There's still a long way to go but optimism is building around windfoiling in this country and that took another step recently with the advent of a Yachting New Zealand development squad.
The squad has been set up with help from Windfoil New Zealand to accelerate the development of this country's top windfoiling prospects in a class that will make its debut at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Seven windfoilers have been included in the initial development squad - Antonio Cozzolino, Lloyd Perratt, Max van der Zalm, Thomas Crook, Patrick Haybittle, Alex Hart and Veerle ten Have - and they currently train together twice a week.
They're presently being coached by former Olympian JP Tobin, who works with China's top windsurfers, with backup from Aaron McIntosh, who has coached Dutch windsurfers to multiple world and Olympic titles, as well as Ian Young and Gary Hill. They will also tap into the resources and facilities available at High Performance Sport New Zealand, and receive guidance around things like nutrition, strength and conditioning and athlete life.
A junior and youth squad operates below the development squad, under the watch of Young and Hill, and Alan McIntosh at Lake Pupuke is playing an integral role in developing newcomers. Various clubs around the country are also moving to include windfoiling in their programmes.
Yachting New Zealand talent development manager Geoff Woolley said he is very optimistic for the future with such a solid base in place already.
"This is a long-term project but the squad is already at a really high level, which is pretty significant," Woolley said. "The knowledge we have in New Zealand makes this such an opportunity and we've already brought it into our Aon youth programme with significant numbers there.
"Windfoiling is already one of our biggest Olympic class squads and there's also a much bigger, younger group behind them who have some amazing skills. It's something junior and youth sailors could do on the side as something different to do or they could focus on it and have a really good crack at making it to the top."
Windfoiling has rejuvenated windsurfing in this country and scores of windfoilers can often be found out on the water as Tobin found out when training with his squad last week.
"On Sunday we had the squad right out the back and we ran into a couple of other foilers finishing a sail around Rangitoto so they joined in for a bit and then I looked downwind and there were windfoilers all the way back to Wakatere," Tobin said. "All these young kids were chasing us and we started to pick them up on the way through. In the end there were probably 20 boards on the water. It’s capturing everyone."
The restriction on international travel has certainly had a positive spinoff and allows the involvement of two of the world's best windsurfing coaches.
"The fact Aaron and I are locked in the country helps," Tobin said. "We have this pool of talent that we can hopefully bring through to the Olympic level again. We're trying to get New Zealand back to where we were in the past, a very successful nation in the board sports.
"There’s some exceptional talent in the group and they're all pushing each other hard. It’s been so interesting. I didn’t think things would move this fast but they really are. We are getting an opportunity to mold these guys and girls who have essentially been out there enjoying the sport and sailing with each other and learning that way. Now they have this opportunity to be fast-tracked with a few good people with some really good ideas."
- Pic: Max van der Zalm is one of seven windfoilers included in the development squad. Photo: Yachting New Zealand.