League of legends
INTERVIEW SERIES VOL. 3 - JIMMY DIAZ
The only constant in life is change. In our fast turning world, new trends, challenges and changes come up every day. In this series we talk to windsurfers, who have been seeing the sport growing from the beginning, competing during different decades and wearing time-adequate wetsuit colours...
Their stories and experiences depict the evolution of professional windsurfing, sail and board building companies and travelling at different times. Some of you guys still remember those days, so you might wonder "what are they doing today?"
In Volume 4, Jimmy Diaz, PWA's president, former slalom pro, dad and husband speaks about the future of windsurfing, his vision for the PWA and his windsurf career.
(Find the PWA's statement for the Corona Crisis >here<)
WHO IS JIMMY DIAZ ISV-11?
Just a simple windsurfer from the Virgin Islands.
WHAT'S YOUR SUPER POWER?
Jack of all trades, master of none.
HOW DID YOU FIND YOUR WAY INTO THE WINDSURFING WORLD?
I learned to windsurf and race on St.Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. At the time, we had a very nice group of people windsurfing on St.Croix and many races were organized by Dee Ozinski and Terry Merrigan. They were incredibly instrumental in the development of the sport in the Virgin Islands. These small local races is what heavily sparked my interest and addiction to the sport. I remember this being such a fun part full of excitement, new experiences, constant growth and improvement, and an incredibly nice sense of community. For me, these formative years were incredibly magical.
WHICH WERE YOUR GREATEST MOMENTS ON THE PWA TOUR?
I think one of my favorite moments was stepping up on the podium in Korea in 2010 in my suit standing next to Bjorn and Antoine. To me it was a moment in time that represented what I was trying to do as a competitor with personal ambitions and also as the president of the PWA trying to represent our association as best as possible. Stepping up on the podium next to two of the greatest champions our sport has ever seen was a huge honor and doing so while dealing with all the stresses of being the president of the PWA, made the moment very special.
When I became president of the PWA, it again gave me a different perspective on the sport. Seeing the sport from the point of view of the sailors is one thing, looking at it from a much larger viewpoint including the perspective of organizers and the media and having the responsibility of trying to keep the tour alive and push the sport forward, is quite a different one. I have now been president for over 10 years and this has been one of my most valuable experiences.
Since 2011, my wife Cagla and I have opened a windsurf center in Turkey where we are not only teaching and introducing people to the sport, but also training kids and organizing events. It is very clear to see the huge importance of not only how people are taught the sport but also the need to have activities and a clear competition format for kids and sailors to continuously develop their talents and to help them realize their goals and ambitions. The organization of events is fundamental for the growth of our sport and it has allowed us to see this side of the sport which has its unique characteristics and challenges. We have also become importers of windsurfing equipment which offers yet another perspective on the sport and its’ intricacies.
So…what does windsurfing mean to me? It really is everything to me in probably a unique way. I met my wife Cagla at a PWA event in Korea… windsurfing brought be my family. For me windsurfing is all consuming and something I still love to do after almost 40 years. Whenever I go windsurfing, I still have that urgency to rig up as fast as I can and get on the water. I recently had the joy of windsurfing with my 5 year old daughter together for the first time on separate boards. It was a simple little session where we sailed all the way across Alacati Bay. I looked at her on her little board with her little sail and thought what an incredible journey I have had that has led to this moment. My daughter Selin smiled at me the whole way and I will never forget the sense of joy and pride I had that day sharing the sport I love with her.
WHAT IS YOUR FUTURE VISION FOR THE PWA?
I would like to see a tour in the near future with 7 events per discipline, more down the line wave venues, more participation from women, and a much bigger media presence and distribution, and the procurement of out of industry sponsors. These are the obvious goals we are striving for which are limited only by budget and lack of media value we currently have to secure more out of industry support. We are in a situation right now where we are a bit chasing our tails needing the media value to secure better sponsorships but cannot create that media value without the money from better sponsorships.
For me the responsibility of the PWA is not only to provide a solid, legitimate platform for sailors and brandsto showcase their talents and products respectively, but also to provide that dream for young windsurfers to aspire to. This is an essential part of any sport, and the higher that top step is, the more attractive the sport becomes. On that note, one of the things I am hoping to accomplish in the near future is a better collaboration with other organizations like IFCA, Formula Windsurfing, IWA, IWT, EFPT, etc. Our sport has not capitalized completely on the success and popularity we have had due to the lack of proper structure and organization. We have so many different classes and disciplines, that it really is incredibly difficult for an outsider to understand much about our sport. There is no single windsurfing world champion or world championship for that matter. When talking to a brand about investing in the sport, they get confused with all the different aspects of it. The first thing somebody has to sell to a company in trying to secure sponsorship is the sport. This is true whether it be an athlete, an event, or an organization like the PWA. We first have to sell the sport, and in order to do that, it has to have value and an easily understood format. While our sport is inherently complex with disciplines alone, I do believe we can do a better job of structuring it better between all the organizations and cooperating at least on a level that it is easier to understand and follow.
This step above is of utmost importance also for the infusion and development of new talent into the sport. Kids, and more importantly the parents, have to see a sport that is properly structured and has the necessary logical stepping stones to reach the pinnacle. Without this, it is very difficult to convince anybody that the sport is worth pursuing beyond several introductory lessons or as a very casual activity every once in a while. I strongly believe we have to do a better job at this and concentrate more in bringing in and retaining people in our sport. The sport has to grow, and a very concentrated unified effort must be made in order to do so.
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF WINDSURFING?
This is perhaps the most difficult question to answer besides “why did the popularity of windsurfing go down?”
First of all, I am 100% sure that windsurfing is a sport that will never disappear. Over the last 25 years we have seen a lot of ups and downs and speculation that windsurfing will be “cancelled” especially after the introduction and success of other sports liking kiting, SUP, and the resurgence of surfing. However, windsurfing is a sport that has endured, stood on its’ own without massive inputs from millionaires or billionaires, and is here to stay and I believe with the proper steps and coordination, we can still have those great days.
Foiling has brought to us another dimension in the sport which has radically increased our range of use and is bringing a new level of excitement to competition. For the first time, we can practically guarantee a result at an event and we can do that with a very exciting, high action format in almost no wind. This is a huge boost for the sport and something that we hope will increase again participation levels. Having it in the Olympics and having an Olympic format that will be very similar to the PWA competition format will also for the first time bring PWA and Olympic sailors much closer together. This is very exciting for everyone involved and will help bring more youth into professional windsurfing as it will be supported more by federations than other formats ever were.
The youth development is one of the most important aspects that as a sport we need to further develop. Bic Techno has done an incredible job in getting great numbers in the junior and youth levels into the sport and competition. However, we somehow are missing bringing those kinds of numbers into other competition formats including that of the PWA. We need to focus more on this in order to bring in more youth and retain more people in the sport. This means each country being more active in youth development programs and a better coordination and understanding between the existing windsurfing organizations like PWA, IFCA, IWA, etc. We need to give more value to youth programs so that the investment into the sport is well worth it for the kids and their parents. We need to go back to the days of better coordinated efforts by local clubs and schools to develop these programs. It can start by simple local events that are fun to do which create a healthy competition environment fostering not only talent, but also friendship and camaraderie. This leads to more adventure, travel, and a lifestyle that is difficult to beat. Once this foundation is solidly put down, I believe the sport will once again start blossoming as it once did.
We have a dynamic, exciting, multi-faceted sport that is incredibly visually attractive and addicting that can be practiced from 4 years old to 90 years old. That’s why I believe despite all the ups and downs and introduction of competing sports and financial world crises, we are still here and will remain here.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT ALACATI?
The first time I went to Alacati, I was shocked at how nice the place was. I remember going to the event site on the first day seeing all these windsurfing schools and all this infrastructure built solely around windsurfing. It was wonderful. It felt like the whole town was built just for windsurfing. Alacati Bay is beautiful and a wonderful place to windsurf. The winds during the Summer are incredibly consistent and I have seen no better place in the world so safely and well set up to learn the sport. It is absolutely ideal for beginners but also for all levels from freeride to freestyle to full on PWA events. The town of Alacati is also incredibly nice and every person that I know of that has come to visit has been so pleasantly surprised by their experience there. It really is a wonderful place to visit not only for windsurfing, but to enjoy all the wonderful aspects of it.
Cagla and I have been working greatly to bring back a PWA event to Alacati. We have been quite unlucky in the last several years due to some political instability and the devaluation of the Turkish Lira especially with respect to the Euro and the Dollar. This has made securing sponsorship for a PWA event quite a challenge. All of Alacati wants the PWA to come back as they see it as such an important part of the windsurfing community there and also for the great promotion it provides. We will keep working on it and we hope in the very near future we can secure the funding to bring the PWA back.
WHY DID YOU START THE CAGLA KUBAT WINDSURFING ACADEMY?
We started the Cagla Kubat Windsurf Academy in 2011. It was a dream of Cagla’s to open a school in order to introduce more people into the sport. Cagla has played a major role in the development and popularity of the sport in Turkey and she was very well positioned to help promote it even further. One of the major goals of the school was to increase the popularity of the sport. Having a windsurf school can be a simple business if you just want to give some lessons and rent out some equipment. However, if you really want to make an impact, it has to be much more than a school. Cagla knew that from the beginning and that’s why it was called an academy. Our center is not just about giving lessons and renting equipment, it is about fully training kids for competition and organizing events for the kids to have a proper competition platform. It is about creating a social atmosphere around windsurfing that incorporates the feelings and emotions that make this sport so life addicting. We wanted to create a place where people could come and get introduced to the sport, improve their sailing, learn to compete, create friendships, enjoy a healthy lifestyle, and experience the pressures, dramas, and excitement of competition.
I am happy and encouraged to say that one of our most successful programs has been our kids’ program. With an incredible collaboration with our good friend Talat Asikoglu, we have managed to create a program that is seeing participation numbers of kids growing not only at the introductory beginner level but also at the competition level. This program has now managed to also create not only Turkish national champions, but also junior European champions, and one youth World champion. We are obviously incredibly happy to see this and clearly see that this model works for bringing in and retaining interest in the sport.
WHAT WOULD YOU ADVISE YOUNG WINDSURFERS WHO WANT TO BECOME PROFESSIONALS?
Professional windsurfing is difficult. I will start with that. Unfortunately, the sport is not so big compared to the major global sports. We are not like football and will most likely never be as popular. From a financial point of view, the sport is difficult as it is expensive and the returns in terms of prize money and salary potentials are not very high. However, if you are like me that was so addicted to the sport that I could not wrap my mind around doing anything else, you can make a living out of it and if life experiences were money, you will come out of it a rich person. I have travelled the world for windsurfing and there is no amount of money that could buy the experiences I have been able to live because of it.
To be a professional windsurfer you will have to work like crazy, never give up, you will face a lot of obstacles, but in the end if you can make it, you will carry to your grave incredible memories and experiences that almost no other job can give you.
WHICH ARE YOUR ALL-TIME-TOP-3 WINDSURFING GEAR INNOVATIONS?
I have to say that the first ones that I personally experienced were the slalom boards and camber inducers. These two developments suddenly allowed us to go much faster and with much more control than ever before. From a racing point of view, this changed so much the dynamics and made racing so much more adrenaline and action filled.
Some people may laugh at this but my next favorite development affected a personal level. Throughout my windsurf career I suffered quite a lot with lower back issues. At one point, it was to the level that I was going to stop windsurfing as I had chronic difficulties even walking. I believe a lot of the issues came about from so much rigging and derigging of race sails. I reached a point that every time I down hauled a sail my back would go out and I would suffer for days on end. I was really at the point that I was going to be forced to stop sailing altogether. And then the wonderful Power XT came out. [Raoul Joa is all smiles now hearing that. Editors note ;-) ] This was a life saver and extended my career for years. This is still one of my favorite pieces of windsurfing equipment and one I cannot live without.
I think the most recent innovations that affected performances were actually not original innovations, but older ideas brought to life again. The first one was the wide luff sleeves on race sails and the second most recent one is obviously the foil.
The wide luff sleeves were an older concept that I believe were too early for their time. I think the benefits were only fleetingly there in the past and the sailmakers could not manage to make the concept work properly and consistently. It wasn’t until Robert Stroj built the sleeve around the sail body (instead of joining the sleeve to the sail body) that the concept started to work properly. This massively increased the performance of the sails and race sail design has not massively changed since then.
Foiling is another concept that is not new but has greatly benefitted from a new outlook on it largely brought about by the great success of America’s Cup foiling catamarans. This is an incredibly exciting development that is allowing us to sail in much lower wind ranges than we ever thought possible. Two years ago in Japan we were out in the water with no white caps around. It wasn’t even close to white capping. I drifted off the beach thinking there was no way I could get going in what seemed to me like 3 to 4 or maybe 5 knots. I didn’t even try to pump as in my mind, from experience, it was not even worth wasting the energy to try to get going. Suddenly somebody pumped a couple of times and started flying on the foil. I was shocked to say the least and found myself pumping, getting on the foil, and dumbfounded that I could be going 15 knots in what looked like almost no wind to me. Since then we have seen very fast evolutions in design and this year we will integrate it into the slalom discipline of the PWA. It is very exciting times with this for windsurfing and seeing it in the 2024 Olympics will be another boost for the sport.
WHO ARE THE WINDSURFERS YOU ADMIRE?
Growing up and reading the magazines, you couldn’t help admiring Robby Naish and seeing him sail in person for the first time was quite mesmerizing. His talent was unbelievable, and his level was unequalled in those times. Another sailor I greatly admired was Ken Winner for his no nonsense, technical approach to the sport. He was a great innovator, a big thinker, and an incredibly good racer. I managed to just get him at the finish line at one of my first professional events in the Bahamas in 1986 in a long-distance race. I’ll never forget how he came up to me at the beach just after the race to congratulate me. He was genuinely stoked for my victory and his gesture left a big impression on me. Years later after I finished university, he would take me under his wing and I learned a great deal from him.
Bjorn is another sailor I greatly admire. I don’t believe the sport has ever seen someone work so hard and in such a determined manner as he has. He not only had talent, but he also had an unparalleled work ethic that made it almost impossible to beat him for many years. I roomed with him in Hawaii when we were 16 years old and I saw first hand how determined he was and you could understand back then, that failure was not going to be an option. Antoine is another incredible sailor that has managed to achieve an incredible range of success over the years. The number of world titles is second only to Bjorn, and also achieved across numerous disciplines. This is a testament to hard work, an incredibly competitive spirit, and multi-faceted talent.
Another very admirable sailor is Sarah-Quita. The sport has never seen a talent like hers being able to win World Titles in 3 different PWA disciplines. This is an incredible achievement matched only by her humbleness, kindness, and easy going manner. She is not only an incredible sailor and competitor, but also an incredible example of sportsmanship and a great ambassador for the sport.
Right now on the PWA Tour there is a vast wealth of talent across all disciplines. From Thomas Traversa, Victor Fernandez, Ricardo, Gollito, Yentel, Amado, Delphine, Pierre, Matteo, and many more.
We are living in exciting times rich with talent which will keep raising the bar.
Yet another reason the sport is here to stay.
THANKS YOU FOR YOUR TIME, JIMMY!
IT'S BEEN A GREAT HONOR SPEAKING WITH YOU.
MORE LEGENDS NEEDED?
Pics by John Carter, Jean Souville, PWA, Tevfik Göktepe, Cagla Kubat