Poppin’ the cork – Corky Kirkham pro windsurfer profile

Words: Corky Kirkham

Pics: Gilbert Bara

Corky Kirkham has been a longstanding and recognisable face on the UK windsurfing scene since the 90s. Residing in the Canary Islands, Fuerteventura, Corky has had his fair share of windsurfing success as well as hosting many top level riders, and everyday sailors, at his infamous Corky’s Bar. With a new set of sponsors in the mix and a renewed focus on his sailing we caught up with Corky for a natter.

It all started for me on a holiday in Spain. My dad bought a second hand board to the beach.  He gave up soon after and I got left with it. So after I sat watching everyone else sailing I decided to give it a go. I was up and running straight away. That was in the sea so when I got back to Newcastle I started taking my kit to the local lake. My mum used to drop me off for whole day, glad get rid me for a while, and I’d sail until she came back to pick me up.

I soon got better and I wanted to get back into sea sailing. Stronger winds also became my thing. Gales were what I looked out for as there’s no better feeling than jumping.

In Fuerte I also do a lot of stand up paddle boarding – it’s ideal when there’s no wind. Great for cardio and another sport where I get to enjoy the ocean. I also go jogging to stay fit for those big winds ahead.

I’ve been windsurfing for more than 25 years. I love it and still get a buzz from seeing the trees blowing. When it’s like that I just have to go. It’s why I moved to Fuerteventura years ago. I wanted to concentrate on windsurfing – my motivation, as anyone knows, has always been super high. With sun and wind in the mix, like you get here, it’s through the roof.

Being sponsored these days is a lot more technical and precise in what companies expect of you. In the old days you could receive pretty much loan boards/sails to compete if you were good enough. There was no social media – FB, Instagram and such like. It was just you being at the beach, sailing and pushing your supporters by having it on the water. Nowadays it’s all about contracts: what/where you go, which events you attend and basically it being a job. My new role is as international team rider for NoveNove, plus being their brand agent in the UK and here on Fuerteventura. My other deals are with Challenger Sails from Italy. We’re hoping to get these into the UK soon. Pawn Future Kings Clothing, Gecko Headgear, Hey Dude Shoes, K4 Fins, Secretodelsur Icecream and Coffee Shop and Eastcoastairbrush all help me out as well.

I showcase the kit, compete at certain events and be on call, along with Luke Wilkes. He sorts out sales visits me. But also my job is to really spread the name, highlight the logo and band the word about on social media. This is how the world works now. To get sales and have potential punters see what the gear can do it’s all about action shots!

I discovered ‘the Rock’ when I was still sailing in Newcastle. I’d follow Gary Gibson and see his pics of insane conditions. I knew Fuerte was rough and crazy and wanted to go! All my mates went to Matagorda in Lanza, but I only ever dreamed of Fuerte. The crystal waters and pure white Sahara sandy beaches definitely drove me to come here and live.

Moving back to the UK isn’t an option. I own my own home here and am very happy being 10 yards from Rocky Point. I do head back to visit though. For all my sponsors I need to be there sometimes for promo purposes.

Corky’s Bar was infamous – a real colourful period of my life (and no doubt any others who visited). It was insane! I had it for 15 years but as town got busier, and more bars opened up, each one had less people in. Where I used to get 80 each night the number started dropping. When numbers dipped pretty low it was slowly dawning on me that time had come to sell up and sail even more!

I’ve had plenty of ‘names’ in Corky’s. And I’ve made some great friends through it that still come and visit. Timo Mullen stays with me when he flies over. Andy King, John Skye, Andy Funnell (RIP) and numerous others have spent memorable summers sailing Punta Blanca and other spots.

One particular story I do recall was Bjorn Dunkerbeck one night stood on the pool table, shirt off, drinking Vodka Redbull’s until 4am. Bjorn being tall got caught by my ceiling fan and slashed his forehead! There are countless other stories, most of which I can’t describe here…

Now I’m freesailing more we’ve been producing drone videos of Fuerteventura breaks.

Sponsors have been very keen on this alongside other social media stuff. My first drone safari video got over 6000 views so it’s working quite nicely.

Has windsurfing changed? I’d say it definitely dropped off when kiting came on the scene. Only diehard windsurfers wouldn’t look at a kite. But then so many of my friends tried it and came back to windsurfing, eventually. It’s having a resurgence definitely – all over from the UK to the Canaries. There are increasing numbers of sailors on the water again. You can see it every time you head to the beach.

Sometimes you have to take a step back look at where you live and how good it is. I’ve always wanted to live here. It’s pretty amazing as I did it all on my own. There are other spots I fancy hitting up. Mauritius and Cape Verde to name two. I’ve promised Josh Angulo I will go over see his bar/restaurant set up. But ultimately I’m super happy on Fuerte.

The wipeout side of my sailing has always been a thing. Crashes and bail outs are the only way you learn. You have to go through countless moves before you nail them. My trademark Eaglewings are still sick to do. I’m also into Crazy Pete’s at the mo – hence the bails! It’s so cool. There’s always a new jump to try.

I always stretch in morning and must have coffee. I don’t eat in the morning –  not when going on a boom session at least. Post-sesh I stretch again and maybe have a late night jog. Bruises though are all part of the game,

My plans this year are to push NoveNove. We’re looking for only four shops to stock sups and windsurf boards. I’m then competing in Tiree again and will have more drone edits dropping soon.

Windsurfing has given me the best life ever so I intend to do it as long as I can full power. Injuries are never far away but you can always come back stronger.

Final shout to all mates in the UK. To Luke Wilkes for getting me to comps, Timo Mullen for always making me laugh, my son’s Josh in Argentina and Jason here on Fuerteventura and my mum, dad and sister in Scotland. Also to my sponsors who without I’d still only have a skateboard!


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