Words: Colin Dixon
Pics: Adrian Irvine, Dasher Films, Mira Strashilova, Windsurf Tenerife
Known to many as a globe trotting pro windsurfing coach Colin ‘Whippy’ Dixon’s windsurf teaching career stems way back. With stints in Vass, a helping hand to PWA voice Ben Proffitt in the commentary box, owner of Windsurfcoaching.com and part of new Tenerife travel company Black Sands Travel LTD you could say Mr Dixon has his fingers in many windsurfing pies. Over to Whippy for more.
I first jumped on a board at eight years old having had two days of lessons on the south coast of Cornwall. The instructor did say to my dad that I should perhaps try a different sport, but it did finally click in the last hour. We didn’t have any kiddy kit so my first sail was a mistral 3.7 wave sail on a 460 mast and I couldn’t lift it! Every six months my dad would take me round to my friend’s house who had a swimming pool, to test if I could lift it out of the water! Once I was ten I was strong enough to get the thing out of the water and started sailing at Siblyback Lake in the holidays properly.
Do I ever go back to Siblyback? Not as much as I’d like. I’m not often down that part of the country and when I am I favor the wave spots. The last time I sailed there was about 10 years ago. Do I rate it? Yes! It was unbelievable. It is a lake so it taught me how to read the gusts and lulls and also it had short runs meaning I practised turning, a lot! Also in a northerly it’s the windiest place in Cornwall, special days.
I was working for Club Vass since 2004. When I came back from a trip to Australia and had sold all my kit I tried to find a job where I could use centre gear. Club Vass actually turned me down but then offered me a job in Dahab as they were desperate! I spent 15 months in Dahab before going to Vassiliki where I then did 10 summer seasons in a row, three winter seasons at Club Margarita and two more running Club Dahab. It was one of the best experiences of my life, I met so many lovely people and made some of my best friends. I would highly recommend it to anybody. I loved it but my time came to move on and forge a path of my own. I owe an awful amount to Club Vass making it all a possibility for me, so a massive thank you to them!
It was a very hard place to leave but seasonal life can get too much (after 11 years) and I found myself doing more and more private coaching and really enjoying it so the time seemed right to launch Windsurf Coaching. Would I go back? Hell yea! I love Club Vass. I did go back for the first time in about three years (2017) and it was great to catch up with everybody. Also now that foiling is a big part of the game, it is a really good location for that, just before it gets mega windy.
Would I go back to do clinics? I would to go back and do Speed Week with Dave White when he gets back on the water. I don’t think I would run my own clinics there, I am most happy when teaching in the waves now. I do run flat water courses in Sardinia, but I find the waves more enjoyable myself and there’s a bigger gap in the market for guys who want to make the transition from freeride to wave – those who really want to go out on the coast but fail at the first hurdle. Just launching and getting out, that’s what has made my intro to wave clinics so popular.
Yes, I am hugely focusing on waves as I said. Not only the launching and landing and intro to waves stuff but also people looking to forward, back loop, push loop and get their turns and aerials dialled. It has taken me away from freestyle a little bit, but to be completely honest, after 10 solid years of doing freestyle I got a little bit bored, partly because I could not keep up with the moves the guys are doing now and partly because it doesn’t offer the same rush and experience of catching a wave. Anyone who has ever caught and ridden a wave knows you can’t take that feeling away, it is such a nice feeling and I get that with every wave.
When I first started windsurfing I got into racing, a little bit of One Design, course racing, Aloha. Then when I went to Australia I was exposed to waves even before freestyle. When freestyle first came around we would all try on the way in to the beach from the waves in Australia. It wasn’t until I started working for Club Vass that freestyle really kicked off and was getting a lot bigger with new switch moves. Club Vass was perfect as all of the destinations were high wind and flat water allowing me to get pretty good pretty quick, for the level at the time, which lead to sponsorship and competitions. That was my main focus but there was and always will be a love of waves so I am thankful now that I have the opportunity to wave sail and teach in the waves. I still do a bit of freestyle I just don’t bend as much as the kids do anymore!
I mostly run my clinics abroad for a few reasons. Firstly I love the UK and there are some incredible spots but we all know how inconsistent and unreliable the weather can be. It meant I spent a lot of time in the first few years of windsurf coaching travelling around the country to different spots and the wind wouldn’t show up so neither would the students, which was a shame as there is still so much you can learn in light wind! Abroad, if we take Tenerife for example, it is super cheap and easy to fly from anywhere. You could even do a long weekend there. Return flights in winter can be as low as £50, which is even cheaper than the petrol it would cost you to drive from London to Cornwall. It is 10 minutes to the spot from the airport, you could be sailing the same day as you fly in a summer suit with good waves. Also when people come abroad they commit themselves more, they book the time off, and they are more relaxed and enjoy the whole experience. They get to see a new destination, enjoy the culture and atmosphere as well as getting a good amount of time on the water.
It can be hard to get clients to attend initially. It takes a while to build up your name and reputation and also find spots that work well with the time of year we run the clinics and the level of guests. 2017 has been really successful and I am already taking bookings for 2018. Of course the first couple of years is a learning process. I met a lot of windsurfers working at Club Vass who showed interest but actually my main source of guests comes from word of mouth, meeting people on the beach, repeat business and guests seeing their progression. I have one great client from the Channel Islands who attends the clinics and his improvement has been vast, going from an intermediate two years ago to landing forwards and wave riding. When he goes out as his local beach and people see the change the coaching speaks for itself. So it’s mainly by word of mouth that we can start to grow.
Windsurfing in general I owe my whole life to. It has allowed me to travel the world, meet some incredible people and kept me physically fit (I am not a gym person!). You can go to Australia for example and see the country as a tourist but if you go somewhere to windsurf you get to see the real place and meet locals. Everywhere I have gone I have found windsurfers, as a whole, seem to be so friendly and inclusive. If you turn up at beach you’ve never sailed you could go up to a windsurfer and ask him/her about the spot, the best place launch and any difficulties and they are always more than willing to have an in depth, 30 minute, chat about it and invite you for a beer afterwards! I would recommend anyone to have a go, it can take you to amazing places. Also the beauty of our sport is no matter what level, beginner to pro, whatever you are trying to achieve, waterstart to pushlooop, it is always exciting.
Has windsurfing participation dropped? No I don’t think so. I still see lots of kids getting into it all around the world.
Would I base myself in the UK? Yes, as long as I could be close to an airport or next to really nice wave. I do love the UK but it all depends on being able to easily do my job.
I would like to thank all my sponsors: Goya/ Quatro, MFC, ION, Hey Dude Shoes and Different Sunglasses. Also a massive thank you to Club Vass for taking a chance on me, Luke Baillie for getting me out of my hometown, giving me the kick up the arse to go windsurfing and getting me addicted to the sport. Andy ‘Bubble’ Chambers, Ollie Scott and Max Rowe for just being legends and having the best time growing up in the sport, competing with them and pushing each other. Mira for helping me out with sponsorship and helping me to meet all the right people. All the shops and everybody else that has supported me along the way. When you feel like giving up, even the pat on the back to say it’s going to be alright, you can do this, really meant a lot! And not least of all my mum and dad!