘advanced level’ can be in racing, freestyle or wave; once a youngster’s grasped the basics and developed a passion for the sport, the world’s their oyster. Windsurfing also becomes a viable career option as you can be become an Assistant Instructor at 14 and an instructor at 16, meaning you can earn pocket money doing the thing you love!
Gillian Wright is the RYA’s National Windsurfing Development Officer and a driving force behind T15 since its inception.
She says: “Team15 has always looked to ensure windsurfing skills of all descriptions are nurtured, providing children with a good foundation in the sport, allowing them to take their windsurfing in whichever direction they wanted. It’s fantastic to see the youngsters progressing from Team15 to succeed in a variety of windsurfing disciplines. Whatever they go on to do, we hope that they will continue to windsurf long after their Team15 days.”
Look at the face of any youngster stepping on to a windsurfing board for the first time this summer and you would think that here is a pretty good chance…….
For more information about Team15 and to locate your nearest local club visit www.team15.org.uk or contact the RYA 0845 345 0400.