The UK might not have the steady winds (or warmth!) of the Canaries all year round, but we certainly do have a lot to offer kids and teenagers wanting to windsurf.
Here the RYA talk with Bob Shillito, top Team15 coach and mentor, about how, when and why kids should be involved with Team15.
“The concept of RYA Team15 (T15) was always to inspire as many kids as possible into windsurfing with the aim that some will want to race and will become really good. It’s very gratifying to see people who started as wobbly little kids turn into top flight sportsmen and women…”
…explains Bob Shillito who’s been encouraging and inspiring those wobbly little kids for over ten years.
In 2003, Bob created the T15 club the Axbridge Animals at Bristol Corinthian Yacht Club because at the time there was no junior windsurfing in the area and his son George was keen to improve.
The following year, Bob was presented with an RYA Team15 award and in 2006 the Axbridge Animals won their T15 Zone in the Inter-Club Championship and qualified for the national final, the Champions Cup for the very first time:
“At a successful T15 club, a proportion of the kids that emerge are really promising. Not only are they talented but they also become role models for the other members and that status helps improve their own standard of windsurfing.”
Bob has certainly developed his fair share of role models. “Ali Masters started on the third-ever Axbridge Animals team session. He won the world championships, is an RYA Techno UK Junior Squad Head Coach and in the British Sailing Team Podium Potential Squad. Noelle Finch, who also won the world championships and is currently right up there in the top few in the world at the age of 19, also started with the Animal. There’s also my son George, who chose wavesailing rather than the racing route who is a Tushingham Team Rider.”
Having set up such a thriving T15 club in Bristol, Bob and the family moved to Cornwall, where they opened the watersports centre at Polkerris. In 2008 they formed a brand new windsurfing team, the Polkerris Pirates, with George coaching another new cohort of wobbly kids.
It was two years before the first Pirates were ready to compete at a regional Team15 event, and three more before they beat the other South West teams and qualified for the Champions Cup this year. “It takes time. It was three seasons before the Animals won the zone, and four before the Pirates did it. You start with raw recruits (mainly) and it takes time before they acquire the skills and understand they can achieve big things. That’s especially true at a coastal location like Polkerris because it is difficult to learn and improve: lots of waves, chop and tides to make it much harder than inland locations.”
As fate would have it, the zone delineations have changed since the Animals first started, and they now compete in the South Zone which means that the Pirates and the Animals both qualified for the 2013 Champions Cup. The Animals have been there every year since 2006, and although they’ve never won, they did make it on the podium in 2013 when they finished 3rd. “It was certainly very pleasing to see both ‘our’ teams there at the event,” says Bob. “When I left Axbridge at the end of 2007 I was very keen that the team should carry on: it would have been disappointing to see it fizzle out but in fact, they went from strength to strength.”
For the Pirates, in their first national competition, results were not the important thing, according to George: “The Polkerris Pirates were up against it being the only ‘newcomers’ to the Champions Cup, and boy did they do themselves and the South West Zone proud. As their confidence and experience grew throughout the weekend it was clear to see just how much everyone had taken on board, leaving behind those who had pressured them in the first races to push onwards through the fleets and really start to take control of the top spots.
“Within two years the team has gone from not having won a single inter-club event to taking part in the national championships! That in itself is a tremendous achievement and all the team members deserve to be proud of just how much they have accomplished.
“The team set out at the beginning of the year to have fun windsurfing, and in doing so they earned a place at the Champions Cup. I can only imagine what would happen if they set out to actually get to the Champions Cup. Put it this way; I wouldn’t want to get in their way!”
It looks very much as though Bob and George have got the Team15 ‘recipe’ right with the first member of the Polkerris Pirates Adam Phipps (13) selected for the RYA UK Youth Squad last year.
“The early basis of success for both teams was the same: George as leader, role model and general purveyor of enthusiasm,” says Bob. “I get it organised and make sure that it’s easy and enjoyable for parents as well as kids to come along By far the most important factor is to make sure the kids are having fun on the regular weekly sessions.
“The success of both ‘our’ teams on the water is down to scale: if you’ve got lots of kids on the water having fun, eventually you are going to win stuff, which is exactly what’s happened.”
T15 was set up by the RYA to help make windsurfing more accessible and appealing to youngsters at a grass roots level. It delivers fun and informal training and competition opportunities which take place at T15 clubs all over the country for kids up to the age of 15. These are run weekly at minimal cost by specialist RYA qualified coaches and instructors.
The T15 inter-club championship takes place regionally over the summer adding a competitive edge and race training for those keen to hone their skills. Kit can be borrowed from the clubs and the cost of sessions is deliberately kept low to maintain the accessibility.
To get involved with Team15 and locate your nearest local club visit www.team15.org.uk or contact the RYA 0845 345 0400