For Finn’s 10th birthday he went sailing and saw windsurfers having fun in and around the boats. After begging his dad to give him some equipment, it wasn’t long before he was out learning and training on the water at Porthpean. Finn explained that progression in windsurfing in the beginning is really slow but before long he started in Team15 – a windsurfing club for under 16’s where he was able to train with the professionals.
Finn attended Truro School from 2014 to 2021 and told us that Wednesday Afternoon Activities also provided an opportunity to enjoy windsurfing at Loe Beach. He explained how all his training and the sessions at school combined to help his progression to a zone squad, and then to the national team, which involves travelling around the country. Finn soon took part in his first international event, when he was just 12 years old, in Brest, France. He told us he didn’t do too well, and only sailed the right course twice during the whole event. “I had no idea what was going on!” Finn explained that his mum took him to this particular event, with her driving all the way and then ensuring he was prepared enough. He told us that as soon as you get on the circuit, you can take part in European and world championships every year. This meant that during the school term he would train every single weekend.
Did you enjoy your time at school?
School was really, really good. The school was so supportive. The biggest thing for me is they knew I had to take time out of school to train, and they were really good as making sure I didn’t miss out and really helped minimize the impact it would have on my schooling. You’re always going to fall a little bit behind when you’re training or abroad.
Did you stay for Sixth Form?
Yes, I studied Maths, Physics and Economics. I really feel those subjects helped me because there is a lot of crossover from Physics especially with hydro-foiling – it’s physics-based stuff to even understand how a boat moves forward.
Can you explain the main difference between windsurfing and hydrofoils?
When you windsurf you have a fin under the water which helps hold you sideways and propel you forwards. But with the hydrofoil, it’s the same physics as an aeroplane taking off. So, it’s doing the same thing under the water: you have your big front wing and a smaller back wing underneath your board, and because water is thicker than air, you don’t need to go as quick as a plane goes. So, your whole equipment lifts off out of the water, and the only thing left is the wings – and then that reduces the drag and you can go a lot faster.
What speeds can you reach on the hydrofoil?
I can probably go about 35 mph, around 30 knots. A normal windsurfer can reach a higher top speed but if you were to windsurf around a course, it’s much faster with the hydrofoil. You can also go much faster in lower winds. A normal windsurfer probably needs about 15-18 knots of wind to travel at around 28 knots, whereas on a hydrofoil with 8 knots of wind, you can do around 24 knots of speed, and that’s what makes it really exciting.
With a hydrofoil, a good way to practice when there is no wind for windsurfing is to get towed behind a boat and practice your foiling skills that way.
Can you tell us some of your memories of your time at school?
I remember taking part in an elite performers programme which was great and physically improved me. I also went to judo club which I really enjoyed. I would really like to get back into judo and try some other watersports.
What is next for you?
I’m windsurfing full-time now, and I’ve taken a gap year to see how good I can be and just see where it all progresses. This is my trial year. I have a place at Exeter for Engineering in 2022 but it depends how well my windsurfing goes or doesn’t go; but Truro School has given me that option. Mr Williamson taught me Physics and also went to Exeter. He was an inspirational teacher for me and was amazing helping to organise things so I could catch up, always asked how competitions went and made sure things were going smoothly. And Mr Gustafsson (Teacher of Chemistry), who was my Form Tutor through Sixth Form – he windsurfs too – was really influential in making sure everything was going smoothly. He understood the sport which helped.
One time I bumped into Mr Baker (Teacher of DT) at the beach, and we ended up windsurfing together. It’s cool living and going to school in Cornwall because I know having spoken to other windsurfers who didn’t live near a beach, their schools didn’t really understand the sport or what they did. But here, everyone has heard of sailing, or at least goes to the beach, so generally is in touch with what you do.
The school definitely gave me that security to explore windsurfing but also to have an education. A lot of athletes in other sports are having to peak at my age, and so as a result have lost a lot of their education through having to train to a higher level much earlier, but luckily with windsurfing being older is a benefit as you’re more experienced. Experience is everything. I am lucky in that sense; that I can spend some time on my education still. Having the chance to embrace other things in life away from your sport when you’re at an elite level really helps to keep you emotionally stable because if things go wrong then its not the end of the world. Ultimately, I’ve still got a back-up option. Tom Daley recently said he thought he won a gold medal because he had other things like a family too, and sport wasn’t all consuming for him.
Who are your heroes?
In the British sailing team, Nick Dempsey who won silver in the Rio and London Olympics. He’s just come back and is now our coach on the team. So that’s really cool.
You’re 19 soon, how are you celebrating?
I’m going to be in Lanzarote windsurfing as the conditions are better there for training during the winter season. I’m still in the under-21’s next year but I’m going to try and push for the men’s championships in 2023 so I can aim for the Olympics in 2024. The British team are really good. This year is such an important year so I need to work hard and do well.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I begin with an early morning gym session and a big breakfast because I am trying to gain weight at the moment to put on muscle. I then have around 3 or 4 hours rest for my body to recover, before a big lunch and then training in the afternoon. I also try and eat as much as I possibly can in between! That’s been much more tiring than you might think, because when you’re trying to force it, it’s not great. I have been quite relaxed on what I’m eating specifically but now I am trying to cut out the rubbish, and it is becoming stricter because I am trying to become lean-heavy. No one really knows how heavy you need to be, but lean if you can. Once you have reached the weight goal you can do more cardio and become fitter and fitter. It’s a science, and I am currently having nutrition discussions with the British sailing team – there’s so much support from sport science professionals.
My coach is very influential in making sure I am doing all the right things at the right time and there is a lot to it – its really hard to fit it all in, so many components: your equipment, technique, race strategy, yourself, and then just simple windsurfing.
After my gym session and food, I tend to watch footage of my windsurfing from the coach, I make notes and go through it with the coach and the team – and just keep re-evaluating every day.
What are competitions like?
It’s friendly and cut-throat. Everyone is really nice, and the period beforehand when you’re setting up everyone is friendly but as soon as you’re on the water, everyone is very serious. It is a small community at the elite stage – at the world competition we had around 170 people. I am one of the younger competitors.
Anything you’re particularly proud of?
Definitely getting decent A-Level results whilst still being able to compete at international level. That was probably the hardest thing, to try and be good at windsurfing and still be good at school to get into university.
What do you enjoy most about windsurfing?
I love the fact now that I can go anywhere on the water, I can travel around St Austell bay, go to Polkerris, maybe go around the headland, go to Fowey and on the hydrofoil too – very quickly. There is so much freedom and adrenaline.
My favourite place I have competed is Marseille. Lanzarote is really warm, so lovely; it’s definitely one of the most beautiful places. I would love to windsurf in Hawaii.
How do you relax or celebrate after a competition?
Unfortunately, when you finish, you’ve got to pack-up everything! But then maybe I have a meal with the team or a party and then its just driving all the way home.
What would you say to anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Keep at it, doing what you can. Every session you squeeze in to train is so important, for example every Wednesday Afternoon Activity session at school equals 20 sessions so it can make all the difference.