! Devolution of a sport and a cautionary tale of woe
A cautionary tale of why the expansionism of stand up paddle boarding need take heed from lessons hopefully learned from misguided evolutionary pathways and pressures.
Stand Up Paddle $ %A Paddlers Guide& Mandy West 'splits' sketched by Lisa Vincent 1984
Windsur"ng#s cautionary tale User$innovators o%en create interest in their innovations& Some will move to commercialise their innovation' even patent it' others simply will not& In the absence of any patent' there is freedom to continue to innovate and ultimately create wider variance of equipment& The patenting of the Windsurfer速 by Californians Hoyle Schweitzer and Jim Drake in "()* and the patent$wrangle which followed+ remains as an infamous period of legal bickering in the context of water sports# Ultimately it was challenged from varying sources+ with user$innovators such as the United Kingdoms Peter Chilvers of Hayling Island claiming to have invented the concept in "(,*+ then American inventor Newman Derby!s plans were found in %Popular Science Monthly Magazine! published in "(), -the design originating from the "(!.s/ further undermining the Californian&s claims and during "(*'+ the patent ruling was overturned# This is the scene of what was one of Britain's biggest and most successful annual windsurfing events, a race around Hayling Island co-founded in 1980 by myself and Peter Williams. This is perhaps mid 1980. This scene is no more, more especially in terms of the variance of ages and gender, let alone weight of numbers. At the time, this scene was a global phenomenon, an omnipresent sport which genuinely lived up to all that it was talked up to be. Photo Courtesy of Dave Hackford Starboard UK
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Coincidently at this time I was a professional windsurfer+ writer and photographer+ having taken up the sport in "(1( and subsequently working from Europe&s then largest windsur2ng centre on Hayling Island in the United Kingdom# I was required to sail a version of Newman Derby!s board which was 2lmed and presented in court# I was young and just doing what I was asked+ but historically+ it was an interesting time and experience# Of course the idea of patenting the concept of stand up paddle boarding+ is paradoxically a near impossibility+ being that the sport simply melds other existing water sports together# If it could have been+ doubtless it would have been if money were to be made from it+ but it does illustrate the point that the sport&s evolution is merely a functionally novel concept# The late Jim Drake worked with Starboard for some years designing windsurfers and on occasion designed stand up paddle boards+ one of the most successful having been the K", race board# Hoyle Schweitzer!s son Matt Schweitzer" is intrinsically linked with the early days of the Windsurfer速 One Design board and together with Robbie Naish in particular+ they dominated the early days of racing and went on to pioneer wave sailing in Hawai`i with such names as Larry Stanley" Mike Waltz and others during what was a fascinating period from the mid 1.s to the mid *.s# Matt Schweitzer!s son Zane Schweitzer+ is one of the Peter Chilvers Hayling Island England 1982 (seated) toasting the news of winning his claim as the 'inventor' of the concept of windsurfing - back dated to 1958.
leading paddle sur2ng exponents and a world class kiteboarder# The synergy here between all the characters represents a continued lineage of evolution from father to son# Today it#s clear that stand up paddle boarding as an evolving sport' has interesting challenges ahead' not least of which being the simple question of determination of it#s essence and within this maelstrom of (ux' the sports uniqueness needs to stand its ground in raging against the notion that it is de"nitively not a surf sport' but ultimately' very much more& If you&re asking yourself why leading windsur2ng brands 3 manufacturers have leapt into the sport+ producing massive volumes of boards over an unfathomable range+ the answer is simple; the windsur2ng industry is in decline+ having shot itself in the proverbial foot helped along by magazines and videos having squeezed the sport dry+ to a point of leaving only the residue of high wind and wave sailing to the detriment of all other areas of the sports fundamental appeals# In '."' windsur2ng was dropped as an Olympic sport+ replaced by kiteboarding+ which will no doubt fester as a bone$of$contention# One of the worlds largest windsur2ng companies and now subsequently stand up paddle boarding companies+ had in '.". no less than '! di4ering models+ ") of which were essentially surf speci2c and sporting fundamentally impractical volume and hull shapes for being paddled in comfort over even a reasonable distance; 0 were essentially compromise+ all$round boards and the balance of , speci2cally designed as e5cient !,
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paddling hulls# In '.""+ another leading windsur2ng brand by example had a whopping 0. di4ering board styles of which a mere 1 were purpose made as paddling$speci2c boards+ possibly , others could be considered all$ rounders and the balance surf$speci2c# This would seem to support the view+ they and other prime movers view the sport&s appeal as largely that of a surf sport and by association that this is the true nature of the sport+ which seems to smack in the face of logic if we accept stand up paddle boarding as a paddle sport# Of course it doesn&t help lessen this belief when so many of those involved in the decision making progress+ hail from strong sur2ng or wave sailing backgrounds# When looking at the global picture+ the product line is arse about face+ where the greater variance of range should consist of boards designed speci2c to paddling not sur2ng+ catering to the hugely greater demographics of those who live near lakes+ rivers+ dams+ estuaries and 6at+ sheltered waters? This advert from 1982 represents all that was great about the sport - fun, laid back, mellow, a fulfilment of ones dreams. Pretty soon after, boards and rigs like this were killed off (and this type of advert aimed at a particular demographic) replaced by hi-tech expensive kit and young lads like this and his mum, were pretty much booted out of the picture all together, replaced by high wind and wave imagery and in so doing the sport slowly but surely, backed itself into a corner. Pure genius. So the question has to be, what of stand up paddle boarding. Will it go the same way, if not already?
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The ability to add a sailing rig to some stand up paddle boards, brings back the versatility associated with the bygone days of longboard windsurfing, but is yet to become popular.
What seems self evident' is the continued powerful commercial reality' that the sex appeal and lure of the sur"ng lifestyle and all that it alludes to' from tropical beaches to azure waters' what you would rather be doing' where you would rather be and who you would rather be doing it with' continues to be a potent selling tool& Better to jam pack your brochures predominantly with photos of waves than (at water imagery if you want to sell the dream& So much for the counter$culture of the ,.s and ).s+ where dropping out of society and the capitalist treadmill epitomised the appeal of sur2ng+ where today it could not be any more joined at the hip through commercial and capitalist principles if it tried+ indeed they are inseparable through the blur of must have clothing+ board and accessory brands all associated with a particular surfer+ paddler+ wakeboarder+ snowboarder+ kiteboarder# Initially many windsur2ng shops sold and continue to sell stand up paddle boards+ however this now seems somewhat opportunistic folly+ but provided a suitable starting point# When we see -some/ pro$windsurfers alluding to being converted to stand up paddle boarding+ this is more likely due to their sponsor now having branched out into the area+ rather than the individual exercising free$will per se# !1
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Though windsurfers stand while sailing' the old school longboard designs and styles of sailing' draw greater comparisons than with most of todays designs and that#s about where the similarity ends and fantasy begins& Windsurfers are by and large speed junkies and I can respect the fact that 2nding the urge to invest reasonably serious amounts of money in a board and paddle package would smart when faced with the reality that the sport is heavily equipment dependent; there&s just too much to be had#
The expansion of windsur"ng $ the phenomenon The 6edgling sport of windsur2ng in the late 1.s early *.s enjoyed monumental growth on account of many factors+ not least of which+ the sport was sincerely promoted on the basis that it was for all$comers+ no matter the age or gender and that %Wherever there was wind and water#' an involvement was not only possible+ but highly desirable# In a "(*! Windsurfer速 brochure $ Hoyle Schweitzer says+ ) A futuristic vehicle for your dreams has risen out of the western sea' bringing new dimensions to life itself& How can such a simple' easy$rider device bring so much joy to millions? Because it puts you $ with your skills and your dreams and your hidden potential $ into a perfect interaction with wind and water& Thus' this one small vehicle brings with it the power to make your visit here on planet earth even more ful"lling&# Sure sounds what stand up paddle boarding could be+ should be and should remain# Not driven home as a surf sport+ but fully embraced as a sailing sport+ it promised aspirations of friendships+ communing with nature+ health and 2tness+ the buzz of gliding over water and to some considerable extent it conveyed the feeling that we were part of a pioneering spirit 7 a new frontier in water sports# The interim years' provided a suitable gestation time for the sport to evolve and (ourish' giving rise to the global establishment of International Windsur"ng Schools *IWS+ by using a systematic' uni"ed methodology' which went on to successfully and safely introduce countless thousands to the new sport that spread like global wild "re to nearly every corner of the planet& Flat water sailing+ regatta racing and freestyle -hotdogging/ on the Windsurfer速 one$design boards and the like+ contributed unprecedented !*
levels of interest and participation in the sport# It sold itself# It made its way onto TV and was regularly demonstrated at boat and trade shows# It captured people&s imaginations and the global response was truly staggering as hundreds of thousands -if not millions/ took to the sport# Triangular multi coloured sails zig zagged across many varied bodies of water+ the sport felt omnipresent genuinely taking the world by storm# By comparison SUP is yet to launch#
Lessons to be learned Inevitably as windsur2ng morphed into adulthood+ magazines worldwide lost interest in promoting the mellower nature of the sport# No longer was it about the long board and casual summer days spent clowning around in light winds with friends and family# It had been driven relentlessly through the evolution of equipment and the growing capabilities and demands of the rider who was growing ever more hardcore# It was now a high wind surf sport+ 2rst and foremost# Magazine covers no longer printed dreamy sunsets+ silhouetted by triangular sails or bikini clad babes gliding over glassy waters+ imagery to which every Tom Dick and Harry related and would rush to pick up at the News Stand# Front covers now jostled to outdo one another+ publishing the most outrageous big wave image they could lay their hands on# Worse still' the elderly' the frail' the more mellow at heart who had purchased their Windsurfers' Windgliders' HiFlys' Bics and Mistrals' were hung out to dry and forgotten; their owners' expendable' pioneering participants no longer relevant to the way forward& Local races died out' social sailing folded' long boards died a natural death' (at water freestyle became a lost art' boards and kit morphed into moss and dust collectors in garages and gardens on a global scale& It had become in your face niche interest material+ which slowly but surely ousted the elderly+ kids and thousands who neither related to surf or had an interest in it+ let alone lived in close geographical proximity to where conditions permitted this form of hardcore sailing# Laced with idiosyncratic !(
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language and new ideologies+ the sport had 2nally reached its apparent zenith+ but in doing so+ le8 in its wake any notion of encouraging a truly broad spectrum of participants# In short it has now near disappeared up its own fundamental ori2ce and everyone within the industry+ from the manufacturers+ to pro sailors+ designers must take their share of the blame# Pioneering sailors -user$innovators and professionals/ and designers had nurtured a uniquely close relationship+ constantly re2ning designs+ incorporating new materials as they came to hand+ in the push to go faster+ higher+ tighter+ pushing equipment to the point of obsolescence as sailor&s abilities demanded more than their gear could deliver#
Mike Waltz!s classic *.s line )Wind and water' natures most powerful elements' to combine them in harmony is the ultimate free ride# or words to that e4ect+ remain as a poignant+ encapsulated notion of the essence of the sport at the time+ or at least what it had set out to be# Kirsty Jones now says of stand up paddling+ )Stand up' is a lot like life: you need balance' focus' inner strength' and the ability to get back up every time to get the best from it&# It seems waxing lyrical and drawing
As evocative as this imagery (and achievement) may have been at the time, on many levels this aspirational directional shift within the sport, was not a shift into over-drive for the sport to expand and speed up, other than for the creation of hi-tech, high wind equipment, but in many ways the opposite, as this was (and remains) out of the realms of reality or objectivity for thousands of existing or would be windsurfers, which detracted, not attracted participants.
metaphors go hand in hand with a passion for water sports and indeed essential to any marketing spin alluding to aspirational lifestyles and experiences#
A come back At the end of the 2rst decade of '...+ the windsur2ng industry was taking a look at itself+ coming to the realisation that long board sailing needed to make a come back+ being that entire segments of the global community had been alienated from a sport originally intended for the masses# Having been pushed and promoted to the abyss of extremity+ through the mechanism of ego and the media+ promoting the sport using aspirational imagery beyond the realms of even the wildest dreams of your average suburbanite+ the sport niched itself into decline+ while kiteboarding certainly helped nudge the sport closer to the brink#
Photo Mandy West
Ironically, one way to fast track your entry into the sport if strapped for cash, is to rummage around many a back yard cluttered with 'make-do' stand up paddle boards; long since forgotten; stock Windsurfers, Hi-Flys, Bics, Mistrals and more besides. Retailers may not like this idea, but it provides entry into the sport and advancement to possible buying. Clean the dirt and dust off, throw the dagger board away, take off the straps if attached, add paddle and hey presto, el-cheapo learner board. Invest in a quality paddle. Photo Mandy West
Sadly+ while there has been a brief realisation of what needs to be done to reinvigorate the sport+ one wonders if the industry will simply drop the ball altogether and put its e4orts into their massive ,"
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investment within the stand up paddle board market+ as many seem to have done+ seeing it as a sure thing+ rather than a long shot# At days end maybe windsur2ng has had its day and stand up paddle boarding may well need to be their saviour#
The warning for stand up paddle boarding The net point of this comparison? Simply put+ stand up paddle boarding is the singular most accelerated water sport of our time+ largely because of the intervention of the windsur2ng industry -and the internet/ who need this sport to work for the sake of their own survival# If the sport is going to be goose$marched down the path of its extremes+ promoted and portrayed as a surf sport as a consequence of the media and magazines+ led by their editors controlling content and photo editors promoting imagery which serves to alienate the elderly+ women or children&s involvement+ then stand up paddle boarding will be a dead sport 6oating# Add to this the machinations of sur"ng associations who wish to )govern# in particular and we will already be more than three$quarters of the way to backing the sport into a singular niche $ that of sur"ng& Thankfully' some magazines seem to cover a good deal of content regarding (at water recreational paddling and long may that continue so as the sport can be related to by as broad a cross section of the community as possible& The worrying issue remains' who will win out on the issue of governance and what will that say about each region of the world' where this might vary&
For retailers )The necessity for analysis and technical know$how on the product and its uses are just as high at the point of sale' as the cost itself of a board& On the other hand' be careful not to slip up on the over technical& This was windsur"ng#s vice that killed it in its glory days and that could come back to haunt the sport& It remains a simple' accessible sport& The all$round should reign over this discipline& The more any speci"c products and their technical properties are assimilated' the less likely the sport is to be reduced to a micro$niche of high$performance athletes& Diversi"cation should be achieved through marketing and community development rather than through a myriad of separate technical properties too advanced for the average customer who' up to now' barely knows how to hold a paddle#& French Editor, Iker Aguirre of boardsource.com ,'
A night time display we put on using a light from a Navy Destroyer for the locals at one of our local pubs in the UK. This is 1981 and here the idea was to simply show the sport off for its most rudimentary appeal. Triangular coloured sails like this tended to evoke a response in people - taking on an almost iconoclastic form like the paddle.
While this is sound advice+ all$round boards are simply not particularly good at any one thing+ let alone being paddled in a straight line+ which is not very encouraging for the beginner# By all$round are we alluding to it being both a surfboard and a board capable of being paddled e5ciently over distance? Once again this further confuses and reinforces the notion of the sports identity crisis# If I live in Paris+ should I be sold the all$round board when all I want to do is paddle on the river? One very self evident problem at present threatening to meet the needs of the end$user+ is that too many beginners+ are being sold boards which are too short to be practicable boards capable of being paddled e5ciently or travelling any distance+ when in truth many could and should be sold boards of "'&)9 and upwards# During the bygone days of windsur2ng on longboards over "'&+ where roof racks were a must+ we simply 2gured out the issue of storage as an extension of participation# In time everything went into miniature+ with smaller booms+ ' part masts and ever shorter boards+ so as it could all 2t neatly into any sized vehicle# ,0
This obsession with ensuring that the boards in particular became as short as possible for the sake of convenience+ not performance+ perhaps helped contribute to the demise of the sport in ridding the waters of longboards# So too now with stand up paddle boards+ as retailers are overcoming a buyers objections to the size of the board and the issues of cost+ leading to selling boards too short to be of practical purpose for the end$ users needs# In6atable boards on the other hand+ can and do certainly address the issue of storage and transportation+ but not always performance# It&s imperative to grasp the reality+
Photo Mandy West
Photo: Chris Smith 'The Telegraph Newspaper" and Sports Photographer of the Year 1982
Top: Mandy and I in 1980, enjoying the sport at grass roots level. Freestyle was an essential element for the learning of core skills used when wave sailing. The middle image is me sailing an 8' Brian Hinde board given to me by close friend Angus Chater. This image was part of a photo shoot for the UK's Telegraph Newspaper. Some 25 years later we recently tracked down some original Windsurfers, my all time favourite freestyle and good time board by far. This simple, no-frills board design gave me and thousands of others some of the best years of our lives. For cheap, unadulterated fun, nothing came close and yet what you're looking at is essentially no more save for some isolated areas of the world (USA / Australia) where the design is being reborn and rediscovered.
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that in the context of developing fast hull shapes for paddling over distance+ length is an important part of that requirement and therefore an insistence on a short board by degrees+ will diminish this particular area of performance# With the windsur"ng industries considerable history' perhaps their involvement with stand up paddle boarding today' can be hugely positive on account of their resourcefulness and willingness to experiment and take the sport to the masses in a way in which they managed within the context of their primary interest' so long as there is an adherence to a mantra which is inclusive of nurturing all$comers to the sport and not just the elite or extreme athlete&
Photo Steve West Rider Mandy West