League of legends
INTERVIEW SERIES VOL. 2 - KLAUS WALTHER
The only constant in life is change. In our fast turning world, new trends, challenges and changes come up every day. We talk to windsurfers, who saw 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 ask yourself "Where are they sailing today?"
Here we go... Klaus, how and when did you find your way into the windsurfing world?
I started 1974 when my dad purchased an original Windsurfer, as it was difficult to get the mooring for a dingy on our lake outside Munich, we figured this “new and funny looking" sailing craft was the easiest and cheapest way to get the family onto the water. It was a slow process to learn without much outside instruction in those days, but I was determined, spent every free minute on the water and soon participated in local windsurf triangle racing and and made it via national championships to European and World Champs.
When did you leave Germany and were have you lived since then?
I started to travel the world in 1980 and have not looked back since then. Staying in Kailua and on the North Shore Oahu Hawaii for a few winters, living in a van during the European leg of the world tour. Purchasing a holiday house in Cape Town, so I could train in a windy place during the off season, was one of the deciding factors. This brought me back every winter and after spending 7 years in Hong Kong during the 90’s while working for Neil Pryde, I returned to Cape Town where I now live all year around.
Do you have more fun on the water now or back then?
For me nothing has changed I really enjoy every day I can sail and spend time out on the water. I am probably still as passionate about the sport right now as I was 45 years ago. I cherish the memories of those days on Lake Garda in 1979 trying to master a big and heavy board with wooden booms and blown out sails in strong wind, simply trying to stay on the board and not fall off. This was just as much fun as last week’s session here in Cape Town dropping into clean waves at a point break using a 82 Litre board with a super light modern carbon fibre rig.
Which equipment did you guys sail on those days?
I was lucky from 1981 onwards I had some sponsorship from Peter Brockhaus the owner / founder of F2 who was one of the early pioneers in the windsurfing scene. So I was already using the first F2 Funboards - In my view definitely the development leading from heavy one design boards to the sorter, lighter, faster and more responsive Funboards was one of the major steps forward which helped to grow the sport. In Europe during those days, windsurfing was trendy and one had to have a board on your car to be cool, some guys even drove around town leaving the boards on the roof racks just to show off.
Whats the all-time best windsurf board in the world?
The F2 Sunset Slalom board may have helped a lot of windsurfers to make the transition from long and heavy one design boards to short boards, allowing them to feel the acceleration and high speed planing ability of a short fun board
Who were the windsurfing stars?
I guess Robby Naish was almost everyone’s idol in those days, he was already world champion 1976 in the Windsurfer Class so we were all trying to see how and what he was doing. I raced against Robby in the World Cup for most of my career as professional windsurfer, this was of course pretty hard: Apart from some smaller races or individual heats I didn’t beat him too often. The closest I came was in the Fuerteventura World Cup in 1983 when I finished 2nd behind Robby... Another great guy I sailed with in the F2 World Cup Team was Jürgen Hönscheid, he shaped one of the first small pintail windsurf production boards for wave sailing. Ken Winner was also one of hot sailors back then, he was developing new boards all the time and so his advanced equipment often gave him a big advantage in racing. I was quite impressed by that. Today Ken still works in the windsurfing / kite industry as a designer for Duotone he is still as successful as he was back in 80’s.
How was being a pro in the 80ies like?
In the 80’s things were different - no internet, FB or Instagram, just print media, but Windsurfing was one of the “original” fun sports and really popular in those days, so anyone who went to Hawaii and returned to Europe with a tan and sun-bleached hair was kind of a small hero of our sport, look at Michi Eskimo as an example. Today the sport is small and with so many other action sports pitching for the same target group, it is hard for the top windsurfers to position themselves as sports stars via the social media. The guys are happy to post a picture which gets 1000 likes - I did one of the first windsurfing night shoots with F2 in 1982, big spotlights, a few 100 m of electricity cables, photographer and assistant and off the final result they probably printed more than 20.000 posters ... different times back then
How would traveling with windsurfing gear look like?
While I was on the World Cup Circuit almost everyone participated in all 3 disciplines: Course racing, Slalom and Wave, so you can imagine the amount of gear we had fly across the world. Masts were all 1-piece and up to 5 m long so 10 of those + 2 Race boards 3.8 m length + 2 Slalom and 3 wave boards, 15 sails so you can imagine the bill for excess baggage often topped the airfare. But also some fun memories: leaving Cape Town one year we knew some of the girls working at the SAA checkin, so on the day before our departure 5 or 6 of us arrived at the airport with rater large supply of chocolate cakes and drinks, we had a small party and miraculously the following day all our equipment was checked through at no charge - would probably not work anymore today.
Did you wear those pink-yellow-purple wetsuits?
Yes of course, if you work in this industry for such a long time you participate in just about every trend along the way
When did you start developing sails?
When I was sailing in the world cup our equipment developed so fast, so it really helped to design your own gear to arrive at the next race with better sails. First I worked with my sponsor’s sail designers and later started to design my own sails. When I stopped racing full time, I started to design the sails and do the product management for F2 and later in the early 90’s I moved to Hong Kong where I worked as a product manager for Neil Pryde.
Why now Duotone and Fanatic?
I know the Fanatic Brand manager Craig Gertenbach since he was kid, whenever he, Klaas Voget and Dani Aeberli come to Cape Town for their Product R&D they are asking for my local knowledge on weather and swell to find the best conditions for the day, so I often join them and during one of our sessions, I was lucky enough to try the latest prototype wave boards. The new shapes convinced me, they performed much better than my old boards so there was absolutely no question I had switch to those boards. In my view the Grip wave boards are pretty much top of the range, they offer so may sizes to fit different weight sailors in all types of conditions. I have already tried a few of the new 2020 Grip models and so I am really looking forward to get mine when they are relased later this year.
Similar with the sails, I use the full range of Duotone Super Hero wave sails from 4.0 to 5.3 and I am super happy with those. Great handling and what is also important for me, they are strong enough to last in the tough and windy conditions here in Cape Town. We don’t have time for repairs if the wind is blowing again the following day. You have to get the best possible equipment if you can, this was always my philosophy as a World Cup racer and it still is today as a Wave Freerider. Life is too short to waste a windy day with great waves while floating around with the wrong gear.
Of course I am super happy to be part of the Duotone, Fanatic, ION windsurfing family, at the age of 59 this probably makes me one of the oldest sponsored sailors. I have noticed that this team is very well balanced, all the guys and and girls, racers, wave or freestylers along with the team mangers and R&D team really fit and work very well together, with a great attitude both on and just as important off the water. Everyone here has a nice, down to earth approach to the sport. This great vibe is surely one of the reasons for their success in races and also when developing and improving the top class new equipment every season.
"PERHAPS ONE REASON I AM STILL ON THE TEAM, IS THE SIZE OF MY WINE CELLAR AND THE LOCATION OF MY HOUSE FOR GREAT PARTIES."
Every year after several weeks of R&D work here in Cape Town there is a small local Slalom Event and the tradition is, that the winner gets the big Crayfish Platter and we have a big team BBQ at my house. After several years it has become quite a prestigious litte event for the team Vinci, Dani, Jordy have all won the Crayfish and I know Marco is very keen to win it next time.
What is your favourite spot and conditions?
My favourite spot is easy: Here in Cape Town they call me “Mr Haakgat” because in 1983 I was one of first windsurfers to sail at this spot and during summer I still sail there 5-6 days a week. It's a great point break which can hold waves up to 6 m, when it is that big its tricky to get out but well worth it. The beauty is, that after a wipeout the current and wind take you away from the rocks towards a long sandy beach so it not really dangerous for you or your equipment, just a long walk back.
I also rate Backyards on the North Shore Oahu as one of the best wavering spots for bigger waves. I was so fortunate to sail there a lot in the early 80’s, not too crowded back then and today there are only 2 or 3 guys out there when its good, I stayed and sailed there last spring with my old buddy Craig Yester and we had some fun sessions just 2 of us on the water. Unfortunately during my time in Hawaii, Jaws had not been discovered for windsurfing so I missed out on this superb venue - we sailed Hookipa which is rather crowded these days and in very big waves it’s closing out so today the hot guys go to Jaws instead.
This gets me back to Cape Town where we are so blessed with endless top quality wavesailing spots for summer and winter. Cape of Good Hope with crystal clear (and ice cold) water is a great overall experience, you rig up on a beautiful small beach surrounded by wildlife in the nature reserve and sail in fantastic waves. In winter my personal favourite is the outer reef at the Crayfish Factory, hard core sailing with long and steep walls - works with NW wind during an approaching cold front, the waves only break if it’s 4 m or bigger, usually cold an rainy, so to sail there I sometimes have to make 10 phone calls just to find a second guy to join but it always worth it.
Favourite conditions: using a 90 litre board with a 5.0 sail, then the waves are usually clean. The bigger the waves the more fun for me, of course we all want look good and the only way to stand out in small conditions it to do crazy tricks, goiters, 360’s which at my age is asking a bit too much. In bigger waves you got more time and 40 years of experience help a lot to pick the best wave at the right spot, drop in at the critical section, jam a bottom turn and cruise on from there. With my grey hair I sometimes get a “pensioners discount” and the young guys don’t hassle me too much so I always get my share of good rides on those bigger days.
Favorite Spots: CAPE TOWN, OAHU, MAUI - THE BIGGER THE BETTER
How did things change?
It is easy to name Robby Naish and Björn Dunkerbeck for 80’s and 90’s because they both dominated in each discipline: Wave, Slalom, Course racing and they helped to develop our sport to reach new heights every year. Today everything is so specialised. Some guys compete on the world tour in either slalom, wave or freestyle. But there is is not even one overall world champion combining the 3 disciplines in the World Cup. You have juniors, men and women, racing one design and winning Olympic Gold medals - the highest achievement in any competitive sport. So who is the best and what part of Windsurfing are you looking at when you have 5 or 6 athletes in each category? That may be part of the problem in our sport, who is the Windsurfer or big name the youngsters should look up to today? I don’t see the one superstar in windsurfing. Here our sport is perhaps too small and there are too may disciplines.
Others just travel around the globe and produce insane video clips of waves, freestyle moves or on speed strips in famous Spots like Hawaii, Fiji, Cape Town or they feature those very remote locations such as Scotland, Iceland Tasmania.
There is a group of wave sailors competing in the Red Bull Storm Chase in winds of up to 100 km and huge waves, for me those are the athletes pushing our sport to the very highest level. I can relate to that since we took up a similar challenge in the 80’s to see how far and how extreme we would get with the equipment that was available back then. These kind of events are not primarily about winning the trophy but more to be there when it happens, have fun together, raise the bar and enjoy an all out awesome day, surviving in the wildest conditions you can possibly find. Those are all really cool guys, sometimes I go out with one of them when they are here in Cape Town, Victor, Leon, Jules, Adam, this is always great fun, good vibe on the water, nobody dropping in on your wave, everyone is looking out for the other sailor if there is trouble or broken gear, cheering each other on, thats how it should be. Perhaps some of the “part time” wave sailors should take up a bit of this philosophy.
The biggest name in action watersports is Kai Lenny, possibly the most outstanding waterman today who is covering 5 or 6 disciplines: Surfing, Big Wave, Tow in, SUP, Foiling. Windsurfing, Kiting.
But one thing is for sure: all those professional sailors and all the windsurfers getting on the water during holidays and on weekends are "addicted to ride” in one way or another ... and so am I ...