Harty ponders if history lessons in our sport should be compulsory for all windsurfers?
My old friend Mark Wood took his son to Vassiliki last summer for a windsurfing holiday. On day one he grabbed some kit from the Club Vass racks, threw it over his head and strolled to the shore. But before you could say ‘beachstart’, an eager young instructor intercepted him with some stern advice, “No no no sir – we don’t carry the equipment like that – let me show you.” What the poor youth didn’t know was that Woodsy was once on the Tiga international team; he was the first Brit to win a race on the PBA (now PWA) tour, beating Naish et al; won multiple national championships and the highly prestigious Production Board Worlds (and the even more prestigious Vass Class event). Being the humble chap that he is, he did not deliver a ‘have you any idea who I am?’ speech, made no mention of his portfolio of brilliance, but did what he was told and carried his kit in a more RYA approved manner. Admittedly Woodsy had gained pounds and lost hair since his halcyon days – but surely such an icon of the sport would, and should, be recognised and lauded eternally by the next generation?
I told this story last week to 15 year old Finn (who knows Woodsy), a tasty freestyler who spends his summers in Vass – and joked that it was like him not knowing who Bjorn Dunkerbeck was. “Who?”, he said.
“If you don’t know history, you’re like a leaf that doesn’t know it’s part of a tree.” Michael Crichton
The theme of windsurfing history and its players came up thanks to a conversation I had recently with Barry Edgington. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of Bazz? Former Lechner world champ; Brit representative at the Barcelona games and coach of Nick Dempsey and Bryony Shaw? Really? Anyway Bazz was in Sardinia at the 2012 kitesurfing words, just when kiting had replaced windsurfing (temporarily as it turned out) in the Olympic sailing schedule. And there walking on the beach, totally unmolested by adoring fans, was Ken Winner. Ken was one of the original demi-gods of windsurfing. He was a world champ, pioneer and author of ‘The Wind is Free’, the essential companion of every self-respecting ‘boardsailor.’ Ken was a there as a representative of North, who were sponsoring the British team. Barry approached him and said, “It’s OK, I know who you are.” And proceeded to fawn over him for half an hour. That the potential Olympians under his care had never heard of Ken was disappointing, but understandable. “Your heroes tend to be the ones who are just at the next stage above you and are performing in the way you want to. When I was 14, Ken and the likes of Anders Bringdal were fighting it out over course racing. They were the guys I’d idolise. These days the best known are those who shout loudest on Instagram. But it’s a shame, I think a bit of history should be a compulsory part of RYA courses.” Barry said with a smile on his face. I agree. This really isn’t a call to bolster the fading reputations of the
ancient elite, but more to champion the general history of out sport, which is fascinating. And because it’s recent (just 50 years old), many of the earliest protagonists – the players and designers – are still alive, involved and happy to talk.
As you sail along, balanced and with a level of speed and total control unimagined by even the most youthful and athletic pioneers, you surely must marvel at the billions of hours of R & D, the crashes, the breakages, the dead-end design streets, the abject failures, the light bulb moments involved in getting you to this point? And as you try say your first Vulcan (a move, which on average requires 2,000 attempts before one is nailed), put yourself in the booties of a pioneer attempting one on totally unsuitable kit, not even knowing if it were possible. What sort of resilience does that take? Every single move out there has a story – some the result of dogged hard work, others stumbled on – like the day Australian Greg ‘Grubby’ Allaway, who went for a hard carving 360, span out, slid around on the nose – and by so doing invented the eponymous ‘Grubby.’
Yet like all good historians, we must approach even recent history with scepticism and an enquiring mind. A policeman once said that 10 minutes after a traffic accident, he often gets ten versions of the same event; hence he naturally doubts the veracity of historical ‘facts’ that happened centuries ago. And actually, I can revel now that with regards to windsurfing competitions and stories, even in the TV age you couldn’t always believe what you were seeing. The PWA pro tour was well televised by SKY in the 90s. The shows were billed ‘as live’ – but were actually broadcast a good 2 weeks after the event. I used to do the commentaries and even ended up commentating ‘live’ on heats I was in … which was weird. It was also the era when a certain Dunkerbeck was so dominant that he often had the comp sewn up by day 3, which was a tad dull for TV. So it was the director who would tinker with history and concoct a story out of the footage where it looked as if the result came down to the last gybe of the last race of the last day. No harm in ruining a good story with the absolute truth I suppose – but those videos are no doubt out there somewhere as historical documents.
So compulsory history classes it is then. Right, hands up anyone who hasn’t heard of Robby Naish?
Peter Hart – 26th April 2019
History in the making. Speed record holder Fred Heywood in 1982 going slower than most recreational sailors today – but using a ‘wing’ mast, that was the inspiration for both rotational and camber induced rigs.
PHOTO Hart Photography.