Organizers hope to make Squamish a national centre for sport
A dependable offshore wind, sunshine, and the waves and currents created where the Squamish River empties into Howe Sound have established Squamish as one of the leading windsurfing locales in North America. Still, for most of the windsurfing world it remains a relatively well kept secret.
The cat is about to be let out of the bag. From July 24 to July 27, Squamish will be hosting the 2003 Sea to Sky Canadian National Windsurfing Championships, including North Americas first womens World Cup event. The organizers see the event as an opportunity to showcase all that Howe Sound has to offer, as well as a catalyst to revitalize Squamishs waterfront.
"We are very excited about it," says John Barson, organizer and media liaison for the event. "Its a good opportunity to get more people involved in the sport, and to develop young athletes. Down the road wed like to see Squamish become the home of the Canadian team."
The event is expected to attract athletes from more than 20 different nations, including men, women and youth. There will be 88 races over three or four days, depending on the wind and weather.
While the shore facilities are limited in size, with a small spit to launch from and only a few areas for spectators, Barson believes the event will help to reshape the waterfront area of Squamish the same way that windsurfing helped to rebuild communities along the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.
"The Gorge was exactly like Squamish 20 years ago," explains Barson. "The forest industry was dwindling, companies were moving mills. Then the whole windsurfing movement started there, and now if you want to go there to sail you have to book three or four months ahead to get a room, its so popular. The community is now home to four or five breweries, there is a thriving artisan community, and its really turned around."
According to Barson, the quality of windsurfing in Squamish is on par with the Gorge, and the location is far more convenient.
The international sanctioning body for the Formula World Cup series did not want to give Squamish an event initially because of the lack of facilities, according to Barson, but came around with the understanding that the event could help bring changes about.
"They saw it as a starting point, just so people can see what it could be like," he says.
Now it appears that it will become an annual event.
The organizers are still looking for sponsors, including a title sponsor, to get behind the event. Sponsors will be able to sit in grandstands set up along the freight terminals, and will have the best seats in the sound for the competition.
The racers will start in a line and make several laps around an oval course about a kilometre long.
Windsurfing, also called boardsailing, has been in the Olympics since 1988, and Barson hopes that one day Squamish will function as an Olympic training centre for the national team.
The womens Formula World Cup event is not a qualifier for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, but the top athletes at Squamish will make it into the world championships in Spain this September, which is an Olympic qualifier.
Locally, Barson says there are a number of athletes who are in contention to qualify for the world championships.
Vancouvers Carrie Strangway, a member of the national team, is excited to be able to race at home at a World Cup level.
"We have a lot of talented women sailors in Canada, and this will give them the opportunity to challenge the best in the world," she says. "There isnt always enough funding to attend European events so having the race in our backyard will allow more women to compete. Were also looking forward to more media exposure for the sport in Canada."
There is also a strong Whistler presence on the team, with two-time Canadian champion Valerie Kritsch taking part in the event.
Both Kritsch and Strangway list Squamish as one of their favourite places to windsurf, and both have their eye on the 2004 Olympic Summer Games.
For more information on the 2003 Sea to Sky Canadian National Windsurfing Championships, or for an introduction to Formula windsurfing, visit www.cnwc.ca.
If you are interested in sponsoring the event, contact John Barson at 604-657-1268, or firstname.lastname@example.org.