Pics: RYA, Dave White, Hannah Reilly
Following the Olympic Games in Rio last year, 2017 provides the perfect opportunity to inspire more people than ever to give windsurfing a go. But how do you turn this opportunity into action and run tasters and open days that give people the best experience to keep them coming back for more?
The Chase Sailing Club, near Walsall, and Hollingworth Lake Water Activity Centre, near Rochdale, are two organisations with great track records in converting ‘taster’ windsurfers into regulars. Mark Buckingham, The Chase SC Training Principal, and Alister Pittman, Duty Manager at Hollingworth Lake, help explain how to do it well.
Know your audience
Who you attract falls into a handful of groups – total newbies who have seen your event advertised, people who have windsurfed before and want to do it again and family and friends of windsurfers who want to have a go themselves.
Having kit available to suit all, adults and kids, is key.
Chase runs two-hour free windsurfing tasters as part of its club Open Day with around 50 people typically try windsurfing over six hours, so Mark says kit variety is crucial.
“We’ll have Hifly Motions and Mambos and Starboards, with the full rig range from 2.5 up for people to try. We’re blessed as we have Boardwise right on our doorstep so they bring the latest kit for people who may already have had a bit of experience or are windsurfers, to trial too. This means there’s a real mix of abilities on the water at the same time, which is very aspirational for people having their first go.
“The most popular rig for tasters tends to be 3.5, but it’s not uncommon to get some bigger men who insist they will need a bigger sail. It only takes one decent gust to convince them they actually don’t! You can tell pretty quickly if someone has tried windsurfing before so you can migrate them up a size easily.”
The value of a warm welcome
You never get a second chance to make a good first impression, so picking the right friendly face(s) to welcome people, and having good signage, that’s up early and shows you off to be a professional, well-prepared outfit, is so important.
Hollingworth Lake is one centre that hosted an RYA Push The Boat Out event last May, with pre-book £5 hour-long tasters on. But Alister believes as many people just drop in to have-a-go because they’ve seen what is going on, as actually book in advance, and Holllingworth is always ready to welcome both.
He said: “We find some people are more nervous about trying windsurfing than sailing as they don’t want to embarrass themselves falling in. But when they see other people doing tasters it gives them confidence to try. We always keep slots available so people who may have come to try sailing but see windsurfing and want to try it, or those who might just be walking around the lake, can have a go too.”
Social media, local media publicity, advertising, these are all important facets of raising event awareness, but word of mouth and drop-ins have proved to be the most critical things in getting numbers through the door time and time again.
Sense of achievement
Both Chase and Hollingworth have clear taster session plans.
On arrival at Chase visitors are welcomed to the clubhouse where they are asked what they’re interested in. Wannabe windsurfers are taken to a lifejacket station, they then get 10-15 minutes on a simulator before being issued with a wetsuit and then getting on the water with one of six RYA instructors or experienced windsurfers. The aim is to get them sailing in a straight line and not falling off.
It’s a similar routine at Hollingworth, as Alister continues.
“Tasters introduce the absolute basics. Using the simulator enables us to demonstrate board-balancing technique, what happens if you stand on the side and in the middle etc, and doing static turns. Once people are on the water we have a mark laid and the aim of the session is to get round the mark and get back.”
Give people a pathway
You want to capture the immediate buzz that comes from achievement so use the post-taster time to let people know what they can do next, RYA courses and beyond.
Chase, for example, has Thursday night windsurfing with further informal tuition and intermediate clinic-style sessions, while people who miss the Open Day and/or who would like to do a course but want to try it first are can go along for a pre-arranged taster session. The club’s Friday night socials are also a big draw.
Hollingworth offer a 10% discount on RYA courses for people signing up at Push The Boat Out, while they run regular additional tasters every Sunday with pay-and-play kit is available for people with a bit more experience too. Meanwhile kids doing windsurfing as part of a five-day holidays multi-sports course package get £7 a week membership to Hollingworth’s activity club, which includes Team15 and doing their RYA windsurfing Stage 3 and 4. Many of these go on to become instructors too.
Whatever the weather
Everyone wants bright sunshine and perfect beginner breeze. But don’t despair if it isn’t like this. Clubs and centres that stay open even on ‘bad’ days often report they get better course and membership uptake, as these are the super keen bods.
You can still show off your facilities and give visitors a real feel for who you are and what you offer, including possibly getting them on the simulator. Plus it gives you another chance to invite them back!
Mark concludes: “Windsurfing runs all year round at Chase, but it’s now we start seeing new faces. What we do works for us and we’re looking forwards to the year ahead.”
To find out more visit – www.rya.org.uk/go/PTBO