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The OTC watersports Community, Ordinary Windsurfers: Extraordinary Stories!

If you are lucky enough to meet the legend that is Brian Tilbury you will know the sheer enthusiasm that oozes out of every pore of his being, a nicer chap you will find it hard to meet. He is such a well-known figure to anyone that has had the pleasure to meet him on the UKWA circuit. There are very few humans that are as special as Brian, an old fashioned gent who is so passionate about the difference windsurfing can make to young people! After successfully battling cancer, the octogenarian is determined to carry on windsurfing and ballroom dancing. What a force of nature he is, the positive outlook he has and the zest for life is a lesson for us all! It is with great pleasure that we get to meet the not-so ordinary Brian with his extraordinary story!

By Emma Nicholson.

I started off asking Brian what was your job before you retired? How long have you been involved with the UKWA?

Brian said: "I was apprenticed as a carpenter and joiner for five years from the age of 15. At the end of the apprenticeship I worked for one and a half years for a boat building firm. I then went back out to work on buildings as a self-employed carpenter as I needed to earn more as I was saving to get married. At the age of twenty three I married the love of my life and started my building business doing loft conversions and extensions. I retired from the business and site work at 70, but still make stairs and other joinery in my work shop. Ann still the love of my life, and we are still going strong after 58 years."

"I realised that I had enjoyed being on the water and I was not going to let this windsurfing thing beat me."

Can you talk me through your windsurfing journey, from the beginning, right up to today?

Brian said: "At the age of 18 I was introduced to potholing and caving by the Scouts and this became my main hobby and relaxation from work for over thirty years. I caved all over Britain and Europe coming very close to death on two occasions. The team that I went under ground with changed and my trips around the country slowed.

My teenage daughter, had friends who sailed and had a windsurfer and she had sailed it. In 1985 we were on a camping week end at a small lake which had a small windsurfing school and my daughter persuaded me to have a go. Half an hour lesson and off I went, down wind to the other side of the lake from where I could not get back until I received a tow.

"On returning home I realised that I had enjoyed being on the water and I was not going to let this windsurfing thing beat me. So I went out and purchased a board with a pull out dagger and a very baggy sail. I took this kit to the local gravel pit and taught myself to sail. BIG mistake as I am still suffering from the bad habits I taught myself!

"In 1986 I joined Burghfield Sailing club near Reading, this club had a large and active wind surfing section and with the help of other members my sailing improved a great deal. I was sailing in the club racing and some of the other racers had started attending events run by the young UKBSA and suggested that I give it a go. I attended an event and enjoyed it and more to the point, my wife enjoyed the social side too, so we continued to attend the events. I up graded my gear to a Mistral Competition race board and 6.5 race sail and made progress up the fleet. The fleets at that time were in excess of 200 boards so there was always a group of sailors around you of the same standard to judge your progress. The kit kept improving with a move to 7.5 sails and Fanatic race boards among others and then the move to the 9.5 sails made racing in the lighter airs much more fun.

"I also sailed what we then called short boards, today, freeride, but the kit did not work at all well in stronger winds. Then came the Mistral screamer and battened sails and we could all sail in strong winds and bumpyseas with some success and was to most sailors more fun and exciting than racing, so numbers attending the events dropped away. I enjoyed my free ride sailing now the kit worked but continued with my racing as my wife enjoyed the week ends away and the social side. We attended many events in Europe and enjoyed meeting others people with the same interests as ourselves.

"I continued with racing with the UKWA until I was 76 and then realised that I was not competitive anymore and stopped racing. I still sail with the Sea Vets and get out on the free ride when I can and after beating cancer, I have had lessons At the OTC on sailing a wing, so at 81 there is still more to do and learn, and enjoy!"

"I still sail with the Sea Vets and get out on the free ride when I can and after beating cancer."

What is one of your best memories, watersports related?

Brian said: "When asked about my memories from my time on the water windsurfing, two events always spring to mind. The first one occurred while I was attending a windsurfing event at La Rochelle on the west coast of France. A group of sailors and families were camping there for the week leading up to the event and doing some training. On one of the days the sun was shining and with a nice force four breeze. Myself and two others decided we would sail of to the I.De Re an island about three miles off the coast, have an ice cream and sail back. Off we set and made good progress planning comfortably in the back straps.

"About halfway across my board stopped dead and I flew over the front into the water still hooked in. After getting over my surprise and sorting the kit, I rested on the board and let my legs sink, but what was this, there was some thing solid under me and I stood up. Looking down and investigating I discovered I was standing on a massive jelly fish with a large mane of fibres floating under it. I stood there just over knee deep in the middle of the sea sorted out the gear and beach started away and back into the back straps. Ice creams taken on the island and a good sail back, without hitting any jelly fish!

"The other memory and my best windsurfing took place while attending a UKWA race event at Pwllheli. Racing on the Saturday was made special by a small pod of dolphins in the bay swimming along the start line and around the sailors. Saturday evening was buzzing with chat about what the sailors had seen. I was one of a big group who had not had a sight of any dolphins.

"Sunday morning and out for the first race with the question, would the dolphins be there. First lap done, then when halfway up the second beat a disturbance in the water in front of me. As I watched a dolphins head appeared just in front of the board followed by the curving back and fin and it was gone. As I settled back in the harness thinking WOW that was great, the water was disturbed on both sides of the board and two dolphin heads appeared and looked at me with a look that said lets play. I was buzzing and just kept sailing no longer interested in racing. The two dolphins went under water and crossed under my board and came up and gave me their look and what I am sure was a grin. They did this three times as I sailed along and then with a flick of their tails which covered me in spray they were gone. I dropped the sail and sat on the board and just had a wonder full feeling about what had just taken place.

"After a few minutes one of our rescue boats came to check I was OK and said they had watched some of what had happened and how lucky I was."

"I have had lessons At the OTC on sailing a wing, so at 81 there is still more to do and learn, and enjoy!"

What watersports do you enjoy the most and why?

Brian said: "I have enjoyed all the watersports I have done, caving very water related, fishing which I still do, windsurfing, paddle boarding and swimming all great. Why, not sure, maybe because I am a Pisces."

"I dropped the sail and sat on the board and just had a wonder full feeling about what had just taken place."

What do you think the benefits are to people’s mental health by taking part in watersports activities?

Brian said: "The main benefit to peoples mental health from taking part in windsurfing and similar activities is that as soon as they leave the shore they have to leave all the crap behind other wise you can not sail well or safely. So that’s what happens and they come in feeling better and exclaiming what a great session they have had."

Alongside your work with the UKWA and your dancing, how do you find time to fit in windsurfing?

Brian said: "No problem I am retired! I could not manage to do it all when I worked."

What is your favourite spot to windsurf in the UK?

Brian said: "Hayling Island, used to be on the front for free ride bump and jump and a bit of wave on the bar when conditions were right for me. Now at the Esso station when the tides up. Good clean wind not too bumpy, fairly safe. Portland when I can get there."

What has been the toughest thing to learn with your windsurfing?

Brian said: "Toughest thing, the old favourite, planning cave gybe. Still have trouble with this due to the bad habits I acquired when I taught myself."

What is your favourite brand of windsurfing kit and what is your favourite set of gear?

Brian said: "Favourite gear for racing Fanatic board and a Demon race sail. For free ride Tabou rocket wide 108 with a 5.8/6.5 Tushingham sail."

What is your biggest achievement with your windsurfing?

Brian said: "To me my biggest achievement was becoming good enough to be placed in the top ten of the UKWA racing fleet in the late 2000’s for three years. I worked very hard for that."

Why do you think The OTC and Surf Doctor is so successful, as a brand and a place of business?

Brian said: "I think the OTC is successful because it is in the best sailing spot in the UK to learn and progress and best of all the staff are great, teach well and are like friends all ways ready for a chat and a laugh."

If money was no object what watersports kit would you buy?

Brian said: "If money was no object I would buy a grand yacht with a crew and sail round the world windsurfing in all the fine warm sailing spots!"

Who inspires you?

Brian said: "No-one. I admire what others achieve, but they do not inspire me."

What is the biggest lesson you have learnt throughout your windsurfing journey, so far?

Brian said: "Biggest lesson, get out there and do it. That applies to everything. You learn nothing and achieve nothing sitting on the beach or in an arm chair."

"One thing is certain I will be on the water, hopefully not in it too much."

Do you take part in watersports as a family?

Brian said: "Some times, my daughter and oldest granddaughter can windsurf but do not now. We do all go out and paddle together now when it is warm and on holiday."

Where is your favourite spot to windsurf abroad?

Brian said: "Lake Garda. We have been going there for over twenty years. We had a couple of years at Torbole, then found the morning wind at Malcesine. Love it."

"I am 81 and just recovered from cancer with a very much reduced level of fitness."

What is the best advice you have been given for your windsurfing?

Brian said: "Aged 15 get out and do it."

What is your biggest motivator?

Brian said: "No idea. Just love it."

The future for your watersports what does that hold for you?

Brian said: "The future, great question, I am 81 and just recovered from cancer with a very much reduced level of fitness. I can sail the race board, have been out on the free ride and enjoy the paddle board to paddle and windsup, but I have not managed to get a good grip on the length of time I can stay on the water and what conditions suit me now. With the help of the OTC I know I can wing, but which direction only this summer will provide the answers when I get out there and do it. One thing is certain I will be on the water, hopefully not in it too much."

Here is a poem that Brian has written...

A great thing you can do,

Is sail a windsurfer on sea blue,

But the sea, is sometimes grey,

May be, then best to stay away,

But, if you want to improve your play,

Go out, make the most of the day,

Feel free, fly over waves that crumble,

Try, not to have a watery tumble,

And when your legs and arms do ache,

Head back, take that warming break,

On the beach, tired sailors, like you,

Will all agree there’s not a better thing to do!

Ancient Mariner.

If Brian has inspired you, why not get out there and give it a go with us at The Official Test Centre, call 07817 717904. Try windsurfing for the first time or give winging a go! Age isn't a barrier with our awesome team, we will be sensitive to your needs and go at your pace!

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1 Comment

May 07, 2023

What a great article. Thank you Brian but seriously, winging!!! 😜 enjoy whatever you do

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