New Olympic cycle for Windsurfing begins on Tauranga harbour

Natalia Kosinska from New Zealand racing in the RSX Women class on day 2 of the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta, in Weymouth and Portland

New Zealand’s top Olympic medal winning event of recent years has been windsurfing, and at the weekend the 2016 hopefuls were back on the water in their first regatta since the London Olympics.

Windsurfing was controversially dumped from the sailing event schedule for Rio back in May this year in favour of kiteboarding, only to be reinstated six months later. The flip-flop was not only gut-wrenching for all those who had put their heart and soul into the sport in recent years, it was also costly financially to the sailors and their supporters.

Some such as 19 year old Tauranga sailor Sven Pedersen switched immediately to kiteboarding in May to keep his Olympic dream alive, and then following the reversal in November put his recently acquired kite gear on the market and pulled out his old RS:X class windsurfer again.

Others such as women’s campaigner Natalia Kosinska of Auckland, who qualified but was not selected for London 2012, took a break to see what would happen, and restarted training this month. Meanwhile her rival Justina Sellars made the switch to kiting in winter and has decided not to switch back, instead moving quickly up the field in her new sport and making top ten at the kiteboard world champs in October this year.

14 year old Murray’s Bay sailor Patrick Haybittle hanging 5 on the way back in after training.
Brian Haybittle©
All three were racing last weekend in the fourth North Island Champs, held off the Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club base at Sulphur Point. The regatta included kiteboards for the first time, and heading the men’s kite fleet were Auckland’s Dave Robertson, who was ninth at the October worlds event, and Tauranga’s Torrin Bright who was just back from Sailing World Cup regatta Sail Melbourne, where he came away with an impressive silver medal.

In the senior fleets the only missing names were London 2012 seventh place getter JP Tobin, who had a clash with a mountain bike event, and kiter Matt Taggart of Raglan. The biggest fleet however in the 36-strong field was the Techno class, which is the under-17 racing class windsurfer which features in the Youth Olympic sailing programme. As well as a number of Rotorua, Auckland and Christchurch sailors who made the trip, locals Josh McConnell, Coral Headey and Dean Strydom were racing, as was Alex Hart in the RS:X youth class.

Kiteboard podium (L-R) Adam Vance (Can)3rd; Florian Gruber (GER) 1st; Torrin Bright (NZ) 2nd Oceanic Leg of the ISAF Sailing World Cup 2012 Sandringham Yacht Club, Victoria AUSTRALIA December 2nd - 8th, 2012 © Sport the library / Jeff Crow
The bay turned on excellent conditions for the weekend’s sailing, with a fresh sea breeze building from 8 knots up to gusts of 25 knots on Saturday, making for some spectacular racing, and a light and tricky 4-8 knots on Sunday which tested the sailors tactics and physical endurance. Both days the organisers were able to get three races in for the windsurfers, but on Sunday the wind never built sufficiently for the kiters, who instead enjoyed an extended siesta in the shade.

A standout performance came from Alex Hart, who at just 16 and after little more than a month on the RS:X board, was top under-19 and even beat Kosinska in one race. Another good performance was from the Haybittle family, with Alex’s former rival taking out the Technos but facing stiff challenges on Sunday from younger sister Carmen.

Torrin Bright took out the kites from Robertson by just two points, and as a further sign of how close the racing was, there were two points ties for third and fifth places. 'This was the first proper kite racing regatta to be held in New Zealand' said Robertson. 'We’re all now looking forward to the next event which is Sail Auckland in February, where we are planning to beat up the Aussies!'

Kosinska and Pedersen are in training on the harbour for the two days post regatta. Meanwhile the grass roots of the sport are being catered for by the club this week, with a beginners’ course running at Kulim Park all week, and a three day Techno training camp under Olympic legend Bruce Kendall under way as well.

RESULTS
Class: Winner: Runner-up
RS:X 9.5 Sven Pedersen Laurence Carey
RS:X 8.5 Natalia Kosinska Alex Hart
Techno 7.8 Patrick Haybittle Finn Croft
Techno 6.8 Coral Headey Fenella Bowater
Techno Green Dean Strydom Ethan Butler
Formula Marcus Hansen Ian Young
Kiteboard Torrin Bright Dave Robertson