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As the competition season returns from its summer holiday, Harty addresses the subject of competitiveness and competitions.

The mood in the pub last night was a little somber. Our team, the Tavernas, had just lost to the Chidham Village XI on the last ball of the game. (I apologize to European readers. We’re talking cricket. I would explain the rules if only I had a week spare. Just think of it as baseball with smarter caps). Here’s the thing. They had to score 14 runs off the last over – quite an ask – but our captain Walter hands the ball to good old Geoffrey, not because he’s the one to pin them down but because “Geoff hasn’t bowled yet.” What a lovely gesture. Except Geoff couldn’t hit a barn door with a beach ball even in his prime, which was a good 30 years ago. So why, I seethed inwardly, don’t you give the ball to Max, aged 17, who is fast, accurate and bursting with post-puberty testosterone? And so we lost.

24 hours later and I’m still chuntering – not just because of the result but also because I was given out lbw when clearly the ball was missing leg stump by a mile. The angel on my shoulder keeps reminding me that it’s village cricket for Christ’s sake (she didn’t actually blaspheme) – it’s just a bit of fun, chill out, enjoy the occasion. While the devil on the other shoulder, clearly on my side, is still mad with Walter for throwing the game and says there’s no point in playing unless you do your best to win. The thing is, Walter is a lovely bloke. Laughing away in the pub, he felt no remorse because, by his own admission, despite playing competitive cricket all his life, and despite being Australian, he’s not competitive. I don’t get it – but maybe I should.

He’ll probably edit the following bit out, but our cherished editor told me that ‘the Industry’ has been on his back to help promote racing – and could I help. Happy to. Here goes.

Racing is brilliant. I competed from 1983 to 2000 and loved every minute of it. So you think you can gybe? OK – now do it around a mark, in chop with 30 others breathing down your neck. Racing forces you to up your game. You’re a wave-sailor then. So you must be pretty fit. Well try a 20 minute wave heat where you have to score 3 jumps and 3 rides AND stay upwind and come back and tell me how fit you are. I’ve known amateurs who’ve gone for their first loops while in competition because the pressure of the situation has inspired and liberated them. Competition forces you to travel away from what you know; sail in different spots and so widen your skill and experience. And let us not forget the social factor. Windsurfers are fantastic people brought together by a common love of the sea, the outdoors and cheap beer. The prize-givings are legendary and the friendships made life-long.

How am I doing?
The eulogy is sincere, if a little rose-tinted. I didn’t love every minute. All sports have their downs – but surely one of the main attractions of competition is to intensify the extremes of emotion – one minute picking the remains of your race rig out of the icy Llandudno shore-break – the next dancing on the tables with your best mates after your first podium finish.

So why is it that more people don’t race these days?
In the beginning most recreational windsurfing took place inland on big boards. Racing was so easy to organize. At a club I ran, we held races every evening whatever the wind. Whoever was on the water got shepherded to the start line – sometimes less a race and more a communal float. But it gave them a focus. Today those same windsurfers are hooning up and down on the sea on short, wide boards having more thrills than are good for them. They feel they don’t need racing to maintain the buzz – although it could well add to it.

But here’s the thing – most people don’t enter competitions because they don’t see themselves as competitive and they don’t like competitive people. They encounter them in the workplace. They’re the sneaky ones who need to bolster their fragile self-esteem with constant accomplishment, and who aren’t afraid to deceive and intimidate to reach those ends. Although at the elite end of racing, you may encounter the odd sociopath, most ‘competitive’ windsurfers really aren’t like that. ‘A healthy rivalry’ like a ‘friendly’ between England and Scotland football teams, sounds oxymoronic – but it truly does exist in windsurfing.

On the PWA speed circuit, the collective spirit was extraordinary. We helped each other out, shared notions, borrowed and lent kit even to our closest rivals. After all, where’s the value in a victory if the bloke you want to beat doesn’t even have a mast to use?

That same spirit permeates most amateur competition. You only have to watch one of the Masterblasters at the NWF where 200 plus pros and amateurs converge and collide around the same course, to see that the desire to win and friendly banter are not mutually exclusive. And whether you like it or not, in order to have learned to windsurf at all, you have a competitive streak. But like most, it is probably under control and focused on cracking the next move or moving up the rankings, rather than crushing an opponent. So if you decide to enter your first regatta, you will not encounter a fleet of little Napoleons, quoting rules and barking orders from the crow’s nest. You’re more likely to meet a bunch of Walters. And Walter is a very nice man  (although he should never have let Geoff bowl the last over…)

PH 31st July 2015

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