This month Boards are featuring the Team15 (T15) Axbridge Animals from Cheddar. After finishing in an impressive 2nd place in last year’s Champions Cup at Pittsford, we find out if they have high hopes for this year’s competition, how they will prepare and also meet their new T15 Ambassador.
The Axbridge Animals are certainly no strangers to the Team15 Champions Cup. They have been lucky enough to qualify for the national final five years in a row, making it onto the podium in 2012 just behind current T15 Champions, the Hythe Hotshots.
Head coach, Mark Smith aka Smudge, believes it’s not just the trophies but the ‘buzz’ that youngsters get from windsurfing, that keeps them coming back each year.
“From the moment they get out of the car, to the moment they leave the club, the kids are taking about windsurfing. They are mad for it. When they get off the water you see how much they are buzzing” he explains.
The ‘Animals’ train once a week at Bristol Corinthian Yacht Club with team members travelling from all round the area to take part. “We have up to 30 T15 windsurfers on the books at the moment and usually on a Thursday we will have about 20 to coach. Luckily along with myself there are seven other T15 coaches!” said Smudge.
“We train every Thursday night for two hours with windsurfers aged 8 to 15 of all abilities. At first kids just want to get out there and have a go, but more often than not they end up hooked and very quickly progress their skill, moving onto more technical kit and larger sail sizes. We have seen a quite a few members of the Axbridge Animals starting at just eight years old who have ended up windsurfing as part of the RYA National squad.”
Smudge believes that although it’s hugely important to encourage the youngsters to improve, the main thing is that they enjoy their sport. “One of the best things about windsurfing is that there is always something new to learn, whatever your ability”.
With such well-structured training in place, it’s no surprise that Axbridge are keen participants in the Team15 Inter-Club Championship.“We had a fantastic 2012 season” Smudge continues. “We were in a position where we needed a win from our final event in Poole, in order to qualify for a place in the national final. I told the kids just to do the best they could and they went for it! “It didn’t hit that we had made the final until we got back to Cheddar and started training. When we go to the Champions Cup I just tell the kids to enjoy themselves and do their best and that’s what they did. The best day for us was the Sunday when we were moving all the way up the leaderboard. We knew we had done pretty well!”
Do the Axbridge Animals plan to dominate again in this year’s competition? Smudge believes that it’s all to play for. “Obviously we’d love a repeat performance but this year it’s massively open. It’s great to see new teams joining us in the South Zone and it really opens the competition!“Until this weekend we had no idea how well the kids from Weymouth could sail, but we knew they would be pretty good with the advantage of having such fantastic facilities on their doorstep”.
The South Zone Team15 Inter-Club Championship kicked off in in Weymouth with event 1 this weekend (Saturday 05 May) where the Axbridge Animals finished top at the Official Test Centre (OTC).
Eleven year old Zoe Bassett is playing a big part in supporting the team throughout the season as part of her role as a Team15 Ambassador.“We are really pleased we won our first event. I hope The Axbridge Animals can do even better than we did last year-it would be great to win the Champions Cup” she said.
“I think we have tough competition in our zone especially with the Oxford Zoomers and the Hythe Hotshots who are current champions, but we train hard every Thursday and our coaches are lots of fun”.
Zoe is one of the many youngsters who have progressed through the Team15 programme into the RYA Zone Squad. As a T15 ambassador, she helps advise the other members of the Axbridge Animals about the RYA Pathway.“In the RYA Zone Squad I have learnt so many new things like how to get into my harness and I am now much more confident with my windsurfing. There are always so many news things to learn”.
Zoe also thinks that windsurfing is a special sport for young people because of the socialising. “It doesn’t matter how good you are, you can still enjoy windsurfing! You meet lots of young people and go to places you wouldn’t normally go to and try something different. I am really excited to be a Team15 Ambassador because I want to help promote the sport so other youngsters can enjoy it too.”
Smudge said: “We are delighted to have Zoe as an ambassador. She is fantastic at talking to other kids about the sport and even if Zoe gets just one other person involved, it will be worth it”.
For those who are have turned 15, at Axbridge there are also plenty of opportunities to join in.
“We encourage the older kids to stay on and help with coaching, giving tips to the younger members. A lot of them come along with their siblings and help with kit as well as startline tips and techniques. There are also opportunities for older members to become Assistant Instructors. That’s the best thing about the windsurfing, there are so many goals, no matter what level you are at” he concluded.
T15 was set up by the RYA to help make windsurfing more accessible and appealing to youngsters at a grass roots level. Fun and informal training sessions take place at T15 clubs all over the country for kids up to the age of 15, which are run weekly by specialist RYA coaches.
For more information about Team15 and locate your nearest local club visit www.team15.org.uk or contact the RYA 0845 345 0400.
To find out how to become involved with the Axbridge Animals either as a volunteer or a participant contact Claire Rodgers on 07714 468181