It’s not all about the winning… is it? Notes on competing in the British Wave Sailing series.

Words: Mark Dowson. 

Photos: Richard Whitson

It was just after the Cornwall Wave Classic that I was posed an interesting question by a fellow windsurfer via the ‘ethersphere’ known as Facebook. Adrian has never competed in a BWA wave event and is a prospective competitor in the Master’s Fleet (over 40’s).

 Adrian West 

‘Be interested in reading an interview with Mark to see what is needed to win the masters division.’

My gut reaction to this was to reply, ‘Go and compete in the Tiree Wave Classic 2020!’ After further contemplation and much head-scratching it still has to be the number one practical tip to win any of the overall fleet titles. To get into the top UK overall rankings you need to do Tiree (since it rarely fails to produce a result) as well as the other events: it’s as simple as that. Due to annual work commitments I’ve only been lucky enough to attend Tiree once, back in 2018, and that proved to be an amazing experience that lived up to all my expectations and to be honest surpassed them. The island is truly stunning; our idyllic cottage with its roaring open fire, the unique tranquillity and quirkiness of the island, the military-like precision of the organisation of the TWC machine headed by William Maclean, the social pint, rubbing shoulders with sword brandishing Pros at the prizegiving and of course the windsurfing competition made it a priceless and unforgettable week. Sitting at home whilst the 2019 event was in full swing knowing I was missing out on all the fun, the beauty of the island, the comradery and challenge was hard to bear.

I ought to point out at this juncture how I feel I owe a great deal to the BWA, namely Nigel Treacy and Geoff Hautman. Over the years I’ve competed they have given up their free time and worked tirelessly behind the scenes using their knowledge, skills and experience to make the BWA tour continue to flourish in conjunction with both the Event Hosts and Head Judges. I’d like to unreservedly thank them for their contribution.

Back to the question in hand, as you’d expect, the Pros are at the highest level and put on the main show. Importantly, the route that young, aspiring wave sailors gain access to their ranks is via winning the Amateur Fleet title. The Ladies is also a highly competitive, sporting and friendly open fleet. The Masters is a slightly different kettle of fish, still highly competitive within its own ranks, but perhaps a little more relaxed with the added variables of ageing bodies and (you’d hope) slightly wiser heads. This creates, in my opinion at least, a wide-open field for prospective Masters where anyone has the chance of getting into the overall top 10. As long as you can wave ride and put in the odd jump, then you are in with a chance to progress, especially if the conditions dictate that only riding is to be scored. Sailing a heat is not the same as free sailing and it is a whole lot of adrenaline-fuelled fun in my book.

Whilst the Nike style – ‘Just Do It!’ encouragement is exactly what it takes to win, it doesn’t convey why embarking on the challenge of doing all of the BWA Tour events is such a rewarding process. For me adopting a mindset where you embrace and take enjoyment from the multitude of challenges is vital. Facing up to the possibility of losing, organising ferries, accommodation, equipment and fitting in the training both on and off the water all add to the experience and are part of the fun of doing the BWA tour. Only after taking on the challenge can you discover for yourself why it is such a great thing to do (even if you don’t end up on the podium). For many of us just being part of it all and improving on the water is more than enough. The social reward of meeting like-mined people in beautiful windsurfing locations and sharing the odd beer or two should also not be underestimated!

I’ve been competing for a number of years now and for most of them I was nowhere near the podium. It was Dave White who first encouraged Chris Sykes and I to try a BWA wave comp and we adopted his suggested mantra of not going to win but to enjoy and improve. This has served us very well and it is only in recent years I’ve enjoyed any podium success. That being said, I’m not getting any younger and I’ve been lucky so I’m not banking on winning any more Masters titles; getting though a heat, going to all the events, remaining injury free, volunteering at the FuturePro Camps, sailing alongside the Pros and continuing to improve will be reward enough in itself.

For me the BWA events have provided a wide array of experiences, opportunities and inspiration.  Listening to a Mark ‘Sparky’ Hosegood event talk for example, chatting to him and the pros about technique and heat strategy, watching the FuturePros being coached has all led to personal mini-revelations, insights and improvements not to mention watching the Pro heats.

Cornwall 2019

The cool thing about competition is that you really don’t know who is going to win. I’d luckily managed to take 1st place in the Masters Fleet in Cornwall; I say luckily with no sense of false modesty, as I was more surprised than anyone at the result. I know most of the fleet well and have great respect and fondness for all of the like-minded wave sailors. I’d already judged the competition I was up against and was content and half expected to be knocked out in any of the heats leading to the final.

The Future Pros Project

I’ve been involved (as a volunteer) over the last three years with the Future Pros and my time spent with the young ‘Future Pros’ and their coaches has been both rewarding and inspirational. The project is in its second successful year thanks to generous sponsorship from The Mailing Room and Amiri Construction. Time spent with William Maclean (Host of the Tiree Wave Classic and owner of Wild Diamond Tiree), coaches Gavin Dunlop, Tris Levie, newly recruited Sam Ross and the kids have been a great deal of fun and an invaluable experience. Sailing with them and in particular with Will Roland has been great boost to this old master, they keep you young, you see their energy, passion and the youthful exuberance they have for our sport and it is infectious!

So back to the opening question and what does it take? Just make the trip to Tiree or any of the other BWA events, meet like-minded sailors and see where the challenges and adventures takes you and your sailing.


  1. Great article Mark. Really sets the scene nicely. I think I’ll take up these wise words and make some of those trips.. even if Cornwall and tyrie both look like the devil’s tack, just taking part will be an enriching experience

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