Winds of change could be felt again

OLYMPIC AMBITION: Tim Fraser-Harris, chief instructor at Nelson Watersports, carves through Nelson Haven at Atawhai.
OLYMPIC AMBITION: Tim Fraser-Harris, chief instructor at Nelson Watersports, carves through Nelson Haven at Atawhai.

Nelson-based instructor Tim Fraser-Harris is more than happy to have windsurfing reinstated as an Olympic sport, but he also backs the ousted kiteboarding to make a strong bid for 2020.

Since 1984, boardsailing has been an Olympic regular, with New Zealand winning seven medals in the RS:X class. However, last May the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) decided to can the sport in favour of kiteboarding.

Six months later, the governing body changed tack. A vote at council level failed to reopen the original decision, but a motion in front of the general assembly passed with 51.3 per cent of the vote. Windsurfing was back in and kiteboarding was beached.

Fraser-Harris recently set up Nelson Watersports, a windsurfing instruction and equipment hire business based out of the Nelson Yacht Club.

He believes the ISAF decision was sound.

"I do think that the reversal of the May decision is probably good for both sports in the long run," he said.

"Kitesurf racing can be incorporated into World Cup regattas and have a chance to iron out teething problems and develop the equipment before hopefully getting brought into the 2020 Olympics."

That is what Nelson kiteboarding operators are banking on as well.

Warren Mitchell of Kitescool and Shane Anderson of Kite Surf Nelson said they were disappointed. The real blow came from the period of excitement and movement prior to the Olympic vote being revoked.

"There has been a lot of work gone into formatting racing and pushing it through those early stages," said Anderson.

"There was a decision just last week, seven days before they cancelled it, as to what kind of dimensions a race board would be. They just changed their mind so quickly.

"It's a shame. New Zealand kitesurf racing was young and possibly a little bit immature, but it was very competitive."

Mitchell agreed. "Something I found really exciting before they pulled the pin was that it was brand new and you just did not know who was going to be good at it. It created a buzz, but now that excitement has gone," he said.

"There will be some people who had Olympic dreams that will now be looking at windsurfing or sailing."

Fraser-Harris said he already had young sailors training on the Bic Techno boards that will make up the windsurfing class for the Youth Olympics in 2014, the pathway to the Olympic windsurfing class.

"It is great for them to be able to aspire to Olympic greatness once again.

"Each week sees more people involved and more windsurfers on the water, so we're hoping to build a strong fleet here in Nelson."

The kiteboarding operators said they were not too concerned by the prospect of the number of kitesurfers in the region dropping off. Most of them participate for recreation purposes or on the trick-oriented freestyle boards.

An opportunity to develop the sport in a new direction has been bunged up, but kitesurfers remain hopeful that 2020 will bring kiteboarding and the Olympics together.

In the meantime, Mitchell and Anderson said Nelson would continue to attract a healthy number of tourists who came specifically for kitesurfing.

"Nelson, as far as watersports and windsports go, it's a haven, really," said Mitchell.

"One thing we still have going for us is that Nelson is a world-class destination when it comes to kiting.

"We have that huge beach area and afternoon sea breezes, and we have huge wind angles."

Nelson's newest windsurfing operator is hopeful that those traits, combined with an ISAF sideshow that has increased the profile of both sports, will serve to propel windsurfing forward in the region.

Fraser-Harris said there had been a steady flow of people wanting information on how to get involved in the sport.

"Maybe it is not ‘back to the drawing board' after all."

The Nelson Mail