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Old 26th August 2008, 04:13 PM   #6
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Default Longboards vs. shortboards

For every claim and counter claim as to why windsurfing peaked then died, people seem lto like to start to blame the media and the rise of the extreme aspect of the sport.

That may have been part of it, but overlooks the reality that much of the hype of windsurfing was that it was new....just like alpine carving snowboarding; it peaked when lots of people tried it; they found it hard, and switched to easier endeavours......alpine snowboarding is now like 0.1% of the total snowboard market at a guess. Windsurf racing is probably a similar proportion, maybe a tad higher. And windsurfing compared to body boarding or wakeboarding has fallen off too. It is growing again now, but that's after a bunch of mistakes in the past and not just the lack of light wind gear (I don't say longboards, because the issue is sailing in light winds for which longboards are just one answer).

If the lack of longboards on the market is the reason why windsurfing is failing, then how come virtually every major brand has long boards on the market and yet they aren't outselling shortboards 10 to 1 already; the Kona has been on the market for 3 years or more now; how come so often people go out on these boards and don't just buy them?

The reasons why is that the longboard has a lot of strengths (can sail in any winds, rails, feels nice to sail in displacement mode, excellent race machines) but also weaknesses (they are frigging heavy, they sail like a barge IMHO, they plane up slower than a formula board). Clearly the FACT is right now there are longboards on the market, and many consumers either have already gone to do something else, prefer to sail on something else (and the FACT is the majority of the windsurf market is planing shortboards, I'd guess maybe 90%) and/or have no interest in racing.

Whether formula is any better as a representative of windsurfing at an Olympic level, I am unsure. It is certainly more planing orientated, and if that is the sole judge of windsurfing you'd have to say I guess perhaps more representative than a Div 2 type board, but those big longboards like the Kona plane up too; just a little slower. The majority of sailors consider formula to be not that much representative of what they do recreationally either; and even fewer think longboards are representative of their sport. Because 99% of windsurfers, IMHO, don't have any interest in racing. 99.9% of snowboarders have no interest in racing either! (guesses on the stats but I stand by them)

So...where does that leave us? We should admit that the windsurfer is never going to be like in 1984 ever again; because back then there were far fewer choices of board. We should also admit that the majority, the vast majority of windsurfers are not particularly interested in formula or longboards, and likely never will be. It isn't a media thing, it isn't the board companies, it is freedom of choice and the majority of sailors would rather sail something like a carve 122 with a 7m. And it certainly is not the attempt of starboard to fix or fool anyone by launching an SUP - totally different sport. I would never buy a longboard. I might consider an SUP. I would happily buy and race formula again now that the gear issues seem to be fixed. But I do not represent all sailors, that's for sure.

The Olympics will always require a compromise board. In the same way the 49er and the tornado kind of suck in light weather, so will the board. There is no way around it. The pumping you could argue doesn't help; it increases the emphasis on athleticism and away from sailing some say. But Tom Ashley proved that when the sailing is in pressure he is the man. So the best man won, even on the RSX a board fairly universally disliked AFAIK simply because it isn't the best possible hybrid; it is like a windows beta version hybrid.

I'm not sure Formula is necessarily the answer, but whatever is chosen, it is a given that the board will be obsolete within 2 years. Then the choice becomes should it be like the Finn then where it doesn't matter? I don't think so; the best idea that could occur is that 4 years prior to the Olympics there is a bidding contest every time where each company can bid their board and rig; thus the gear is always modern. The boards must meet certain criteria, and let's face it no one other than Olympians bought RSXs; no modern boards are likely to last more than 4 years anyhow. They all get made in Cobra; the bidders all get to brand their boards and use their distribution networks and the board is selected based on the prevailing winds and a range of target weights; a universal voting system and it must meet price, sub planing, max wind speed, weight, reliability criteria.

This is the only way around obsolescence. There is no way around certain body types being favoured in certain conditions. There is no way to have a one size fits all conditions board when you can have Greece type conditions followed by the storms of China. And there is no way to persuade people living in the free world to be interested at all in the Olympics or windsurf racing. You come up with something fun to sail, challenging and exciting and I believe people will come.

The best way to do that is an Amcup style development process that gets locked every 4 years. Since it is cost controlled with a single manufacturer, none of the development class rules impact the cost. Athletes get 4 years to adapt.

That's my belief anyway.
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