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.