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Ready to rock: Ten Have eyes big 2023

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By her own admission, things happened quickly for Veerle ten Have in 2022.

It was the year she went from promising young windfoiler – one of several in an increasingly popular and competitive sport - to one of the most talked about competitors on the international circuit.

The year her hopes of representing New Zealand at the Olympic Games, seemingly shattered after missing out on Tokyo a year earlier, were pieced backed together.

And it was also ten Have’s first full year in a sport that, until relatively recently, she knew little about.

 “I decided to switch to windfoiling after missing out on going to Tokyo in the RS:X [windsurfing class]. I was obviously disappointed and felt ready to try something new – whether that was switching classes or doing something altogether different with my life,” she says.

“A lot of my mates at the time were foiling but, at first, I didn’t want to learn something new. I’m not great with change and having to let go of something I was good at for something completely new wasn’t easy.”

With encouragement from those closest to her and some borrowed gear, ten Have got on the foils… and almost immediately came off them.

“I wasn’t very good at the start and it took me the best part of a year before I thought, ‘hey, I can do this’.”

Two national windfoiling titles later – her only competitive racing for almost two years due to Covid-enforced travel restrictions – and ten Have was ready to test herself on a bigger stage.

“After two years being stuck in New Zealand, while most of the rest of the fleet were out competing, I had no idea what to expect. I was just fizzing to be racing and ready to learn as much as I could,” she says.

“The first event was in Palma and I remember feeling so lucky to just be racing against the world’s best.”

A seventh place in the Spanish port city, followed by a fifth in Hyeres three weeks later, and the 22-year-old from Tauranga was suddenly mentioned in the same breath.

“I certainly didn’t think so at that time but at the end of that block – we had three regattas in Europe in about a month – I got home, sat down and thought, ‘I can win races. I can be the best in the world at this’.

“That shifted my perspective from just having fun and learning as much as possible, to trying to win and believing that I could.”

A “stupid mistake” in the knockout rounds saw ten Have finish in ninth place at the world championships in Brest, France in October 2022 - after qualifying in sixth.

Still, a top 10 spot cemented her spot among the front of the world fleet, and she was soon included in the New Zealand Sailing team – a big step toward next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.

“It was great to get that acknowledgement and the extra support on the way to Paris.

“After Tokyo I was pretty bummed but, looking back now, if I hadn’t missed out then, I wouldn’t have started foiling when I did and I certainly would not have been a contender for Paris.”

She’s recently been described as the “new rockstar of New Zealand sailing” – a self-described “thrill-seeker” in a sport newcomers find equal parts cool and daunting.

She’s still getting used to the moniker.

“I’d love for the next generation to think windfoiling is cool and if I can play even a small part in getting more youngsters into the sport – especially girls – then I don’t mind what I’m called.”

Veerle ten Have had a breakthrough year in 2022. Photos / Adam Mustill Photography

Veerle ten Have had a breakthrough year in 2022. Photos / Adam Mustill Photography

For now, her focus is on the National Championships in Manly and the Oceanbridge NZL Sailing Regatta in Torbay later this month, ahead of a return to Palma and the start of a second European season.

“My strength is that I’m pretty good in all conditions – an all-rounder. I’ve worked hard on my fitness over the past few years, which has made me a bit of a light-wind lover, but at the same time I still feel really confident in the breeze.”

And when you’re flying across the water at close to 50km/h, confidence is a must.

“These things go fast. It’s like a one-person America’s Cup boat.

“Things happen quickly out there, and you can’t dwell on it. There is very little to choose between the top windfoilers – one mistake and you could go from leading to 25th and out of the medals.”