Words and pics: Steve Bland
A snippet of encouragement from the pen of Steve Bland. Life’s certainly full of ups and downs and Steve’s nutshell version certainly highlights this. Find out more about Steve, his wife Rachael and her legacy by looking up the podcast ‘You, Me and the Big C ’.
I was 11 years old when I fell in love with windsurfing. My best mate Will and I signed up to a course in the school holidays at our local lake and the deal was sealed within ten minutes of the first session. We were hooked. It feels like an awfully long time ago now as I sit on my sofa at the age of 39. It’s been about six years since I set foot on a board. I’ll come back to that.
I can’t pretend it was the adrenalin rush that we loved from the start because this lake was little more than a pond, and the boards carrying us across the water were as far from the modern kit as you can imagine. For some reason long and thin was deemed the right approach for beginners back in 1991 and that meant a lot of falling in, a little bit of windsurfing, and precious little turning round. But we really were hooked and after a little begging, it wasn’t long before my parents bought me my first set of kit.
Now I realise this will only mean anything to those readers of a certain vintage, but my first board was a Vinta 320. Yep, 320cm long….and not very wide. It had a tie on boom and a mast that didn’t bend one bit but I loved it. Will had also managed to persuade his folks to splash out on a board called a Formula 918 and we were away. While most kids were playing football or tennis after school, we were dragging our parents down to Boundary Water Park, in Cheshire, to splash about for an hour or two. In those days if you could crack a flare gybe you were doing better than most. I gather things have changed somewhat.
I’ll skip a bit here because the next few years followed a predictable pattern of development. Kit came and went; a Tiga Renegade was swapped for a Tiga 275, then an F2 Axis and then a Mistral something or other; but the love of the sport certainly didn’t.
When we were 21 Will and I headed off for our first season. We’d seen a stand at the London Boat Show for Minorca Sailing Holidays and before we knew it we’d signed up to spend six months in the Balearic sunshine. It was magic. The wind didn’t always blow but teaching day in day out brought me a different understanding of the sport. And more importantly it led me to meet some fantastic people who have remained close friends ever since.
After two seasons in Minorca, I decided to leave the safety of the north west of England and seek a new life on the south coast. I’d seen a job with Andy Biggs Windsurfing that involved a bit of teaching, mixed in with a bit of shop work and I went for it. Another cracker of a decision. That job afforded me a lifestyle that I still crave. I’d close the shop on Hayling Island at 5 after spending a day talking about windsurfing, and be on the water by 5.15. It was amazing.
I’m sure many of you will know of a guy called Emile Kott. Emile’s a good mate from Minorca actually, and I’ve always loved sailing with him. I’d been working with Andy Biggs for a couple of years when an opportunity came up to go and work with Emile in Jericoacoara, in Brazil. I leapt at the chance and it wasn’t long before Mr Kott and I were learning Portuguese while trying our very best not to be too smug to friends back home about the fact we were sailing in 30 knots every day. There was a bit of teaching in there too, but not enough to get in the way of all the fun.
Jeri provided me with my very best windsurfing memories. Sailing with kids like Edvan de Souza, who have since gone on to big things, was a massive privilege, but after six months in Jeri we returned home.
I guess that’s when I started my flirtation with the ‘real world’. I was still living on the south coast but my job as a journalist was curtailing my water time. It was still manageable until around about 2010-2011, when I joined the BBC. Suddenly I was working in London, and before I knew it, my job had relocated back up to the not so sunny north west. I was back where I’d started and although my career was going nicely, it felt like my windsurfing life was over. It was two hours to the coast and no-one around me had ever set foot on a board.
I met my wife-to-be Rachael, a beautiful and glamourous newsreader in 2011, and by the time we reached September 2013 we were married. Our little boy Freddie followed soon after and it just wasn’t realistic to take out a whole day to go sailing. Plus there was the added complication that what kit I had was by this time spread neatly around my south coast friends. They were just looking after it apparently.
I’m going to jump on a few years now to, I guess, the reason I’m writing this. In November 2016 Rachael was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a particularly nasty variety actually, and one that didn’t seem too keen to respond to treatment. She went through round after round of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and even some trial drugs. Nothing worked. It was a horrible slog and took its toll on every part of our lives.
In September 2018 my darling girl, and Freddie’s wonderful mummy, died.
It hit me like a sledgehammer. Our world was turned upside down in that moment and as I write this, ten months on, I still haven’t even begun to get my head around it. Rachael was everything to us and the hole she has left will never be filled. And it’s genuinely one of my biggest regrets that she never saw me windsurf. In fact I’m still not completely sure that she even believed I could ever do it!
And that brings me nicely onto something that happened recently. Out of the blue I had a call from Andy Biggs on a Monday morning. Was I going to be home on the Thursday of that week to accept a delivery? I was, although I had no idea what was coming.
Sure enough on Thursday the parcels started to arrive. First a box from Andy containing a new wetsuit, an extension, a mast base, some footstraps and a letter from Emile explaining what was going on. He had decided to get me back on the water so had rallied all of our sailing friends to put together a set of kit for me. The next parcel contained a collection of sails donated by my incredible mates. And the third, a board.
I haven’t actually cried an awful lot since Rach died. Not recently anyway. But when these parcels arrived, I broke down. What an incredible thing for my amazing friends to do, especially when you consider that I hadn’t even seen most of them for at least six or seven years.
So now the challenge is to get back on the water. It’s a little tricky being by myself but I’ve got a brilliant family who I know will support me. And I’ll have to work out what I’m doing again….it’s just like riding a bike right?
Windsurfing was such a huge part of my life for so long that just I cannot wait to get back on the water. And I want to take Freddie with me on this adventure so that he can experience the thrill of sailing too. And I really think getting back on the water will do wonders for my mental health. I’ve found real solice in a bit of escapism when times get tough and flying across the water, hanging on for dear life and throwing yourself into the air takes some beating on that front.
The last few months and years have been really tough but thanks to the generosity of some incredible people, windsurfing – and a bit of paddleboarding too – is going to play a big part in making sure Freddie and I have plenty of wonderful times ahead of us. Since I last sailed I’m a little bit older, a little fatter, a lot balder and a little more battle weary. But I’ve come out of it with a determination to enjoy life and a carefree attitude that tends to go quite nicely with windsurfing. See you on the water!