Port Washington Yacht Club is leading the way in implementing windsurfing programs. The club counts 24 windsurfers enrolled in their youth program this summer, an upswing from previous years.
“It’s a really nice thing to offer to keep kids coming to the club and having them involved in our program. Nine or so of those are kids we would have potentially lost to the program in general, because they have gotten a bit older and don’t want to continue racing in a Laser or 420,” said Catherine Einhaus, Junior Sailing Chair at PWYC.
“Some of the kids who ski and snowboard in the winter, or skateboard, tend to pick things up faster,” she added. “The balance is more familiar for them.”
At the helm of this year’s program is Scott Wenzler, who grew up sailing in the junior program at Larchmont Yacht Club and has previously worked as a windsurfing instructor at Orienta Beach Club in Mamaroneck. Wenzler learned to windsurf through the US Sailing Beginning Windsurfing Instructor course, which teaches windsurfing basics, instruction, and safety to Level 1-certified instructors.
“Scott picked up windsurfing as an extra skill through the training that US Sailing offers. He hadn’t been a windsurfer prior to taking [US Sailing Windsurfing Instructor] Ned Crossley’s course,” said Einhaus.
Skeptics of windsurfing programs might point to the notoriously light summer air on Long Island Sound that could throw a wrench into carefully planned lessons that programs might run.
Einhaus admits that “the schedule doesn’t always coordinate well with the wind.”
The club solved this problem by buying a number of long paddles to break out for stand-up paddle boarding when the breeze dies down. These options for stand-up paddle boarding, as well as variety of interchangeable rigs and sail area sizes, account for windsurfing's versatility in different wind conditions.
“Kids can pull the rigs out and use the paddle, learn to balance, and continue some of their skills,” she said. “It’s an important thing for clubs to consider that not having consistent breeze doesn’t necessarily make it impossible to continue using the boards.”
Will windsurfing programs continue to gain a strong foothold on the Long Island Sound junior sailing scene? Only time will tell.
“We’re always facing the issue of whether it’s possible just choose to do this one type of vehicle – the windsurfer – and how to get kids to move past using the few club-owned boards and sails to get so excited they go out and buy their own gear and get involved in regattas,” said Einhaus.
But with solid instruction, committed program staff, and kids who want to learn – and paddle when the breeze dies down – the outlook looks bright.
Photos courtesy of Mike Benchimol