Windsurfer's motto: Be prepared

November 29, 1993|By Amy P. Ingram | Amy P. Ingram,Contributing Writer

Nine years ago, the U.S. Naval Academy had neither a windsurfing program nor a racing team. Now, it has six national championships and a reputation as one of the best windsurfing race teams in the country, thanks largely to a transplanted 54-year-old Scotsman.

James Coutts had been running his own windsurfing school in Scotland, developing an international reputation, when in 1984 he took up Navy brass on their invitation to create and coach a windsurfing team at the academy.

Since then, he has been drilling the midshipmen on the necessity for preparation and perfection.

"The most overlooked factor by athletes, coaches and instructors is preparation of yourself and of your equipment," he insists. And although practice may make perfect, it only happens "if you learn what perfect is."

Mr. Coutts taught himself how to wind-surf in 1977 on Carlingford Lough in Northern Ireland. Three years after he jumped on his first board, he created a windsurfing school in Scotland.

"There was no such thing, when I took up the sport, as windsurfing training," he said. "I found out when I was on the water that there's so much fun to be had with the sport if training was provided."

Since then, Mr. Coutts has wind-surfed in the Atlantic, Pacific and Caribbean.

When he was 50, he wind-surfed in the frigid waters off the west coast of Scotland, traveling at speeds up to 50 miles an hour.

He has conducted windsurfing training camps for Olympic hopefuls in both the Fiji and Cayman Islands and in 1987 coached the Puerto Rican Windsurfing Team to the national championships.

When U.S. troops were tangled in Operation Desert Storm, Mr. Coutts created Operation Desert Windsurfing. He raised money

to send windsurfing boards to soldiers at rest and relaxation sites in the Persian Gulf to help relieve the stress of their mission.

4 He even offered to go there and teach the sport.

He said he enjoys the challenge of teaching and coaching because, "I enjoy seeing the pleasure it brings to the individual," he said.

"It's so much fun to be teaching, learning and enjoying my hobby all at the same time," said Mr. Coutts, who lives in Annapolis. "Besides, the Chesapeake area has ideal conditions for learning the sport."

Unlike athletes in many sports, windsurfers suffer few injuries from impacts because their falls are eased by the water, Mr. Coutts said.

He said that more than half of windsurfers are over the age of 30 and are looking for a sport that's fun.

"It's a cross between sailing and surfing," he said. "It's very adrenalin-stimulating, but it's mostly about balance and technique."

In addition to coaching at the Naval Academy, Mr. Coutts is creator of the American Windsurfing School, based in Annapolis. He's working in conjunction with Sandy Point State Park to teach windsurfing to groups of all ages.

Last weekend Mr. Coutts' windsurfing team finished up its season by winning first, second and third place awards at the Vanderstar National Challenge at the academy.

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