The OTC watersports Community, Ordinary Windsurfers: Extraordinary Stories!
Today meet windsurfer Neil Binding, an incredible human, who has a generous nature and humble with it. A windsurfing enthusiastic who sails out of The Official Test Centre (OTC). I got to know Neil when I met Roxy, for those of you that don't know anything about Roxy's story. Roxy came to The Official Test Centre with her school, she was in a wheelchair she suffers with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy. Neil was so touched by Roxy's story he joined me to fundraise for her. Neil didn't have to volunteer to help, but he did. A Good Samaritan, giving something back when it is so easy to walk on by. Thank you Neil for your generous spirit and thank you for being part of our OTC watersports community an ordinary windsurfer with your extraordinary story.
By Emma Nicholson
I started off asking Neil, What is your job title?
Neil said: "I qualified as a commercial airline pilot in 2005. I’ve been an instructor at a flight simulator centre since 2007."
"My first car was even plastered in windsurfing stickers (possibly holding it together) with a huge Fanatic logo on the rear window."
Can you talk me through your windsurfing journey, from the beginning, right up to today?
Neil said: "My first, very short lived, attempt at windsurfing was on a family holiday to the former Yugoslavia (Croatia) in 1987. As a very slight 12 year old I don’t even recall being able to get the sail out of the water. After that windsurfing never really crossed my mind until we had new neighbours when I was 15.
"The rather eccentric Frenchman that moved in over the road had one. Intrigued by his stories of idyllic conditions near where he had been living in the South of France, the following summer, whilst on holiday in the Vendee, I decided to have a lesson at a local water sports lake and was instantly hooked. This time was I not only able to uphaul the sail, but within two sessions gybe and tack! Within a week I’d convinced my parents to buy a used board and rig from a local shop in France and that was that, well until we realised we also needed a roof rack!
"The following summer the Frenchman, who was also a meteorologist, took me and my pathetically huge board to Sandbanks in 25 knots. I recall spending the first hour retrieving myself from the harbour wall or beach, until he kindly said beach starting would be easier and showed me how. Now this was certainly a different experience to the light wind lakes of Berkshire. All I knew was I wanted to blast around like the others on their shortboards, as they were known back then.
"On the next trip to France that summer I ended up buying my first short board, a Fanatic Boa, which I still have in my board rack. We ended up in Leucate, once we had found it on a map. I’d never seen wind like it, constant warm wind in nearly 30 degrees. This was the stuff from Boards magazine. This was of course pre internet. From the first time full-on planing on the Boa, windsurfing took over my life. Throughout the next few years at college any slight breeze or gale I was out on the water, either myself or teaching my friends and family.
"I even spent a summer during college helping out at Bray Watersports at the weekends. I couldn’t get enough of this rather unusual sport.
"A year later I was offered a place on an overseas training camp to become a windsurfing instructor. Sadly this meant three months in Barbados followed by six months in Greece. After much turmoil I decided against it to pursue rather less fulfilling proper jobs and windsurfing became a hobby yet again. Every day being reminded of my decision by the posters of Nik Baker and the Peter Hart VHS videos in my bedroom. My first car was even plastered in windsurfing stickers (possibly holding it together) with a huge Fanatic logo on the rear window kindly donated by the Frenchman who was now living back in France and frequently informing me of how good the Tramonatane had been at the weekend.
"For many years windsurfing was now a weekend hobby and a few weeks in Leucate each summer trying not to kill myself in the incredibly strong Tramontane. I even had a 2.7m sail for there. Kit back then was a single board, a mismatch of sails and masts mainly purchased in Leucate when something broke, but it worked fairly well. In my late 20’s and early 30’s windsurfing took a less prominent role as work and my daughter took over, as it does for so many. Confined to an odd day or two per year or a trip to Leucate.
"A couple of years ago, I decided to relive my youth. Now realising my kit was pretty ancient, as I was becoming, it was time for a newer board etc. I ended up with a Fanatic Blast. The first time I took it on the water I was shocked! I could barely keep the thing straight. Jumping from and old tear drop to this short stubby thing felt so odd. It took a few outings to get the hang of it all again. This was in fact my 5th Fanatic board. I was back in love with the sport I once knew. It was effortless on this newer kit and so well constructed compared to my first boom that was in fact tied onto the mast.
"I’d always had a passion for speed, inspired by the speed sailors like Thierry Bielak and never wanting to be over taken on the water. There was definitely a competitive streak in me, so after seeing pro slalom sailors at a demo day at Sandbanks and those good looking Duotone Warp sails I knew one day I wanted a set. A broken old mast a week later and a conversation with Ian at Boardwise, I found myself in Cannock loading up my car with the slalom kit Tim Frampton had just dropped off.
"With excitement and some trepidation I took to the water with this new kit, I think the well-known phrase ‘All the gear and no idea’ definitely applied here. Any errors in technique were amplified in an instant and high speed catapults became a common event.
"In a chance encounter I met a Fanatic Duotone team rider, Leigh Kingaby, who took me under his wing and began to correct the errors slowly. Unfortunately this was February 2020 and we all know what happened next. So this lovely newish kit looked great in its bag for several months. Once released I was dragged to Portland by Leigh for what he described as training. I think it was more survival for me.
"I also met a couple of other really friendly and helpful windsurfers. Marti Jerrard and Lee Marrs. Little did we know who this young lad was telling us what we were doing wrong and making everything look far too simple. Only later on did we find out he had some competitive history and few different trophies lurking at home. In return for this free coaching he got to borrow and tune my kit. Finally the catapults became less frequent and I passed 30 knots for the first time. Lee eventually went on to acquire his own Fanatic Duotone kit and win the UKWA Amateur fleet at the first attempt. Marti was a worthy runner up, getting his first heat win in the process. I’d like to think we contributed to this by providing numerous bacon sandwiches, but sadly we never mastered the butter on which slice conundrum..
"One day I’d like to be good enough to pull on a blue bib and join Marti and the others in the UKWA. Unfortunately time, lack of wind, plus a lack of ability is putting it on hold. In 2024 we are moving to Dorset permanently so I won’t really have excuses anymore."
"A couple of years ago, I decided to relive my youth. Now realising my kit was pretty ancient, as I was becoming, it was time for a newer board."
What is one of your best memories, watersports related? Neil said: "There could be so many to choose from, including first time past 30 knots, cruising around Leucate in a pair of shorts, or even landing my first jump. But in reality it has to be teaching my late father to windsurf in his 60’s. Watching his excitement and pride at passing his first gybe on my old longboard and his desire to get out at every opportunity after that. Hence why we ended up with at least three boards on the roof rack on every trip."
"The desire to get out on the water again post Covid kept my hope alive."
What watersports do you enjoy the most and why? Neil said: "Definitely windsurfing. I do have a foil too. It’s certainly a new way to kill myself. I will master it at some point hopefully. Plus I have a SUP too, which is mostly used by my daughter and our dogs."
What do you think the benefits are to people’s mental health by taking part in watersports activities?
Neil said: "The desire to get out on the water again post Covid kept my hope alive. Just being out with my friends doing what we loved was just so important to me and gave me some focus. Even just seeing the windsurfers out on the first day we were released was such a huge boost. The social aspect of just strangers having something in common and the willingness to help each other."
Alongside working, how do you find time to fit in windsurfing?
Neil said: "There’s always time. Luckily my job allows me to be quite flexible, well sometimes. In the near future I will have a lot more time once we are living in Dorset."
What is your favourite spot to windsurf in the UK?
Neil said: "For many years I would have said Sandbanks in Poole. More recently I’ve done a lot more sailing in Portland which I also love for different reasons."
What has been the toughest thing to learn with your windsurfing?
Neil said: "Definitely trying to get to grips with slalom kit and gybing it."
What is your favourite brand of windsurfing kit and what is your favourite set of gear?
Neil said: "All of my boards since the first long board have been Fanatic. From a Club 355, Boa, Blast and now my Falcons. Paired with the Duotone Warp sails and F Hot fins these things are faster than I feel safe going a lot of the time."
What is your biggest achievement with your windsurfing?
Neil said: "I’ve never competed or raced so there’s no shiny trophies or titles to be proud of. So it has to be inspiring family and friends to also take up the sport."
Why do you think The OTC and Surf Doctor is so successful, as a brand and a place of business?
Neil said: "Tris and the team don’t try to sell you stuff that’s not correct for you. Having access to virtually every brand available they just provide you with what is right for you. Having the water outside means you can test or use the equipment you buy immediately. There’s always someone around willing to help. Their passion for water sports and desire to promote the sport is apparent by the number of young very talented team riders they support and nurture."
If money was no object what watersports kit would you buy?
Neil said: "I’ve spent all of my money on kit. If I had more, then it would probably this year’s models not a couple of years old."
Who inspires you?
Neil said: "In windsurfing it was definitely the likes of Nik Baker, Antione Albeau and more recently Pierre Mortefon. But there was a story I heard once of an old retired guy that lived near Vassiliki I believe. He windsurfed every day, in the latter years before the afternoon wind got too strong. One day he sailed up the beach after having a great morning session and with a huge grin on his face. He settled down under his usual tree for his nap whilst watching the windsurfing. He nodded off and never woke up. To me that’s a fitting way to go."
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt throughout your windsurfing journey, so far?
Neil said: "Never ask anyone else what size sail they are taking!"
"I wouldn’t mind finally getting around to getting my Windsurf Instructor Certificate one day."
Do you take part in watersports as a family? Neil said: "My daughter occasionally steals my SUP. My partner is usually the one behind the camera in all weathers recording us. Taking photos and videos of ‘her boys’ as we are known. Not convinced her onto my board yet as she has a major aversion to cold water. Apparently Sardinia and a dinghy are more her thing, this coming from a former national Topper sailor and competitor. Being ‘on’ is better than being ‘in’ the water I am lead to believe."
Where is your favourite spot to windsurf abroad?
Neil said: "Easily, my second home Leucate."
What is the best advice you have been given for your windsurfing?
Neil said: "Longer lines and put your hands back. This modern kit is so different."
What is your biggest motivator?
Neil said: "To just enjoy the water. I can have just as much fun at 30 knots as I can at 3 knots on a big board. Any stress, aches or pains just disappear and soon as you start to move."
The future for your watersports what does that hold for you?
Ideally I’d like to be good enough to finally compete. I will also enter Weymouth Speed Week, well someone has to come last. Plus I’ve been threatening to do Defi since it started. I wouldn’t mind finally getting around to getting my Windsurf Instructor Certificate one day." To find out more about Roxy's story, search 'Footsteps for Roxy' or click on this link...https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100066989586451
To find your perfect set up go to SurfDoctor https://www.surfdoctor.com/ or to become a Windsurf Instructor, go to https://otc-watersports.com/