Words: Colin Ralph
Pics: Louise Ralph
Back in the hazy days when I learned to windsurf I remember the mother of struggles heaving my Tiga Speed 340 (read frigate\warship or tanker) down the high street in North Berwick, Scotland.
Did I feel robbed when the widestyle revolution graced out lives? Maybe… No longer was standing on the board comparable to crossing a ravine on a greased up log! At this juncture my life had taken a strange twist and I was now introducing people to the wonders of windsurfing and in comparison, with these widestyle boards, it was easy. The balance factor was nearly all but removed and students could just concentrate on uphauling and sailing. In no time students were starting to look the part.
The next revolution has already started and like every other that has gone before it there will champions and of course there will be naysayers. My first introdcution to inflatable boards was with a certain magazine editor (who would that be? – ed). I most definitely spat my tea out at that idea. However, the seed was planted and it got me thinking.
Running a windsurfing centre, what are the most annoying things about your beginners board fleet?
- Hard boards are huge.
- They don’t get loved.
- The noses get tanned (Scottish for smashed, damaged or otherwise not as it should be!).
- The grip disappears and the soft deck chips away.
- They weigh a ton after a season of abuse, repair, abuse, repair and repeat.
- They have little resale value.
Is it possible that an inflatable beginner board could do away with five out of the six of these grumbles? A beginner’s board needs to be wide and stable – let’s face it. With inflatable boards they are:
- Lighter, by a long shot – it is possible to teach a beginner how to lift the board and sail together and launch.
- Drop your rig on the board and it bounces off! Any damage is minimal and your worst case scenario is a puncture hole. Repair is easier when fixing a puncture. Gone are the hours of glassing and sanding just for the repair to fail or get bashed again!
- The deck pads appear to hold together much better thus keeping the inflatable board’s aesthetic appeal.
- When not being used as a beginner board they can be used as a SUP, which for a center doubles their appeal and revenue generation.
Not everything is perfect I know. There are variations with centerboards/daggerboards and fixed center fin options. Some of which don’t get the full approval of the instructional institutes or the diehard long boarder.
So here we are with a near perfect solution for a gateway into what is quite possible the greatest watersport of them all. Does any true beginner really care if they have a daggerboard, centreboard or a fixed fin? I would say not as they are, in my experience, too stoked with standing and sailing to be worrying about such trivial matters! Of course it is important but leave that problem to the instructor.
I have fond memories of convincing my parents to mount the pre-mentioned Tiga on the roof of the car along with the one piece aluminum mast, tie on boom and my only sail – a 5.8m pink sack. This was all in preparation for the family’s pilgrimage from Scotland to La Rochelle, France. How my patient parents did not kill me I still don’t know (they weren’t sailors). What I do know is that the current stock of windSUP packages would have provided the same level of fun and exhilaration but would have fitted in the boot rather than on the car roof. Thereby saving my poor parents’ backs. (The aluminum mast was longer than the car!).
I have taught a number of students from children as young as eight to grown Middle Eastern men who fancy a dabble with windsurfing. Recently I turned up at customer’s private beach side residence for a windsurf lesson armed only with a back pack and small sail bag. They looked on in wonder.
15 minutes later the board is inflated, rig is set and we are starting our lesson. They cannot believe their eyes. On the water the student doesn’t really notice the equipment as 99% of their effort is focused on the job in hand. As long as it does as they hope they will be happy. To date when you lean the rig back and sheet in or move it forward and sheet out the results are the same as the Tiga Speed, the Hifly Revo, the Starboard Start or any other lyrically waxed halcyon tinted beginner board of your choice. It isn’t long before the grin appears and students begin enjoying windsurfing.
As quick as the kit was put together it is packed away and I leave their manicured lawn with a bag on my back and sail bag in my hand.
The inflatable age is here and where it will stop I am not sure but I am confident it will shape the grassroots introduction of windsurfing for so many reasons. How much are you willing to pay for a second hand new style beginners board on ebay? The depreciation level is even worse than that of cars. Once you can sail competently it won’t be brought to the beach anymore and you won’t sell it as people won’t pay what you want for it as it is just a beginner’s board. Windsurfing is expensive – one of the main turn offs for those starting out. Investing in a brand new beginner board is an 800-100GBP commitment. Six months of use and it is no longer relevant to your sailing style. However, the inflatable will get you to the same rung on the windsurfing ladder in roughly the same amount of time, but once that job is complete it will still have a place in the back of your car. Kids will love it, your partner will love it and you will love it. No wind? Go for a paddle – easy!
Commercially for a center I am pretty sure the inflatable beginner board will feature in most fleets soon – this may already be the case. Get pumping!
Colin Ralph has been involved as a watersports instructor and center manager/marine manager for many years. Currently residing in Kuwait he continues to pass on windsurfing’s stoke to all comers while being as passionate about getting on the water himself as he ever was.