Harty warns against the imagined joy of the good ol’ days of the travelling windsurfer.
It was a sorry sight – that of 8 people, friends presumably, sat around a table on a glorious evening and every one of them was staring at their phone. “What could possibly be more important,” my friend commented, “than the living people right in front of them? Phones …” he ranted, “I bloody hate them!” In many ways I agree – but I asked him to consider whether he’d really like to return to a pre-digital age. Remember having to call the office / home because you were running late? You pull in at a phone box, find it’s been vandalised. You find another, which is working but the last occupant had decided to use it as a urinal. There’s a dial tone – it’s a miracle! You get through but run out of 2p’s before you have a chance to announce your name. The whole process was designed to give you a stress-induced coronary. When you got home (your terminally unreliable car broke down twice on the way) you tried to unwind by treating yourself to a meal in the local pub. The starter was fruit juice from a carton and the main a carbonised lump of gristle. “There was a lot to dislike about the good ol’ days,” I continued.. But by this stage my friend had stopped listening to check Windguru.
Travellers – and notably travelling windsurfers – have an amazing capacity for rose-tinted memorising. Last month an old friend posted a picture of us sailing the Silver Sands reef in Barbados. It was 1983. Windsurfing had just arrived on the island and we had that gorgeous spot all to ourselves. What a trip! I romanticised. But on closer inspection of the photo, I clocked other details. The boom had a tie-on front end that would never stay put. The mast was a borrowed one (I’d broken all my others ) that had the form and consistency of wet spaghetti. Every time I wiped out (frequently) I broke something. And the board was an early custom asymmetric completely wrong for the break. I couldn’t sail it upwind and spent chunks of the day walking up from w***ers point. Oh yes – and the flight was £700 (over 2k in today’s money).
Progress and Ruin
You can only go somewhere for the first time once – and it’s often that first trip that was the most memorable, for the newness of the experience and probably because it was less spoiled. And by ‘spoiled’ we selfishly mean we’d rather no one else went there. There’s surely nothing more annoying than some old geezer ranting on about how good it all once was. Let’s bring some evidence to the debate.
Travelling with kit
If you’re flying then the old days were immeasurably better. Especially before 9/11, certain airlines didn’t even weigh it. A ‘windsurfer’ was seen as a board bag, a sail bag and a mast bag and you could fill them with pretty much what you liked. There was no maximum bag limit. Today fewer and fewer airlines take kit and with those that do, there’s no wiggle room. At Easyjet’s auto check-in last month, my sports bag was 5 grams over and the machine politely asked me for my credit card. But of course you don’t have to fly. My most popular courses are the road-trip ones to Ireland and Scotland. Twenty years ago very few recreational sailors had vans – because they were noisy and uncomfortable. Now they’re beautiful things that accommodate all the toys and many mod cons.
Kit when you rent
No contest – if you choose wisely, it’s infinitely better today. Not just because kit is better but because there’s more competition. The average standard of personal kit is good, so people expect to find the same if not better when they rent.
Choice and quality of centres
If you were looking to rent, your choice abroad was fairly limited. These days I meet a lot of Europeans especially who no longer have their own kit. Their windsurfing is a holiday activity like skiing. They expect variety so more and more centres are springing up all over. Thanks to low cost airlines and the vast choice of routes, the world is truly your lobster when it comes to variety and quality of centre. And as for coaching, whereas once it might have been a dude in a deckchair with a megaphone, today it could be an athlete from the world tour. The standard of coaching is infinitely better.
In terms of pure windsurfing, everywhere was better – unless you crave crowds and gustier winds. Nowhere I can think of has been improved by the inclusion of tall buildings. But development is a two edged sword. Take the Egyptian resort of Dahab. There was a time when you could drag a hand in the sand as you sailed within inches of the beach in the bay, so clean was the offshore wind. Then they started building hotels on the shore. Hand-drag-ging became trickier but at least you had somewhere to stay. But with the growth came a happy prosperity. Rather than just being an oasis, the place developed a scene – small restaurants and bars popped up. Best of all, many of the local instructors and workers, who had been brought in from the big cities, were doing well enough to bring their families and set up home, which in the greater scheme makes for a happier, better balanced society. The bay is gustier but just go out a bit further and it’s fine. Sadly the place has been currently kyboshed by a more malevolent political force.
One or two pioneers don’t make much fuss or take up much room, so locals tend to let them pursue their eccentric hobby with bemused curiosity. But when armies of vans turn up, heckles can rise and sometimes with good reason. Access to water isn’t as free as it once was. Why in Kerry only last month an issue arose at beautiful Scraggane bay. The land by the beach is commonage owned by a group of farmers who’ve now stopped people parking there. Oh no! That’s it – one of the nicest freeride bays in the world is forever forbidden to us. Happily it turned out to be a reaction to the travelling community who had camped here for months on end. But when approached about the windsurfers, they said – fine, it’s OK to rig on the grass so long as you park on the road = a walk of an extra 10 feet. So no problem there then.
Folks – there’s never been a better time to be a travelling windsurfer.
Enjoy your holidays!
PH 3rd June 2017
Photo – Yes … nice empty waves – but the kit was rubbish and about to break! PHOTO Peter Hart Photography