Windsurfers seek grail force gusts and sun

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What with Nick Dempsey's bronze at the Athens Olympics, windsurfing has won more public attention than normal this year, a factor likely to boost numbers at the next big event in the UK calendar. Weymouth speed week starts on Sunday and anyone who fancies it can turn up from October 2-8 at Portland Harbour and attempt to break the speed sailing record of 46.52 knots.

All attending will be looking for the holy grail of UK windsurfing, namely to experience simultaneous wind and sun. We have some of the best conditions in the world for the sport in locations ranging from Cornwall to the Isle of Arran - yet more often than not, you sail under a thick bank of clouds and encased in a winter wetsuit.

Weymouth week follows September's annual Windfest at Poole, which broke the trend of recent years by having some wind to play with. Alas, for the first few days, the most obvious manifestation of this was the way it made the rain sweep in horizontally.

The cream of the professional windsurfing circuit must have wished they were back in Hawaii, but had turned up to take part in a range of competitions - freestyle (ie tricks), wave sailing (tricks in waves) and kitesurfing (where you are propelled by a giant kite rather than a sail, so most of your tricks are done up in the air).

In truth, and along with most of the non-professionals, I was there to try out, free of charge, the latest kit from the biggest names in the business. The likes of Fanatic, F2 and Mistral enable you to do this without having to go to the bother of rigging your own sails.

Luckily, the weather improved. The sun shone on the exhibition tent, where some of the stars of the circuit mingled with people who thought they recognised them but couldn't quite place them.

To aid the process, there were signed posters of Dempsey everywhere. The general view among the cognoscenti, however, was that, fantastic achievement though his had been, the competition in Athens had been a poor advert for a great sport. In the frequent absence of decent wind, all that standing around pumping the sail to get the board moving was the equivalent of going up a mountain on a drag lift. Windsurfing done properly, meanwhile, is the summer equivalent of downhill skiing.

The skiing analogy holds good at other levels. The sport takes you to some stunning locations, forces you into ridiculous garments and possibly spending vast amounts of money on holidays and equipment. (In such ways, it is also a little like golf, but I digress.)

While windsurfing may look complicated to the uninitiated, it is easy to pick up and improvement is rapid. It is friendly and incredibly accessible - I can't think of another sport where the amateur can mix so easily with the elite of the sport. Names such as Josh Stone, Robby Swift or John Skye may not trip too readily off the tongues of non-windsurfers, but are the watersport equivalents of Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham and Jonny Wilkinson.

Frankly, what they do on the water doesn't mean much to me either. In my early 30s, I've reached an age where all but the simplest freestyle tricks are beyond me. Even watching most of them leaves me lost with the complexity of it all. Another good reason to avoid doing them is that when they go wrong - ie when you're learning - they usually involve damage, either to your body parts or board. Unless you're sponsored, and so get free kit as a matter of course, it can get very expensive.

A new generation of teenagers from places as diverse as Brazil, Anguilla and Bonaire is sweeping the sport and, like a troupe of East European gymnasts, inventing new tricks that are physically impossible for anyone over 20. Fun for them, if confusing for the spectator, it is just part of the fun that the variety the sport offers. Then, for a large proportion of the windsurfing fraternity gathering in Weymouth at the weekend, the opportunity to go very fast with the wind in their hair is what it will be all about.

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