This OnBoard Girl Can - inspire young windsurfers

24 Jan 20

What did you do at Christmas when you were 14? Whatever it was, it probably wasn't bringing windsurfers together from across the country for a festive blast.

But, on 29 December, that's exactly what Burton SC OnBoarder, Nieve Ball, did as part of her mission to get other young people, especially girls, as excited about windsurfing and foiling as she is.

Nieve, who is part of the RYA North Zone Squad, was missing her windsurfing friends from across the country over the winter. So she decided to take matters into her own hands, and host an event at her home club in South Derbyshire to bring all her friends together and try lots of different windsurfing kit.

And they came; 16 youth windsurfers from as far afield as Poole to the south and Hull to the north to enjoy a day of informal fun, blasting around Foremark Reservoir.

"We all enjoy each other's company, and we hadn't seen each other for a few weeks," explains Nieve. "I wanted to get people together as a celebration between Christmas and New Year. I had a plan, took it to the committee, who approved it, and it then took about six weeks to make it happen.

"I was really lucky, lots of volunteers wanted to help; my mum and dad helped me get everything set up in the morning, we had people cooking bacon sandwiches and breakfast, people offered to cover safety and my mum and other parents made a lovely hot lunch. While we were on the water, there were lots of adults and siblings in the clubhouse so there was a really good atmosphere. The highlight of my day was just seeing everyone again."

Taking flight

Nieve has been bitten by the foiling bug since trying it for the first time last summer. So one of her aims was to give people who hadn't tried it the chance to.

So as well as a Formula board, a Short Board and variations of Techno kit, six people also had foiling kit for others to try. A couple of the attendees had never tried foiling before, but by the end of the day, those who were of the ability to give it a go had taken their first flight.

"It was perfect conditions for foiling and pretty much everyone got up," Nieve continues. "I didn't want it to feel like a training session so we had a speaker blasting music on the water and a photographer to capture what people were doing. Everyone was laughing and the atmosphere on the water was so fun and supportive. There was a mixture of abilities and we rotated the kit so everyone could try want they wanted."

The young people enjoyed an hour-and-a-half on the water in the morning and a longer session after lunch. By the time the day was winding down, Nieve was feeling very happy.

"I'd love to do it again," she admits. "I'm really lucky with the facilities we have at Burton that we can host events like this. My club has given me many opportunities to progress my windsurfing career and it's nice to to give something back.

"With the squad sailors and our friends we know through UKWA spread across the country it's just really good to get everyone together. If any other youth sailors wanted to do something similar I'd say just go for it. If you have an aspiration, don't let anything hold you back."

Getting gnarly

'Don't let anything hold you back' is something of a motto for Nieve and her windsurfing friends in the North Zone Squad. By her own admission "quite shy" away from windsurfing, Nieve is passionate about inspiring young females in the sport.

With clubmates, Ella and Ruby and their friend Mollie, the four girls have launched their own Instagram account @gnarlygnortheners to document their life on the water, inspired by the Weymouth based @team.newwave crew. If it takes off, a YouTube channel could follow.

Foiling features heavily in the girls' photos. Nieve did the RYA First Flights course at Burton and is hoping to do the RYA Foiling Sustained Flights course next month. She discovered a whole new level of exhilaration whilst taking flight. That's why she wants other young females to have the chance to feel the same.

"I feel a lot more confident in the windsurfing environment. You feel so much freedom on the water, and you're with your best friends having amazing adventures together. Wherever we've been people have always said us northerners are quite gnarly.

"We wanted a girls' group like the Team New Wave so we set up the Gnarly Northerners to show other girls how amazing a windsurfing life can be. It's still so unheard of generally, the majority of my friends at school still don't know what I do. But you get such a buzz being part of this windsurfing community.

"Foiling is very exciting news for my club because it attracts more attention from the public, which increases their interest in our fantastic sport. Some even come to trial windsurfing. With the growth of our club I am hoping that the foiling community can grow alongside it."

Gnarly, passionate, and inspirational. These OnBoard girls are incredible role models.