Questions to ponder: Where on earth do we find the next generation of foiling superstars? Where is the next Tom Slingsby, Paul Goodison or Nathan Outeridge going to come from? What classes are the feeders? Where are the national authorities on this? The direction of travel in sailing is set but what’s being done at the grass roots levels? And one burning question that I have is: how far have we got to run on foiling technique?
So none of those guys, the modern day stars, grew up foiling – it was all Lasers and water-shifters. Then they jumped on the foiling band-wagon early and it’s safe to assume that they are pretty damned decent at the discipline. But what if you went straight from an Optimist into a foiler? How good would you be ten years later? What inherent technique would be baked into your sailing memory banks and how far could you take the sport?
We saw it in windsurfing where almost all the top boarders have never even been in a dinghy let alone compete at any level. It just doesn’t appeal to them – and never did. So when foiling gets down to youth level, as it’s doing in Australia, there’s a whole generation of kids who look at the Optimist or P Class or whatever and go: “nah, not for me.” The simple fact is that kids learn super-fast. Give them a platform and ask them to unlock a technique code and they just do it. You and I fret and question and talk ourselves out of it. Kids just get on and do it so the concept of a foiling youth boat is a tantalising prospect.
However, and it’s a big ‘however’ – put a kid who’s never foiled before in an International Moth and you are staring at large repair bills plus there’s a 100% chance of scaring the poor child to never ever want to do this ‘stupid’ sport again. And kids today have a lot of options in sport. Scare them silly and you’ll never get them back. The Waszp looks appealing and fairly, or should I say ‘relatively’, bullet-proof but again, it’s over-canvassed for the little ones starting out. On a lee shore they could be lethal to an 11 year old. It’s a tricky one.
So what really inspires me is news filtering through of the new Waszp X that’s just being launched in the UK by the progressive Sailing Fast team led by Duncan Hepplewhite (www.sailingfast.co.uk). Nicknamed the ‘ultimate junior foiler’ this is the boat that changes everything – literally everything.
I’ve told the story before but it’s well worth saying again – I was down in Geelong in Australia in the early 2000’s sailing onboard Grant Wharington’s maxi ‘Wild Thing’ and just before the start of the race out came a guy called Rohan Veal who was going to “show us something that will change sailing forever.” The grizzled, seen-it-all-before pro crew were nonplussed as this little Bladerider Moth displacement sailed out to Wild Thing’s starboard side. “Ready?” shouted Rohan…and he sheeted on and lifted off. Sounds like nothing now…but back then it was a “wow” moment. We knew that sailing was changing. We were Tyrannosaurus Rex’s incarnate on that boat right there.
And I get the same feeling about the Waszp X. This is everything. This is the future of our sport happening before our eyes and the sailors that this boat will find, nurture and encourage will be the superstars of the future. If you’re a parent desperately taking your child around the Opti circuit in the vain hope that you have the next Knight of the Realm and multiple Olympic medallist under your charge, STOP. Stop right now. Buy a Waszp X and perhaps a RIB (or a rowing boat if finances dictate) to pull your sodden child off the water after six straight hours and home for tea. They won’t want to come in – trust me.
If the Waszp X swarms, and there’s every indication that it will, the game is up for the traditional Olympic pathway boats at the junior level. But the great thing is that participation at dinghy clubs will soar. Give kids a boat that they actually want to sail on a cold, grey August day in the UK and they will come in their droves. It’s a game-changer boat on so many levels and it’s pretty clear that the pathway is changing into the top flight.
More importantly, the fun is back in sailing. Great if you take to the Waszp X like a duck to water and progress up to the full rig Waszp and perhaps you are so good that the International Moth is just a stroll in the park. Brilliant. But equally, if you kick off on a Waszp X and enjoy it, get a bit better slowly and then graduate up to the Waszp, it really doesn’t matter if you come 72nd at Lake Garda because you’ll have the time of your life in a scene that hasn’t been this good since the National Youth Squad of 1988 (and that was messy believe me) or the J24’s in the early 1990’s – and let’s not got there – if you can remember it, you weren’t there.
What parent would wish the Olympic circuit on their child? It’s a deadly serious, highly professional yawn fest in the main in boats of a bygone era and it has to be by design. It’s also a lesson in deflation and near-misses. Suddenly consistency matters. Go to the fun of the Waszp fleet and it’s all about learning, shared experience, collaboration and by dint of the age profile – fun. I’m hearing tales from the latest Waszp Games in Garda that just make me smile and wish I was 21 again. Here’s my right arm, chop it off – you just want to be there.
And for those kids stuck right now in bathtubs going three knots upwind with a bloke with a whistle telling you to tack on his command, keep at it to get wind awareness and the basics of boat control but pester Mum & Dad like crazy for a Waszp X, the moment you feel confident enough to do it or bored enough that you are thinking of quitting or…you just get too big for it. Don’t look at the Laser 4.7 as that’s just brain damage water shifting – go foiling.
Great stuff from the Waszp team once again who have the sailing world at youth level at their feet. The superstars that are going to be created will move the dial on sailing and as a keen observer I can only imagine the levels of technique that will be developed in the coming decade. What’s winning now won’t be anywhere close by 2031 and who knows, the Waszp or a derivative of it could well be the saviour of sailing in the Olympic Games. Picture editors would be falling over themselves to get the shots on national newspapers (if they even exist by then), foilers will break social media and World Sailing will be forever thankful for the lifeline these dynamic classes offer.
And the current dinosaurs in the Cup will be swept away on a tsunami of new foiling talent at the very apex of the sport. Can you imagine what the competition will look like by the early 2040’s? I hope to be alive to see it. Breathtaking.
Brave new world and it starts with the Waszp X. Believe me…our sport is changing and it’s beyond exciting.