The weather is great and you’ve got the chance to get on the water, but where is your first instinct to head? Are you making to journey to the beach or, if you don’t live by the coast, somewhere closer to home?
A recent survey suggested over 85 percent of windsurfing in England takes place on the coast. Yet the UK has awesome inland locations to sail on, whatever standard you are, and more importantly that are, in many cases, 20-30 minutes from your front door.
So why aren’t we using some of these hidden gems?
Find out more and continue reading on page two...
[part title="Waiting for Perfect"]
Waiting for Perfect
“As a group I think we windsurfers can get quite precious about what conditions we go out in," admits Amanda Van Santen, RYA Chief Instructor, Dinghy and Windsurfing.
“On the coast there is a tendency to wait for the right state of the tide or wind strength or waves. But the downside is we wait for perfect conditions, which means we don’t actually go windsurfing as much as we could if we weren’t quite so fussy."
So how can we get windsurfers sailing more often? Uncovering these inland gems is the answer believes Amanda.
“I was brought up in Amersham," she continues, “There was a lake about 20 minutes from my house and that is how I got into the sport. That sort of distance from water is typical throughout Britain yet the perception is windsurfing isn’t an inland water sport.
“The benefits of inland sailing are many-fold. Having somewhere on your doorstep means you can go more often, and that consistency of accessibility means you probably will go more regularly. When you go also isn’t dependent on tides, yet there can be some really varied and challenging breezes to experience as much as on the coast. It does get gusty.
“For beginners and intermediate sailors especially inland waters are a great place to practice, as not only are you likely to go out and practice more, but the waters are typically flatter with less chop."
People who sail inland tend to accept less perfect conditions, grabbing their kit and going for a social cruise, saving the smaller kit for when the wind picks up. The result? They windsurf much more frequently than coastal diehards.
Let’s not forget Britain’s most successful Olympic windsurfers ever – male and female – both honed their fledgling talents inland too, Nick Dempsey at Ferry Meadows in Peterborough and Bryony Shaw at Farmoor Reservoir in Oxford.
[part title="Don’t rule anywhere out"]
Don’t rule anywhere out
One of the biggest appeals of the UK coastline is the conditions, but inland doesn’t mean mundane - incredible windsurfing can be found against some fascinating and breath-taking backdrops, with some pretty amazing conditions being delivered.
With London reputedly boasting more water than green space, don’t rule out locations like the Docklands and ditto Salford Quays in the heart of Manchester, both providing fantastic beginner and improver environments.
At the other end of the spectrum venues like Galloway Activity Centre on the banks of the stunning Loch Ken, near the Scottish Borders, provide a different wow factor.
Richard Hermon, centre principal explains: “The South Westerly prevailing wind is reasonably reliable and the Northerly is exceptionally good. There is the opportunity to do loads of ‘freestyley’ stuff to improve your sailing and the more you practice the better your technical skills will be. There is always something you can do regardless of the wind. On top of all that it is a safe, beautiful, accessible location to sail with all the facilities on site."
Meanwhile Amanda cites the North West as being one area where she has enjoyed some spectacular and beautiful inland sailing and windsurfing locations.
[part title="Club together"]
Only a small percentage of windsurfers are members of a club. But research suggests those who are club members are much more likely to participate in activity more regularly.
Amanda says clubs have many pros in attracting and maintaining regular windsurfers of all levels, most notably decent changing facilities, somewhere to get refreshments and an active social scene.
Priory Sailing Club in Bedford is one inland club that has invested significant time, effort and resource into boosting its windsurfing element over the past two years with great success.
Philip Winfield, the RYA Regional Club Coach for windsurfing, worked closely with Priory on turning their development plan into active members.
“In the ‘80s and ‘90s Priory had a vibrant windsurfing section, with an active youth section of regularly attending," he explained. “The club organised windsurfing holidays, competitions and raced the dinghy sailors using a handicap system. A number of local schools, who had their own windsurfing instructors, also used the club regularly. But the inevitable happened and the young people grew up and moved on, leaving a massive void in participation."
Fuelled by the arrival of one family, the Woodings, who wanted to learn and continue windsurfing at their local club, only 500m from their home, the old kit was dusted off. When members and the public saw boards back on the water a new chapter for the club began.
In total the club brought 12 new boards and a variety of sail rigs, including with a £12,000 grant from the local Harpur Trust charity, while Bedford University agreed to lend a further four boards when needed. A student, Josh Brown-Bolton, joined as an instructor.
With commodore Tim Hewett, a Windsurfing Development Plan was formed and Robbie Bell, RYA Regional Development Officer, supported the club to part-fund the training of volunteer windsurfing Start instructors from the club membership, which Phillip delivered.
“The club got 12 volunteer sailors to undertake the training plus First Aid and Powerboat Level 2," continues Phillip. “Six of them then undertook the Start instructor course.
“2013 was a very successful year with members, school groups and the local community participating in a range of programmes. Youth and adult sessions, summer holiday courses, improver courses and ‘have a go’ sessions are all available now."
Amanda concludes: “There are pockets in Britain where inland windsurfing is vibrant. Our message is don’t turn your nose up about what may be on your doorstep.
“I think if I lived near a lake now I would go windsurfing more often than I do. That is the mindset we want everyone else who loves the sport to embrace and just get out windsurfing wherever and whenever they can."
Find out more about windsurfing at www.rya.org.uk
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