Words & pics: Tez Pavenieks
I’ve read many windsurfing books, possibly all of them. The majority come as manuals and guides or training manuscripts, very few in the vein of Hooked!. Some more autobiographical windsurfing reads buck the trend, providing entertainment value; however, this unique publication from award-winning author and researcher Steve West and Photographer Ulli Steer is an altogether different beast.
Being aux fait with Steve West’s (Westy’s) writing style, owning his ‘Stand Up Paddle’ book ‘Bible’ as it’s dubbed and having read many of his articles, the prose in ‘Hooked’ is very familiar. What Steve and Ulli (whose photography and design skills complement the written word) manage to achieve is a windsurfing book like no other that will appeal to recreational windsurfers and industry types alike. If you’ve ever been interested in windsurfing in any form of reference, ‘Hooked! – Windsurfing’s Untold Stories’ should be given your attention.
Being a magazine editor, I’m astounded by the image quality. Take it from me; finding suitable hi-resolution photographs for story accompaniment from the modern era can be tricky enough. To have compiled so many historical images of superior quality is astounding, particularly when considering the niche aspect of windsurfing. Many of these photos should have been long gone. Fortunately, Seer, who acted as Mistral’s lead photographer for 25 years, has maintained a collection of over 100,000 historical windsurfing images making possible a historical windsurfing catalogue, which, together with West’s writing style, ensures ‘Hooked!’ succeeds like no other. Consequently, you get a sumptuous coffee table-style publication with plenty of old-school windsurfing imagery to drool over that’s inspiring eye candy by any measure.
At this point, cynics may pick up on the fact much of the content exemplifies Mistral in its historical narrative to get its message across, and it would be easy to label it as a giant advertorial exercise, especially if you consider Westy’s decade-plus tenure with the brand. But putting this into context, together with West’s encyclopedic watersports knowledge, Mistral remains one of the leading and most significant windsurfing brands during the pioneering days of the sport in Europe, a long-time sponsor of Robby Naish, and a pre-cursor brand to F2, which the book also focuses upon.
Frankly, it’s impossible not to talk about the early days of windsurfing without Mistral in the mix. In addition to the extensive research of over three years and the many interviews, Westy’s commentary tells things as they were, and the level of analysis is exemplary. There’s no whitewashed, rose-tinted spectacle of naval gazing; ‘Hooked’ attempts an honest exposé of the sport in such a way never presented before, describing how windsurfing came to be and makes the reading all the better for it.
The contents, as mentioned, will appeal to anyone in the watersports industry, pro-sailors and weekend warriors. Being a part of the sport from the other side of the fence, I’m constantly surprised and bewildered by the sport’s internal politics; however, reading Peter Brockhaus’ chapter describing the skulduggery with severe ramifications, you can sense the genesis of such a landscape. Fortunately, windsurfing politics are better than they were. Even though it hasn’t entirely disappeared, this hangover occasionally crops up.
This brings me to another interesting point about this book. Wounds heal slowly; in some cases, these haven’t healed completely and may never do so; the bitterness surrounding inevitable clashes during the development of the sport from yesteryear is clearly without closure, or at least that’s the sense you get reading the book. This comes back to my point about Westy’s text pulling no punches. ‘Hooked’ doesn’t glaze over the issues windsurfing faced, nor the problems and issues individuals with vested interests in the sport were confronted with; as such, it offers excellent entertainment value and further insight into the sport’s inception and evolution.
All chapters offer something for everyone, including a fascinating interview with Robby Naish, the most extended and in-depth you will ever read, the last given before Naish, the brand sold at the end of 2022. Robby needs no introduction. He was, is and always will be Mr Windsurfing. Without his contribution to equipment innovation, board sports would be poorer for it, and if anyone thinks Robby is irrelevant these days, think again. Nearing sixty, he still charges hard and continues to be an ambassador for the sport and its connected offshoot disciplines. The Brockhaus chapter is a bruising exposé of Europe, taking on the likes of Hoyle Schweitzer and Windsurfing International. For sheer black comedy, this chapter is head-shakingly stark. Who’d want to work in windsurfing during that period? Then there’s a chapter regarding Windsurfing Hawaii and its influence in taking the sport in a new direction towards the surf and high winds. It’s all riveting stuff.
‘Hooked! – Windsurfing’s Untold Stories’ is a fabulous real-deal account of windsurfing’s early years when it became a proper sport. Its visuals only add to what is a fascinating read. Featuring recounts from some of windsurfing’s early industry movers and shakers – some of whom may not have been the household names you may be used to; it’s eye-opening yet entertaining on multiple levels. Windsurfing is different from the headline watersport it once was, and for any rider remotely connected, ‘Hooked’ is a must-have for your library.