Young Guns On Board 

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Skandia Team GBR RS:X coach Dom Tidey knows what it’s like to coach real talent having helped Bryony Shaw to Beijing 2008 bronze.

That’s why when Dom says he is genuinely excited about the potential of the next crop of young British windsurf talent it’s worth taking note of a few of the names for future reference.  

After a phenomenally successful 2009, Britain’s Youth and Junior windsurfers have once again graced podium after podium at World and European level this year with 15-year-old Kieran Martin also winning bronze for Team GB at the first ever Youth Olympics in Singapore.  

Skandia Team GBR Development Squad sailor Izzy Hamilton finished her Youth career in style, the 18-year-old retaining her RS:X Youth World crown in Cyprus as well as also claiming ISAF Youth Worlds silver for the second year running.  Meanwhile, Britain’s boys picked up two top 10 finishes in Cyprus, with Connor Bainbridge fourth and Sam Sills, in his first year on the RS:X, seventh with both lads still having another year at Youth level.  

In the Juniors Emma Labourne won Under 15 Bic Techno Worlds silver in France less than a year after joining the RYA National Junior Squad, and Kieran Martin finished fourth Under 17 boy with the three sailors on the podium all a year older than him.    

For the past few years Nick Dempsey and Bryony Shaw have been synonymous with British windsurfing, collecting an impressive haul of Olympic, World, European medals between them.  

But Dom has little doubt the strength and depth of the sailors currently working their way up through the ranks means the competition to be British number one will be fiercer than it has ever been in the next decade.  

It is a battle he cannot wait for.  

“At the moment we’ve got six Under 19 sailors involved with Skandia Team GBR with Izzy in the Development Squad and the others as part of the Transitional Squad and training partner programme.   

“Because we’ve never really had this sort of strength and depth coming through our top windsurfers have often had to train with international sailors, which has its benefits, but I’d love to see the day when our men and women are training in all British fleets.  

“At Youth level we’ve still got some way to go in terms of being able to provide the same amount of training and contact time the French and Israeli sailors get with their coaches but that makes me even prouder of what we’re achieving at the Under 19 level and the impact it’s already having on feeding talent into the Olympic programme.”  

Unlike other Skandia Team GBR coaches, Dom is also the RYA RS:X Volvo Youth Squad coach and he works almost in tandem with Oli Woodcock, who oversees the RYA Junior Bic Techno Junior programme.  

Since the launch of the RYA’s Team15 nationwide windsurfing scheme in 2001, thousands of kids aged 15 and under have learned and developed new windsurfing skills under the guidance of specialist RYA coaches. Those who show the most racing promise are progressed through the RYA Zone and National Junior squads before joining the Youth, and even the STGBR, ranks.  

Izzy Hamilton and Skandia Team GBR Transitional sailor Ali Masters, now studying at Exeter and Plymouth universities respectively, are both products of this pathway and Dom says Izzy’s success in particular this year is a massive nod to the system. He insists you can’t look beyond Team15 as the reason Britain’s windsurfing scene has a renewed swagger.  

“We used to maybe get one good year when decent sailors would emerge, and then three average years when you had to eke out what you had. Now it just seems there is this continual flow of talent.  

“The coaches in Team15 and in the Zone and Junior squads are doing a pretty phenomenal job at turning young, enthusiastic kids into committed, focussed athletes, so by the time they get to Youth level they already know what is expected of them. Team15 has underpinned all this.”  

However, talented youngsters do not automatically translate into Olympic champions, although Dom believes working with both the Youth and Skandia Team GBR sailors can help make the step up smoother.  

“Sailors think the jump up to Youth sailing is hardcore but it’s nothing compared to the jump up to the Olympic programme. It can take six months for most of them to go from being overawed in the elite team environment to being inspired by it but having a coach with they’re already familiar with and feel comfortable with probably does make it a bit easier.  

“The first time it really hits anyone coming into the Skandia Team GBR programme is at the whole team multiclass training weeks. You’re just surrounded by Olympic and World champions as well as all the sports science specialists and coaches that come as part of the package.  

“It can be daunting but it really opens the kids’ eyes to just how much work they have to put in, in the gym, into planning over weeks, months and years, everything. This is where they make the transition from being just a windsurfer into a full-time racer who puts every ounce into their sport and it has to be managed carefully.”  

Yet Dom also thinks the inter-squad competition the sailors are now experiencing as youngsters cannot fail to stand them in good stead for making transitions.  

“Taking the step from Zones to the BIC Techno National Junior Squad is a big jump as is taking the step from Technos to the RS:X Youth Squad but if there are kids in those squads who are already World champions that’s very inspiring. Success breeds success and with the talent in the squads now the kids are already used to pushing each other hard to try to be the best in their age-group.”  

So should Dempsey and Shaw already be looking over their shoulders?

There is no harm in thinking they should be.  

“I know Bryony absolutely loves the fact there are female windsurfers coming through the system, she’s like a mother hen to them all!” Dom adds.  

“As a coach you’re always looking for that spark that a young sailor has got it. Izzy’s performance at the RS:X Youth Worlds surprised even her I think, she absolutely blitzed it and even when she had one blip with a 16th she came back with a bullet in the next race. That shows a lot of confidence and increasing maturity. And Sophie Bailey, who got ninth at the RS:X Youth Worlds, finished third in a race at the Senior RS:X Worlds in Denmark, which for me was just fantastic.  

“A lot of sailors who have been through the programme are now coaching at Team15 and Junior level, which is great and as long as the kids are being taught the right techniques, and the coaches are keeping the sessions light-hearted and fun, there is no reason why we shouldn’t start seeing more and more British windsurfers making an impact at the highest level.”