Saturday, November 17, 2012

Windsurfing in the United States: Cautious Steps Forward

The recent exposure of windsurfing and kiteboarding in the press has brought about a new beginning for these boardsports on a world level.  ISAF's decision to retain windsurfing in the Olympics and encourage kiteboarding to try again for an Olympic spot made a statement to the international community:  boards are here to stay in the Olympic Games.  For the United States, the decision is a fresh opportunity to improve our Olympic windsurfing program, and determine how to best poise ourselves for kiteboarding's growth and potential entry as an Olympic sport.  Using the proven-to-fail model from past Olympic sailing programs as a cautionary example can best prepare us for what we don't want to see happen in our program.  Up through 2012, a lack of forward thinking has crippled our team management; this includes a reliance on one or two sailors to win medals, and the refusal to assist sailors, especially windsurfers, on a developmental level.

The list of crimes committed by US Sailing against windsurfing is a very long one.  However, the essence  of the problem lay in the lack of forward thinking, and the discouragement of forward thinking, which kept our team firmly entrenched in a model successful only in the 1980s.  The top-heavy program built solely on successful individuals while letting other classes starve has only crippled our team depth, culture, and knowledge base…and in turn, our medal potential.  The most "starved" classes include windsurfing and catamarans, both of which have only a very small presence in the US. US Sailing has successfully prevented the growth of elite Olympic sailing by refusing to change the prevailing model of operating.

The US Sailing Team's new leadership is bringing a different concept into play:  using the United States' existing strengths in sailing to build a new structure from the ground up, starting with youth development.  Although funding is limited, the first steps in this direction are very positive. Collaborating with our new Team leadership, the best way to develop our current windsurfing program is through grass-roots effort and as much progressive thought and inclusiveness as possible.  Growing our existing youth programs is a first step, and creating racing opportunities and training camps alongside the other youth sailing classes is the next.  Combining windsurfing events and training camps with kiteboarding is a way to create exposure and awareness for both sports, and will offer new insight into how kiteboarding develops alongside windsurfing as an Olympic boardsport. 

Progress: St. Francis Yacht Club

I gave the following quote to Pete DeKay of Windsport Magazine:  I feel we are entering a better and exciting time for the sport of Olympic sailing.  The recent political debacle will encourage change and cooperation within ISAF, and sailors will pay more attention to what happens to their sport, because we now recognize that when unified, we can create change.  It also shows MNAs that windsurfing is here to stay, and that Olympic sailing has a strong need for more exciting and modern classes like windsurfing and kiteboarding.  Already US Sailing is moving forward with ideas for a windsurfing program, a reversal of their previous stubborn lack of support.  I've heard of other MNAs mobilizing their get ready!  We're also poised to see kiteboard course racing break new ground in participation and organization in preparation for another try for an Olympic spot.  The exposure kiting has gotten over the past few months will only help to grow the new sport.  I'm looking forward to a continued push for improvement and cooperation in both sports, and a big welcome for kiteboarding alongside windsurfing in the 2020 Olympic Games.

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