Words: Ben Page
Students have windsurfed since the sport was invented, but during 2000 the Student Windsurf Association emerged to unite them under one roof (it was almost certainly a pub). Since then, the SWA has truly spread its wings and grown into the biggest windsurf entities in the country with a great competition series to boot. Run by a dedicated group of students and graduates, the SWA is a powerhouse for getting people out on the water and having a blast. Here we go behind the scenes to get the lowdown on this gargantuan operation and see what makes it such a success story.
From the start the whole focus of student windsurfing has been to get people trying new things. Whether you’re a fresher windsurfing for the first time, or an advanced sailor heading out for their first experience of waves, if you’re a windsurfer with a taste for a party then the SWA is the place to be!
The current SWA series consists of eight incredible events all across the country. The first, and largest, is the Aussie Kiss Festival in October at Roadford Lake, Devon. Heading into its 16th year, this is the biggest beginner windsurf event in the country, seeing hundreds of complete novices take to the water over two days. At the same time, the banks of the lake are packed with people watching the freestyle and one of the world’s true great spectator sports; SWA team racing. Teams of three from each university race in a relay type format, swapping gear at the end of each leg. Invariably total carnage ensues as teams try to overtake each other both on the course and while swapping round. For free sailing there is demo gear for those who don’t have their own, courtesy of long-time sponsor Boardwise. All this incredible action is set in a giant festival style campsite right at the lake itself, of course featuring the legendary AK fancy dress party.
The rest of the year features two types of event, the first being ‘Core’ events. These are based on lakes across the country aimed at beginners, intermediates, freestylers, jelly wrestlers and racers of the student world. University windsurf clubs host hundreds of visitors on their sofas and floors and take them on nocturnal excursions into the host city to enjoy more SWA fancy dress parties. Currently Core events are held in London, Swansea and Birmingham, but change location every few years in order to give different clubs a chance to shine at hosting.
The second type of events form the Puravida SWA Wave Series. This standalone series takes newbie wave sailors to the finest surf beaches in the UK. With events in Cornwall, Rhosneigr and South Wales, it is the perfect opportunity to get into waves under the watchful eye of the safety crew. For the more experienced sailors the competition side recognises the ultimate champion at the end of the year.
Anyone who can waterstart is welcome and it is fantastic to see sailors develop over their time at university. Events feature clinics on every aspect of wave sailing and equipment to help sailors push on to the next level. Recentlt the SWA has seen a surge in standard in the wave arena. This year former BWA ladies champion Sara Kellett took home the top prize, courtesy of ION accessories, looping and hacking on her way to victory. These wave events are also hosted by university windsurf clubs, and as ever, there are the infamous SWA fancy dress parties!
The finale to the year is BUCS Nationals at a fantastic new location in Colwyn Bay, North Wales. Here the (sort of) serious racing for the coveted BUCS medals happens, as well as the crowning of champions for the entire year in beginner, intermediate, advanced and team racing, freestyle and waves. This event is always a climactic send-off to the year as everyone enjoys one big blowout before exam season hits home. Another event with a festival vibe, everyone camps in a field and (you guessed it) enjoys another massive fancy dress party – this time in a barn!
Student windsurfing is about so much more than just the events. There are dozens of university windsurf clubs across the country, each teaching beginners, training instructors and carpooling to the beach. All these clubs have their own social calendars, trips, holidays and parties galore. If your uni doesn’t have a club, then start one! It just takes is a pile of keenos, a couple of mates and you’re more than equipped to start a windsurf club.
In aid of those creating clubs, as well as those taking the reins of existing ones, the SWA holds an annual presidents training weekend to pass on the collective wisdom to new club leaders. Held in a top secret SWA facility hidden somewhere in Wales, this (of course) involves a fancy dress party (are you detecting a pattern here?). As a student you have a spectacular amount of free time, so make the most of it: find your windsurf club, come to the SWA events and meet the 600 other people who do the same each year.