Friday, November 23, 2012

ISAF Decision: Interview with Windsport Magazine

Last week I answered a series of questions by Pete DeKay of Windsport, on the topic of the recent ISAF decision to reinstate windsurfing in the Olympics.  Unlike our international counterparts, the opinion of American windsurfers has not been sought by USA sailing media, and Pete's interview is a great opportunity to give this viewpoint to the public.   The interview will be published as part of a larger article in Windsport's winter issue.

Pete asked me the following questions:

1.  What word would you use to describe your life during the 6-months that windsurfing was out of the Olympics? Explain briefly.

The word would definitely be "focused."  Because the political situation was so uncertain, I put a lot of effort into planning and executing those plans both before and after the Olympic Games.  Before the Olympics, I was completely focused on getting as much water time as possible with my coach - I knew it could have been my last windsurfing Olympics, and that I would have to re-negotiate my funding after the Games!  After the Olympics, my program was all about maximizing the opportunities that I had in learning kiteboarding and in the progression of my windsurfing skills, all on a small budget.  As it ended up, I had awesome training in both!  I trained at home in Annapolis, in San Francisco, and Cape Hatteras.  I actually made major progress in windsurfing high-wind technique and I learned how to kiteboard.   Although a tense political situation was hanging over our heads, I found that kiteboarders and windsurfers became more supportive of each other and are now much more aware of each other's sport.  Attitude really makes a difference when times are tough.

2.  What was the biggest factor that helped get windsurfing reinstated for Rio 2016?

The most significant factor was the public response to ISAF's May decision. ISAF's first vote was a political disaster, with delegates not knowing what they were voting on, no research done on the two sports, not enough representation from Asian countries, and improper procedure.  The result was outrage from the windsurfing and sailing community, with the threat of unification against ISAF.  The community closely paid attention to the outcome of the decision, and a lot of sailors were very vocal towards their MNAs to amend their vote. 

The public response to the vote set a precedent for ISAF, and the top honchos at ISAF lost a measure of control over what would happen at the November meeting.   Countries became more heavily invested in the outcome of the decision, and many came together to vote, made new submissions, and researched ISAF procedure and law regarding the voting process.  The response also told the International Olympic Committee that Olympic sailing as an entire sport was in trouble and unable to govern itself, effectively putting ISAF on watch by its boss. 

The RS:X class' decision to file a judicial review against ISAF's decision was also a precedent.  Although the lawsuit hasn't been "successful" so far and wasn't popular with the sailors, it worked because it showed ISAF that they need to take more care in their decision-making, and that their procedures need to be changed for the better.  It helped windsurfing at ISAF's November meeting by opening up more voting opportunities.  Small lawsuits against a richer and more powerful body are almost never successful, but they always make others take notice and in such a way, change is effected.  In 2008, my arbitration against US Sailing wasn't successful, but the USOC took notice and made them change the US Racing Rules of Sailing to make redress more fair for American sailors.  Four years later, my story helped bring about significant change in the way the US Sailing Team will managed for 2016.  In the future, the ripples from cases such as these make waves to bring about change.

3.  Explain to the “average joe windsurfer” why having windsurfing in the Olympics is important?

Windsurfing is the second-most popular Olympic sailing sport, after Laser / Laser Radial.  The Bic Techno windsurfing class, on the Olympic pathway for youth, is internationally almost as popular as the Optimist dinghy.  Windsurfing offers smaller countries the opportunity to get involved in sailing cheaply and fairly, without having to have large infrastructure for boats.  As a stable one-design fleet, smaller countries can buy equipment and not have to worry about turning it over many times for the latest new development, which happens under a "box rule."  It is the only sailing class that is both very technical and very physical, and it's visually interesting and fast.  It is easy to launch in difficult places and sail close to shore for spectators.  Most importantly for me, women's participation is really high so we have great competition!  It is one of the best and most well-established Olympic classes, and having ISAF try to remove it for an unproven sport showed poor judgment on their part.

Techno racing (

4.  What do we need to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

I believe that ISAF procedure needs to be reevaluated and that actual sailors need to have more say in how delegates vote.  We also need to get more forward-thinking people into ISAF.  It would be great to have an actual body of sailors involved in the voting process somehow.

On a non-political level, sailors need to identify these potential problems sooner and bring them to their MNA's attention in a spirit of cooperation.  I don't think there is any one way to prevent bad political decisions from being made, but working collectively to have an attitude of moving forward, creating the right vision for our sport, and implementing that vision would go a long way.

5.  Is there a reason why ISAF is pitting windsurfing against kiteboarding? Can this be stopped in the future?

 This is a much better question for windsurfer Ben Barger (the Athlete's Rep on ISAF), who I asked to find out the real reason why ISAF pitted kites against windsurfing.  He said that a submission to the Olympic Commission in May 2011 helped them think it was a good idea.  ISAF thought the transition from windsurfing to kiteboarding was minimal, and refused to listen to different opinions on the matter. 

On a personal note, after reading the kiteboarding report to ISAF in April, my guess is that the swap was thoughtfully engineered by ISAF.  Their one-sided kiteboarding report was based on one kiteboarding event, and performed at a time that no representatives of Olympic windsurfing could have been involved (during our World Championships, when we were competing for Olympic berths). The tone and one-sidedness of the report indicated that the vote was already a done deal in ISAF, that ISAF was already very pro-kite, which is why the vote may have been pushed to May instead of November.  Pitting the two sports against each other was the result of ignorance and the assumption that kiteboarding is the same sport as windsurfing, or ISAF decided that windsurfing would be the easiest class to substitute with kiteboarding.  The voting debacle was also partially the result of politicians who wanted to remove a popular Olympic class, replace it with a relative unknown, and then replace it again with another boat class, eliminating all boards entirely (the USA).

6.  Anything you’d like to add on a personal note?

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 are going to pay more attention to what happens to their sport.  It also shows MNAs that windsurfing is here to stay.  Already US Sailing is moving forward with ideas for a windsurfing program, which is a reversal of their previous stubborn lack of support.  I've also 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 the Olympics.  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.

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.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Olympic Rundown

Competing at the 2012 Olympic Games, for me, was an enlightening experience. Like most of us, I always appreciated the Olympics for their significance on a world level - bringing nations together to compete fairly, equally, and peacefully regardless of political conflict.  It is an honor to compete for the United States and represent the ideals of the Olympic Games, and I now understand the meaning of the dedicated years of my life I spent achieving this goal.  As an athlete, I've also begun to comprehend the level of experience and focus needed to really succeed in this event. 

Photo: Daniel Forster

In the rather complicated sport of windsurfing, putting together all the elements of a winning Olympic regatta takes years to learn.  As the sport evolves, athletes need to put together tactics, fitness, technique, funding, coaching, and a support network in order to be successful.  Although I put together a really good program this past year, it's just the baseline for a truly excellent one.  Today, I had the chance to identify many core areas that can be greatly improved, and to reflect on the aspects that did work for me.

I went into the Olympic regatta feeling I had a strong plan to succeed.  Because I have had so much training time at the Weymouth sailing venue, I am really comfortable with sailing here in all conditions.  I am also familiar with living here and the community, the weather, and locating all the resources I need to keep everyday logistics operating smoothly.  Psychologically, I came in feeling relaxed, focused, and confident in my plan for controlling distractions, competition focus, and pre and post-race routines.  As one of the less experienced competitors in the Olympic fleet, I had no outsized expectations for medaling, but rather to compete how I normally would at any other event, and remember and utilize all the aspects of training I completed this past year.  My first Olympic regatta seemed like almost any other event, except for the added logistical burden of security and living in close quarters with all the other athletes and coaches. 

In many ways, my plan worked very well.  Psychologically, I stayed focused and although I had a few discouraging races, I was able to push through them and re-focus for the next one.  I was also able to recognize the aspects of the race that were going well, and stay really positive throughout the entire event.  I felt comfortable in all the conditions we saw during the regatta, and put together good tactical plans before every race.  My fitness was very good as well (I actually was measured as one of the fittest girls in the fleet last March during a study conducted at the RS:X Worlds).   However, a few small factors disturbed my regatta a bit, and I was quite surprised by the amount of influence they had.

On the first and second day of the event, I had a few mediocre starts that set me back in the fleet upon the finish.  I had trouble recovering mentally from these; although I didn't feel bad, get angry, and was able to refocus after the mistakes, they made me sail more conservatively and focus on defense instead of aggressiveness.  What I needed was a plan to regain "attack mode" - this was something I hadn't considered in my psychological plan.  Another distraction was that although the regatta felt like a normal event, everyone was watching me!  I had to stay off Facebook and away from blogs in order to stay relaxed.  This was something I planned for, but it did add an element of pressure and next time, I'll know to expect it.

Another factor that influenced my regatta, that I had also planned for, was that I didn't have my usual coach, Max, on the course with me.  For the regatta, both Bob Willis (the USA men's windsurfer) and I shared his coach Peter; this was a result of a refusal of our team management to credential a windsurfing coach.  Although Bob's coach, Peter, is very good, he has his own way of doing things and his advice the first few days of racing threw me off a bit because I wasn't focused on what Max and I had worked on, and the formula that works for me.  Although Peter and I worked together during a few events and training, Max was around during this time and it was a bit different not having Max at all. In retrospect, I would have needed different preparation before working with Peter. 

This Olympics for me was all about gaining experience and insight into the small things that give me gains in competition.  It helped me to realize in what ways my preparation on and off the water needs to be tweaked to improve for the next Olympics.  I'm looking forward to organizing myself for another campaign!  I really appreciate all my supporters, who have always pulled through for me.  Thanks especially to my great sponsors, Compass Marketing, the St. Francis Sailing Foundation, the Olympic Sailing Association at New Orleans, the Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation, and the Southport Sailing Foundation.  I was so happy to represent all of you, and my community, at the Olympic Games. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Annapolis' Farrah Hall Moves Up In Olympic Windsurfing Standings | Baltimore News | WBAL Radio 1090 AM

Annapolis' Farrah Hall competes during the Olympic RS-X Women's class race in Weymouth and Portland (AP Photo) 

Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Scott Wykoff
Annapolis' Farrah Hall was back on her sail board on Wednesday competing in the Women's RS-X at Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour.
The windsurfer who graduated from Broadneck High School and St. Mary's College finished 18th in both Race 3 and Race 4 of the windsurfing competition on Wednesday.
“I had a really disappointing day today,” Hall said when she got back to shore in the U.S. Sailing Team's daily report. “I usually have good starts and today I didn’t. I like racing in these conditions because it’s fun, but I’m better in light air. I can put together a race a little better in light air.”
After 4 races, Hall is now in 18th place overall as she moved up 3 spots in the standings with her efforts on Wednesday.
She was in 21st after the first day of the regatta on Tuesday.
CLICK HERE for full race results and standings for the Olympic Women's RS-X
The winds off the coast of Weymouth ranged from 15 knots to 20 knots during the regatta on Wednesday afternoon.
The are 26 sailors competing in the Women's RS-X.
The next two races will be Thursday. Friday is an off day for Hall and the other windsurfers.
Hall has now sailed in 4 of the 10 windsurfing races ahead of the medal race on Tuesday.
Spain's Marina Alabau Neira leads the Women's RS-X after two days of races.
Israel's Lee-El Korsiz is second overall.
The first-time Olympian from Maryland says she likes the environment where she and her teammates are staying in Weymouth during the sailing regatta.
"The boat park is quiet and everyone is getting down to business," said the 30-year-old from Annapolis.

Annapolis' Farrah Hall Moves Up In Olympic Windsurfing Standings | Baltimore News | WBAL Radio 1090 AM

Sunday, July 29, 2012

All is Well Before the Games Begin

The first day of the Olympic Regatta has come to a close at the Sailing venue in Weymouth, UK, with races completed in the Star, Finn, and Women's Match Racing classes.  The windsurfers are scheduled to start on Tuesday, giving us just one more day to relax and get organized before our event begins. The American windsurfers (Bob Willis and I) are on track with our training and resting schedules, and we've settled into a nice routine.

The Star fleet prepares for a start.

A daily routine is something sailors create during each event and training session, which minimizes logistical complication and allows us to navigate through each day in a familiar pattern.  Much of the routine of the Olympic Games is the same as usual, and I've settled into village life and pre-regatta prep normally.  However, as the regatta commences, a few things are markedly different.  Security is the main focus of this event and our sailing area is significantly smaller.  White buoys mark the edges of the course areas, and are a boundary competitors can't cross, whether it is sailing out to a racing area or during the race itself.  Security boats patrol the harbor and boundaries and only accredited coaches and sailors are allowed into the zone.  In our venue, British commando soldiers guard the entry and exits, and search all people and vehicles entering. The security creates a delay to our routine, and extra time is needed to get in and out of the venue. 

One other strict time restriction occurs to sailors after racing.  Instead of the normal process of derigging, sailors need to return tracking devices, get their credentials back (they are collected before racing) and walk through a chute in the press area, where reporters can ask questions.  Not completing these steps can result in a severe penalty; during this event, there are many ways sailors can get extra points added to their scorecard.  A few other restrictions include forced retirement from a race after an OCS (early start), launching regulations, and strict rules for the provided equipment - adaptations to the gear permitted in the RS:X class rules aren't permitted here, even simple things like sanding down the boom grip. 

Aside from the regulations and security, I'm finding everything else quite simple.  I'm pleased with the setup for the windsurfers at the venue (a tent with padded carpet to rig on), and my provided equipment is surprisingly decent.  The new board is light, and I have a good fin, which will make all the difference.  The venue is much more mellow and quiet since the Olympics are actually a smaller regatta than a normal World Cup event; the quieter environment suits me well.  Our Olympic village is more mellow as well, and after seeing how crazy the London village is, I'm really happy we are competing at a satellite venue. After driving up for the opening ceremony on Friday, it took me a day and a half to get decompressed from the craziness!

I'm really excited about beginning our event and I'm in a positive frame of mind.  I feel relaxed and focused.  I'm not the most experienced athlete in the fleet but I've been putting together great races, and I've got a great psychological plan.  I'm on my way to the top and this is just another step on the way up.

I want to thank my great sponsors, Compass Marketing, the St. Francis Sailing Foundation, the Olympic Sailing Association at New Orleans, and the Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation for making my progress in this sport possible.  I'm proud to represent you and all my friends back home.  Go Team USA!!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Update on ISAF Decision

Over the last week, more and more issues have been brought to light about the way ISAF delegates voted in their historic decision to remove windsurfing from the 2016 Olympic Games in favor of kiteboarding.  More countries have challenged the way their delegates voted, and it shows that in fact, ISAF delegates did not thoroughly research their decisions.

Most notably, Canadian delegate Fiona Kidd voted for kiteboarding after listening to an impassioned speech by a kiteboarding representative shortly before the voting.  Ms. Kidd is a member of the ISAF Women's Forum.  The RS:X women have been communicating with her, and it is clear that she voted for kiteboarding based on "an opportunity to bring new women to the sport of sailing."  However, the reality for women in kiteboarding is currently very different.  Only 12 women competed in the 2011 World Championships in kiteboard course racing, a vast comparison to the 80 entries and 39 nations in the 2012 RS:X World Championships in Cadiz, Spain- and dozens more youth women not competing in the event, training there.  A letter from the RS:X women's class leader, Olga Maslivets, explains the statistics (apologies for the length):

"Dear Fiona

Thank you for forwarding your report.

Nevertheless there are serious issues to address as important decisions like this impact the lives of thousands of athletes, coaches, MNAs, their sponsors and companies involved in the whole sport


From my calculations over 30% of the votes cast ~ 6 ~ in favour of kite by council members were either made in error, confusion about the voting process, against the guidance given by their constituencies or after no consultation with those constituencies.

In addition a further 21% of votes cast - this time by ISAF Vice Presidents - were either against the interest of the geographical constituency that was instrumental in first nominating them and then voting for them and/or their MNAs have since distanced themselves from their actions either publicly or privately.

Some may argue that the ISAF VPs do not vote for any particular geographical grouping. To them I would ask whether the fact that there is one VP each from Asia, South America and North America with the Oceania being represented through the treasurer is just a coincidence or whether they are there to represent the geographical area from which they come ?

51% of the voting decisions for Kite were therefore based on the spur-of-the-moment or on personal preference without proper consideration of the impact of the outcomes either for kitesurfing or windsurfing.

Despite the large number of people claimed by the IKA to be engaged in kitesurfing worldwide, this only produced 12 women entries to the 2011 Kitesurfing course racing world championships from 10 nations of which only ONE voted for kite and the rest voted for windsurfing. There must be a message for ISAF in that statistic.

Additionally only 2 - one in the production division - of those women managed to complete all the races without letters in their scoreline

This compares to 80 women registered for the 2012 RS:X World Championships from 37 nations  and 5 continents with 16 of them competing for the last 7 qualification spots for London 2012.

In the meantime, please enjoy this video showing 1111 windsurfers taking part in the 2011 Defi-Wind at Le Gruissan in France.

This is just a small illustration of the shear size of the sport of windsurfing and the numbers taking part in racing in one form or another

Whilst kite obviously has potential, it is as yet unproven against the obvious success of the RS:X Women's Class who are second only to the Laser Radial in terms of numbers of athletes and country participation - 39 nations in the Olympic Q Series  -

It seems odd that you did not take this into account

ISAF liability
Whilst you seem happy to accept the bland assurances of the sport of kitesurfing becoming safer and dismiss any misgivings in one line of your report. National, Regional, City and local governments around the world have seen fit to either ban kitesurfing altogether or severely limit the geographical locations where it can be enjoyed

In Sydney Harbour, the venue for the 2000 Olympic Regatta kitesurfing is banned

In Singapore, the venue for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, kitesurfing in banned

In Cyprus, the venue for the 2013 ISAF Youth Worlds, kitesurfing is banned

On Lake Garda, Italy, the venue for the Italian leg of the EUROSAF Olympic Classes Regatta Circuit kitesurfing is banned

There are a lot more examples but these serve to illustrate my point

These restrictions are to protect other users of these waters from the risk of injury. In fact 122 kite surfers have been killed in the last 10 years. Other casualties are hard to verify but here are a few examples

Dangerous situations can occur despite proper training and safety precautions due to unpredictable conditions and difficulties with equipment.

Whilst I appreciate that you thought that you were acting in everyone's best interest, I would urge you and all our friends on the ISAF Women's Forum to do their own due diligence. The three points I have made should be enough to give you all proper reasons to reflect.

Meanwhile, here's what Paul Henderson has to say " Just an observation from a has-been ISAF President and IOC Member who first went to then IYRU in 1970 as a smart-ass Canuck. Never in all that time has a Council changed 40% of the classes in an Olympiad. This totally disrupts the sailors, which is the reason for the Games, not some unobtainable TV exposure. No other sport has ever done this. One event maybe, but 40%? I trust that the IOC Program Commission will ask ISAF to review all its decisions... including the keelboat exclusion"

Has ISAF made a balanced well thought through decision?

Warm Regards

PS. ISAF selected women's match racing then booted it out before its first Olympic Regatta. ISAF booted the multi-hull out and was subject to major criticism. Now it has done the same for windsurfing with a spur of the moment decision. Do you feel that the decision making process is producing consistently good decisions?

As the Canadian voting process is exposed, Americans are also starting to question the decisions of their own delegates, which account for three of the votes for kiteboarding.  Americans in ISAF have been voting against windsurfing for many, many years - since before I started campaigning.  However, since their votes have always gone unnoticed in the majority of nations' support of windsurfing, they have gone unchallenged.  Perhaps now is the best time to once again spotlight the questionable practices of US Sailing and the decision-making process that goes into their votes.   Nevin Sayre, promoter of the Bic Techno youth one-design windsurfer, writes in a letter to US Sailing:  "In a year when U.S. Sailing has expressed deep concern over the sudden uptick in tragic sailing deaths from Annapolis to San Francisco, what is U.S. Sailing’s safety plan here? Is U.S. Sailing aware that insurance companies, citing grave safety concerns, have refused to cover sailing programs which include kitesurfing......when instructional and competitive programs are developing young kitesurf racers, and safely channeling them toward their Olympic dreams, let’s go. We are clearly not there yet for 2016 Olympic Games."

On the North American front, it's clear that more thought needs to go into major decisions such as these.  It is a major step forward for Canada that their delegate is willing to do the research necessary to make an informed decision at the next vote.  However, it's not certain that our American politicians are willing to take into consideration the viewpoints of the actual sailors affected by their decisions.  We can only act to repair the flaws in the process of ISAF's voting.

Nevin's letter

NZ Herald article about Canadian voting

Another NZ Herald article interviewing Bruce Kendall

Jerusalem Post article

Monday, May 14, 2012

Kiteboarding Replaces Windsurfing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil: Bad Politics Still Reign Supreme

Last week, the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) voted kiteboarding into the 2016 Olympics, at the expense of RS:X Olympic windsurfing.  The highly controversial decision is generating an international uproar from sailors across the globe.  The decision represents yet another example of how removed sailing politicians are from actual sailors, and is one of the worst in the history of Olympic sailing, a history punctuated by bad politics.  The decision was based on one opinion-based report and test event attended only by kiteboard representatives, and a failure on the part of the RS:X class leadership and other international sailing federations to assume that the success of international windsurfing would speak for itself, and to misread how intent ISAF was to gain publicity for the 2016 Olympic quadrennium.

After a week of furor, sailors unearthed many examples of apathetic and poor ISAF politics.  Of course, many of the ISAF delegates voted for kiting unconcerned about the wishes of actual Olympic sailors, but in their own self-interest.  However, several evidences conclude that many countries' delegates made less than informed decisions.  The first was erroneous reporting by participants in kiteboarding's trial event.  Kiteboarding conducted one trial event held to coincide with one of the Olympic selection events for windsurfing, the RS:X World Championships in Cadiz, Spain.  The concluding report was an opinion-based document unrepresentative of the windsurfers, the actual group affected by the outcome of the trials.  Better and unbiased research needed to be performed before the actual vote.

ISAF botched the voting process, and certain groups were actually misrepresented or under-represented.  ISAF's events committee evaluated both windsurfing and kiteboarding, and voted for windsurfing before the final vote at last week's ISAF meeting. Boards magazine questioned RS:X class secretary Rory Ramsden about this decision, and he reported, "The specialist events committee were the first to discuss the decision of windsurfing or kitesurfing to be taken to the next Olympics. Here, the votes were 14 for RS:X men, and two against (Australia and the USA), and for RS:X women there were 15 votes for and again, two against. So, there was a very clear vote in favour of keeping windsurfing, and a great recommendation to ISAF to keep RS:X. I was confident that when we walked into the council chamber that we had a minimum of 21 votes for windsurfing, with 15 against, which is a comfortable majority.  But the actual vote was 19 for kite, and 17 for windsurfing."

The voting process also confused ISAF delegates and influenced their votes.  Most notably, the Spanish delegate voted for kiteboarding.  Because Spain has one of the world's strongest Olympic windsurfing program, evidenced by their world champion women's competitors Marina Alabau and Blanca Manchon, and no kite racing as of yet, the Spanish delegate's vote was a jaw-dropping standout. During the meeting, the Spanish delegate also represented the delegate from Portugal, who favored windsurfing but did not attend. Therefore, the Spanish delegate gave two votes for kiteboarding.  It later came out that he made a mistake when he voted for kites, and in fact hoped to vote for windsurfing.  A translation of a statement made by the Royal Spanish Sailing Federation states, "Spain supported and is supporting maintaining windsurfing (RS:X) in the 2016 Olympics.  In fact, during the recent years RFEV has heavily invested in the development of future windsurfing promises...the current Spanish Olympic sailing team has some of the best windsurfers in the world that are serious contenders for a medal both at the previous Olympics and the next ones this summer...Despite this, at the last moment the Spanish representative in the ISAF council gave his vote for the kite, an error caused by the confusion of the voting system.  The federation president, Gerardo Pombo, takes responsibility for his error and wants to apologize to all Spanish windsurfers."

In addition to delegates' confusion, Asian countries, heavily invested in Olympic windsurfing, were under-represented at the time of voting.  This may have been a result of uncertainty over when the actual vote would take place:  Rory Ramsden quoted, "There was a big discussion about whether to make the decision now, or wait until November. A clear majority voted for the decision to be made now to give everyone the maximum amount of time to plan their campaigns."  The only Asian countries to vote included Japan, a strong supporter of RS:X, and Singapore and India, countries not invested in Olympic sailing.  China, Hong Kong, and Korea, all countries with developed programs in Olympic windsurfing, missed out on the opportunity to vote.  Barbara Kendall, multiple Olympic medalist in women's windsurfing from New Zealand and International Olympic Committee representative, believed that a lack of Asian representation on the voting committee pointed to a major flaw with ISAF's procedure for the selection of kiteboarding. "Due diligence wasn't done, and when you're an organization responsible for a lot of money and you do make changes, that is absolutely essential. From what's been seen it hasn't been done, [and] ISAF loses so much credibility; it's quite sad," she stated to the New Zealand Herald.

Regardless of outcome, it is apparent that ISAF's Olympic class selection process needs revision and a clear set of rules to follow.  ISAF showed a poor representation and understanding of two board sports that are exciting and fun, and tarnished sailors' simple enjoyment of both sports with bad politics.  Windsurfing and kiting can easily co-exist, and in communities where both already do so, such as at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, both windsurfers and kiteboarders show enthusiasm, a positive attitude, great respect, and even crossing over among both sports.

Most Olympic windsurfers, including me, enjoy kiteboarding and would like to welcome kites into the Olympics, but not at the expense of our own sport.  Kites are less than ready to be in the 2016 Olympics for a variety of reasons, but ISAF politicians and the IKA glossed over many issues and refused to do the right thing:  find a solution to introduce kiting before the 2016 quad, allow it to become organized globally, and add it to the 2020 roster of Olympic events.  There may be other, equally as viable, solutions to the problem for the 2016 quad that can provide an opportunity for both kiteboarding and windsurfing to compete at the Olympic Games. 

Windsurfers and kiteboards prepare for a start in San Francisco, California, USA.

What does ISAF's decision mean for the lives of many windsurfers?  Everyone is very disappointed that the ISAF politicians didn't make an informed decision, but we are all adaptable.  If our effort to save windsurfing doesn't come to fruition, Olympic windsurfing will be the best thing that ever happened to the sport of kiteboarding.  It will be the windsurfers who create the equipment, the structure, and the development of the kiteboarding class.  And, it will be Olympic windsurfers who rise to the top of the sport. 

Personally, ISAF's decision is devastating.  I was already laying the structure for my 2016 Olympic campaign, and it looks like my plans will change drastically.  I made a lot of progress in my sport over the past six months and I felt that I could rise to the top of the fleet over the next four years.  It is incredibly disappointing to have the opportunity for me to reach the potential of my sailing taken away - the decision impacts all the funding and structure I have built around my campaign and my life.  Because I have been building my life around windsurfing, I have to start again from ground zero.  The situation is the same for anyone who is a full-time Olympic windsurfer or has a job based on Olympic windsurfing.

The change will impact a lot of structure and grass-roots efforts centered around building windsurfing in the United States and other developing countries.  Although the Bic Techno is still a Youth Olympic class, overall participation and level of mastery will decline as young teenagers begin following their Olympic dreams by learning to kiteboard.  If the decision stands, the RS:X class will become essentially defunct, and many developing countries' investment in the Olympic windsurfing equipment will be irrelevant.

The RS:X class is making a last-ditch effort to turn the vote around at the next ISAF meeting in November.  Please help our class by signing the petition - keep us in the Olympics!

Go here to sign the Petition

Go here to visit the Facebook Group

New Zealand Herald article

Boards Magazine interview with Rory Ramsden 

VSail article about the Royal Spanish Sailing Federation 

Interview with JP Tobin (NZL 2012 Olympic representative) about kiteboarding

BBC video interview with Nick Dempsey, GBR 2012 Olympic representative

Sunday, April 29, 2012

French Olympic Week - One more step up the ladder

The French Olympic Week was a great training opportunity for most competitors.  We were fortunate enough to have a very windy event, which meant more practice for me in my weakest conditions.   The regatta was similar to the Worlds in Cadiz in which it was fantastically windy most of the event.  However, one more element made the event even more difficult:  crazy chop and big waves.

 For the first half of the regatta, the wind came from the famous northwest "Mistral" direction, which meant gusts of 30 knots and short, steep chop on starboard tack.  In the middle of the event, we had one day of more "normal" conditions  - 8 to 10 knots of southerly sea breeze.  The final days had an easterly "opposite" to the Mistral, with giant Mediterranean waves building across the open sea. 

I was able to work on technique over waves upwind, which isn't my strong suit, and dial in my big-wind settings.  Most importantly, after a month of very windy training, I've lost all caution in those conditions.  I'm having a blast going as fast as possible downwind and am attacking maneuvers aggressively.  I just have to improve more upwind!  On a very positive note for our one day of light wind, I had two top-10 finishes.  I am getting really fast in those conditions and I can still improve a lot more - I can't wait to see where those improvements take me before the Olympic Games.

I have a few more days of recovery here in France and then it's off to Weymouth, UK, to finish up the season training at the Olympic venue.  I'm really looking forward to starting up there.  I'd like to thank my supporters Compass Marketing, the St. Francis Sailing Foundation, the Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation, the Olympic Sailing Association at New Orleans, and the Southport Sailing Foundation for all their help.  I am making major improvements and I hope to have a good result at Sail for Gold. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Road to the Olympics Went Through Cadiz, Spain

Last week at the RS:X World Championships in Cadiz, I qualified the USA for a spot at the 2012 Olympic Games. This was the last step for me in securing my Olympic qualification, and the United States now has a full Olympic sailing team.

The World Championships was just a little different from most of my other events. The 30-knot wind we had for two days pushed the limits of the race committee and all competitors. It was radically different from the conditions I trained in for a month prior to the championships - marginal daggerboard and light planing conditions. Although I had little practice in the survival conditions we saw during the event, I was surprised at how well I performed with the training I had. Everything was just a little bit easier using new technique, I was fit and strong, and I learned new settings to de-power the equipment. I think my job would have been much easier in raceable conditions, but the lessons from this regatta will make me much more confident in future events.

Even Gold Medalists and World Champions didn't escape without a swim

I felt that I met my goals for this event, and I'm glad the USA now has a full Olympic sailing team. The 2012 quad was significantly harder than 2008 in terms of qualifying, and the level of the fleet has gone up exponentially. Going to the Olympics this quad really means that I've found some success. I'm excited to be representing the USA at the Olympic Games and feel I have the chance to make a real impact in terms of results and garnering more support for Olympic boardsailing.

A Defining Moment
Race 4, getting a jump on the fleet at the start led to a top finish and a place in the Gold fleet...

and punched my ticket to the 2012 Olympic games!

Leading up to the Olympics, the most important factor in my campaign will be the effort made towards the continuation of support for my coaching program. I've had to fight other competitors and countries to keep my coach; uncertainty about the future is the worst enemy my program has. I'm confident that my program now is as good or better than any other competitor's, and it will be the most defining factor to my success.

coach Max telling me "you can do this, be a man!"

A special thanks to a new group of friends connected with the Rota Naval Base, and to the men and women serving our country in uniform, who made me feel at home and went out of their way to help me with whatever I needed. Max, my Polish coach commented several times how impressed he was by the support they gave us before, during and after the Championships. I specifically would like to thank David Hiipakka, Dale Thompson, Jan Hammond, and Liana.

David Hiipakka was the leader of my home team in Spain!

It's been a long four years, more hard work ahead

I'd like to thank all my sponsors for their support of my program and helping it to become as successful as it is today. I'd especially like to recognize Compass Marketing for their commitment, and a big thanks to the St. Francis Sailing Foundation, the Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation, the Olympic Sailing Association at New Orleans, and the Southport Sailing Foundation. I'm now in France beginning preparations for the French Olympic Week and I'm looking forward to another great event.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Big Day on the Road to the Olympics

"Fire Hose Sailing"
photo by Dale Thompson

The last day of the qualifying series at the RS:X Worlds here in Cadiz was a big day for me on every level. I had a shaky start to my series, and I found myself right in the middle of the fight for the seven open spots to qualify for a place in the Olympics. After a day off due to 40-knot "Levante" wind, yesterday, our scheduled lay day, ended up being a one-race day that would determine the Gold and Silver fleets for the rest of the World Championships. If I could get in the Gold fleet then I would be virtual Olympic place holder. I needed a flawless performance to guarantee my spot in the Gold fleet.

Getting ready to launch at the start
photo by Dale Thompson

I have been working really hard since November to lift all areas of my game, and strong wind was a high priority. Unbelievably, over the past five months, and specifically here in Cadiz, I've only had a handful of heavy air training days. With everything on the line, I went for it at the start and started clear of the field at full speed. I had a clear lane to the favored left side. I sailed the best I ever have in those strong winds and maintained good speed and pointing. At the top mark I was with the lead group rounding fifth. For the rest of the race it was back and forth with Vicki Chan from Hong Kong and Charline Picon from France. In the final slalom, I was trailing HKG, and missed a jibe. Bryony Shaw from GBR and Charline snuck past me one jibe away from the finish, leaving me in 7th place.

Perfectly timed start at the favored leeward end
photo by Dale Thompson

I did it! I ended up having one of the best races of my life at a Worlds, and finished 7th. Everything just came together perfectly. I'm now positioned in the front half of the fleet out of our qualifying round, which means I'm racing in the Gold fleet for the rest of the event and also means I qualified for a spot at the Olympics! I am relieved to have accomplished this with a breakout performance and I'm inspired to see how far I can go in the Gold fleet.

I want to thank my sponsors Compass Marketing, St. Francis Yacht Club, Annapolis Yacht Club, the Olympic Sailing Association at New Orleans, and the Southport Sailing Foundation for making my preparation for this event as good as it gets. I'm looking forward to representing you at the Olympic Games.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Trip to Naval Station Rota - a great experience!

On Friday I was honored to have the chance to visit the US Naval Station at Rota, Spain. Rota is a strategically located base and is considered the "Gateway to the Mediterranean." It is a short eight-hour flight from the USA, and is often a stopping point for supplies on their way to other destinations. 4,000 Americans are associated with the base, and its facilities include a port and an airfield. I was really interested in meeting our servicemen stationed at Rota, and seeing first-hand what they do. I also wanted to find a way to give back something to their community and express my appreciation for the service of our military. I had a whirlwind tour lined up: a meet-and-greet at the galley, a tour of the Seabees' facility, a speech to the National Junior Honor Society, and a radio interview - all in one afternoon!

What struck me as I first drove through the naval station was how American it looked despite being in the middle of Spain. A new friend said the area reminded him of 1950s SoCal, and I could see the resemblance, especially on base. The base was clean and well cared for, with wide streets open space, official buildings, and homes reminiscent of a Florida neighborhood.

After lunch in the galley, I was escorted to the facilities of the Seabees, the US Navy's Construction Battalion. The Seabees are engineers who design, plan, and execute all kinds of construction projects from recreational and base maintenance to actually constructing bases, airstrips, housing, and other necessities for our military. They are known for their good attitude, humor, and teamwork. Their motto is, appropriately, "Can Do!"

I was pretty impressed with the size of the machinery there and a couple bad-ass looking sheet metal garages that were probably constructed in the 1950s. What was equally impressive was how much planning goes into their projects, and the lots with organized rows of heavy machinery. I was pretty excited when they said I could drive one of the tractors. They showed me how to use a little bobcat (I probably would have done some damage in a big one) and at the end of a few minutes, I figured out the different speeds, how to spin around, and how to move some dirt! Since both arms and legs had different controls, I felt like I was operating some machine out of Star Wars. I can only imagine what driving a big front loader or backhoe would feel like.
Cool. (Photo: Dale Thompson)

After the Seabees visit, I was shuttled to the next stop, which was a speaking opportunity at David Glasgow Farragut MHS, the military school at Rota. High-achieving students were being inducted into the National Junior Honor Society, and I was honored to have the chance to speak to the students and parents about how the values of the NJHS, including academics, scholarship, leadership, character, and service, apply to real life. I felt refreshed being in the academic environment and talking to the students, and I enjoyed watching the induction ceremony. It was reassuringly American, and it was a treat to get away from the daily routine and visit such a nice community. I also got to autograph a lot of different objects including bark, a soda can, a fork, and a yo-yo. If anyone sees these items on E-Bay, let me know!

Another really new experience for me was a radio interview. I spoke with radio DJ Josiah Wilson from AFN Rota and toured the studio, which was in an old naval control building next to the port. The studio is one of the oldest buildings on the base, and it was really interesting to check out all the equipment and CD library!

Finally......I got to meet the high school softball team, who were just finishing up their tryouts. It was cool to see the athletes cheering each other on and feel the familiar energy of high school sports, which is, after all, where I started out!

I really appreciate the opportunity to see into the lives of our servicemen and their families stationed at Rota! I was really impressed with the attractive base and how close the community is, and I hope I have another chance to see everyone again.

Check out this video of my trip.

Inside a C-5...lucky me!! (Dale Thompson)

I'd like to thank my sponsors, including Compass Marketing, the St. Francis Yacht Club Foundation, the Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation, the Olympic Sailing Association at New Orleans, and the Southport Sailing Association, for giving me the opportunity to make a great showing for the USA at the Carnaval Regatta, and giving me the best of chances to qualify the USA for an Olympic slot at the RS:X World Championships.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The RS:X Pre-Worlds Regatta

Beautiful new headquarters of the Andalucian Sailing Federation

For the past two weeks I've been training in El Puerto de Santa Maria (Cadiz), Spain, the site of the 2012 RS:X World Championships. Coach Max is here with me, and together we've been making some big improvements to my sailing (I know saying this makes me sound like a broken record, but it's very true). A big fleet of international sailors are here, from youth to gold medalists all eager to train and race together.

Yesterday, I finished in eighth place at the Carnaval Regatta, a major Spanish event and the pre-Worlds warm-up for most competitors. All the women sailors training here competed, and together with the youth girls and boys, we had a really strong fleet. Light wind was the dominant condition, and we had a good range of directions and wave conditions, from offshore, shifty, and flat, to a clean sea breeze with choppy swell. We've also been lucky to have sunshine every day so far, which is great because it can be pretty rainy and cold in Spain this time of year.

Results from the Carnaval Regatta

I shaped up well against the other girls in the light wind conditions, and with the addition of new speed, the pieces of the racing puzzle started to fit together. My starts were great, and I was making good decisions tactically. The light wind made for a grueling event, but I really enjoy that toughest kind of sailing and putting my endurance to the test.

Competitors heading out in light wind

Another benefit of the Carnaval Regatta was that I had the opportunity to meet a contact from the joint Spanish - US naval base at Rota, Spain, which is just down the road from where we are racing. I'm finalizing plans for a goodwill visit to show my support, and I'm really looking forward to meeting some sailors and officers.

Starting tomorrow, I have 20 days of training until the Worlds. Now that I'm making solid progress in light to moderate conditions, I'm hoping that we will see breezier conditions to bring my planing up to speed. I'd like to thank my sponsors, including Compass Marketing, the St. Francis Yacht Club Foundation, the Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation, the Olympic Sailing Association at New Orleans, and the Southport Sailing Association, for giving me the opportunity to make a great showing for the USA at the Carnaval Regatta, and giving me the best of chances to qualify the USA for an Olympic slot at the RS:X World Championships.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Silver Medal at the Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta

Daniel Forster/Rolex
Yesterday I finished my 8th Miami OCR. Every year, I expect the same thing from the event: that it will be a great warm-up for the season, it will be great light wind training, and it will be an opportunity to practice the latest techniques I've learned. Each year, competitors experience the same type of conditions - mostly light and marginal wind, pumping conditions, one or two planing races, sunshine, and seagrass hazards floating around the course.

Mick Anderson/
Looking back through the years, my regatta experience here has been a reflection of the progress of all aspects of my Olympic campaign. In particular, the development of my coaching program has influenced the 2011 and 2012 event in a really positive way. At the end of 2010, I was still struggling with many light-wind technique issues. Putting together and implementing a good program over the course of a year made an impact on the scoreboard during both of these events. In each case, confidence in my new abilities and support during the regattas gave me a mental edge and ability to use my fitness properly.

Mick Anderson/
Last week during the racing, opportunities abounded to put together new technique, tactics, and fitness to create a strategic and powerful event for me. The regatta was mostly light wind, with shifty tactical days, and days where speed was more critical. Our fleet was mostly Americans from all continents - North, South, and Central, and many of us were matched well for speed and abilities. Because I was one of the strongest sailors, I could take creative control of my racing. I could start wherever I wanted to, make my own decisions on the course, and still be able to recover after a mistake. Most importantly, I could clearly see which decision-making processes were working, and which ones needed to be revised, clarified, or added to my master list.

I still have a week of training here in Miami, and I'm excited about the opportunity to keep working on these skills. I'm really happy with my progress so far and am looking forward to further developing my program. None of this would be possible without the help of my great sponsors and supporting foundations. Many thanks to Compass Marketing, the St. Francis Yacht Club Foundation, the Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation, the Olympic Sailing Association of New Orleans, and the Southport Sailing Foundation (Clever Pig).

Monday, January 23, 2012

Top of the Leader Board after Day One at Rolex Miami OCR

The past three months of intense training with my coach Max Wojcik have been paying off. I have gotten a lot faster in every condition and my board handling and mark rounding have improved greatly. Today it was really nice to see how it can all come together with a 2nd and 1st place in the two races today, to be scored as the overnight leader. Tomorrow I will be wearing the yellow jersey!

After spending two months training and racing in Perth, Australia, I took a few weeks off to spend Christmas with my family and friends. After New Year's Day, I went straight to Miami where I again met up with Max. One of the best benefits of working with Max is that he is a top international RSX sailor in the Men's class. Having him to sail against means he can easily demonstrate proper technique and is constantly pushing me to go faster. Additionally, we decided it would be good to have a fast woman RSX sailor to train against, so Max could spend some time in the coach boat. We flew in Malgorzata Bialecka from Poland to train with me and compete in the regatta.

As Max says, "let's not get too excited," but for sure progress is being made. I still have a long way to go but I know that getting better is a matter of time. There are 185 days to the start of the Olympics and I plan to make every day count towards a top result.