“I honestly don’t know what I’d be doing now if I hadn’t started windsurfing."
At 21, Jo Wright has already crammed a lifetime of windsurfing experience into just a decade.
But despite carving out a reputation as one of the UK’s most proactive, young windsurfing ambassadors, not to mention having an impressive PWA Slalom performance under her belt, as far as Jo is concerned she hasn’t even started to scratch the surface of what the sport can bring to the rest of her life.
Not bad for a girl from near Alton Towers who refused to let her earliest forays into windsurfing be scuppered by the harsh Peak District winter. As Jo explains….
“I first tried windsurfing on a Neilson holiday in Greece when I was 11 and enjoyed it. When we came back my dad took me to Carsington Water, but it wasn’t like Greece!
“While we were there another dad, a guy called Doug Riach, came over and said they had just started Team15 (T15) at Carsington and were we interested. I went along to a couple of sessions but it was autumn and I got really cold, I wasn’t into it that much. But I wanted to give it another go when the club started again in the spring.
“That turned out to be the best decision I think I’ve ever made! More windsurfers had joined Carsington Comets T15 club by spring, there were now about 15 of us. After only my third session I did my first T15 Regional Inter-Club Challenge event and they were really great. The best team in the Midlands then were the Bosworth Bullets, and just chatting to their sailors and coaches I could see the progress I could make."
At the end of her first season the RYA Youth and Masters and RYA Zone Championships beckoned on the Techno 5.5 and Jo found herself in the RYA North Zone squad under the tutelage of Cat Potter.
But the first indication that a racing pathway might not be Jo’s windsurfing vocation came with a footstraps epiphany moment at a camp with Helen Cartwright at Hayling Island. Getting comfortable in footstraps was a turning point for Jo and a week later she entered her first UKWA event at Hove.
Unlike in pathway racing, where mastering all winds is key Jo discovered it was the breezier the better for her and her Techno days were over, replaced by couple of seasons in Formulas with some of her old T15 mates, including Doug Riach’s son George. National titles and European and World Championships outings followed.
By this point, despite being just 16, Jo also knew she wanted to help others master her sport too, and although the Formula had been traded for her first freestyle board, over the next couple of years she undertook her Start Windsurfing Instructor course, got her RYA Powerboat qualifications and became an RYA Race Coach.
She and George also resurrected Carsington Comets, coaching and working with the youngsters every week for two years and using their youthful experience and enthusiasm to drive Carsington to become the top team in the Midlands. Jo was also an AI for the North and West Zone squads, supporting Ian Roberts, during this time.
All the while she continued “messing around" on freestyle kit, including a Fanatic Triple X shortboard her dad had helped her buy, at West Kirby and Carsington.
Tricks and trying new stuff was always just something she had done since that first Greece holiday. But now it started getting more serious.
“I worked for Neilson in Greece then Dahab, and Sam Ross was my manager there. In two weeks he taught me to Vulcan. I ended up deferring university and staying there for six months and really got into freestyle.
“The next summer I went to Ortakent, Turkey and started doing slalom. My manager’s girlfriend, Lena Erdil, was the Turkish number one, and I was almost keeping up with her. My gybing was good from my racing days.
“She said I should compete at a PWA event and at first I was like ‘Yeah, good one Lena!’ But Simon, my manager, said if I was keen Neilson would provide my kit and Sam said he would come up with a training programme.
“The event was in Alacati in Turkey and I felt more competitive than ever before. To come 12th out of 20 felt absolutely amazing, especially as I could share the win with all the people that had helped me along the way! One day it topped out at 50kts!"
Since starting at Exeter University in autumn 2011 – her choice of university being determined by its windsurfing club and proximity to good locations – Jo has competed in BWA Wave events, is vice-president at the university windsurfing club and marketing manager for the Student Windsurfing Association (SWA). She is currently on a year’s placement in her Business Management degree.
Sponsored by Tushingham/Starboard since she was 14, Jo admits her life has been shaped by her sport. She met her boyfriend, Josh, through windsurfing; the majority of her friends are windsurfers, and even her work placement positioning is determined by windsurfing and making sure all weekends are kept free.
And while she doesn’t rule out dipping her toe back into the PWA and doing more wave events personally, her major hope is the kids she teaches and coaches fully get just how life-changing windsurfing can be.
She concludes: “When I‘m coaching the Zone Squad kids, you know 90% are never going to be the one that makes it all the way through the system. But they are getting so much out of that experience, learning the skills and being around kids with the same mindset, that windsurfing can still become a major part of their life.
“You don’t want youngsters thinking if they aren’t selected for squads their windsurfing career is over, when nothing could be further from the truth. In windsurfing there is always the next thing to learn, the next challenge to master.
“There are so many other career opportunities like instructing and coaching or just having a great time on the water with your friends trying to master the next move!
“I still feel as excited on a windy day as I did as a kid. As family and friends have found, if it’s windy, I have to go windsurfing. Loving a sport so much you just want to do it all the time is an unbelievable thing to have and I feel extremely lucky."
To find out more about Team15 visit www.team15.org.uk
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