SAM LATHAM: SAM’S STORY
Sam Latham started windsurfing aged nine and sailed right through all the classes from Techno to RS:X and UKWA slalom. Now an entrepreneur and self-confessed design geek, Sam has been involved in several businesses and his latest venture as owner of Worthing Watersports is perhaps his biggest challenge to date. Sam tells us more about his journey.
Words: Sam Latham // Photos: Eunice Bergin (shop), John Carter (portrait and action).
I have been windsurfing for more than twenty years, and started aged nine when a family friend asked me to try it with them for the first time. I gave it a go but didn’t enjoy it, as it was more challenging than expected. I then took up sailing for a year, on a lake at Aqua Sports, in Mercers Park near Redhill, Surrey. I eventually decided to have another crack at windsurfing and was more successful this time so I never looked back. I was picked for Team 15, the RYA’s youth programme, and focused on racing. I worked hard enough to be selected for the RYA Zone squad which I was really proud of and started racing for Team GB, followed by RS:X. I was really competitive and strived for constant improvement in those days, which toughened me up over the years. As fresh-faced youngsters, we had to battle against the difficult shorebreak at Hove and along the south coast, just as the men did. I was 3rd in the under-17 Techno class in Europe and was also very competitive racing in the RS:X, against Ali Masters and Sam Sills.
Eventually I grew tired of longboard and course racing. Despite competing well on the RS:X at an event in France, I realised it was no longer giving me the same level of pleasure, and on top of this I was dealing with some personal issues at the same time. I decided to pursue the ‘short board’ side of windsurfing and started doing some slalom alongside course racing back in the UK. I started to fall in love with slalom and the technical product design side of equipment was appealing. My Dad managed to get me a deal with 604 Distribution, which meant I was riding on North and Fanatic. Ian (absolute legend) at Boardwise supported me for many years and I can’t thank him enough for all his help. He is a real asset to the windsurf scene in the UK. During this time, I also met Nik Baker at some of the UK events and we stayed in contact when he stopped competing and he helped mentor me, which I was grateful for. I have never really stepped away from riding Duotone and Fanatic gear, they are always innovating and pushing. Finally, in 2017 I got to the level I wanted and won the last three events in the men’s. I beat James Dinsmore, Kevin Greenslade and other top riders throughout the season. I thought I had won the British championship, but James managed to pip me at the post by a narrow margin over the whole season. A lot of the other competitors were 85-90 kg, and I was only 70 kg, so I was very happy with my results. Those last events helped build confidence in my ability as a racer. I had been racing for around 10 years quite intensely, and felt like I needed a break, so I headed to Cornwall on a wave sailing forecast, rather than the next race. Nik Baker supported my decision, as he wanted me to enjoy my windsurfing rather than find it a chore. As long as I carried on promoting the sport on social media, Nik was happy to continue supporting me.
When I was at university, I put my handyman skills to the test by helping run a chicken coop making business. We were designing and manufacturing British made chicken houses at a unit in Surrey. It helped us make enough cash to pay towards our vans and adventures! We were working pretty hard alongside university, as well as obviously windsurfing when the conditions were good!
South East Signage
I started working for a printing business creating gifts after I finished university. It was a very successful company (run by the same kitesurfer that started the chicken coop business!) designing and manufacturing in a studio in Surrey. We were making up to three thousand units a day and shipping them out, and eventually I helped manage the running of the whole business. From the beginning, this was the platform from which I was able to create South East Signage, my sticker business. I used the equipment at work for my own sideline. It was a brainchild from my racing days when I found it difficult to find sail numbers and stickers that were designed the way I wanted them, yet were still affordable. I did a conceptual design degree at Bournemouth University and enjoyed designing sail stickers that suited my requirements. I could help windsurfers with personalised stickers that would suit their sponsors, which was vital from a marketing perspective. Everything needed to look on-trend, glamorous and modern, so I found it more of a pleasure than a chore. I felt that I could also help parents purchase the right stickers for their children, as I had been through the RYA pathway myself.
During Covid, the main design business got very busy and the stress started to take the enjoyment away from it. By chance, over a cup of tea with Nik Baker, he mentioned that Mike Stone, a local business owner, was looking to sell Worthing Watersports. We looked at each other and I realised it was a possibility. I am not sure if Nik believed I was actually serious. I really wanted to change jobs, but still align with the windsurfing industry. I made things progress extremely quickly from that point and I was very naive about what I was taking on, but sometimes ignorance is bliss. I had to sell my flat to buy the business and leave my old job. I also ended up buying the flat above the shop and took over the business in early December 2021. In that process of quitting my job, I also bought my own printer so I could carry on doing my signage business.
The last twelve months have been a challenge. This new business was such a new venture for me, even though I felt I had the skills to run the shop. It has been a very tough, stressful year for my partner Lucy and I, but at the same time we have achieved an awful lot and everyone has been very supportive. It has been intense but fun at the same time and it has been worth the gamble. We worked many long hours preparing and renovating the shop and I also built the website myself. It has been a learning curve, which is still ongoing. There is so much to do behind the scenes when you own a shop, from all the accounts with the different brands, to deciding what stock to buy and how to use our space effectively.
We want the shop to be community-based and accessible for anyone who loves the water. We try and have some social gatherings at the shop and on the water that unites windsurfers, paddleboarders, kiters, wingers and surfers.
Luckily the business has flourished since we took over, so the initial stress is starting to lift. I love it when parents come into the shop wanting advice on what gear they should buy for their kids. It is so nice to see people getting excited to learn about windsurfing because it is such an amazing sport and I don’t think there is anything else like it. Sharing my experience and people appreciating my help, makes this whole journey so worth it!
The shop is busy, and at the moment the work is intense so I am trying to employ more staff so I can get more time on the water, testing new equipment. We are looking for another employee at the moment, someone who loves and is passionate about watersports, is polite to customers and willing to work in the shop part-time. Maybe a potential employee that is reading this will reach out to me!
I have a creative mind which has helped me a lot throughout the businesses I have been involved in. I love working with design, various machinery and making things, that all relates to windsurfing when a new bit of equipment comes out. Especially Duotone, who come up with lots of innovative products. My experience at university was so useful and related to a lot of the things I am doing now. I learned Photoshop, Illustrator, 3D design packages and also how to build websites and make videos. I am pretty proficient with computers and also love capturing images.
Tom Squires, who uses my stickers on his sails, has helped the signage side of the business grow as well helping us develop the world’s first eco-friendly stickers for iQFOiL racers. I am also designing stickers for kites and printable graphics to go on wings, as well as the sailing market. You can conduct the whole process online and the stickers can be at the customer’s door within a week.
I love windsurfing but also the culture around it. It is a sport that brings people together and it is fun. It motivates you to travel the world and explore, looking for crazy conditions to ride in together. It is that passion that we all have in common that attracts me, not just being on the water. I think it is such a positive sport and a way to push our personal abilities and ourselves. I love analysing what I have done, you can never get bored with a sport that almost has no limits and is always changing in different conditions.
I had a couple of windsurfing videos that I loved when I was growing up. I remember buying the ‘Greenie’ DVD, with Timo Mullen in it. All the old school videos were so cool with that 90s fast rock music in the background. When I started windsurfing, I really liked the style of John Skye in the waves, as well as Dan Ellis in slalom. Ross Williams was also really cool because he was doing so many disciplines at a high level. I also loved the wave riding of Kauli Seadi – his style and board designs were very out there!
If it is more than twenty-five knots at Sea Lane Café in Worthing where I live, and mast-high wind-blown swell, it is full on and very exciting. I have sailed here so long that I am confident enough in my ability that I can start pushing it and jumping as high as I can. I know a lot of people love down-the-line, but 3 minutes walk from my shop is virtually a full power skate park. If you have wind in your sail and the waves are a good size I don’t think it matters so much if it is onshore. I like down-the-line too, don’t get me wrong, but I can also have just as much fun sailing at home when it is firing, as down-the-line Gwithian. That said, Cabo Verde is a different story!
I love to escape to Cornwall for a wave session when I can. It can be very hard to score it right with the tides, wind and swell, but if you get Mexico’s or the Bluff working in cross-off conditions there is nothing really like it. It is just a beautiful place to be also. We normally stay in our camper van so we can enjoy the outdoors and downtime away from the shop. We get back to basics in the van and it is a good escape from the grind. It is nice sailing down there with local guys like Steve Thorpe and Lee Pasty in a non-competitive environment and seeing what they love doing the most.
I might do some of the open races this year for a bit of fun. I have a Jag and a Blast I can use and I will be entering just to sail with some of my customers and friends. I don’t want the intensity of the pro fleet right now. I love freeride kit and am happy to go out when it is 7.0m weather and have a blast. It will be nice to be in that social environment and not take it as seriously as I did back in the day.
I want to have a bit of fun racing on the freeride kit this year and as for wave sailing I don’t think you can ever be as good as you want to be. It is an incredibly hard sport to master and I need to get fitter since the shop has taken so much of my time. I want to get my fitness threshold back up so I can enjoy windsurfing more. Now the shop is finally getting established and thriving, I want to be able to spend more time on the water and enjoy what I love doing the most. We have some epic downwinders from the shop to Brighton! And erm, not going to lie, I want to get better at kiting! I want to mix things up a bit, and apply cross compatible skills from wing foiling!
Check out Worthing Watersports website here