2024 Olympic Windsurfing Sea Trials – Equipment and Community Collide

Farrah Hall (left) at the 2024 Windsurfing Equipment Sea Trials sailing the Glide
Farrah Hall (left) at the 2024 Windsurfing Equipment Sea Trials sailing the Glide

US Sailing Team Women’s RS:X athlete, Farrah Hall (Annapolis, Md.), recently participated at the RS:X equipment sea trials for the 2024 Olympics. During the trials, World Sailing conducted comprehensive on the water testing and onshore evaluation of five equipment options to replace the Men’s and Women’s RS:X classes at the 2024 Games. Yesterday, World Sailing released that the iFoil has been recommended as the replacement equipment. Hall was one of the 20 athletes selected to test each piece of equipment and provide input to help inform this decision. We caught up with Farrah to get an inside look at the trials process and find out how she feels about the recommendation.

How did you get involved in the equipment sea trials?

I have a good friend, Alex Morales, who has his own foil board brand and he makes his own foils. US Windsurfing reached out to him to see if I would be interested in doing the trials. Then, I started communicating with US Windsurfing and US Sailing. They were working with World Sailing to help find testers from as many different nations as possible, with a variety of different experiences.

We actually ended up with a really, really cool mix of people. There were some superstars from the PWA (Professional Windsurfers Association) World Windsurfing Tour and some Olympic Medalists. It was just a great group of people with a great attitude.

What was the evaluation process like?

Each day, testers were divided into groups and assigned certain equipment, but we also frequently swapped on the water to test the differences between classes or between sets of foil equipment. On the water, World Sailing managed some course racing and slalom racing, and all the sailors interacted with each other during speed tests as well.

World Sailing organized three coach boats to follow us around, observe, help change or tune the equipment, and run races.  We finished each session with a lot of group discussion about each piece of equipment.

The iFoil was the board that World Sailing recommended, did you agree or have any other favorites?

The Glide was definitely underrated gear. The excitement of the test among the athletes was definitely around testing foil boards [rather than the two non-foiling boards: the RS:X and the Glide]. I have to say, six months before this test, I was leaning heavily towards the Glide platform. I know Bruce Kendall, who’s the guy behind the concept. I thought he did a good job in creating something that agreed with greater Olympic ideals, growing participation, and having a nice set of equipment to accommodate both of those things.

If they had introduced the Glide in 2004 when the RS:X was introduced, it probably would have been chosen, but when I started looking into what foiling had done in France alone, it became clear to me that the platform for foiling boards is working. It can become a universal platform and can perform well in a lot of conditions. They’re really fast, exciting, fun, and it looks amazing in media. It’s a better direction to go.

What makes you think the iFoil is a good fit for the Olympics?

Ideally, when you’re looking at Olympic classes, you choose the ones where everyone is on something simple, that has super fair competition. That’s the iFoil. The equipment is standardized, and they have a plan to have a lot of charters in place, which makes travel easier.

While it’s priced a little above an RS:X right now, the iFoil does have a plan for developing nations. They’re also planning to have multiple manufacturers, so I think that will help control the pricing and allow for sponsorships and team rider deals to support the athletes.

What sets the iFoil apart from the other foiling boards?

The fact that it was the only one-design foiling class was the biggest factor behind the endorsement. One-design equipment aligns with Olympic ideals. They promote fair competition, creating a space where the best athlete wins, not the one with the fastest equipment.

For a lot of developing nations, countries that have never even seen a foil board before, there’s going to be a huge mental hurdle when we introduce foiling. When you introduce a more open format like formula foil Windfoiler 1, you introduce more anxiety about what equipment to even buy. iFoil cuts that extra anxiety out of the equation.

They put together a great proposal that was more compelling than the other tender’s presentations. They’re a good company, they have a well-established team and a good reputation. It’s clear that they have the ability to execute what they represented. Which was enough to convince World Sailing.

How do you think the introduction of foiling boards as an Olympic class would change windsurfing in the U.S.?

Honestly, even if we sit around and do nothing, I think it will still drive participation. We’re already seeing a lot of foiling start to gain popularity. It’s beginning to bring together the windsurfing community again.

Over the years, broad participation in the U.S. has been totally dependent on the individuals in a given area because the equipment was so segmented and the hybrid boards (like the RS:X) that came out of that segmentation were only popular for a couple of years.

Now, we’re on the cusp of another big shift. When you introduce foiling, you’re giving everyone hope and excitement that they can succeed in this new class. There are a lot of people already buying into it. I know a ton of coaches and sailors that said they wouldn’t ever sail again and are foiling now. So, it has generated a lot of momentum. Hopefully, we can harness that in the U.S. and try to get a real domestic circuit going.

Do you have any thoughts on leaving the RS:X class if the iFoil (or other) is selected as the new Olympic class?

I’m actually happy that all of my Olympic campaigns were on the RS:X. It’s such a tough piece of equipment, but now I have this skill set that is going to benefit me for the rest of my sailing career. The RS:X has given me the ability to sail any piece of equipment, anywhere.

Because it’s such a tough class, I think some of the RS:X skills are going to be, not lost, but maybe less necessary going forward. In some ways, that’s really sad for me. Even with all of the supply problems, that challenge was always special for me. I’ve kind of seen the birth and death of an Olympic class, so that’s an awesome thing to be a part of.

Having said that, I think it’s pretty likely that it will be replaced. There’s not much more the RS:X can offer. Just looking at the attitude of World Sailing and all of the testers at the Sea Trials was pretty enlightening. Everyone’s ready to move on.

Are you happy with the endorsement World Sailing made?

I have a lot of confidence in how the test went. I really believe that we did something good. On the water, you could feel the real spirit of the sport: coming together to create this amazing collaboration. I’m confident that picking a foiling class was the right thing to do for the sport.

World Sailing demonstrated that they were invested in this process, that it’s not just a bunch of politicians making random decisions. They genuinely valued our opinions and listened to the tenders. I think they made the best decision possible with the information we have. Going forward, I believe we did something good for the sport and I’m happy to have been a part of it. It’s going to be one of my most special memories of my entire career.

If you want to hear more about Farrah’s experience, visit her blog to get her take on each board.