For the individual windsurfer, nothing. For the people in the industry, plenty.
As I sit around during the winter I’m left daydreaming of warm, sunny days on the water. That’s when I browse the windsurfing blog sites to see what’s going on. What I find is a small group of highly passionate people who have great stories and live to get on the water, even in the winter time.
As a business owner who offers windsurfing rentals and lessons I’m torn between the sport that drew me to the Outer Banks and profit margins. In turn, I fight a battle of Catch-22. The opposing problem being; to get more customers I need to make a greater commitment, to make a greater commitment I need more customers. With such a small population actively pursuing the sport I’m forced to proceed cautiously.
Here are a few ideas I’ve picked up over the last few years. Some have already been well documented, others you may find to be new.
First, the promotion and portrayal of windsurfing as an extreme sport. This isn’t new as it has been documented often. In summary, the industry keeps pushing people to believe they’re capable of big wave, big air windsurfing with no regard to the average joe with mediocre athletic ability and a middle class budget. A lot of people feel this was the beginning of the fall for windsurfing as a recreational sport and the industry has tried extremely hard to back pedal and re-address the novice and intermediate windsurfer.
Second, and what I’ve noticed personally, is the demographics. Windsurfing is a great individual sport requiring some extra money. Here’s the reality. To learn windsurfing it’s best if you’re young enough that you don’t kill yourself during the learning phase. Let’s say you’re in your early 20’s and fresh out of college. Not many college grads living near the water have a few thousand dollars to invest in windsurfing.
Let’s say you’ve had a job for a few years and you want to try a new sport. Chances are you’re married by now and have a few kids. Well, guess what, the bride either wants to be on the water too or she doesn’t find entertaining the kids on the beach while watching daddy play being true family time. Needless to say windsurfing is not the ideal family activity.
The type of customer I see most of is the older man who has been sailing on and off for the last 20+ years. (Apparently, I’m beginning to fall in to this demographic.) He probably had some kids, his equipment is a little old, and he’s mad that his mast foot is obsolete. He’s not in to ripping around because of his bad back but he still wants the thrill of planing.
The other customer I’m beginning to see more of and the industry can benefit from is the young boomer who had to put windsurfing on the back burner while the kids were learning to walk but now wants to get the young teenagers to give it a try. If we’re lucky the young teenager won’t be cynical and will have fun on dad’s dime. Meanwhile, Dad, happy to be back on the water with his home-grown windsurfing buddies is happy to finance juniors new hobby.
Finally, it seems a lot of sports go through what I call “Sport du jour”. (Please forgive my lack of French.) At one time everyone was buying a Hobie Cat, then windsurfing came along, now it’s kiteboarding. (Is SUP next?) They’re all cool sports but the industry that gets put on the back burner has been forced to learn how to adjust for a smaller population. Windsurfing seems to be at that point where only the truly passionate people are pursuing it.
By the way, having watched the industry closely the last few years and attending trade shows it’s interesting to see that surfing seems to be still going strong. It’s very affordable and it’s created a huge lifestyle/apparel culture. Forget the fact that it’s very geographic.
To use a popular saying (that I’m not very favorable of), it is what it is. Or, better put, we’ve set our bed, now we have to sleep in it. There’s nothing wrong with windsurfing, it’s just not an easy way to make a living. Fortunately, we still have many passionate people out there who participate regularly. My New Year’s resolution is to try and get out there with them.