It’s about time someone came up with the concept of Formula one-design. Not only is Formula currently the most fun and popular form of windsurfing course racing, it’s fast and exciting as a spectator sport. To create a one-design fleet would make it more accessible for those on a more limited budget and make Formula less of an equipment arms-race, which is in my opinion the biggest barrier to developing the fleet. Not to mention, it will stop sailors blaming their gear for their bad regatta results!
Is the concept of Formula one-design racing appropriate for Olympic sailing? On the surface, it certainly seems very promising. Svein Rasmussen, the founder of Starboard, has put together a very convincing proposal on the Starboard website. On many fronts, I agree with him. The most important issue is the potential to develop windsurfing further as a sport, especially in the Olympics. Formula racing does represent “windsurfing” in a very straightforward way. The concept is so attractive that if it were to become the Olympic class, it will be sure to bring in many new sailors and increase the opportunities for training and racing in North America, where the windsurfing scene is unfortunately much less competitive than in Europe. The media appeal is also undeniable.
However, does the concept meet with Olympic-level standards of sailing competition? Formula-style sailing eliminates almost entirely the tactical and physical aspects of light-wind sailing. Planing sailing focuses almost solely on speed. When an RS:X begins to plane fully and is powered up, the racing becomes focused on speed as almost the sole tactic. I believe the light-wind daggerboard-down aspect of sailing is extremely important, because this represents sailing in its purest form. While planing sailing is windsurfing in its purest form, light-wind sailing is all about knowing how to race well. Non-planing racing is the only chance to bring together the three aspects of racing that every Olympic-class boardsailor knows well: technique and board handling, good tactical choices, and of course physical stress. To lose this aspect would be departing entirely from the concept of Olympic sailing and move towards only the windsurfing aspect of the sport.
Olympic windsurfing has long been known as a challenging sport because of the light-wind factor. What’s so great about exhaustively pumping a sail for 45 minutes nonstop? The Olympic-class boardsailor is an anomaly in the world of windsurfing. Why would anyone willingly suffer physical pain when one could be planing? I believe the true dividing line between the Olympic-class sailor and the semi-serious Formula sailor is that of mental toughness and physical fitness, qualities of athletes. To be successful in Olympic windsurfing, a sailor must train as if he or she were an endurance athlete as well as getting plenty of time on the water. Should the athletic factor of Olympic windsurfing be compromised by eliminating the current form of light-wind racing?
This moves us on to the sailors themselves. Olympic boardsailors are definitely a physical “type.” Light, tall, and very fit sailors usually rule the day. While these sailors can definitely make a transition to Formula and do well, heavier sailors will begin to take over. While this is not altogether a bad thing, the current sailors have carved out a niche for themselves in the windsurfing world because of their sailing expertise. The top-level sailors have intensively trained and raced for 12+ years as sailors and athletes. I believe that this intense level of racing will be to some extent lost if Formula were adapted as the Olympic class.
The offering of the Starboard Formula One-Design as an Olympic class board for 2012 is well worth consideration. Starboard is a progressive, innovative company and in the past, their ideas and designs have done great things for the sport of windsurfing (without their wide-board revolution, where would we be now?). However, the real issue at stake is the machinations two worlds of Olympic boardsailing: windsurfing, and sailing. We are a sport that stands between two different places. Should we take Olympic-class windsurfing away from the sailing roots from which it came? How will this affect the sport politically in the sailing world (especially ISAF)? Will a Formula class detract from windsurfing as a sailing sport? Or should Olympic-class boardsailing simply integrate and adapt itself to the contemporary trends of windsurfing?