It is never too late to learn to windsurf...
This year Frank Watson will instruct his first Start Windsurfing course, five years after taking up the sport. Frank Watson is 67.
Yet, Frank’s story is not unusual or unique. At a time when 60 is the new 40, ‘silver windsurfing’ is booming.
Whether it’s people discovering the sport for the first time, or windsurfers coming back to the sport after years away from the water, age is proving nothing but a number to this group of enthusiasts.
“We’re living in a society with an aging population," explains John Morgan, who is witnessing the growth of silver windsurfing first hand at his Liquid Motion Watersports centre in Exmouth, Devon.
“At the same time people are generally healthier and more active and windsurfing is a sport that appeals on so many fronts. With these factors, it makes sense that we will probably start to see more people coming to windsurfing later in life.
“60 isn’t considered ‘old’ and a 50-year-old that starts windsurfing now could have 15+ more years in the sport. We’ve got people in their ‘70s learning to carve gybe!"
Frank’s motivation for getting into windsurfing follows a few common themes.
After retiring at 62, with his children long grown up, he had newfound time on his hands. Previously a dedicated dinghy sailor, Frank had tried windsurfing a number of years earlier but it never came to anything. But after finishing work, he wanted to return to watersports and find a new challenge outside of sailing.
He said: “When you’re driving home after it goes right on the water, what a buzz. You can’t buy things like that. Going at speed is where the buzz is for me, it’s even better when you’re in control!
“When I first started Trent didn’t run courses so most of what I learned was through trial and error. But the big advantage was I was at a club where everyone knew about windsurfing and they want to help you and pass on their advice
“I was doing things like trying to add mast bend with the outhaul rather than the downhaul. But other members were happy to show me what I needed to do and the great thing is feeling like you’re improving, making the odd little steps.
“The club’s come on leaps and bounds in recent years and now has RYA qualified instructors running courses. The club is always looking for more instructors to help keep moving it forwards and I was pleased to be asked to do my instructor training."
Both John at Liquid Motion and Trent Windsurfing Club chairman, Pete Rabjohns, have observed two major reasons more silver windsurfers are getting into the sport.
Firstly although windsurfing is largely an individual sport when starting out, as you progress people then get together and the social side and camaraderie plays an increasingly big part. Secondly is the desire to stay fit, active and healthy.
Pete explains: “We’ve currently got 28 members aged between 51 and 80 so the demand is clear. You don’t really get hurt windsurfing so it’s a ‘safe’ means of getting an adrenaline buzz. It doesn’t require an immense amount of agility or skill, as long as you can get on and off a board and haul up the sail, it’s pretty simple to get going.
“Being a club we organise a lot of events and trips at home and abroad for our members and the older sailors always support these really well. They also tend to be more willing to volunteer and pass on their advice and experience to younger sailors.
“Windsurfing is about a bit more than just getting an adrenaline rush to them. Many of them like being able to give something else back to the sport."
John agrees: “People love the freedom they feel going fast. It’s a reasonably technical sport so there is plenty to learn but it’s also a sport where you can pick what you like.
“We have two sites, on the estuary and the beach at Orcombe, with the whole range of conditions. You can go for a fast blast, bump and jump it off the seafront, go wave sailing at Orcombe, practice skills on the estuary’s flat water or do one of our trips.
“The older sailors generally favour a reasonably floaty board, which allows them to sail back and forth quite easily. Windsurfing doesn’t impact on the joints in the way, say running, does and there’s a lot of stretching involved too. You feel safe and it will get your fitness up. What better way to exercise than to not know you’re exercising?"
Frank admits knowing your limits is the most important thing.
“As you get older you lose flexibility, strength and stamina," he adds. “Also when you tire you forget about technique. So if it’s breezy I’ll do half a day, whereas others might do a full day. There’s still plenty for me to do to enjoy being around the club."
To promote the accessibility and inclusivity of windsurfing as a sport for all, neither Liquid Motion nor Trent Windsurfing Club run special silver windsurfing sessions. Rather all adults, and sometimes juniors, learn together with a good social mix.
How people can learn varies. For example, Trent offers more course and informal club session based tuition while Liquid Motion has 10, 20 and 30 Knot clubs where people learn and develop skills and progress through as they improve. Both sites do good kit hire offers and cheap ‘membership’ deals to promote regular participation. Of course expert advice is also on hand when the time comes to invest in some kit.
What Trent and Liquid Motion are witnessing is being mirrored at coastal and inland clubs and centres throughout the country.
So however old you are now, next time you see a ‘silver windsurfer’ blasting along at 20 knots don’t look at them and think ‘Wow good on them, they’re game!’ think ‘That could be me!’
For more information about getting into windsurfing, RYA courses, RYA instructor courses visit www.rya.org.uk/training