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Paris 2024: Will Windfoiling make its debut in Marseille?

by Richard Gladwell/ 29 Oct 2019 05:51 PDT 30 October 2019
Starboard iFoil - World Sailing Windsurf Evaluation Trials, Lago di Garda, Italy. September 29, 2019 © Jesus Renedo / Sailing Energy / World Sailing

Sometime next Thursday, in Bermuda, World Sailing's Events Committee will decide on its Recommendation for the Windsurfing Equipment for the 2024 Olympic Regatta in Marseille.

The Recommendation will then be considered the Council of the World body, along with a Submission from the International RS:X class, the incumbent equipment/class for four Olympic Regattas from 2008-2020.

The tough decision represents a turn around in a situation that began at the Mid Year Meeting in London, when the Council refused to accept a recommendation from the Board of World Sailing to endorse the RS:X for its fifth Olympic Regatta.

Instead, it was directed that tenders for the Windsurfing Equipment should be re-issued and an Evaluation Trial held, in a similar way to that conducted for the Men's and Women's One Person dinghy, for which the Laser was re-selected from two options endorsed by the Equipment Committee.

For three successive years, the Equipment Committee had unsuccessfully made a recommendation to the Board for the replacement of the RS:X.

It now seems that the way is clear for a windfoiler to make its debut at the 2024 Olympic Regatta.

Three of the top four nations from the 2016 Olympics are backing the choice of the Starboard Windfoiler - a one-design, foiling that costs about €500 more than the RS:X, at €6830, but that price includes the carbon hydrofoil. A youth version with an aluminium foil is €4,300

The creator of the Starboard iFoil, Svein Rasmussen, was a Windsurfing World Champion(1983) on the Mistral board and represented Norway at the 1984 Olympics. He launched Starboard in 1994 after retiring from competitive windsurfing, and based the company in Thailand.

In a letter circulated ahead of Bermuda, to the National Associations which make up World Sailing, Rasmusen describes the Starboard iFoil as "an affordable one design, high performance foiling package able to compete in 5-35 knots with the option of multi-brand and multi-manufacturer participation."

At the upper end of the wind range, competitors can opt to change-out the hydrofoil for a fin and covert the Board from a foiler to a more conservative planing board.

The development of the windfoiler has been driven out of Holland, arguably the world's top windsurfing nation, and from New Zealand who dominated the Olympic windsurfing scene from 1984 to 2000, winning at least one medal in windsurfing at every Olympics in that period.

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Aaron McIntosh (NZL), a Bronze medalist in the 2000 Olympics has been a windsurfing coach for the Netherlands starting at the 2012 Olympic regatta. His combination with Dorian van Rijsselberghe resulted in Gold medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

As Dorian van Rijsselberghe noted in a letter ahead of World Sailing's Mid Year Meeting "I note that it is actually against Dutch interests to move away from the RS:X. We have the current Men’s double Olympic Champion; The current RS:X Men’s World and Vice World Champions and the Women’s World Champion; the Men’s European and Vice European Champions and the Women’s European Champion."

Leading the charge away from their RS:X success story is a very bold move for the Dutch. Remarkably the windfoiler concept has only been around for two years but has gained rapid acceptance from past and present windsurfers, young sailors and even those new to the sport, like America's Cup champions Glenn Ashby and Ray Davies (NZL).

The driver for the New Zealand and Australian yachting federations has been the near-complete abandonment of windsurfing at Youth Worlds and Olympic levels. The first New Zealand windfoiler nationals held earlier in 2019 attracted a massive entry of 50 sailors, with the total number of active sailors put at 75 by Yachting New Zealand.

The windfoiler had its first international test at the end of May with an event as part of the Medemblik Regatta, in The Netherlands, which attracted 27 entries from eight nations. In Poland a month later the Formula Foil class Worlds drew a fleet of 57 sailors. McIntosh expects to see 200 sailors for the 2020 event.

The Evaluation Trial at Lake Garda, Italy, conducted by World Sailing, considered three foiling (Formula Foil, Starboard iFoil and Windfoil 1) and two planing (RS:X and Glide) options which were tested and evaluated by a well-credentialed team of 20 sailors from 18 nations. The five options were tested in winds from 5-25kts.

In contrast to the One Person Dinghy trial conducted in Valencia in March, the 20 sailor team was at a higher level of experience, with many being involved in 2020 Olympic windsurfing campaigns.

In their report on the Evaluation Trial, the Working Party noted that "at the trials, 17 of the 19 sailors preferred to select foiling equipment for 2024, and 16 of the 17 stated they would support a recommendation to foiling even if the equipment recommended was not their first choice.

Interestingly even the majority of current RS:X sailors favoured a shift from the RS:X to a foiling board by a margin of 41.3% to 36.9%, according to a World Sailing survey published in the report of the Working Party.

While neither the Council or Events Committee are required to rubber stamp the recommendation of the Evaluation Team. One of the boats that should at least give cause for thought is the Glide, a new planing board that is already in production with packages already delivered.

On the sailaway boat measure the Glide comes in at just over 50% of the cost of the iFoil. "The reported price per a package of equipment ready to sail without transport bag is €3460," the report stated. "Although campaign costs would vary with the quality and durability of the equipment, when considering the need for two fins and four sails the price of the package and spares becomes: €5744.

"The Glide is the cheapest equipment at the trials."

"The Glide is a relatively new product that is just beginning to move to the global market", the report noted. "They have produced 120 boards since February and can support their main distribution centres for Asia, Europe, USA, and Australia (South Pacific). They will soon introduce 20 units in Europe and in the USA and have 20 units that arrived in Australia in July 2019 and 50 units in Japan."

If the Starboard iFoil is chosen to replace the RS:X, then the matter of a Youth progression comes into play. It would be unlikely to see the RS:X continue as supplied Youth Worlds equipment without also being in the Olympics. That then leads to the situation where competitors would bring their own RS:X equipment. However the Glide proponents see their board coming in as entry level equipment and able to continue to Olympic level.

“The Glide 2990 fits very nicely in between the Bic Techno and the RS:X allowing a smooth transition from one to the other," Glide proponents say in their tender document. "It is also an excellent board learn to windsurf. Our initial entry into Asia and Australia, we have seen the Glide being adopted into Youth Development programs”.

The Committee noted that other than cost there was little to differentiate the Glide from the incumbent RS:X. However in a world where developing countries struggle to build fleets, a board that is half the price of the Olympic incumbent with no performance difference has to be very attractive, if it is decided that windfoiling is a step too far.

The Events Committee will make a recommendation on Thursday which will be considered by the Council of World Sailing the following day and a decision made.

If anointed for the 2024 Olympic Regatta will indeed close a chapter on the remarkable rise of not just a new class, but of a new concept in sailing.

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