World-class windsurfing unwraps in Taal Lake

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - December 4, 2015 - 9:00am

The fourth Neil Pryde RS: One World Championship will finally take off on Taal Lake on Monday with a powerhouse field of close to 60 participants, including 12 foreign entries from 12 other countries. This will be another opportunity not only for the country to put its best foot forward in terms of hosting an event, but also get a foot into the Olympic Games.

Originally known as sailboarding in the US when it was created in 1964, windsurfing combined the casual appeal of surfing with the more formal structured nature of sailing. The sport surged in popularity and was eventually included in the program of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. However, since its creator Newman Darby did not patent his creation, fighting over rights to the invention and its ensuing modifications escalated, as more and more parties wanted to own the sport. The price of equipment also became more prohibitive as technology became a factor in enhancing performance. The popularity of the sport subsided in the 1990’s, but it has gained a new following over the world in the last decade.

Individual sailing has been around as long as man has had the itch to explore the seas around him. From early stories of native peoples in many countries – most notably Polynesian islands, man has hollowed out tree trunks, lashed together all sorts of materials, and hand- crafted sails to harness the wind and flit from island to island faster. In the 1940’s, enterprising surfers sought a more recreational way to skim the surface of the water, and created various riggings to mount a sail on a flat board. The efforts were so scattered and disparate, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact birth of the sport, or what constituted a sailboard to begin with. Still, after decades of tempestuous court battles between claimants in the US and Europe, all these parallel efforts eventually merged into what is known as windsurfing today.

For this year’s RS: One World Championship, board manufacturer Pryde himself inspected the venue along with the Philippine Windsurfing Association’s top officials. To ensure uniformity, Pryde is providing 60 identical, brand-new sailboards for participants to use. Entries are not allowed to modify the boards in any way. Even changing a single screw on the rigging is forbidden. That’s how serious this competition

is. “Thisisreallytheequivalentofourgrassroots program,” explains Philippine Windsurfing Association president Manny Cabili, who has tirelessly worked for the ascension of the sport for over two decades. “This is where we discover new talent, and find competitors for the Olympics. We’re expecting at least two Olympic medalists to fly in for the competition.”

Given that, as we all know, the Philippines has over 7,100 islands and arguably the largest coastline in the world and is at the center of ocean currents and trade winds, why isn’t windsurfing the number one sport in the country? Cabili provides an amusing but true observation.

“In most countries in Asia, windsurfing is a sport for the affluent,” he explains. “And the well-to-do don’t really like to get sunburned. But gradually, over the years, they have started to accept that it’s a big part of doing this sport, so now, more and more people are finally getting into it.”

In 2012, Filipino Gaylord Coveta won the RS: One World Championship in the men’s (over 22) division in Boracay, affirming that Filipinos are naturally gifted in this aquatic sport. Coveta overcame a field of more experienced rivals from Europe and other parts of Asia in the first-ever staging of the world championships. In 2014, Coveta replaced Gilas Pilipinas forward Japeth Aguilar as the country’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremonies of the Asian Games in Incheon, joining the ranks of sports legends Paeng Nepomuceno and Mikee Cojuangco- Jaworski, who similarly had that honor. Coveta, who also won gold at the last Asian Beach Games and topped the 2014 Singapore Open, is hoping to claim another world title in Batangas.

The wide shoreline at the staging area at Club Balai Isabel will allow spectators many vantage points to watch the competition. As in the 2012 edition in Boracay, the winds are strong this time of the year. Sailing runs from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. every day, and ends on Saturday, Dec. 12. It will be an opportunity for families to see the best windsurfers from around the world up close, and introduce children to the sport. And perhaps finally, windsurfing will catch our imagination and become one of the most popular sports in the country.

The RS: One World Championship is sponsored by Pryde, Club Balai Isabel, the Philippine Olympic Committee, the Philippine Sports Commission, Delimondo, Kabayan Money Changer, Flying V, Harbour Center, the province of Batangas and the municipality of.

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