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Windsurfing, Windsurfers and the Olympics

Windsurfing is a worldwide sport that suits the modern lifestyle

Windsurfers are the fastest monohull sailing craft in the world today. Windsurfers may also be more numerous worldwide than all other sailboats put together. The number of people taking up windsurfing is growing once again, thanks to developments in windsurfing equipment design that have made windsurfing much easier to learn.

Most windsurfing hulls are under three meters in length and weigh less than 15kgs. They are therefore easy to carry and store. To go windsurfing, you do not have to be a member of a sailing club. Any sandy public beach is a potential launch site. Windsurfing therefore meets the requirements of most modern lifestyles by delivering the sensations of speed, independence and freedom at a reasonable cost

Young people of all ages

Windsurfers are great athletes, navigators, and sailors. Physically, the best windsurfing sailors are tall, lean and extremely fit. Yet, it is common to see a 50kgs (110lbs) woman complete a race in the same time as a 73kgs (160lbs) man, thereby proving that technique, balance and sensitivity to the windsurfer are equally important.

An Olympic sailing event since 1984

Windsurfing was first selected by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) as an event for men in the 1984 Olympic Regatta in Los Angeles. ISAF then added the Women’s event for windsurfers to the 1992 Olympic Regatta Barcelona. Windsurfing for both men and women has been represented in every Olympic Regatta since.

The equipment used is always ‘One Design’ and made by one brand. Variations are strictly controlled. The aim is to ensure that the sailor with the most talent and ability wins over the one with the most money to pay for the most ‘high tech’ equipment. That said, the the RS:X board and rig (selected for use in 2008 and 2012 Olympic Regattas) made by Neil Pryde Windsurfing is the most ‘high tech’ craft in the Olympic Regatta.

The One Design ethos has encouraged more than 60 nations from 6 continents to participate in the windsurfing events in Olympic Sailing Regattas. Olympic Medals have been won by athletes from 5 continents. Athletes from as far afield as Fiji, Argentina, China, USA and Poland amongst many others have stood on the podiums of Olympic Windsurfing World Championships.

The Race Course

Races are run on the same “trapezoid” and “Windward-Leeward” courses as all other sailing classes, which
incorporate upwind, reaching and downwind legs. A typical day of competition consists of 2-3 races, each lasting around 45 minutes. The Olympic Regatta will consist of 11 races over 9 days (including two rest days).

The Physical Element

Windsurfing is a very physical sport and was made even more so when unlimited “pumping” was allowed after the 1992 Olympics. Pumping the sail creates artificial wind and can greatly increase the sailors speed. Sailors pump as often as they can throughout the race to maximise their speed never mind the wind conditions. Pumping requires both power and endurance. It is extremely taxing on the body.

Studies have shown that, in terms of fitness, Olympic Windsurfers come within the top 10% of the 10,000 athletes at the Olympic Games. To be competitive, therefore, sailors must be supremely fit.

However, windsurfing is still a finesse sport that also requires an excellent command of racing tactics and rules not to mention the ability to sense changes in wind direction and speed whilst maintaining balance, speed and a watchful eye on fellow competitors. All in all windsurfing in the Olympics presents a unique challenge!

The RS:X One-Design Equipment

The RS:X was chosen as the Olympic windsurfing equipment for both men and women by ISAF in November 2004. It made its Olympic debut at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and was an unqualified success. It will be used at the 2012 London Olympics as well.

The RS:X can be raced in winds of 3 to 30 knots. The board begins to “plane” in 8 knots of wind and can reach speeds over 30 knots. When planing, the board lifts out of the water like a water ski and speed increases dramatically. The RS:X is a One Design with all the equipment supplied by Neil Pryde and each piece manufactured to tight building tolerances.

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