Windsurfing and all-inclusive resorts

The majority of all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean offer 'free windsurfing', and there is no shortage of active people trying. It's really sad to watch -- how they struggle on a wrong equipment and without proper instruction. Not to mention that they do so alone, while the rest of the resort is watching. As a result, many would-be windsurfers give up -- without trying it for real.

I've been to many Caribbean all-inclusive resorts, and not a single one offered good lessons for beginners!

Could these all-inclusive hotels do better? It depends on the location.

As a minimum, the beginner's place would need the following essentials:

Next, the place would need 3-5 beginner boards with training sails, along with a knowledgeable and passionate instructor. The equipment part is relatively simple but the instructor is not. He has to know his trade and also love the job! Having 2-4 trainees on the water most of the time is entertaining and encouraging, and the instructor should stay around all the time! There can be a reasonable charge for all rentals and instruction.

Then comes the hard part. Beginner-only equipment won't attract practicing windsurfers, who can turn the place into real fun. But advanced gear is more expensive and sensitive to abuse. It  needs to be properly stored, repaired, maintained, etc. Which means at least one more passionate person; and a shaded rest area with some token freebees (i.e. water, tea, crackers), where people can socialize.

Running a windsurfing school and rentals could be difficult without partnering with the hotel. Vendor sponsorship may also play a major role. For the owner, it will be a long-hours job with a modest pay. To the resort, the school could be a marketing tool - something for guests to remember and tell their friends!

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Removing the Fence

There are few lucky places where a good windsurfing school is already there, just a few steps (literally!) from the resort beach chairs -- an ideal setting to help those who are willing to try windsurfing. And yet, while some shops and resorts are using such a setting to their best, others don't.

This is all about marketing, i.e. Price, Product, Placement and Promotion. Both placement and promotion are at play here. Service must be easily accessible (placement), and customers should be welcomed (promotion).

Consider excellent example -- North Wind windsurfing school, which was located at the Hilton Hurghada Plaza resort in Egypt (closed on 2015).

Hilton Hurghada Plaza beach

Hilton patrons would watch windsurfers, both trainees and experts. The setting was perfect for newbees, who could get good instruction and start sailing after a couple of training days (demonstrating to all the sun bathers this is doable). There was a modest yet comfortable space where windsurfers can rest, have a cup of tea or coffee, watch instruction videos and talk about the sport. The place was welcoming and felt like a family; every day several new photographs were posted at the web site; a few times a month they would publish a news article about recent events, visitors, activities and achievements. There were many returning customers at North Wind, even though the place was far from ideal for advancing beginners.

To summarize, North Wind school reduced the barriers for a newcomers to the lowest level possible. There are hundreds of active windsurfers who took their first lessons at North Wind.

Another example is GibeCity at the island of Bonaire.

Jibe City arealThis great windsurf station with perfect sailing conditions and experienced instructors is situated side by side with Sorobon Beach Resort. The resort patrons can see windsurfers, but up until 2013 there was a solid fence blocking direct access (and still blocking some  view).

The fence was likely a relic from the times when Sorobon was a naturist resort - for isolation and privacy. But later, as the hotel was trying to attract windsurfing crowd, the fence became a barrier for a few hesitant folks who could otherwise walk by, talk and eventually take their first lessons.

By a rough estimate, the fence was costing a few hundred dollars a week in lost revenue to JibeCity shop; and the Sorobon Resort was getting fewer returning guests.

At some point in 2012, a passage door was added, and Sorbon guests can now easily access the school.

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Ideal School and Instructor

My wish points for the ideal instructor

Ideal school

The freebee instruction may be a matter of legal liability (at least in countries with the Common Law legal system). A quick way around is to add release of the instructor's liability into the windsurf rental agreement.

The shop owner may frown at the 'free' instruction. However, in my personal opinion, it could be a smart marketing move, leading to more paid lessons, and extra income both for the school, and the instructor as well.

The promotion may sound as follows:

If you rent equipment, one tip per day is on us.
Once you take a lesson, three tips per day are free.
On Mondays at 10am you are welcome to a free seminar to discuss equipment and rigging.

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Fast-tracking Your Second Grade in Windsurfing

'How difficult is to learn windsurfing?' a young rancher asked after taking Guy Cribb and his clinic team to the evening horse ride. 'It takes just few days to learn how to sail back and forth', answered Guy. 'Then, it gets complicated'.

Looking back at my years of learning, and talking to others, I concur. The second grade in windsurfing, which ends up with water start, smaller boards, and plaining in foot straps, takes considerably more time and effort. True, it's more technical, hence the challenge. But what makes it really complicated, is multiple conditions required for successful and fast learning.

Apparently the majority of intermediate windsurfers start the second grade quite ignorant about the importance of the key ingredients:

Good instruction is essential. Quite often, people opt to self-learning, using training videos and help at forums. While it surely is an option, a good instructor would lead to the same goal much faster. For those, who can get on water 20-25 times a year, it could mean a two-year difference, a loss of many fun sessions on the water. In fact, it could easily be one year instead of five. Life is too short for such a time loss.

Strong, non-gusty, side-on-shore wind and flat water will reduce the effort and speed up progress. Weak wind means heavy gear. Gusty or shielded off-shore wind, as well as any waves complicate learning, because better conditions shift away from the starting point, where the instructor is normally hanging (not everyone can afford personal coaching). Ideally, flat water and good wind should be right at the launch point.

Safe and wide entry, with no rocks or coral around. Being scared or fighting for life is a barrier for learning.

Good choice of equipment, and ability to switch as per the instructor's advise. It happened to me more than once, changed the board or sail, - and suddenly it starts working!

Good conditions for accompanying friends and family could also be important. Otherwise, on your next vacation you may find yourself in a great hotel but with zero opportunity to windsurf.

The quickest way to complete your 2nd grade training is by joining a reputable clinic (ABK, Intuition, etc.). Organizers usually pick right locations at right times of the year because they are very motivated to give you the best learning opportunity. Just don't forget to tell them about your ability and goals!

If clinic is not an option - check for all key conditions at forums and with local shops. Although rentals don't advertise negatives on the web, most likely they'll give you accurate answers in the email.

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