It’s been over a decade since a Kiwi woman windsurfed at the Olympic Games.
The last (and, actually, our only female Olympic windsurfer) was 1992 ‘golden girl’ Barbara Kendall, who bowed out after her fifth Olympics in Beijing 2008.
But Kendall, who won a medal of every hue, can see hope sailing on the horizon. And she’s thrilled to finally have a successor.
It’s Tauranga teenager Veerle ten Have who Kendall sees breaking the drought, and who she thinks could have a shot at competing at next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“Vee has all the spirit, all the energy, and all the right ingredients to be a rock star,” says Kendall.
“She’s one of the most positive, happy, intelligent, determined and focused young women that we’ve had in windsurfing for a long time. And I’m glad she’s around.”
Ten Have hopes that Kendall is right.
The 18-year-old is putting all she has into getting to Tokyo 2020. That’s meant training every day – on her own – on the Tauranga Harbour, and doing her final year of high school through correspondence, so she can travel the globe training and racing on the world windsurfing circuit.
It was only recently, though, that ten Have – New Zealand’s top female boardsailor – began seriously considering herself as a candidate for Tokyo. Originally a competitive horse rider, she only took up windsurfing when her horse was injured. The Olympics never figured in her future.
“Even when I’d go to a world championship [she’s already been to seven] I didn’t have the Olympics in mind,” she says.
But when she won a silver medal at the youth sailing world championships in Corpus Christi last July – the highlight of her career so far – it made her think again.
A little sage advice from Kendall helped, too. Ten Have competed at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires last October, but was disappointed with her 13th placing. She was sailing a smaller techno board that didn’t suit her: “I’m way too big for them.”
Kendall, who was the chef de mission of the New Zealand Youth Olympic team, took ten Have aside and reassured her.
“I told her ‘you’ve come this far, and it’s only a couple of years until Tokyo. You have all the ingredients you need to get there, and you’ll regret it if you don’t give it a good nudge’,” Kendall says.
“If she does what she’s meant to do, she will make it to Tokyo. By Paris 2024, she’ll be in exactly the right age bracket and have the right formula to do incredibly well.”
If she doesn’t make it this time, it won’t be through lack of trying. Every day, ten Have takes her RS:X windsurfer and sails out into the Tauranga Harbour, off Sulphur Point.
The spit of land, that juts out towards Mount Maunganui, has recently earned its place in New Zealand sailing folklore. It’s the home of the Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club, whose sailors won three medals at the last Olympics – Sam Meech (bronze), Molly Meech (silver), and victorious America’s Cup helmsman Peter Burling (gold).
Ten Have – who was born in the Netherlands, and came to New Zealand as a five-year-old – usually sails her daily two-hour workouts alone. “If there are boats going out, I’ll go with them,” she says.
She used to train with Max van der Zalm, a talented windsurfer who also represented New Zealand at the Youth Olympics. “But he’s away doing his basic training for the Navy,” she says.
So what keeps driving her to go out there alone?
“It’s knowing that people on the other side of the world are about to wake up and go out on the water training – probably with five other sailors and two coaches,” ten Have says. “They’re being pampered by everyone. But I know I’m training just as hard as they are.”
She doesn’t have the luxury of a full-time coach, but takes advice from 1988 Olympic champion Bruce Kendall, and Kate Ellingham, who windsurfed for New Zealand in the 2000s.
Like Barbara Kendall before her, ten Have is also used to training with, and racing against, male windsurfers.
“I think it’s better to be training with boys, because they’re much stronger and tougher competition. When I come to sail with women, I can see how really beneficial it’s been to sail with the guys,” she says.
But, this summer, she’s had the chance to sail with a cluster of experienced international women in Auckland. Next year the RS:X windsurfing worlds will be raced off Takapuna Beach, so the sailors came for an insight into the conditions. Ten Have is “super-stoked” to have them here.
She’s under no illusions of how tough it will be to qualify for the Olympics next year, especially in only her second year sailing in the women’s fleets.
There will be nine spots up for grabs at the world champs in Lake Garda, Italy, this year, and then one Oceania spot from the world champs in Auckland next year.
Ten Have knows she will need to consistently finish in and around the top 10 in regattas around the world.
But she’s ready for it. After all, it’s in her name: Veerle means “travel to battle”.
Next week she’s off to Palma de Mallorca, Spain, for the European championships. Then she’s home again to focus on school, before a couple of months in Japan to train and race in the World Cup series before heading to Lake Garda.
She’ll be home in time to do her NCEA Level 3 exams. She wants to go to university, but she’ll take a gap year if the Olympics are a real chance.
The ten Have family moved to New Zealand after taking a holiday here and discovering “a really cool country”.
“My mum and dad liked the weather and the lifestyle, and it was close to the beach,” Veerle says.
They weren’t particularly into water sports. But Veerle became a typical Kiwi kid who’d have a go at anything. Encouraged by her brother, she did a six-week windsurfing course, but wasn’t smitten with it.
A year later, when her horse suffered a broken pelvis, ten Have was left searching for something else to do. “Everyone was like ‘come windsurfing, it’s way faster than horse riding’,” she says.
“I said ‘fine, I’ll come and do it for a bit because there’s nothing else to do’. So we hired gear and I windsurfed… and just kept going.”
But it wasn’t until she’d been to her first world championships in 2016 – in the techno boards as a 14-year-old – that ten Have realised how much she enjoyed it.
“I love the competitiveness and the racing aspect,” she says. “It’s the tactics, the emotions, the adrenalin rush on the start-line; and having other people to pit yourself against.”
Still in her teens, ten Have has now sailed in seven world championships. Two in the techno boards, two in the world youth sailing champs, two in the RS:X youth worlds, and one in the sailing world champs in Denmark last year – racing in a fleet of senior women, where she finished fourth in one race.
She’s been trying her hand in other board disciplines – winning the women’s windsurf slalom nationals in January and, last week, she was the top woman at the national windfoil championships.
Windfoiling appears to be the way of the future – the Netherlands have made a submission for the physically demanding RS:X board to be replaced by the easier, faster foiling windsurfer at the Olympics.
Ten Have – recognised with the ‘emerging talent’ award at the latest New Zealand Yachting Excellence Awards – knows she still has so much to improve on. Her weakness is sailing in light air, and the solution: “I need to get super-fit.”
Barbara Kendall says ten Have is strong, but she needs to refine her power-to-weight ratio: “Then she’ll be dynamite”.
Ten Have enjoys having regular chats with Kendall, but she’s not hung up on trying to replicate the Olympic legend’s success.
“New Zealand’s windsurfing history is really cool. But we’re in the future now and I don’t worry too much about what’s gone on before me,” she says.
“If I suddenly no longer enjoyed windsurfing, I would stop altogether. It’s really important to me that I’m doing what I like.”