“I was like a bit of a windsurfing matchmaker!"
Ali Yates is laughing as she reflects on her 2015 National Watersports Festival.
“I had people from all over the country asking what they could be doing to develop the sport at their centres and Team15 clubs or people wanting to know where they could do courses to learn to windsurf, or get into racing, pretty much everything.
“You don’t really know what you’re going to get asked, but because everybody is there, I was introducing people, hooking people up, signposting course opportunities to learn, introducing beginners to what the sport’s all about, anything!
You couldn’t have really missed Ali Yates at the ultra-popular Hayling Island jamboree last month; asides from the fact she’s one of the country’s most well-known faces in race coaching and instructor training with the personality to boot, Ali was perched on the RYA’s striking orange stand all weekend doing her myth busting.
This was the second successive year Ali has been the RYA’s face of windsurfing at the festival, something she personally and professionally believes is “really, really important." But it’s only when challenged on ‘why’ you begin to understand.
“The RYA taught me how to teach, but it’s things like that people take for granted or don’t really see.
“Windsurfing can be a very independent sport. But someone who has never done a formal RYA course in the life, and perhaps first learned on an overseas activity holiday, for example, wouldn’t necessarily think about how the person who taught them was probably an RYA instructor and the lessons they took were probably based on the RYA Training National Windsurfing Scheme. They just learned to windsurf.
Ali’s primary mission at this year’s festival was Team15.
The RYA’s ‘grassroots’ windsurfing programme, Team15 has typically been viewed exclusively in the context of ‘racing’, and part of Ali’s myth busting was to get away from that stereotype, to help people – coaches and sailors alike – better understand how Team15 is a skills development programme with racing one possible outcome.
Drawing on her experience running Astbury Sailboats Ltd in Cheshire for 12 years, including setting up and masterminding the success of the ‘Team Astbury’ Team15 club, Ali used the opportunity to talk about how the ethos of ‘fun’ in her own group – from games and jelly and ice cream to Star Wars themed nights – had seen ‘Team Astbury’ graduates develop the passion and skills to pursue windsurfing as diverse as competing at World Championships to working as RYA instructors around the world.
Ali believes one of the biggest misconceptions in windsurfing is ‘training’ and ‘racing’ are two separate entities. But she insists the crossover is massive and it’s achieving the balance between each which encourages lifelong involvement in the sport.
“People were coming up to the stand saying ‘We do youth windsurfing that’s fun, so Team15 isn’t really relevant to us’, but it is! That is what Team15 has to be - fun! The kids are learning skills they can transfer into any discipline; racing is part of it but it’s as much about providing a structured, safe and fun environment to learn properly.
“I also had coaches from Team15 clubs who were after ideas as to how they could fire up their groups, make them more exciting and achieve more of a crossover between racing and training as that’s a massive part of a windsurfer’s development.
“At last year’s NWF I bumped into the guys from Portsmouth Watersports Centre who said they were looking for instructors, and through Team15 I knew a load of kids who were starting uni and looking for jobs and I hooked them up. It was brilliant seeing them back there this year as instructors. Likewise I can walk up and down the beach in Vassilki and there are loads of ex-Team15ers forging careers in watersports.
“Team15 is not just feeding the RYA racing pathway, but the training pathway too."
Let me introduce you…
Meanwhile the RYA had another key role at NWF in introducing the sport to beginners, with the recognised RYA Training Centre, Portsmouth Watersports Centre, led by Chief Instructor, Jake Biggs, running taster windsurf sessions.
Over three days no fewer than 88 people enjoy hour-long tasters, which included the basics of getting on the board, static turning and sailing position.
Jake said: “We always see a good uptake for these every year at the event. It’s almost as if people see windsurfers on the water and then get some inspiration to get out and give the activity a go. When the participants had finished their session more than often they were all stoked to have been able to do it. Although it can be hard sport these students were so happy to just get up and get a feel for the activity."
After each session the participants were told where they could go and what they could do next, whether that be at a local centre like Portsmouth Watersports or one near their own homes. A large percentage of the participants had never been on the water before even though many lived local to a beach, highlighting their value.
Ali concludes: “When you look at all the stuff the RYA was involved in at the NWF, and the types of queries I was dealing with, it really does give you a truer sense of just how it does support windsurfing.
“Other nations haven’t got what we’ve got with our national governing body and our training and racing pathways and they really are envious of it. We shouldn’t take it for granted because windsurfers might not realise what the RYA does for them, but they would absolutely notice it if that support wasn’t there."
Want to know more about what the RYA could do for your windsurfing? Visit www.rya.org.uk
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