Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Water Sports: Bid to restore windsurfing

Dave Robertson.
Dave Robertson.

Lobbying is under way to earn windsurfing a 2016 Olympic Games' reprieve at the expense of kiteboarding.

A 75 per cent majority vote at next month's annual meeting of the international governing body ISAF is required to reverse the decision. That's before another vote can take place on which discipline is preferred.

Since the ISAF council voted 19-17 in favour of the change last May, more than 31,000 people have signed a worldwide online petition opposing it.

Some ISAF delegates said they accidentally voted against windsurfing. Many apparently thought they would be seeing kiteboarding freestyle rather than the more structured racing around a course.

Among the ISAF council members, the King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, is understood to be a proponent of kiteboarding. He has solid support among delegates as far away as the Caribbean and South America.

Yachting New Zealand, which has seven windsurfing medals among its tally of 18 sailing medals won since windsurfing was introduced in the 1984 Games, wants windsurfing kept.

YNZ chief executive David Abercrombie says they would like kiteboarding more rigorously tested before it replaces windsurfing. Why not keep windsurfing until the 2016 Games but run kiteboarding alongside it at World Cup events so it can be evaluated? Windsurfing also needs to make some improvements. The RS:X board might need an upgrade to something lighter and faster.

"There has certainly been a lot of fur flying over this but the reality is, if it goes to kiteboarding, we've got to adapt. It certainly has merit as a user-friendly and less expensive option (than windsurfing). The equipment is easier to transport - you can probably put the board, kite and fins into one bag."

New Zealand has a couple of strong contenders in the new discipline, before the country's best windsurfers making the transition.

Dave Robertson (27) finished ninth at the world championships off the coast of Italy this month; Justina Sellers (23) was 10th.

2008 Olympic windsurfing champion Tom Ashley - who has been coached by Robertson - can see value in the change.

"I haven't actually done it yet but there are a lot of transferable skills and there's a lot of talk about needing to make sailing more spectator-friendly.

"However, there might be a downside logistically. It might be hard to run regattas in some places on the world cup circuit. There might need to be more rescue boats employed initially, too."

Gold and bronze Olympic medallist Bruce Kendall is against the move, despite it now being his main form of recreational sailing.

Writing on the sailworld.com website last year, Kendall claimed it was too risky to have kiteboarding as a Games sport, especially in rigging launching and landing with a number of deaths recorded each year.

Enter the search phrase "kiteboarding accidents" into youtube.com and you're left with some shocking evidence as to what can go wrong.

Kendall likened the sport more to wake boarding or paragliding than sailing. He said sudden wind changes can beat reaction times and, once a rider is moving at high speed or a few metres in the air, it can be difficult to make the right decision to eject.

- Herald on Sunday

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