Being a windsurfing mum – Karen Battye’s committed approach

Words: Karen Battye

Pics: Karen Battye, Dave White, Andy Stallman, Weymouth Speed Week

I’m the mum of windsurfer James Battye, GBR-48 and this is what my journey as a windsurfing mum has been like to date.

Having recently arrived back from Speedweek, Weymouth, where I was race officer it dawned on me what a long way I have come from being a T15 windsurfing mum. It’s also surprising what an immense part of my life windsurfing now plays.

I’m not a windsurfer. I can swim, wakeboard and I can SUP to a fashion, but having tried windsurfing in Ortakent, Turkey, a couple of times I decided I couldn’t do it. Well, I could but only in a straight line, which isn’t good enough (keep practising! – ed).

I’m a parent of a windsurfer or that’s how it all started. It’s hard to believe it all came about because as self-employed parents I needed just one week out of the six weeks summer holidays to catch up with our accounts. So what to do with James?

I found him a week’s course at Pugney’s, our local watersports center, which sounded ideal. Having dropped him off and knowing he was safe I left him to learn. Within a few days he wanted more and eventually he joined the T15 club. We knew nothing about windsurfing (really) at that point but he was so keen to keep going we just kept taking him and letting him continue. It wasn’t long before we bought him his first rig from Juice Board Sports – the usual BIC set up. Then came the realization that this wasn’t going to be good for the bank balance!

As time went on James’s dad Andrew learnt how to rig the kit to a fashion and we could help cart gear to and from the car. We didn’t get overly involved as if we rigged it up wrong we would get the blame. We watched as he continued to improve but also get bigger than most of the other sailors. This began to frustrate him in light winds. As you watch your kids and see that they are growing at a far faster rate than some it becomes obvious even to non-sailors like us the disadvantages he was feeling. Costs were racking up and more money was being put into kit and travelling but we saw James become less happy with Techno racing. It’s really frustrating to watch when wind is really blowing and see a good performance and then watch the total opposite in light winds. As a parent you feel so much for your child it’s uncomfortable for both them and you.

We then decided to take James on a Neilson holiday to Turkey – not that Andrew had any interest in watersports at all he wasn’t keen on the sea. I love water and swam and went out on the SUP but failed miserably at windsurfing as I’ve mentioned, but we went for James to sail in open water. That was when we were helped with our decision. I personally had no idea whilst there that he went out a couple of times with Lena Erdil. Obviously we know of her now but not then. She had a quick chat with us and said James was worth the investment if we were willing. Try saying no to that!

Not all parents can move forward but fortunately we felt able and willing to continue. We arrived home and drove him to Mumbles, Wales, for a UKWA event. I was horrified to see the wind conditions and the sea was so rough. James didn’t make the start line. But he flew about the inside just enjoying himself. As luck would have it a windsurfer we had never met came up and asked if he could have a word with him which he did and James moved onto formula. The windsurfer was Chris Bond.

Then came sponsorship. Cost for parents will always be an issue – not only kit but travelling and accommodation. It can be quite a scary thing hanging over your head hoping that you can get it all together so your child can get out on the water. James fortunately did very well at formula and won the youth title five times which then helped him get more sponsorship to help with costs.

Since moving onto slalom he’s gone from RRD to Simmer Style who are amazing with James and I for one am very grateful.

It was not long after James started formula racing that I volunteered to help out on the committee boat, firstly on the flags then moving around to wherever I was needed. I really enjoyed it and luckily the rougher the sea the more I am at home – not getting sea sick at all has been a massive bonus especially for the UKWA!

James then decided to move to slalom and in 2015 I became a regular on the water in the results boat, mainly, but sometimes on the committee boat. The days can be long, cold and wet but they are never boring! The crew are always good company and a laugh can always be had. But how does it feel when your son is going over the start line and going round the marks? Believe me, it’s terrifying. It’s a feeling you can’t quite explain. You’re worried he’ll drop a gybe and you don’t want to look, and then relieved and pleased when he crosses the finish line.

As time has gone on me not watching him hasn’t really changed much. I occasionally take a sneaky peek but usually Al, the other crew member on the boat says: ‘it’s ok to look he’s on the last leg’ and then I look. It’s been great to see him go over the finish line for sure and as time has passed he’s managed to get into gold finals – great improvements.

Sadly in 2016 Andrew was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, this time with no cure. Again the crew were awesome as were the slalom sailors. Everyone who comes along with the UKWA are amazing, no one made any us feel we shouldn’t be there, they just got on with it and came along for the journey with us, supporting and helping all the way. The windsurfing community have become more family than anything else.

Eventually I decided to move forward take the plunge in a more active role. I did my powerboat training at Colwyn Bay and then followed that with my Safety Boat qualification. In 2018 I took my RO exam at Lymington. After 8 years of James windsurfing it would seem I’m the one who has gained as much if not more than him. I love the water, I enjoy being on the boat, I enjoy the social side and the crew are amazing. The sport is ever changing but the people remain the same.

In August of this year Andrew passed away and when I looked around at his funeral, windsurfers and crew sat right alongside everyone else which goes to show what can happen if you give a little bit more to your child’s sport than normal. It can be a giver in more ways than one. Yes, the costs mount up, we started in B&B’s then we moved up in a fashion and got a caravan and started putting all the kit inside to get it around – not ideal but needs must. To be honest we’ve had some laughs trying to get the caravan to some of the locations! Eventually we got a motorhome which to start with pulled the trailer and then at last James was old enough to drive and he passed his test and we bought a van for him and his kit. We said goodbye to the trailer and I am now left with a motorhome and no kit to drag around the country, so I just drive along to the events with my three springer spaniels in tow and get stuck in with the rest of crew.

We have done all the UK events, we’ve gone to the IFCA’s in Texel and the Formula Worlds in Gallipoli and we have seen places we would never have gone if it wasn’t for windsurfing. We’ve met some great people and I have made some amazing friends and gained qualifications along the way. Overall is it worth it? Well, for me yes! Having returned from Speedweek 2018 and having watched windsurfers, kiters and boats sail through some tough conditions knowing I put everything into getting them all out on the water safely and for as long as possible is a great feeling. The added bonus this time was I watched James get 2nd Gold overall and a fastest of the day spot. It’s much less stressful watching them go for a speed time that’s for sure.

So what next? I’d like to go to Tarifa in the future with James for part of the winter. He trains there from January to April/May and if they ever need a RO for their training I’m game. Maybe I’ll go for my national qualification as well. I’ve just done the Salability event at Rutland and I really enjoyed that and I’ve also done the Nationals at Weymouth where I was Deputy RO for the Feva’s and Toppers – all new to me but I’m up for learning. For now there is just one event left and then a rest for the winter. Hopefully I’ll grab a ski trip and then head to Thailand to see my other son!

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