Windsurfing: in Danger of Extinction?

‘The Drop’ Sports Editor, Ben Stupples, discusses ISAF’s recent ruling to omit kitesurfing from the 2016 Olympic program in Rio de Janeiro and replace it with kitesurfing.

Kitesurfing Windsurfing

Windsurfing: an increasingly popular sport in this part of the country that some of us may have admired from afar on Exmouth’s sandy shore and one we can all expect to see at this summer’s Olympics.

On the eve of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janerio, however, windsurfing’s popularity may be dwindling due to the International Sailing Federation’s (ISAF) decision to remove the sport from the Olympic programme and replace it with kitesurfing – a verdict that has sparked indignation amidst the windsurfing community.

Upon hearing the ISAF’s ruling, two-time Canadian Olympian, Nikola Girke, for instance, stated that “kitesurfing should be a demonstration sport alongside windsurfing but not in lieu of windsurfing” and described ISAF’s decision as a “terrible mistake”.

Burgeoning windsurfing athletes such as Exeter University’s two time Youth World Champion and winner of the prestigious Pantaenius Young Sailor of the Year award, Izzy Hamiton, will surely now have to re-think their plans for future sporting success as a result of ISAF’s ruling – a notion the sports scholar is patently aware of when she wrote in her blog: “my dream of going to Rio was so real one day and non existent the next.”

Izzy is not the only one affected, though, by the omission of windsurfing at the 2016 games. With the Olympics as the sport’s apex of achievement, its entire infrastructure will be inevitably and irreversibly damaged. National funding will be withdrawn; coaches, as a result, will lose their jobs; and the dreams of hundreds of others athletes have, like Izzy, also become hopeless.

There are also questions regarding the potential risks of kitesurfing – a largely untested sport on the world’s stage. Barbara Kendall, for example, a three-time Olympic medalist in windsurfing and former International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, declared: “kitesurfing really is a sport that should be at the X-Games.”

Moreover, as Ann Bartowski mentions, a 2004 study performed by doctors at the at the University Hospital in Muenster, Germany, attempted to determine kitesurfing’s level of danger by following 235 kite surfers over a season. During these six months, more than half of the kite surfers injured themselves. One of those injuries was fatal and 11 more were severe.

Windsurfing, then, seems to have been usurped by a more precarious version of itself. Could the exhilaration from kitesurfing’s apparent dangerous and inconstant nature have been a contributing factor to ISAF’s decision? Whether the answer to that question is true or not, petitions already exist with the intention of reversing ISAF’s verdict and reinstate windsurfing as an Olympic sport.

What lays in store now for Exeter’s Olympic hopeful, however, Izzy Hamilton? “The confidence I gained winning medals in Junior and Youth World Championships has been lost,” Izzie says; “I am however very excited at the prospect of a new challenge.” Just four years after taking up a previously unfamiliar sport, claiming a GB kitesurfing spot for the 2016 Olympics that will truly be a remarkable achievement. Izzy, The Drop wishes you all the best of luck!