As we looked back at Nik Baker’s reasons for windsurfing we decided to get an insight into the inspiration behind another famous Nick’s windsurfing career.
This time we catch up with one of the most successful Olympic windsurfers of all time – the UK’s Nick Dempsey.
Sat on yet another flight coming home from Miami, I sit with my head phones on trying to avoid an in-depth conversation with the guy next to me, keep the replies to one word and ill be fine. Why? Because he will at some point ask me “what were you doing in Miami? Holiday? Work?” That’s where it starts…….. “Windsurfing!!!! Is that in the Olympics?” What…. and you don’t have a job? And you can make a living out of that? And where are you from? Peterborough I reply… And with a baffled look on his face he repeats it back to me, Peterborough..? I thought you would have to be from Hawaii or California. How does a professional windsurfer come from Peterborough? And so I go on to explain………
But to be fair to the guy I sometime ask myself the same question. How did I get here?
I grew up in Peterborough living a mile from Ferry Meadows, a very small lake where the wind is gusty no matter which direction it blows. My Dad and brothers were all windsurfing and I would sit there, “can I have a go yet, please please please”. I was 7 years old, my brothers 12 and 14. My dad finally let me go, well! Sort of, about 20 metres attached to a rope!!! Needless to say I loved it, I mean loved it. My very ordinary life had just become extraordinary. I would windsurf everyday. After school, weekends, summer and winter. Back in the 80’s windsurfing was huge and it was buzzing down there, windsurfing was my life. In fact it was the whole family’s life! We all loved it. The old man never really improved, my brothers eventually found other things in life but for me windsurfing was my world. And I am very happy to say that it means as much to me today as it did 25 years ago.
I pretty much learnt to windsurf on a wave board, sounds strange but I was tiny. After a week or so on the clubs learner boards I would literally beg people down the club to let me use their kit. The board of choice at the time was a Tiga 260. About £450. We couldn’t afford to spend so much money, that was a lot back then so I would borrow anything I could get my hands on. By the end of that summer I think my parents knew how much I loved it and bought me a 3.3m pacific kiddy rig for my birthday. I was set…..
I never really dreamt of being an Olympic windsurfer, it kinda all just happened. I had two incredibly supportive parents who gave up their weekends as I dragged them all around the country and I also had the RYA youth program which led me every step of the way, without either I would never have gotten to where I am today.
Behind every athlete there is always someone inspirational and for me this was and still is my coach, Barrie Edgington. I will always remember having to phone him up to tell him I’d won the selection trials for the Sydney Test Event in 1999 at the age of 18. With his stunned response of “You?? Are you sure??” and that was that. The next 15 years are history. Barrie has been there every step of the way, always believing in better and never giving up on me. We all need these people around us and, whether it’s the parent of another kid I was competing against, helping me carry my kit up the slipway, or the random guy on the beach who lends you a mast foot extension when you have forgotten yours. I’ve found over the years that the windsurfing family is full of them.
People often comment on how lucky and privileged I am which is true and can be easy to forget when you are puking your last energy gel up due to exhaustion after a 30 minute race. However, as incredible as Olympic windsurfing is, it’s definitely not been easy. The training involved in being a world class competitor is full-on and sometimes relentless. 90 min of weights in the morning, 2-3 hours of hard sailing followed by another 2 hours on the bike, 5-6 days a week. I sometimes under estimate how much hard work it is just to sail the RSX. It was only really last week after 5 months off the board that I actually thought to myself, shit, this is not easy, I don’t remember it being this hard!! But like everything in life the more you do something the better you become. I train about 60% of my time in the gym or on the bike and the remainder on the water. I have a team of 5 people looking after me, overall sailing coach, physiologist, physio, strength and conditioning trainer and someone looking after my head!! Between us I will lead and they advise. The final decision is always made by myself but with a lot of support. Barrie and myself look after the sailing and the other guys look after my body.
The decision to campaign for Rio didn’t come as easy as many would think, it’s an amazing but sometimes tough life with many highs but a fair amount of lows to. Winning medals, indescribable high. Finishing 4th in China, unimaginable low. One of, if not the lowest point in my life. Picking yourself up from failure when it is all you have lived, breathed and sweat for 4 years, almost impossible. very very difficult. But once again it was my closest friends, family and team that got me back on track.
So what will the next few years look like? Well, Rio will likely be a light wind venue, a tough venue which will require the highest levels of fitness ever seen in Olympic windsurfing. I’ll be getting older so the compliance with the program set out by the team will be more important than ever before. There will be a World Championship ever year and an Olympic test event in 2015. These regattas will almost certainly form the basis of the Olympic selection for the one available spot. This years World’s are being held in Buzios just up the road from Rio first week of March. This will be the first test of the cycle and will be interesting to see where we are starting from!
Although Olympic Windsurfing has been my life for the passed 15 years, I absolutely understand that it is not the be all and end all. After all, it is just racing round a course trying to beat the people around you. And actually, its probably only you, your mum and probably your dad that will be upset if it all goes wrong! A good day on the water, wave sailing, speed sailing or just a cruise with family and friends around me, going surfing and catching a wave that feels like it lasts forever or playing around in the skate park with my boys, these things are that really matter. I look forward to nothing more than one day being able to take my boys Thomas and Oscar windsurfing. Thomas is 4 this summer which I think is the perfect time for him to start. I’ll get a SUP with a mast foot to ensure we are messing around on the water no matter what the weather. Things have moved on since I started and with a tiny rig, me holding on and when I finally find him a warm wetsuit the right size, Thomas will be fine.