The controversy around the first Windsurfer Class world champion

December 15, 2021 | Windsurfing
Windsurfer Class: who won the first world title?

The Windsurfer Class held US National Championships in 1972 and 1973.

The first World Championship, a combined US Nationals and Worlds event, was held in August 1974 at the North American Sailing Center at Association Island, New York.

Bruce Matlack, the sailor who won the 1973 US Nationals in Mission Bay, has created a controversy by claiming that because two Europeans and a Tahitian participated, the 1973 event was really the first Worlds and that he is the first world champion.

The Windsurfer Class Association does not recognize that claim.

Although this has been pointed out to Mr. Matlack and his supporters many times, Mr. Matlack persists in making this claim, to the point of sending threatening and intimidating communications to writers and filmmakers if they correctly name the 1974 event as the first World Championship.

The Windsurfer Class has never considered the 1973 event a World Championship.

The official Windsurfer Class schedule, the trophies, and the t-shirts, all label the 1973 event as the US Nationals.

The post-race results were published in many publications, including the official class publication, then called "Windsurfing News," as the US Nationals.

The Windsurfer Class yearbooks all name the 1974 event as the first Worlds.

A "Nationals Nostalgia" event was held in Mission Bay for several years after the 1973 Nationals. Copies of all records of these items exist.

1974 Windsurfer World Championships: riders getting ready at Association Island, New York | Photo: Dick Lamb

The Bruce Matlack Claim

I was unaware of Mr. Matlack's claim of being the first Windsurfer world champion until I ventured onto Facebook during the Covid pandemic.

As soon as I saw the claim, I knew it was wrong.

I was on staff at the Association Island North American Sailing Center during the summer of 1974, where we ran top-level events for many different classes.

I clearly remember the excitement we felt at running the first Worlds for this new boat that most of us had only seen in pictures.

In Facebook exchanges in 2020, Mr. Matlack and some of his friends claimed that Windsurfing International and the Windsurfer Class Association changed the level of the event by agreeing to pay the airfares for the top two finishers in the first European Championship.

They also asserted that the promoter told the Europeans that the event would be a World Championship.

That may or not be true, but even if it were true, it's irrelevant.

Only the International Class Association has the authority to change the level of an event.

Had the class done so, the subsequent published results and yearbooks would have called the event the Worlds, not the US Nationals.

The fledgling Class would have had every incentive to call the 1973 Nationals a World Championship to add to the prestige of the class when it was working hard to gain adherents.

His claim was completely debunked by Mr. Matlack's own words, as quoted by a friend and zealous defender of Mr. Matlack's claim and not disputed by Mr. Matlack.

The friend said Mr. Matlack told him that when he found out, on his arrival at the 1973 event, that two Europeans were coming, he asked the event organizer, Diane Schweitzer (US Sailing National Hall of Fame Inductee), what would happen if a European won the US Nationals.

The friend quotes Mr. Matlack as saying that she was "stunned" by the question, meaning, of course, that she hadn't thought of this before, and therefore no notice of an event level change could possibly have been made prior.

And, of course, had the event been changed to a Worlds, there would have been no reason to be stunned.

August 1974, Association Island, New York: skipper's meeting for the first Windsurfer World Championships presided by Diane Greene presiding | Photo: Dick Lamb

The 1973 Windsurfer Nationals - Not Worlds

That conversation resulted in the event being called the 1973 Windsurfer Open National Championships in the subsequent race report in the official class publication, "Windsurfing News."

Other publications printed the results as simply the 1973 Windsurfer Nationals.

For a World Championship to be legitimate, the class association must notify all national class associations and sailors via a notice of race well in advance of the event and provide a listing in the official class schedule.

Providing notice well in advance ensures that all those who wish to compete at the Worlds level get a chance to do so.

The International Class, as will be clear, never intended the 1973 event to be anything but the US Nationals, and everything official shows that the 1973 event was conceived, run, and results published at the time as the US Nationals and in subsequent official class yearbooks.

I checked with two former NASC staff members with whom I'm still friends, and they, too, remember the 1974 event's billing as the first Windsurfer World Championship.

The 1973 women's national champion, Susie Swatek, corroborated that she remembered the 1973 event as the US Nationals - she would have had every incentive to claim it as a Worlds if it were true.

Further, the event organizer told me unequivocally in a 2020 email that the 1973 event was the US Nationals, not a Worlds.

Mr. Matlack claims that he has published proof from periodicals that he was the first world champion.

He points to a listing in a 1976 issue of Windsurfer that erroneously characterized the 1973 event as the Nationals/Worlds.

This was clearly an inadvertent error, as the only combined US Nationals and Worlds in class history was the 1974 event.

The 1973 Nationals was two days; the 1974 combined event was six days.

All of these published "proofs" result from either a simple mistake or Mr. Matlack's claim that he has watered and fertilized over the years, or the result of an error.

The adage that a lie travels around the world before the truth can get its boots on is particularly apt in this instance.

I've asked Mr. Matlack and supporters on Facebook to show any contemporaneous written evidence to support their claims.

They provided none.

I further asked them if they would be willing to have each of us submit our cases to members of the National Sailing Hall of Fame (NSHOF) to act as adjudicators.

I received no response.

He has threatened to publish a disparaging video about me regarding the nomination and induction of Hoyle and Diane Schweitzer into the US Sailing Hall of Fame.

When I asked him to publish this document next to his evidence so readers could make up their own minds, he did not respond.

Yearbooks and Media Reports

Following is the documented basis for the 1973 event being the US Nationals, not a Worlds.

Below is the notice of race schedule of "Windsurfing News" announcing 1973 US Nationals in Mission Bay on October 13-14 1973:

1973 Windsurfer US National Championships Notice of Race

Below is the publication of the results in "Windsurfing News," a newsletter published by the Windsurfer Class Association.

Note that the write-up mentions that two Europeans and a Tahitian participated and that the event was the 1973 Open National Championships:

1973 Windsurfer US National Championships Results in 'Windsurfing News'

The trophies can be seen below - the commemorative glass and the Women's National Championship Trophy awarded to Susie Swatek in 1973.

An identical trophy was awarded to the men's overall champion in 1973, but that trophy has not been found.

It's hard to read, but it says Windsurfing Women's National Championship and was awarded to Susie Swatek.

1973 Windsurfer US National Championships Trophies

The post-race press release and results went out to publications as 1973 Nationals:

MotorBoating, March 1974: the news with the 1973 Windsurfer US National Championships results

The Windsurfer Class yearbook list the 1974 Worlds at Association Island as the first World Championship:

1982 Windsurfer Class Yearbook

1982 Windsurfer Class Yearbook: news and results of the inaugural 1974 Windsurfer World Championship

The US National Sailing Hall of Fame recognizes 1974 as the first Windsurfer World Championship.

The following is from the write up by world-renowned sailor, author, and sailing commentator Gary Jobson for the induction of Hoyle and Diane Schweitzer into the US National Sailing Hall of Fame:

"The first world championship in 1974 featured 89 sailors at Association Island on Lake Ontario."

"I was running an Advanced Racing Clinic there that summer and was mystified by these strange, speedy craft."

"The class continued to grow, and the second Worlds in 1975 brought 135 entrants."

The official Windsurfer Class history, as re-printed on the European Class website, states:

"The Original Windsurfer was a strict one design which sold over 400,000 units - still the largest sailing class ever."

"The first world championships for the Windsurfer Class were held in 1974."

"Two years later, in 1976 in Nassau, Bahamas, 456 competitors took part in what was the one-design sailing event ever."

"Here, a 13-year-old Robbie Naish of Hawaii took the overall title. Naish would go on to dominate the sport for the next several decades."

Even Wikipedia has it right:

Wikipedia: the list of the official Windsurfer One Design world champions

It is ironic that the photo used by Mr. Matlack purportedly showing him being presented the World Championship trophy in San Diego in 1973 actually depicts the US Nationals trophy.

As you can see, it is identical to the Women's Nationals trophy above.

Bruce Matlack with the 1973 Windsurfer US National Championships trophy

Mr. Matlack does deserve credit for winning the US Nationals twice (1972 and 1973) and finishing second in the first World Championship.

However, one would have to suspend disbelief entirely to believe Mr. Matlack's claim of being the first Windsurfer world champion.

The overall title and designation as first Windsurfer world champion belong to Matt Schweitzer of California/Hawaii for the men and Bep Thijs from the Netherlands for the women.

I hope Mr. Matlack will discontinue his shameful charade.


Words by Dick Lamb | International Windsurfer Class President (1976-1983)

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