Robby Swift, 17, was the youngest windsurfer ever in 1998 to be part of the British professional fleet. Last year, he became the World Youth champion for racing and slalom. Robby started boardsailing at the age of three. Last winter, he spent three months in Hawaii combining training with his schooling. It paid dividends – two months ago, he registered his best competitive performance, fourth in a full World Championship event at Fuerteventura.
Where are a competitive windsurfer's physical strengths?
The upper body, shoulders, forearms and wrists – these have to manoeuvre the sail in the wind. Legs are worked hard as well, but they tend to be more flexible to deal with the high jumps. Knees have to be strong to absorb the pressure of landing and cushioning the rest of the body.
How do you train to develop these strengths?
The best way is to actually windsurf. But I do also have a gym routine that I'm supposed to do every day. It lasts for about two hours, is all free weights and concentrates mainly on the upper body. By using free weights rather than machines, exercises can be created to try to mimic the actions you actually do on the water. I do a little cardiovascular work but I'm not very fit for running – I'm extremely fit for windsurfing. It is a sport that needs specific fitness, so it can't be compared easily to other sports.
How long did you spend in Hawaii last winter and what did you do?
I was there from January to the end of March and apart from school (A-levels in French, Spanish and Business), I was on the water every day. The climate is great for watersports and it made a huge difference, both in fitness and in skill. Hawaii has good winds, waves and plenty of movement, so you have to work hard – it is far more tiring to sail there than in England. I became a lot stronger just from being on the water. If you do it every day, of course, you improve.
It must be hard at 17 to follow a specific diet.
Yes, it is. My diet is high in carbohydrates and low in protein because we need to develop long-term energy levels. But I find it hard to follow, particularly when I'm travelling to other countries to compete.
When you compete, how long are you actually in the water?
For the heats it is just 10 minutes – but it's very intense. You have to do three jumps and ride two or three waves. Imagine holding 10kg weights in each hand and jumping around for 10 minutes without a break. I can hardly move my arms afterwards.
Do you prepare much with a warm-up and warm-down?
You should do, but I'm not great at it. Stretching is very important – but when I see some good waves or the conditions are good, I get excited and just head off to the water. I'm not much better afterwards either as I tend to disappear for a drink.
How beneficial was it to start at such a young age?
Very, because my body has grown up doing these activities – you could say that I've been training all my life. Watersports require a very different fitness to land-based sports. I am fit in the water, just not very fit out of it.
Interview by Iain Fletcher The White Air Extreme Sports Festival concludes today on the Isle of Wight: www.whiteair.co.uk, 01983 7605 53Reuse content