Brighton, Michigan: “I was driving home from work a few months ago. A friend my age had just been diagnosed with cancer. I said to myself, ‘There must be something more to life than this,’” recalls Christine Brooks, 52, the new Executive Director of the U.S. Windsurfing Association. “I was getting restless and needed a challenge after 30 years of working in higher education,” she laughs, adding, “when Rod Clevenger called and said U.S. Windsurfing Association was looking for a new Executive Director, it was the right opportunity at the right time.” Brooks, who is running the office out of her Michigan home, plans to relocate U.S.W.A. to Melbourne, Florida in September. “My husband, Dennis Cervino, has retired from teaching. Our son, Aaron, is 26 and a second-year law student at Tulane University. It seemed like the right time in our lives to make a move and the new house we are building is close to Banana River where I love to go windsurfing.” Outgoing U.S.W.A. President Dick Tillman, writing in the May/June 2001 issue of US Windsurfing News, says that, “Our expectation is for Christine Brooks to elevate, with your support, U.S. Windsurfing to a higher level, in terms of awareness, membership base, programs, and activities.”
While she is not a professional windsurfer, this 52-year old New Zealand woman has exceptional qualifications for re-energizing the sport and developing new markets, particularly among women. She graduated from the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand in 1969 and got a scholarship for her masters’ degree in sports biomechanics at Penn State. She launched the women’s track and field team there and went on to coach the U.S. Junior Track and Field Team. In 1980, after a team of women hurdlers she was training did not go to the Olympics, Brooks channeled her disappointment into motivation. She entered a doctoral program at the University of North Carolina, earning a Ph.D. in sports marketing in 1985. She was hired by the University of Michigan to develop their sports management program. In 1988, she helped the U.S. Synchronized Swimming team to develop their marketing base.
Brooks grew up in Auckland, where her father taught her to sail at the age of 8 in Takapuna Bay. She hadn’t sailed in years when, at the age of 40, she decided to take it up again. “I knew how to sail. How hard could windsurfing be?” she asked herself. Five years ago, she went to Beth Powell’s Banana River resort and soon got into racing while her husband played tennis. “I was just putzing around but soon found that the motivation and social stimulation of racing added an edge that I loved,” she says. Brooks’ favorite gear is a SuperlightII long board, Techno 283, and Fanatic Bee 135 with an Aerotech 7.5 race sail. “Once you start with a sail, you tend to stay with it,” she says, adding, “I’m betting ready to play with an 8.5 or 9.0.”
Asked to share her thoughts on the future of windsurfing, Christine draws upon many years of experience in the field of sports marketing around the world. “Our sport is at a critical stage and many people are panicky about the future of windsurfing. But I am not worried. If we look at the case of the former Soviet Union we can learn something very important. The sports system in the former Soviet bloc was in complete disarray with the breakdown of the U.S.S.R. because athletics were fully subsidized by the government. Suddenly, the athletes were on their own but they have been able to maintain their competitive edge. I believe that as long as there are people who are passionate and involved in a sport, it will be able to grow and thrive.”
While her optimism is well grounded, Christine is able to pinpoint a couple of key areas of concern. “A lot of the windsurfing industry is made up of hobbyists trying to make a business out of what they love. They are not taking care of the entry level segment nor is there a plan to develop the racing level of the sport. In fact, there is no long-term plan for windsurfing, possibly because windsurfers tend to be rugged individualists who enjoy the independence of being alone at sea,” she observes. One of her projects will be to strengthen the Olympic component of windsurfing and build on the support which the U.S. Sailing team has. “It’s ridiculous how little support and effort we have ben making to bring the Olympic side of windsurfing to the forefront. I would like to develop a Junior Women’s Olympic development team so that we can get more mileage out of windsurfing’s connection to the Olympics,” she says, adding, “We have to raise the profile of women. The way this sport represents women is atrocious. Men need to be more grown up in their treatment of women, especially since the percentage of women in windsurfing has grown from ten percent to thirty percent.”
Two other issues which need targeting to help windsurfing develop as an industry and a sport are the distribution and marketing strategies for entry level sailors and the need to develop a good competitive structure for racing that keeps people motivated. In citing a case study of the New Zealand Americas Cup team which examined how to build team dynamics among high profile sailors who were intelligent, technical individualists, she pointed out there was a lot to be learned about personality dynamics so that new markets for windsurfing can be targeted. “We need to think more like a sports industry, like skiing and tennis, where people are ranked by age, group, talent, and a handicap system. Teamwork doesn’t come naturally to windsurfers, either. The personality types that are attracted to windsurfing tend to think they have the solution, rather than recognizing that they may have part of the solution. Thirdly, we need to provide hands-on service for beginners rather than marketing equipment through mail order. This is a complicated sport and beginners need to be nurtured. That’s where a club structure can be helpful,” she says.
And let’s not forget the lack of facilities at most windsurfing beaches. “Golf has a 19th hole. What do we have? A parking lot?” she laughs. “Our sport needs a house.”
As sophisticated as she is in her approach to sports marketing, Christine’s connection to windsurfing goes deeper. Her thoughts touch a universal chord and she seems to speak for all of us when she says, “It brings me back to reality in a way that nothing else does. I feel more ‘me’ whether I’m going faster than I’ve ever done before or whether I’m out there in a reflective, yogalike way. The body can get disconnected from mind and soul out there in the business world.
“Windsurfing reconnects my body to my soul.”