At this weeks ISAF meeting amongst the agenda items is a proposal to switch windsurfing boards for the 2012 London Olympic Games from the existing Neil Pryde RS:X to a new Starboard built Formula board.
While a lighter planing board would be welcomed by many athletes, it seems there are a lot of factors to consider.
Neil Pryde explains ‘The RS: X board was designed and built to parameters set by the International Sailing Federation. (ISAF). The reality of Olympic windsurfing is it’s in the Olympics as part of yacht racing. It has to operate on a fixed time table with events taking place everyday, the television is organized, the press coverage. The Event organiser don’t have the luxury of saying dayafter day 'oh there’s less than 10 knots of wind today so we won’t race. They have to race.
‘So ISAF required a board that would sail on three knots of wind. Normally windsurfers don’t even go on the water unless it’s more than 10-12 knots, so the Olympic board is not like a windsurfer in the normal sense of the word.
‘To build a board which can be sailed upwind at three knots we had to put a dagger board in it. That added a lot of weight because you have to have the whole structure to support the dagger board.
'Going forward, we all hope that Olympic regattas are not sailed in venues that requires races to be run in very light conditions again, but practical considerations come even before and after racing.'
As one multiple Olympic sailor, who campaigns all around the world commented this week ‘One of the problems from a practical point of view of wind surfing boards with no dagger boards is that steerage, leaving or coming into harbours is very difficult without a support boat. May not be much of an issue for the big teams but it’s a problem that adds costs at all levels.'
Pryde continues ‘Our original prototype was a lot lighter but the International Sailing Federation wanted a board that would have a physical lifespan of at least four years. Lightweight racing boards are much cheaper to bring to market because they contain less carbon, but realistically they are have a racing lifespan of one season.
‘We revisited the subject last year. Going into the annual general meeting of the RS:X class, which was held down in New Zealand at the World in February 2008, we had proposed offering a prototype that was 2.5 to 3 kilos lighter. But the Class wanted to keep the board unchanged at least through to the British Olympics.
‘The problem with so many countries that have invested so much money into equipment they are afraid of obsolescing a lot of this investment. Olympic sailing in most countries, particular less developed countries; it is all government funded not private individuals. They paid for a huge amount of equipment. If it becomes obsolete they are going to be very unhappy.
'If a decision is made early for a change for 2016 countries and sailors can plan changeover considering the life of the board and there won’t be additional expense.
‘The council represents the national organisations all around the world and these are the people who spent the money buying the equipment. So I think there is a balance of interests that will likely come to the right decision.
'Countries like France, Italy, U.K. Russia and China have already said they support the continuation of the RS: X. ’
'However we support moves for lightening the board, for the 2016 Olympics. We’d put new board before an evaluation committee who could trial different manufacturers board and classes and evaluate the different options and made a decision. That’s the proper way to do it. That’s how they RS: X was selected. We went through a lot of competitive, exhaustive trials.
‘But the most important thing is that it’s far too late to be making any change right now.
‘Put aside any argument about the pros and cons. This weeks ISAF meeting is less than four years to the next Olympics. I think this is where the ISAF needs to be clear in its thinking.
'Hypothetically, lets say at this meeting we have to make the decision between the 420 class, or the 470 class, that’s a relatively easy. These classes exist and have class organisations and rules. So to switch from one class to another is fairly painless exercise because they both exist and are fully structured.
‘What the ISAF is faced with is choosing between a class that exists with over 2000 participants all around the world that’s organized world championships, world youth and has a class organisation with continues supply of products versus a class that only exists on paper. So there really is no choice.
'Not only is the organisational vacuum a problem but rushing a high specificaton product to market is a major manufacturing challenge.
'The reason I’m saying this is not because we have a vested interest in the RS:X because we obviously do, but because we got burned very badly by the late project start changing from the IMCO class to the RS:X in the November post Athens Olympicsc meeting.
'We had a prototype built and the plans ready to go, but by the time we could really deliver boards to the market in quantity to satisfy the requirements of all the national organizations around the world was probably May 2005.
'That’s just over three years to go to the next Olympics. Of course in the rush to do this you inevitably have a lot of quality problems, things don’t go as smoothly as you hoped.
'Remember is this not just another windsurfer, this is a very very tightly spec'd.
'So it’s unrealistic to be making a decision to change from an established class to something that’s only a concept so late in the day.
'The fact is the ISAF decided the parameters on which the RS: X came into being. For better or worse, that’s what they’ve got. For the moment that’s the only viable option on the table and we are confident that the ISAF council will accept that reality.'