A thriving community of windsurfers at Burton Sailing Club is looking forward to getting back on the water with sessions for younger members and coaching for all ages.

The windsurfing section at Burton SC in Staffordshire is growing and the club has become a recognised training centre for both beginner and intermediate windsurfing courses.

Alongside a dedicated team of windsurfing instructors and volunteers, led by chief windsurfing instructor Andrea Langley, the club has invested in windsurfing equipment and is able to offer taster sessions and a wide range of training for both adults and juniors.

Its regular Team 15 sessions for juniors now have around half a dozen younger children, plus more than 10 older ones aged from 12-17, many of whom are now working towards instructor and powerboat qualifications to support the club’s windsurfing provision.

The club also has up to 15 adults on the water regularly, including students from Loughborough University, and when members of any age want to develop their skills further, coaches are bought in from outside to share their expertise.

The club’s support for its community of windsurfers has encouraged regular participation and camaraderie and enabled it to keep up with new developments such as foiling.

As Burton SC windsurfing rep Steve Ball explains: “We have worked hard to grow the windsurf section to a point where it is sustainable in terms of numbers in each age group and safety cover, and we now have windsurfers aged from eight to nearly 80!”

Junior success

Burton SC’s provision for windsurfing has seen it become a Midlands training base for the Techno 293 squad and the IQFoil class, with the new RYA Regional Training Group for junior windsurfers also regularly at the club, including for an upcoming Easter camp.

The club hosted the British Youth Sailing Windsurfing Regional Junior Championships 2020 and has previously seen a number of its young windsurfers achieving selection to squads, with older ones now developing their instructor skills to bring on the next generation.

Among them is Steve’s daughter Nieve Ball, aged 15, who has become an assistant instructor and windsurfing ambassador both for the club and for the sport, inspiring others to get out on the water and encouraging girls to enjoy windsurfing, including through informal kit taster sessions and her GnarlyNortherners group on Facebook and Instagram.

Nieve got into windsurfing after trying a taster session on holiday, resulting in the family joining Burton SC and dad Steve taking powerboat courses in order to support the club.  As the epitome of 'This Girl Can', Nieve was a runner-up for the Panerai Challenger Trophy in 2020, winning £2,500 for her own windsurfing plus £5,000 to further the OnBoard aims and work of her club.

This award has enabled Burton SC to buy more windsurf sails and another board, plus harnesses and two BbTALKIN communication systems to enhance instructing at the club, enabling a windsurfer and coach to talk to each other via Bluetooth headsets on the water.

Along with four other teenagers at the club, Nieve is now looking to qualify as an RYA Windsurfing Instructor, and also wants to become a SUP instructor. Explaining her passion for the sport, Nieve said: “I love windsurfing as it is an escape. When I am on the water all I have to think about is me and my friends and what will improve our skills. I can exercise in a way without realising it and reach so many milestones. I love Burton Sailing Club as they have supported me and helped me to achieve every milestone from learning to windsurf to where I am now, it is also the place I am most comfortable and relaxed. Burton will always be my second home!”

Her friends are likewise enthused by windsurfing and the support they find at Burton SC. Ruby Hamilton, aged 16, said: “I love windsurfing because of how free it makes me feel - when I’m on the water I only focus on what I’m doing and forget about other things. I also love the adrenaline of going fast. Windsurfing is a sport where you feel like you’re part of a community and that’s why I love Burton Sailing Club so much. Everyone’s always happy to help each other and there’s no judgement, making it my favourite place to sail.”

Luke Hayes, aged 15, added: “I like windsurfing at Burton because it has good space for rigging and a nice sized reservoir to get loads of practice and you feel safe on the water as there is always a friendly safety boat there in case something goes wrong. Burton is a good place to windsurf as you meet different people and make new friends, everyone helps everyone. It has helped me learn and develop my skills, even giving me the opportunity to help others and become an Assistant Windsurf Instructor.”

Top tips for club windsurfing

Based on the experiences of Burton Sailing Club, windsurfing rep Steve Ball has the following tips for any clubs interested in developing their own windsurfing provision:

  • Equipment: Burton SC has lots of sails and boards for all sizes and ages, with rigs from 1.6m up to 7.7m, catering for various skill levels and courses from beginner to intermediate, making the club accessible both for those starting out or wanting to refresh their skills.
  • Regular sessions: Regular weekend sessions for young windsurfers encourages adults along at the same time because there is already safety cover and a sociable scene on the water and on shore. Plus the kids tend to give the adults some good tips!
  • Whatever the weather: The club has moved its junior sessions from Friday afternoons to Saturday mornings to run alongside sailing to allow crossover and if there is no wind, there is paddleboarding or powerboat handling, so there is always a reason to turn up.
  • Communication: Windsurfers at the club have a WhatsApp group which is crucial for arranging times to meet up and letting people know about the availability of safety cover.
  • Feedback: Windsurfers are invited to give their views about what they want. Responses revealed that many of the club’s older windsurfers were self-taught and keen to develop their skills with coaching, which the club was then able to facilitate.
  • Expertise: To support windsurfers of any age wanting to move up to the next level, Burton SC brings in coaches from outside the club to run sessions; three coaching days are already booked from May 2021 onwards. The club also inspired its female windsurfers in lockdown via a Zoom Q&A session with Team GB windsurfers Emily Hall and Islay Watson.
  • Committee: When the club training principal took a windsurfing course, Burton SC’s committee gained a new appreciation of the challenges involved in running windsurfing training and sessions. Get your committee on board!
  • Taster sessions: Burton SC will be offering taster sessions as part of this year’s Discover Sailing campaign encouraging people to give sailing and windsurfing a go. The club is always keen to welcome new members.
  • Ask for help!  Burton SC makes the most of any support available from outside the club through links with windsurf organisations, classes and the RYA, and liaises with manufacturers and retailers to borrow kit for a demo days.
  • Look to the future: Embracing foiling is proving crucial to windsurfing’s continued take off at the club, attracting some members from as far afield as Hull who are unable to wind foil on their home water, and providing progression into this exciting new part of the sport for members. The club hopes to add RYA First Flight courses to its training programme.

What the windsurfers say!

Burton SC windsurfers were keen to share their views on what makes the sport and their club special, including James Neilson, aged 43, who explains: “I still get the same buzz from windsurfing now that I got when I first started at age 9. Having joined BSC last year, I have found it a very approachable and friendly club with a very proactive windsurfing fleet. They hold regular training and racing sessions and really encourage youth windsurfing. Having personally benefitted so much from this sport as a teenager it is great to see this. Here’s to hopefully trying foiling for the first time this year and learning a new skill.”

Ethan, aged 16, travels two hours to get on the water at Burton SC because it is good for windsurfing and foiling, while Rebecca says she feels ‘part of a big windsurfing family’: “It’s a real community. When everyone is there it feels like a festival for windsurfers.” Lucy, aged 11, adds: “It really helps when you have amazing instructors who are patient and enthusiastic and people give you pointers and offer you advice.”

Amelia, aged 13, commented: “I love to windsurf at Burton Sailing Club because I like the enjoyment, thrill and excitement that it brings and the inspiring role models within the club. I always look forward to being able to go on the water, learn new skills and just have a great time. Thanks to the instructors and variety of equipment I have made lots of progress and will continue to.”

Mark, aged 49, still gets the same buzz out of windsurfing that he did at 14: “Every time I'm on the water I'm learning something new… it's great for personal achievement and fitness but now I'm a parent I get an even greater pleasure out of seeing my two girls blasting up and down the reservoir with huge grins on their faces. There's no better feeling than being out there sailing alongside them. Burton SC has been instrumental in progressing my daughters in their windsurfing by providing a safe, friendly, inclusive and accessible environment for them to develop their skills. Having access to kit and coaching from beginner to intermediate windsurfing and foiling, has been ideal. The team at BSC have really engaged the youngsters, keeping them sailing and developing their skills through regular courses, all driven forward by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable committee.”

Greg, aged 50, cites the exhilaration, speed and freedom of windsurfing, plus Burton SC offering a great stretch of water and a friendly club. John, aged 51, said: “Burton is a great club for sailing and windsurfing. In 2020 I was truly inspired by the younger members to get back on a board after a 30 year gap and the encouragement and support from across the club has been amazing. The best thing is that my two daughters love it as much as I do, it's really opened up the wind range for all of us.”

Andrea, aged 51, summed up: “I like windsurfing because it’s an environmentally friendly way of actively experiencing the landscape rather than just looking at it. It gives you way more exercise than you ever intend taking because you’re so engrossed in the challenge that you don’t even notice the hard work. The facilities and club support at Burton mean it’s comfortable and safe, there’s always another level of skill to reach and it’s a lot of fun trying to get there while being in awe of those so much younger that seem to breeze through the skill levels in no time. Support is always available if needed.  It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be involved with this aspirational and expanding club.”

Further information

Find out more about RYA OnBoard windsurfing and sailing for children and young people, or about support for club development in the region, including windsurfing, by contacting RYA Midlands Regional Development Officer Ben Hodgson, or RYA Regional Performance Manager Tim Hall, via the regional team contact pages here.