Almost certainly part of your daily internet diet as a windsurfer is www.windguru.cz. Used by everyone from weekend warrior to the PWA, we spoke to its founder, Vaclav Hornik, for a closer look at one of windsurfing’s most popular websites.
Words Finn Mullen, Nele Roessler // Photo Lukas Dvorak
WS: How did the idea for Windguru evolve?
VH: I was a keen windsurfer since childhood, and needed a wind forecast, I wanted to be on the spot when it’s windy and not miss any of the few good days we have here in the Czech Republic. But for a windsurfer in the 90’s the only forecast available was the one on the radio or TV and this was not made for windsurfers, ordinary people are not really interested in wind. When the internet started to develop in the late 90’s it offered so much more information including weather and forecast models, this was a real breakthrough, you could reach much better and detailed info. but it was still quite time consuming to get the forecast, to collect everything, look at different sources, different forecast maps… I needed a simple, easy to read but detailed forecast for my spot! There was nothing like that… and because I also like computers and programming I decided to make it something special for a windsurfer.
WS: Tell us about the windguru team, do any of you windsurf?
VH: We are a rather small but effective team. I am an IT guy, most programming and website maintanance is made by me, and as for windsports.. you will not like to hear this.. 😉 but a few years ago I switched from windsurfing to kitesurfing… please forgive me! :). Then there is Kamil who tries to manage and bring new ideas, he is a sailor, and we have Martin our marketing guy – we started snowkiting together! There is a group of scientists who take care of all the weather modelling, which is the most difficult part. We also outsource some things like graphic design.
WS: Tell us some statistics about windguru and how is it used in the UK ?
VH: Now we reach up to 1 million visits per day, mostly from Europe – mainly France, Spain, Portugal, and we have many visits from Argentina, which is quite an interesting anomaly ;). UK users are very important, 8th position (during summer), but they are the biggest supporters! Number 1 when considering the number of PRO subscribers, thank you!
WS: Tell us about your IT systems – give us some geek stats 🙂
VH: The website itself is powered by several machines, one for webserver, one for database server, another two for data processing, and there are also some backups. All run on Debian Linux and open source software. Then there is a separate computing cluster for running the forecast models, this one has over 300 CPU cores today.
WS: Some people say that websites like Windguru or Windfinder changed our sports fundamentally, because they made it much safer so people know the conditions to expect. Do you share this opinion? Do you think watersport enthusiasts rely too much on the forecasts and stop thinking for themselves?
VH: I would not say that these sites made it safer, but they sure changed it a lot. 20 years ago we had not much info about what wind we could expect. I remember I had a very rough forecast, if it looked reasonable then in the morning I looked at the trees, if they moved enough I decided to go and drive 100 km to my spot. At that time there were no mobile phones so you could not even call a friend to find out how it looked. From one point of view it was easier :), I never expected great conditions, if there was wind I was lucky if not I drove home 😉 never mind, as a student I had enough time to do that.. but now it’s completely different, thankfully! I’m older and have hardly any free time; luckily we have so much more info to organize wind based trips and get maximum wind without wasting time. Of course the forecasts fail sometimes, it will never be perfect. You need to think about them and always be ready for dissapointment, but in general, everything is so much better. I don’t really remeber many days when my decesion to go was completely wrong, usually the wind was +/- what I expected according to forecast. But we are still thinking about how to make this process of catching the precious wind better, easier and more effective!
WS: So what are you working on for the future to predict or present the wind forecast even better or make it easier to evaluate the conditions yourself?
VH: Of course we want to make the forecasts better and more reliable, we are also working on a new website that will provide a better user experience and more wind info., especially on mobile devices. The beta version is already available, so you can try it already. And we want to further develop the Windguru Station project which is very interesting. This is something which is missing yet I think, to know how it is really blowing right now on the beach we wish go sailing at. It is similiar to the problem I had in the beginning. I could find the forecasts on the internet but not easily; this is solved now. Similiarly, now you can find some online real time wind monitors on different websites for many places but you still don’t really know how exactly it’s blowing directly on your beach. You can google and find a nearby weather station, like on an airport 10 kilometers away from your beach, nice, but the wind there will still be different. This is what our online station solves, you put it right on the windsurf spot and as it’s online you know how exactly it’s blowing right now. Just check it on your phone, anytime and from anywhere.
I am sure you have experienced this: several windsurfers waiting on the beach for the wind to pick up, one pulls out an anemometer, at least five people in wetsuits will run down asking ‘’how much?’’. Everyone is curious 🙂 On my last holidays I was in a hotel near the beach where there is one Windguru Station, you don’t see the sea from the room but you know that the wind is going to come as usuall on this spot. My kite was already pumped on the beach waiting ;), I was doing my mails in the room and from time to time I was checking the station on the phone, hmm, not yet… but then you finally see the nice colors, OK! let’s go!, I will finish the other mails later. It actually surprised me how convenient it was :). Imagine that you could have such online real time wind on all the spots, detailed, every minute, easy to read all on one place, this would be great :).
This year will be very exciting for us. I hope we make all the wind fanatics happy with the coming new Windguru website, quite a big upgrade after almost 15 years… soon we will be releasing a 2nd generation of our Windguru Station, and also a new one: the independent solar powered GSM variant of the station which will really be able to measure live wind almost anywhere. Stay tuned!
“ Now we reach up to 1 million visits per day, mostly from Europe ”