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Teaching Happy Campers to Windsurf

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

Len and I were excited to head to Camp Couchiching to teach a 2 day windsurfing class to their leadership counsellors. I had helped set up their gear in June and James the program director said he had built a simulator for the camp. Even the wind forecast was looking good. I was grateful to have Len, an art and physical education high school teacher with me. He used to take his students windsurfing when he lived in Bonaire and that is where he met my niece who brought him to Canada!

We arrived Wednesday night and enjoyed dinner at the camp. Len was interested to see where we would be teaching and see Lake Couchiching. Then we set out some of our materials and got the sail locker organized. We rigged my extra 3.5m sail that I brought along. The camp was nice enough to give us sleeping quarters in the “new building” so we had WiFi!

On Thursday morning we had a quick breakfast and at 9am we met our campers. A dozen counsellors-in-training getting a two day introduction to windsurfing. We did introductions and 30 minutes of history and theory. A few had tried windsurfing several years ago; most hadn’t much experience. Then off to the simulator nicely mounted out in the SE wind on the dock. The camp’s new “golf ball” simulator worked well for us! (Thanks Camp Couchiching for the photos.)

After each camper volunteered to try the simulator to learn uphauling, getting underway, steering and tacking, Len would set them up with a board. They all practiced a self rescue to get away from the dock and then started. The wind was steady at 7-9 knots from the SW. Perfect!  We set up two buoys for the students to sail back and forth toward as targets; that didn’t quite work during the morning session! Len spent most of the morning in the water helping each student and walking/swimming back upwind with them! With 7 sails and boards we got most students out for at least an hour on the water. I was just finishing training the last two students on the simulator when the lunch bell rang.

After lunch we had a refresher and the students were eager to go again. The two who hadn’t been on the water were first to go out - then everyone else took turns. The 4.5m sails were too big in the increasing wind, even for the two who had done well on the 3 and 3.5 in the morning. I was amazed at how the kids did. And their enthusiasm. Even two who had to be towed back by boat after drifting downwind in the small bay NW of the dock, weren’t really frustrated, just wanting another chance!

We enjoyed dinner just as the late day thunderstorms rolled in. Len and I worked a bit more on our lesson plan and downloaded some videos for the next morning. We settled into bed early, happy, and quite tired.

After breakfast the campers promptly arrived and were excited for day 2. The wind was looking good as well, this time having shifted 180 degrees from the NW. We did a roundtable of highs and lows from yesterday. Again, the enthusiasm was remarkable. Len showed a video of the 1,400 person Defi Windsurf race start held 2 months ago in France to help answer the question - is windsurfing still popular? Then the addictive video “Windsurfing by the Surfers” to show what a phenomenon windsurfing was in 1980!

Next to the simulator for the jibe lesson. Everyone did 2 jibes on the simulator before going on the water. I was doing more boat trips retrieving downwind windsurfers this morning. But I couldn’t really complain about them not simply rounding our buoys. They were having too much fun learning to jibe smoothly (and then losing too much ground downwind). We were down to 6 boards but managed to fix the damaged one during lunch.

After lunch our last bit of instruction. A bit more on the importance of staying upwind! I suggested that size isn’t a factor in windsurfing - and shared stories about IWT champion Sarah Houser and her “Girl on Wave” movie. And how my daughter and I were out windsurfing together a week ago - and about her summer job with the Coast Guard IRB program. We showed video of me wave windsurfing in Baja at an IWT competition to show the Zen of windsurfing. A few students were incredulous - “that is you?!”.

Time for the final afternoon session. The campers were now seeing the difference in sail and board sizes. Some traded regularly to compare. I was surprised that there was a fair bit of demand for the 3.5 sail I had brought - the battens, size and clear material seem to make it easiest to use. Another counsellor and two of the staff members got lessons and time on the water in the afternoon too!

We realized that with both the S wind on Thursday and the NW on Friday, the campers were safe and most walked upwind along the shore if they got too far away. I was happy to have access to “Scout”, the small Boston Whaler to pull wayward windsurfers back upwind. (Also very grateful I checked the fuel level and that they had spare gas on site!) Thankfully I didn’t need the SeaDoo I brought as backup. The only wind direction that would be an issue would be a rare NE.

The highlight of the two days was watching a line of “my little ducklings” all sailing back and forth between the two markers. Then seeing three windsurfers doing nice jibes one after another right around the marker in front of the dock. The rest of the group looking on and enjoying the sun, wind and camaraderie on the dock and on the water.

It was time for the boards and sails to be returned. The Dean H-P windsurf pavilion is a great addition to the Camp. It has storage for the 7 functional beginner boards and several sails. With small sails and spare parts stored in the sailing building, the gear is well taken care of. The camp just needs a few 3.5m and 4.0m sails and some deck surfacing on the slippery boards.

At 5:15 we had our last debrief. I hope that the kids will be allowed to go out in pairs and use the windsurf gear more for the rest of the summer. As a teaser I showed the kids what a waist harness is - and how it can extend their sailing sessions and increase their speed when the wind builds! WHAT, there’s more to learn?

We said our goodbyes and Len and I got a very nice round of applause from the kids. Sweet. I hope Len and I can teach more kids here next year.

PS, Camp Couchiching did a very nice video of the week. See the video on YouTube

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