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Paris 2024: Olympic windsurfing at a turning point

by Michael Brown/Yachting NZ 7 Oct 20:02 PDT 8 October 2019
Day 4, Windfoil Surfing, Medemblik Regatta 2019, 25-5-2019 (21/25 May 2019). Medemblik - the Netherlands. © Sander van der Borch

The future of Olympic windsurfing is likely to be decided next month and it is appropriate that at the forefront of discussions are options put forward by a couple of Kiwis who once ruled the sport.

Aaron McIntosh and Bruce Kendall both have packages up for consideration by World Sailing to be the equipment of choice for windsurfing at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Five options are presently being tested at Lake Garda in Italy with a World Sailing committee likely to make a recommendation for the full World Sailing council to vote on in November.

The RS:X was first used at the 2012 London Olympics and will again feature in Tokyo next year but has many detractors, including many of the sport's top sailors and coaches who say it is too expensive for what it is, not durable enough and far too physically demanding. Even two-time Olympic champion Dorian van Rijsselberghe, who is coached by McIntosh and who it could be argued has the most to lose with any change, implored World Sailing to consider a different option.

Among the five windsurfers being tested are three windfoiling packages, the RS:X and Kendall's Glide design.

The one perhaps capturing the most attention is Windfoil1, which is being driven by a handful of individuals including McIntosh and fellow Kiwi Antonio Cozzolino, van Rijsselberghe and America's Cup sailor Glenn Ashby. The foiling revolution that is transforming sailing has also reached windsurfing and it's seen a resurgence of the sport in New Zealand.

As many as 50 competitors took part in this year's inaugural national championships and many others can be found buzzing around harbours and lakes throughout the country.

"Windsurfing has gone through a dramatic change over the last two years," says McIntosh, who won bronze at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and three world titles. "It’s all happening above the water. We are flying. It’s faster, more dynamic and windsurfing is cool again. The current classes are quite stagnant and stuck in the past. Windfoiling has taken windsurfing to another level and that’s pretty exciting.

“I think the key is to really inspire a new generation. Sailing has evolved and windsurfing has evolved, too. Everyone is foiling these days. You can capture the imagination of the young generation. Sailing four knots upwind is not really acceptable any more. We are doing 17-18 knots upwind in 12 knots of breeze. That’s phenomenal.”

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