At the time Brian registered, he was the only person from North or South America to enter the world championships. Since then another American has joined the event, Mark Powell, bringing the ‘Team USA’ contingent to just two athletes.
The Windsurfer World Championships 2022 will be raced at Albaria Mondello Beach, on the northern outskirts of Palermo Italy, on Oct 3-9. There will be up to nine course racing races, one Marathon, one Slalom and one Freestyle event, with up to nine races for each category and up to four races per day.
The championships are for Windsurfer LT and WS One Design boards. Competitors of any country, and at least 12 years old, are allowed to compete. Two windsurfers, Andrea Samogin and Romeo Romei, will be competing under the Thai flag.
Brian will be racing on a Windsurfer LT, but at 58 years old he is not kidding himself with expectations. “I probably will enter all the categories – and probably get my ass kicked in all of them,” he jokes.
“All I want to do is have a good time, not die and not finish last ‒ in that order! ” he adds, noting that the event organisers do require a fit to compete certificate to prove entrants are of appropriate fitness levels.
On a more serious note, Brian’s love of windsurfing dates back 1973, when he first stepped onto a windsurfer – a friend’s older brother’s Baja board with a teakwood boom and teak dagger board – at Newport Harbour in Southern California, where windsurfing was born.
His enthusiasm for the sport grew, leading to Brian to purchase a Windglider in 1983 and self-train for six months to hopefully qualify for the US National team for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the first Games where windsurfing was introduced as a demonstration sport.
Despite his best efforts, Brian soon realised that he was not Olympian material and decided that concentrating on college might be a better option. He did get his degree in Commercial Photography and went on to become Wind Surf magazine’s staff photographer. Along the way he made friends with several key competitors who today all live in Thailand and have now sparked a windsurfing renaissance around the world.
Among the friends made was Bruce Wylie, who went on to win Gold in the exhibition windsurfing competition at the ’84 Games. The exhibition competition featured the Windsurfer board at Santa Barbara, and was held separately from the main course racing event, which used the Windglider design, at Long Beach.
Brian actually first met Bruce in 1983, at the opening of the Windglider class in Long Beach, California (the future site of the actual Olympic event), which in practicality amounted to the worldwide launch of the Windglider class.
Brian credits Bruce and fellow Olympian Riccardo Giordano for reigniting interest in the classic water sport. Bruce is now Chief Commercial Officer of Cobra international, based in Chon Buri, working alongside Riccardo, also of Cobra Inter, and who is coincidentally originally from Palermo.
Riccardo has also competed in windsurfing at the Olympics. Representing Italy, he finished 16th at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, 17th at the 2000 Games in Sydney and 26th at the 2004 Games in Athens.
After years out of contact, Brian met Bruce at a Stand Up Paddle event in Bangkok, and the two lamented the demise of the windsurfer.
Joining the conversation was Svein Rasmussen, yet another Olympian living in Thailand, running the watersports powerhouse Starboard. Of note, Svein placed 11th in the main Windglider course racing event at the ’84 Games.
As an aside, it is difficult to overstate just how important the ’84 Olympic Games was for setting the stage for Thailand to take the leading role in the global windsurfing industry today, decades later.
By yet another coincidence, Bob Wilmott, who won silver at the windsurfing exhibition event at the ’84 Games also has a key role in sailing in Thailand. He is Team Manager for ‘Team Hollywood’, well known for their winning ways at Phuket Race Week and the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta.
However, after the ’84 Games, interest in windsurfing started dying off, Brian notes.
“It became too technical, high-tech and expensive,” he explains. “The other thing that killed it was if someone was not given proper instruction on how to sail the boards, most people would give up, saying it’s too hard.
“Innovations such as kiteboarding and wing foiling, among others, came along and appealed to most young people, eventually replacing the windsurfer,” Brian adds.
“The classic windsurfer is basically a 12ft long surfboard that’s 2ft wide. It pretty much works in any water conditions. Bruce just wanted to get back to basics so people can enjoy the simple sport again,” he added.
Explosion in popularity
After several pitches to the owner of Cobra Inter, Bruce was finally given the green light and a small budget to go ahead with redeveloping the classic windsurfer to test the market.
“They took the original design and made it much lighter, about half the weight, and brought it up to modern production standards – and it is now a huge success,” Brian notes.
The result was an explosion in popularity in the reincarnated Windsurfer across Europe and Australia. Of the 361 entries at the Windsurfer World Championships 2022 in Palermo, with a waiting list of about another 100 entrants, many of the entries hail from France and the Netherlands in addition to the huge number of entries from Italy.
At this stage 38 windsurfers from Australia alone are entered to compete, among racers from 24 countries in total, including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.
“They just can’t make them fast enough,” Brian laughs.
However, so far the United States has missed out on the resurgence of popularity in the windsurfer. “Initial efforts to get the sport back into the US saw some resellers wanting to import the board only, without the rig [sail and boom]. This defeated the purpose of a one design,” explains Brian.
Then shipping problems resulted in importing the new windsurfer, which also doubles as a Stand-Up paddle board, into the US over the past three years due to the COVID pandemic.
While the US misses out, Brian wins and will now compete at the Worlds in October and continues his training, mostly offshore from Nai Yang Beach and in the water in front of The PlayYard on the east coast in Mai Khao.
“I have seen a handful of people going out windsurfing. You see kite boarding, kite surfing, wing foiling… but I am the only one out there on an LT,” Brian notes.
“Off The PlayYard is a good area for wind direction, but you must be careful of the ripping current,” he adds.
“That said, it would be nice to see other people out there."