Back on the water

I’ve just got back home from my first windsurfing session for this season – my first time on a board since last October. It was an ideal day to do it; so warm and sunny we didn’t need wetsuits, and a wind that varied from “just right for a beginner wanting some light practice” to “Help! I’m arm-wrestling with my sail – and it’s winning!”

Now in my third year of doing this, all the things I struggled to grasp in previous years are beginning to fall in place: upwind, downwind, tacking, gybing, steering properly and maintaining hold of the board. I’m doing much longer runs than before (my instructor Martin says), and staying on the board longer – though I did fall in twice today. One of those falls was EPIC. It was also a great laugh – and proved that those swimming sessions have paid off!

My confidence on the water is getting better, although that initial reticence to go on the water in the first place is still there (maybe that’s just something one has to live with). But hey, the instructor says I’m improving, and he’s going to draw up a few courses for me to tackle over my next few visits. Then I can get a few signatures in my log book and start working properly towards a certificate or two.

I’ve written before about things windsurfing has taught me about life. Today’s big lesson was this:
“There’s no such thing as stationary.”

Last year, I used to take a lot of breaks mid-sail. I’d run for a bit, then drop the sail and sit on the board for a while before starting again. Yes, I needed a breather. But the downside of that is that by the time I decided to get started again, I’d have drifted off somewhere I didn’t want to be. Because this is the way with stopping things: everything and everyone else around you is moving on (and in this case, the water is moving on and carrying you along with it). Even when there are loads of you staying still, time is still moving on. Yes, there’s a time for rest. But maybe – just maybe – that time isn’t when you’re on a board floating on a lake.

But if today’s session is anything to go by, my strength on the water is building up and those breaks are getting fewer. That’s not too shabby…


On Walking on Water (sort of)

It started with one of those dream gigs us writers get every now and then: go on an all expenses paid trip to a holiday resort in Turkey, and write an article about it when you get back. So I did (who wouldn’t?), and amongst the activities on offer at this resort were some free windsurfing lessons. It seemed like a good idea (despite my initial quibbles) and I picked up the basics quite quickly.

On the water in Bodrum last year.
On the water in Bodrum last year.

A whole year passed before I ventured out on the water again – this time on a ‘Start Windsurfing’ course at a watersports centre in Wales. I was a bit rubbish this time (I spent more time in the water than on it), but at the end of the weekend, I returned home battered and bruised – and, more importantly, in possession of my RYA Start Windsurfing certificate. I then found somewhere closer to home (Broxbourne in Essex), where I’ve been having practice sessions at the East London Windsurfing School. It’s now end of term, so to speak; I had my last practice session for this year yesterday and am looking forward to next spring when it all kicks off again.

So, in these past few months, what have I learned about windsurfing – and what has windsurfing taught me about life? A few things…

  1. I’m always going to feel a little bit “oo-er” about going out on the water. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
  2. Windsurfing is a team sport masquerading as a solitary one. Yes, it is just you on your board, sailing solo. But at every step of the way, you depend on others and are encouraged to work as part of a team (it’s much more fun sailing in a group anyway). The ‘Seven Common Senses’ insist that you tell someone when you’re going out sailing, and for how long. Even the wetsuit is designed in such a way that you need someone else’s help to put it on (although I did manage to put mine on by myself yesterday).
  3. Some handy tips apply as much in windsurfing as they do in other areas of life. Looking up helps as much in windsurfing as it does in public speaking. And as Martin the instructor always says, “the more you do it, the better you get”. My piano teacher says that too – as has every book on writing I’ve ever come across…

What else? Oh yeah – if you are going to take up such a sport in Britain, there will be times when you will have to do it in bad weather. Just accept that and move on. And speaking of the weather, there will be days when the wind will simply not play ball. So as well as your sailing kit, remember to pack a book or magazine (or some knitting, or whatever your other favourite means of passing the time is), just in case.

See you out on the water next spring, hopefully…

Murderball: my new favourite sport

So yesterday I finally got to see the Olympic Park from the inside. After several frustrating days of trying in vain to log on to the Paralympics’ ticketing site, I was at work minding my own business when a round robin email from our Help desk popped up in my inbox, saying that there was a day pass going free to whoever called up first and asked for it. And so instead of my usual Wednesday evening swim, I found myself in Stratford, wandering round the Olympic Park.

“Day pass seats for the Basketball Arena are still available,” the PA systems blared, as I ambled about, trying to figure out what to go and see. Wheelchair basketball was the main reason I’d spent so many fruitless hours on the ticket site; now that I was here – for free – I was definitely going to see some!

No, I wasn’t. Apparently, basketball had been moved to the Venue Formerly Known as the O2, making room in the Basketball Arena for something else.

Not for the fisrt time, the Olympics and Paralympics introduced me to a sport I never knew existed. Before yesterday, if you’d mentioned wheelchair rugby (aka “Murderball”) to me, I’d have assumed that it was some fake sport from a Ben Stiller film (as it happens, there is a film about it – but it’s a documentary). “A mixture of basketball, handball and ice hockey,” our host described it. He could have added stock car racing. With slimline Daleks instead of cars. This is a game with only one medal (no second or third prizes here); one in which women compete alongside men.

Out on the court, they call it murder…

The first “murderball” game of the 2012 Paralympics was between Canada (where the sport was invented in 1977, according to our host) and Australia. Four eight-minute blasts of pure adrenalin, beautifully (and chaotically) choreographed. Sandwiched between wheels that sloped at bizarre angles, the players whirled about on the hardwood floor. They bumped into each other – hard. Wheelchairs flipped into the air and landed face down. Every now and then, techies would run onto the court to replace a damaged wheel.

Of the two teams, the Australians seemed much better at ‘long distance’ goal-scoring. The moment you saw Ryley Batt (in the number 3 shirt) with the ball on his lap, you knew he was going to have an uninterrupted roll up to Canada’s goal line. The Aussies were also the more aggressive tacklers. That said, Canada’s goals were a much more collaborative effort, and subsequently more exciting (and, dare I say, artistic) to see executed. The spectacle brought back memories of the Toronto Maple Leafs game my friend and fellow writer Mags Storey took me to see when I visited her fair city at the beginning of this year.

In the end, Australia won by 64 goals to 52. I left after the first quarter of the Japan v France game that followed, as it had gone past 10pm (can’t stay out too late on a school night). But if I was tired, I was too stoked up on murderball fever to notice.

Famous Sierra Leoneans, #2: Ryan Giggs

The most decorated player in English football history makes it onto our list by virtue of the fact that his paternal grandfather is from Sierra Leone.

Not being a footy expert, I can’t waffle on for hours about Ryan Giggs’ dexterity on the pitch, the mastery of his corner kick, and such like. Fortunately, I do know a few people whose knowledge of football is better than mine. So I’ll let one of them tell you why, in his humble opinion, Giggsy rocks…

And there you have it.