Profile: Windsurfing UK
Pics: Ian Kraft
Ian ‘Krafty’ Kraft is a well known UK sailor who’s certainly put in the time over the years. Stoked on the sport and happy to be getting wet whatever, a champion of youth windsurfing with a penchant for the ‘beautiful game’ Windsurfing UK shines the spotlight on this likeable character for our ongoing local legends series.
Where and when did you decide to put a boom in your hands and become a windsurfer?
Poole Harbour, early 90’s. I drove a VW Baja Bug at the time and a similarly afflicted mate had a Vinta 330 windsurfer in his garage (spotted while fixing something or other on his Bug). How hard could it be? I mean, being an all-round sporty type, and daft enough to give anything a go, I fixed the Bug and we got on it.
Did you think it looked cool from the off or was it a slow burn relationship?
To be honest I played once or twice a year on kit better suited to a skip, until eventually I bought a brand new Bic Veloce 298 and a 6.0m UP rig (from Chris at Poole Harbour Boardsailing) in the summer of 1996. My weekends were generally really busy with footy, gigs and VW festivals (and fixing various VW’s in between times). It was more about having a laugh with my mates than the full on addiction.
How long before you considered yourself fully fledged and bug bitten?
Having bought new kit the ante was upped. Faster was first goal, dry corners another, and then transferring competence on flat water to risky windsurfing on the sea without calling on the services of the RNLI. All was going well with summer weekends and evenings seeing me progress, albeit pretty slowly being self-taught and reliant upon the old Peter Hart videos for insight into my failings. Then it all went a bit wrong. October 1998 saw a windy weekend and I allowed myself to be talked into playing footy – net result being a badly busted leg/knee requiring metalwork and a long time ‘off-games’.
Not one to accept doctors suggestions for a more sedate lifestyle, I set myself a few goals to give my rehab some real targets. I was back on a board, on Hove Lagoon, the following February with snow on the ground in a freezing cold northerly! I worked my way back into the first team at footy and I hit the dry ski slopes just to tick that box too.
Windsurfing was frustrating on the Veloce due to my weaker knee making blasting look more like a wave snake than a drag racer, so I traded that for a much wider and more stable Techno 293 twin fin which made things easier for a bit.
Feeling the need for some tuition I tried to book a level 3 course. Jill at Bewl Water convinced me to do an instructor course instead. It was great fun and surprisingly I passed despite being self-taught. On the course I met up with Mike Nicolaides, and as we both had Techno’s (his was the sportier 283) we thought it’d be fun to have a go at the Techno Cup racing. And that’s when it all kicked off proper. Trading in the 293 and getting a 283, plus a smaller still 263 EvoL for playtime on the coast, we joined the UKWA (UKBSA at the time) to race Techno’s.
Was there any specific part of the sport which appealed the most? If so, what and why?
Well, I got into racing as I thought it’d be fun. I was pretty useless to be honest, but everyone on the circuit was really cool – fellow racers and event crew alike. The friendships made in the sport are long lasting ones and I’ve seen this with my kids as they’ve grown up within windsurfing too.
Tell us about your local windsurfing haunt. Where is it and was does it offer sailors? What conditions are windies to expect?
Closest to me are the Pevensey Bay/Cooden/Eastbourne/Bexhill beaches, with Bewl Reservoir a similar distance inland. My preferred ‘local spot’ is Camber Sands which is a cracking wave location. Predominantly cross-on, lots of white water (and rinsing’s), and waves kicked up on sand bars. It’s usually 5+ knots windier there than Pevensey and surrounds. In fact, it’s a standing joke that Camber is always 4.7m weather (or its proper windy).
Where’s your fave UK spot to sail and why do you love it so much?
Camber Sands is my fave as it’s local and bloody good. I also love sailing at Maza when I get the chance. I’ve enjoyed numerous Easter events down there racing with UKWA but it’s really nice to sail Maza on wave kit.
I’ve not really done conventional windsurf holidays. We generally load up kit on the motorhome and manage to find some lesser known spots (probably for good reason) and have some fun. I’ve raced ‘Funboard’ on the Tour Duf event a couple of times, which is a multi-venue five day event in Brittany. I’d highly recommend it to anyone wanting to combine windsurf racing with exploring the region. I don’t have a favourite, but there are plenty of places I’d like to windsurf around the world. Hopefully there’s enough time to tick them off.
Got any travel plans during the next few months? Any particular location you yearning to hit?
No windsurfing trips planned (other than a couple of BSA slalom events maybe), but Maui would be lovely, if you’re paying. Next Krafty road trip looks like snowboarding in Andorra might be the preferred option. Although we still have the option to find a warm stretch of coast for Xmas dinner and some windsurfing, maybe.
How often do you get out these days? Are you on it every chance you can get or as and when?
I don’t seem to get out as much as I used to despite being somewhere doing something to do with windsurfing most weekends. Much of my work takes me inland which limits opportunities a tad, and with my kids coming through the Team 15 / Zone Squad training I’m often away with them. My mates are usually rigging their 4.7’s at Camber at the same time!
Whenever it’s windy and I’m local I’m heading to the beach though. And of course, if it’s windy where the kids are training, then I’m for sure rigging something to get out there too.
Tell us about your current set up. What are you packing in your quiver and why did you choose this gear?
I’m pretty lucky as I’ve been supported since my early racing days by the guys at www.4boards.co.uk and having been a Tabou fan since their time within the BiC stable it shouldn’t be any surprise I’m still riding Tabou boards. My current quiver however is multipurpose, and covers shared needs as Meg is also enjoying life away from her Techno 293.
My current board list goes like this:
Tabou 2017 Pocket Wave 86, 2017 3S96, 2016 Rocket Wide 108, 2016 Speedster 85. Slalom? Yes, there will be a Krafty or two on the BSA tour, and as we will be sharing kit we are currently looking at tweaking the flat ‘n’ fast quiver.
There are a number of older boards that we’ve accumulated, including a Starboard Gemini (for shits ’n’ giggles), a 2005 F2 Formula board (so Meg could try Formula on the cheap), a 2008 Tabou DaCurve 79 (so Meg can use this when it’s rough) and two Techno 293’s (for Meg and Bronwyn).
Sails are from Vandal and we’ve got all angles pretty well covered with an Enemy 3.3m, Riots in 3.6m, 4.2m, 4.7m, 5.3m and 5.8m looking after the waves / bump and jump side. Then no-cam Stitch 6.5m and 7.5m plus a twin cam Mission 8.8m for flat water action. The Vandal sails come from the Gaastra (GA) stable and offer great quality at prices that really make a difference when considering affordability. They must be the best value sails on the market?
Add to that kiddy rigs (0.8m, 1.6m, 2.5m, 3.5m), numerous masts, booms, extensions, harnesses and plenty of wetsuits. Then there’s the inflatable SUP’s plus the 12m GA Spark kite, the twin tip and surfboard. It’s no wonder we had to buy such a big motorhome!
What’s your all time piece of windsurfing equipment and why was it so good?
My old favourite was the Kona 10.5ft which was a morph between a surf longboard and windsurfing shortboard. It was the go to one board for holidays/road trips – just add a 5.8m rig and all bases were covered. I’d buy another for sure – a genuinely much underrated/mis-understood board.
My other favourite has always been the Tabou 3S (96-97 litre size) with so many fun sessions over the years on various incarnations of this board. 2017’s version is quite different to previous years, but it’s certainly not taken anything away from the fun you can have.
And your opinion on today’s kit? Is it too expensive, technical or do you feel it’s pretty much right?
Prices are high, but this is mainly exchange rate driven. High tech equipment comes at a premium, have a look at cycling and the costs for a set of premium wheels for a road bike. And cycling is a mainstream sport so imagine the costs without the economies of scale.
There’s plenty of good quality, lower cost kit available, with lots of deals available for complete set-ups to suit. We do seem to be missing the old BiC Techno and rig package kind of deals that were best sellers back when.
Good modern kit certainly accelerates people’s learning curve and it’s also quite exciting to see the number of kids coming through and sticking with the sport. It’s not just the board and rigs, but also wetsuit technology, meaning they can stay warm and also be dynamic.
For those entering the sport for the first time what do you see as the biggest hurdles?
Finding a spot that gives them opportunities to take the first steps and then encourage them to continue the journey. Places like the OTC in Weymouth are a great example of a venue and a strategy that encourages newcomers to start, and continue, on their windsurfing journey. They’re not alone, the guys at Buzz Active (was Spray Watersports) have done a sterling job promoting windsurfing and kids progressing through their ranks are representative of their efforts. Jamie Howard has gone from a Team 15 racer to a pro tour freestyler.
For many onlookers the perception is that ‘it must be freezing doing that’. Modern wetsuits have been a real game changer for getting newcomers out there, but the message doesn’t seem to filter through to the general public so I’m guessing this is a hurdle.
Is there anything as regular participants we can do to help beginners with?
Beginners are best advised to utilise local centres /windsurf schools, but if they’ve got to the stage where they are sailing at your local beach then just being friendly, quickly checking on their kit and making sure they are aware potential hazards is where it’s at. If they want specific advice let them ask. In windsurfing every day is a school day so we are all beginners just at different stages in our careers.
Do you think windsurfing is perceived as an elitist sport? If so, what can we do to change this do you think?
Not at all. It’s one of very few sports where you can rub shoulders with your idols, participate with them, have a laugh, enjoy banter and become good mates with them. It’s not a mainstream/school curriculum sport – that’s where it’d need changing. Cycling is a great example of a similar sport that is available to all, and many participate from very early ages to beyond retirement age. It offers health benefits plus thrills. It offers cheap through to ludicrously expensive equipment, and many different competitive disciplines, all just variations on pedal powered themes. If models for cycling’s success could be repeated with windsurfing then we would see scaled replication. But it would be scaled due to the reduced natural area and conditions available for participation.
How do you see windsurfing evolving over the next few years? Reckon we’ll have another growth spurt anytime in the future?
I’m not sure it’ll see growth. It’s interesting to see concepts being revived, and new effort to improve accessibility. Inflatable boards and compact rigs might help by adding performance to the old ‘beach toy’ concept. I remember the old Mistral Windglider. That was a great fun multipurpose toy, but equally pretty useless beyond being a plaything.
What is nice is seeing how many kids are windsurfing, through initiatives such as Team 15, and those following the RYA Zone Squad pathway options. Equally pleasing is seeing numbers of kids opting to go down the windsurf instructor route, which should ensure opportunities of bringing newcomers into the sport will continue. Equipment has got much better for younger/smaller folks and that in itself has to be a major plus.
Who are your windsurfing heroes and why do they inspire?
Jason Polokow, Robbie Naish, Bjorn Dunkebeck, the Moreno twins – all heroes from afar. Local grown heroes like Nik Baker, Robbie Swift, Nick Dempsey & Bryony Shaw, Timo Mullen, Steve Thorp and Ross Williams (arguably the best all round windsurfer on the world tour). There is also a huge amount of UK talent coming through at present. These new kids on the block to me highlight the real heroes of windsurfing.
Tell us about your local windsurfing crew. Who do you sail with?
I tend to pop up all over the place, so could claim to have a fair few crews that I sail with ….
The Camber Posse? The Cooden Massif – otherwise referring to themselves as the Eastbourne Crap Windsurfers Club, which is quite the misnomer. The UKWA – not so much a local crew but an ever welcoming nomadic bunch of likeminded windsurfers. Last time I sailed at Gwithian I recall Harvey Dawkins saying he thought I knew more people there that day than he did! The Zonie parent crew – well, if it’s windy enough then why would us windsurfing parents sit back and let the kids have all the fun?
Do you practice any other disciplines outside of windsurfing? If so, what and how do these other activities compliment your sailing?
Cycling (MTB and road) for general fitness. Strava has become almost as addictive as windsurfing, one for the inner geek maybe – certainly up there with the old GPS Speedsurfing ideals.
SUP as a ‘bugger it’s not windy’ watersport, and great to do with the kids. I found that SUP was a great rehab tool when recovering from a snapped Achilles tendon.
I recently started kitesurfing as a more portable (in the boot of the car) and a light wind option, and has been a really good addition to the toy box quiver.
Skiing/snowboarding are things I did years ago while working within the industry, but this is a nice winter break option now the kids are older. We’re looking forwards to the next trip.
Footy! Yeah I probably should know better, but the banter with the lads is still a draw. Limiting my appearances means there’s less distance to cover, but in truth it’s not really any easier on the knees.
Beer drinking. Essential part of the social side surely?
Bacon or sausage? Bacon
Tea or coffee? Coffee
Blonde or brunette? Blonde
Cats or dogs? Dogs
Hot or cold? Hot
Final shouts and thanks.
Bob and Stu at www.4boards.co.uk for ongoing support and also being top guys and good friends. Ross Williams (Tabou/Vandal/GA) for the kit support via 4boards. Black Project Fins. Anthony Gannon @ The Freeride Project – www.freerideproject.com
Guy Chilvers (Techno Cup UK) – probably all his fault, and if not accepted as being his, then it’s most certainly his dad’s (Pete), for inventing the sport in the first instance. UKWA – they’re in it as deep as Guy, only they are still costing me with the kids racing now!
My early sponsors also deserve a mention for supporting me over the years (either financially or with reduced cost equipment), which no doubt helped me progress with the racing. Acutel, Superstar Chinese Takeaway, TFC, SD Products, BiC Sport, Hot Sails Maui, Neil Pryde, Gaastra, Windsurfing Hawaii, Vans for Work, Fanatic, North and Exocet.
Camber Posse – I’m sure they only let me in as the comedy act, but they’re a quality crew, and all good mates. NWF for keeping it real, and putting on the showcase event for the masses for the last decade.
The missus for bribing me with a Veloce 298 and rig package way back when. As a result, lots of happy times windsurfing and of course with the family too. No room to complain when I buy new kit, she started it.
The kids, for not only putting up with being trawled around beaches while I windsurf, but also for embracing the sport themselves. Not many parents get their kids thinking they are cool, let alone following in their parent’s footsteps enjoying the pastimes themselves. Don’t think I’ve not already worked out that they only make out I’m cool so they can go windsurfing too, and of course get to use my nice new kit!