Introducing people to windsurfing and making them windsurfers are two very different things and, although windsurfing is by no means a new sport in Britain’s biggest cities, they’re not traditionally Meccas for mass participation. But could a new approach in London pave the way for even greater opportunities for all?
Against the backdrop of Canary Wharf, seven instructors are balanced on brand new Tushingham Starboards and hauling virgin rigs out of Millwall Dock. It’s early April in the heart of London City and the sky is pristine blue. There are a lot of smiles.
But these aren’t windsurf instructors, yet anyway, these are RYA Dinghy Instructors and Assistant Instructors qualifying to become Docklands Sailing and Watersport Centre’s (DSWC) new windsurf instructor team.
Until September last year DSWC had one windsurf instructor and some aging kit. But whereas DSWC’s regular dinghy sailing numbers are astronomical, thanks to the success of its well-established local charitable community programmes in such economically challenged and ethnically diverse areas as Tower Hamlets, windsurfing had lost its momentum despite a popularity peak following a 2008 kit investment.
Yet if this number of people – including almost 8,500 thousands kids last year alone – could be enthused into getting afloat in dinghies and kayaks in Docklands, wasn’t there also huge potential to start producing more windsurfers?
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the answer. Now thanks to the drive of Simon Winkley, RYA Sailing Development Officer for London and a windsurfer trainer and Advanced Windsurf Instructor, and DSWC Chief Instructor, Phil Holman, windsurfing is getting a new lease of life in the capital’s heartland.
As Phil explains: “To run sustainable windsurfing activity you need good kit and lots of instructors, we had neither. Finding a windsurfing instructor in inner-city London is like looking for hen’s teeth. We needed to produce our own and we needed to put in place activities that promoted sustainable growth and kept interest once people, whether adults or children, had done an RYA Start Windsurfing course with us.
“We’re finding more and more people in London are looking for more adventurous leisure time options for their weekends and evenings. It’s becoming a place where you really can try anything. We want to make sure this includes regular windsurfing for all. We know our watersports model works, we have a lot of faith in it.”
With Simon’s support DSWC secured a £10,000 Sport England Small Grant and some match funding from Docklands Charitable Trust, which bought 11 new Tushingham Starboards and 30 complete rigs. Harnesses courtesy of OTC were also invested in.
Kit sorted, now for the instructors.
Simon ran two CPD days to up-skill DSWC’s existing instructors to do their RYA Start Windsurfing Instructor course. Their response really encouraged him.
“Once we put the CPD dates out they all became super-keen and were practicing loads to be good enough to get on to the instructor course. I went to the centre a week after the first CPD session, it was about 10am and windy and they were all out excited to go windsurfing! We’ve already got 8-10 instructors who want to be considered for the next instructor course in the autumn. It’s really positive.”
This summer DSWC is running seven RYA Start Windsurfing courses, up from four, while windsurfing is being run alongside sailing as part of the centre’s RYA OnBoard activities in three trial schools, and as part of its successful Sunday Youth Club. It’s also being included in the centre’s holiday camp programmes, with 20 – up from eight – places allocated specifically for windsurfing in the multi-activity weeks.
For people who want to pay and play, £120 (adults) and £30 (U18) membership gets you free use of club kit and freedom to attend open evening and weekend sessions, plus twice monthly focused tuition in the peak months. Even this early in the season, there has already been a big increase in the number of 25-40 year olds making use of the new kit at open sessions thanks largely to the power of Facebook marketing.
Although not on the immediate horizon, DWSC also runs kayaking and dinghy trips away from the centre that they would look to replicate for windsurfing, while routes to get youngsters into assistant instructor and windsurf instructor roles, to make activities sustainable and retain people in the sport, would also mirror their success in other areas.
DSWC is just one example where a genuine sport development approach is unlocking the potential to encourage more people in London to windsurf. While with their planing conditions, Queen Mary SC and Bray Lake on the outskirts of the capital have proved star attractions to inland windsurfers for years, further in there remains scope to maximize some great beginner and intermediate non-planing locations.
Most importantly, variations on the work being done can be applied to all cities.
In North London, within sight of Wembley Stadium, the merger of BTYC Sailsports and Seahorse Sailing Club, to form the Welsh Harp Sailing Club in 2014, is taking windsurfing to a new level on Brent Reservoir. BTYC Sailsports was already one of the fastest growing and successful windsurfing clubs in the region, with over 70 members, but Seahorse did none.
However, since joining forces the whole Welsh Harp Club is embracing windsurfing. With an abundance of equipment to use, it’s a great beginner and intermediate venue. Its Thursday night windsurfing group, complete with sailing instructors for informal tuition, is very strong and continues to blossom as people progress and improve their skills in tacking, non-planing carve gybing and getting into a harness, for example.
Simon is supporting dinghy sailing instructors to get RYA Start Windsurfing tickets to instruct beginners, while more people, including those who traditionally sailed dinghies and club newcomers, are not only windsurfing regularly but are interested in instructing too. This is where the CPD programme that RYA Thames Valley and London has established and is now running into year two, becomes key.
“These sessions are open to all instructors or aspirant instructors,” Simon explains.
“For £25 for a whole day, including all kit and harness, you get a really decent instructor to help you improve your intermediate windsurf skills. It’s a real chance to participate in personal development while ultimately helping clubs develop bigger and highly skilled volunteer instructor teams to run even more regular windsurfing.”
The CPD sessions take place at a number of venues, including QMSC, DSWC, Welsh Harp and Datchet Watersports. The next one is on Saturday 6 June and can be booked via the RYA website at http://www.rya.org.uk/newsevents/events/Pages/RYAInstructorCourses2015.aspx and follow link to Thames Valley and London.
“I’d love to be in a position where these sessions are oversubscribed and we have to put more on. That would mean we are producing a good level of instructors in the region, which is needed to underpin participation growth”, Simon added.
Elsewhere in London, King George Sailing Club in Chingford, North East London, is another popular windsurfing venue, while either side of the M25 to London’s West, Queen Mary Sailing Club and Datchet Water continue attracting many inland windsurfers.
Simon believes there are still plenty of potential, untapped gems within London, with Bury Lake Young Mariners, near Watford, looking at adding windsurfing to their already very productive sailing programme from next year.
Not living by the coast has never been an excuse for those city dwellers dedicated to their craft. Even if it’s a quick a blast to blow away the cobwebs after a day in the office, there have always been plenty of places, even amongst Britain’s most dense urban jungles, to hire ‘pay and play’ kit or use your own gear to get a regular fix.
But Simon is sure that to really keep people coming back to windsurfing, when it isn’t yet carved into their soul, needs a true development approach. It’s a challenge he is relishing.
“The places we are looking to work with have already ‘proved’ themselves in dinghy sailing and other watersports. They have an established infrastructure and successful models that, with our support, can be adapted and evolved for windsurfing. We’re not trying to introduce windsurfing where nothing’s gone before but look at opportunities to grow genuine participation pathways.” he concludes.
“The most exciting thing for me is seeing how excited the new instructors we are upskilling are. This really bodes well for centres and clubs becoming sustainable and windsurfing becoming a core part of their offering, which means one thing; more chances for more people to go windsurfing more in London. That’s great news!”
To find out more about Windsurfing training courses – http://www.rya.org.uk/coursestraining/courses/windsurfing/Pages/default.aspx and instructor training courses – http://www.rya.org.uk/coursestraining/coachestrainersinstructors/instructors/Pages/windsurfinginstructors.aspx
To find your nearest windsurfing club or centre – RYA Where’s my nearest – http://www.rya.org.uk/wheresmynearest/Pages/Directory.aspx#list/
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