John Skye gives us an insight into his latest rig designs for children.
Words John Skye // Photo Pons Training
As a designer, one always tries to develop in a balanced way across all lines of sails. However at the same time I think the biggest jumps are always when things get a bit more personal. So, as my 2 kids grow, I can’t help but think about ways to get them on the water as easily as possible. For example I have converted my SUP, by installing a strap/handle across the front, to be able to catch waves with my daughter so she has something secure to hold on to. With this we could catch our first waves together, which was an amazing feeling. At the same time obviously I would love to share windsurfing with her. When my daughter was 3 she first uphauled her 0.8 metre kiddy rig. Aided by a cut down super lightweight race mast, it is possibly the lightest rig on the planet. She managed to get the sail in her hands and move a few metres, which was great, but it’s not exactly discovering the exhilaration of windsurfing.
The real inspiration for me came from Kevin Pritchard. I saw a video of his online, windsurfing with his nephew (son of Matt Pritchard). He had installed an additional boom below his, and was not only fully planing and blasting around, but was even doing jumps. I asked him about it on our next trip to Maui and he said they jumped so high that the board eventually broke! This seemed to me the quickest and easiest way to give children an immediate feeling of what windsurfing has to offer. Light wind sailing is great, but planing at full speed with relative safety is something completely different.
With that in mind, I operated on a couple of old sails I had lying around. A couple of simple cuts in the mast sleeve allow the mast sleeve to be folded back and leave the mast exposed around the bottom batten. Then I added an eyelet just below the bottom batten on the foot. There is very little force on the lower boom, so no additional reinforcement was needed and the sail was ready to go. Finally a super slim kids boom from our Grom range and we headed to the beach.
With my daughter only 4 and not 100% water confident yet, I did what any decent parent would do… give it to a friend to try first! Jaime not only has a slightly older kid, aged 6, but is also considerably less responsible than any other parent I know. His kid has been in and out of the Emergency room since a very young age, so seemed like the perfect guinea pig! On their first run out it took them a couple of minutes to find the balance and get everything set up, but once they hit the wind line, they were off. Fully planing, Jaime in the straps of the 100L Firemove and his kid between his legs, holding on to the lower boom. We did get a bit worried when they hadn’t turned around after 1 km, but it turns out they were loving life so much they just carried on going. Gybing proved to be a bit more complicated, but following some swimming, they were back up and running towards the beach, and on the inside they even managed to gybe successfully before heading back out. My daughter by this point had decided that playing with her dolls in the van seemed like a better idea, but the concept was proven. After discussions with Jaime I also added an inboard set of straps to the board, mainly to keep the kid more stationary and make balancing easier. A few weeks after that I had the joy of sharing some waves with Timo’s oldest daughter, Skye, in Mauritius as the local instructor took her out with a similar setup into the waves, whilst Timo looked on (slightly worried I think). To see her up close grinning from ear to ear, as well as gybing and getting the feeling of bottom and top turns, was really inspiring.
For me the best part of this is that not only do the kids learn what performance windsurfing is much quicker, but they also learn the techniques involved. Gybing, holding the boom, body position and even getting in the straps for the first time. It’s all done in a much safer environment with their parent/instructor by their side. I am sure that if and when these kids first get to this level on their own, they will have all the technique already in place to be able to enjoy it much quicker, which is obviously the ultimate goal. All our future school sails over 3.5 that have a lower batten will have this system ready to go, so schools/parents can easily give it a try on their own. Hopefully the result will be more kids enjoying the sport easier and younger.
Once they are ready we also have all the next level rigs ready to go. Since last year we completely reconsidered our junior collection, with lightweight being the ultimate goal. Previously we had made the sails strong and abuse proof, thinking that the kids will trash the gear, but it turns out that having everything lightweight is the most important thing, even at the small expensive of durability. Our Grom sail, which is our performance kid’s rig, has seen loads of weight saving development, with a reduction of battens to 3, and no batten pockets to save every gram. We developed a lightweight C80 mast specifically for these rigs as well. The sails don’t work as small adult sails, but they are soft and forgiving for the junior riders, allowing them to really progress once they get into the straps and harness. With all these developments I really hope that, should my kids want to, they will be able to enjoy windsurfing as quickly and easily as possible!
PHOTO Test pilots, Jaime and his kid take John’s prototype for a fun run! Photo PONS TRAINING.