Youth participants compete in a sailing championship in 2012 off the shores of Tel Aviv. Youth participants compete in a sailing championship in 2012 off the shores of Tel Aviv. Hundreds of youth participate each year in the International Sailing Federation's Youth Championship of Yachting and Windsurfing. (Photo: Igor Shootov/Shutterstock)

A new generation emerges in the world of windsurfing

Phenoms Yael Paz and Gal Fridman sail toward international success.

A young windsurfer's dream came true when he edged out more than 30 amateur windsurfers from around the world to capture the gold in a windsurfing discipline known as RS:X, or sailboard – currently one of the most popular sailing sports.

The International Sailing Federation's 2014 Youth Championships, held in Portugal July 12-19, fielded about a half-dozen races, with 67 nations sending 367 sailors to compete in events like the 29er, 420 and Laser Radial fleet racing, as well as the RS:X windsurfing event.

Yael Paz, who won gold in RS:X, led the Israeli youth contingent that has now accumulated more than 15 medals in European and World championships.

On the last day of competition, Paz was neck-and-neck with Italian Mattia Camboni, who needed to win outright and get a third-place finish to top the international field, and for Paz not to place. But while Camboni won his points, Paz came in second to secure the gold overall.

It was the latest in a string of nail-biting finishes ending in victory for Israeli windsurfers.

At the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics, Israeli windsurfer Gal Fridman won the same way, gaining second place in the final race of competition. He still beat his competitors to hold onto the gold, which he missed out on in Atlanta in 1996, when he won the bronze.

Fridman's gold in Athens inspired young windsurfer Shahar Zubari, who was in the finals of the 2012 windsurfing event and won a bronze at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. In last place to start the final race, Zubari came from behind for a second-place finish on the day and third overall.

Like Fridman before and Paz since, Zubari took up the sport of windsurfing growing up in Eilat, Israel's prime windsurfing spot on the coast of the Red Sea. There, he said, the “waters are calm and it's like summer all year round.”

Windsurfing with mountain backdrop on the Red Sea near Eilat, Israel Israel's nearly 200 miles of shoreline via the Red Sea (pictured above) and Mediterranean Sea makes it a prime producer of some of the world's best water-sports athletes. (Photo: Sergei25/Shutterstock)

“We definitely have great conditions for (sailing),” Zubari told From the Grapevine. “We just have great facilities in general, and because Israel is so small, everything is easy to get to.” Zubari said easy travel is especially important for competitive windsurfers who need to experience and prepare for many different sailing conditions.

Zubari said he plans on trying out for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil and, if he can't make it, hopes somebody from his home nation steps up. After all, he said, there's plenty of talent.

“There's definitely a lot of talented young windsurfers here,” Zubari said. “There's a few young men coming up who will be really good for Israel. I really hope one of the young guys will eventually come up and compete and win another medal. I think Israel has a really good future in sailing sports.”

Smadar Pintov, chief executive officer of the Israel Sailing Association, told From the Grapevine that he's seen increased interest in both competitive and recreational sailing sports.

“There is a sailing movement in Israel, and every year there are more and more children and adults in the sailing sports,” Pintov said. “The Israeli Sailing Association takes a role only in competitive sailing, but I know that the increased interest in sailing in Israel is not only (in competition) but in public sailing like yachting, SAP, windsurfing and (other leisure sailing).”

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