At Peder Skrivares Skola in Varberg, Sweden, 16-19 yr-old kids take classes in math, science, history and foreign languages like in most upper secondary schools around the world. But here, they also windsurf for school credit! They practice their skills on the water every chance they get and learn about nutrition, physical training, sports psychology, etc. That progressive curriculum prepares them amazingly well for a career in sports and a lifelong love affair with windsurfing. We interviewed Per Ringqvist, the head of the windsurfing program at Peder Skrivares, to learn more about it!
If it’s 40 kts and the surf is up, the kids will go wave sailing of course, but otherwise it’s Kona time all the time!Per Ringqvist
Interview: Kona Club | Photos: Elena Giolai, PS Skola, Mikael Linder.
Per, what a great concept! When and how did it come about?
Per Ringqvist: We’ve had windsurfing at the school for many, many years. It all started in 1998, when a colleague from the Swedish Sailing Association and I presented the idea to the school. Peder Skrivares Skola is a large school with 1700 students across all traditional academic disciplines, but the school administration knew about windsurfing – it’s located in Varberg, on the West Coast of Sweden, and one of the top windsurfing spots in all of Scandinavia. Wave sailors from around the world have come to Varberg for years to ride the local breaks. So windsurfing wasn’t a complete unknown, and the school was really receptive.
We started small: in the beginning, we had two lessons a week, six hours in total, and only in the fall and spring. We added some basic classes in sports theory in the winter months, every other week. We still use that model today for our Club level students, but we’ve since added an Elite level to the program with a much greater commitment to the sport on the part of each student.
An Elite level?
PR: Yes, it’s part of the NIU, the official, nationally-approved athletic education program in Sweden. Those students spend much more time on the water (five times a week) all year long, and their whole academic curriculum is organized around windsurfing. They study sports theory much more in depth: things like physiology, nutrition, physical training, sports psychology, anti-doping, physiotherapy, career development, etc. They attend official competitions most weekends too. It sounds like an enormous commitment to athletics, but there are many places in the world where kids combine academics and athletics in their studies. It’s just that you mostly hear about this sort of thing happening in football, or swimming, or track and field – not windsurfing! Here too, in fact, we have student-athletes doing other sports at the Elite level: field hockey, football, golf, and gymnastics starting next fall.
What equipment are you using?
PR: We have Vipers, Firemoves and a bunch of freeride and wave sails of all sizes, from 4.0 to 7.2. Even a couple of foil boards. But the Elite group trains and competes on the school’s Kona equipment. The Kona class is the only class in Sweden that gives us the opportunity to train and compete in all wind conditions. Well, if it’s 40 kts and the surf is up, like it’s been this past week, the kids will go wave sailing of course, but otherwise it’s Kona time all the time!
Can you give us an idea of what a typical week looks like as a student-athlete here?
PR: Of course! Monday: academics in the morning, windsurfing in the afternoon. Tuesday: Academics all day. Wednesday: sports theory, tactics and physical training in the morning, academics in the early afternoon, then windsurfing after 4pm. Thursday: academics up to 3PM, then sports theory or windsurfing. Friday: windsurfing in the morning, academics in the afternoon. Weekends: racing at the Swedish and Danish Kona Cups and other key events throughout the year.
Wow! That’s only one day a week without windsurfing or some course related to windsurfing?
PR: Exactly. But of course the days get shorter in the winter, and it gets cold as well, so we make the most of our time on the water.
How many students do you have in each program?
PR: This year, we have 45 students in the Club program and 14 in the Elite group. Most of the Elite group, 8 boys and 3 girls, attended the 2019 Kona Worlds in Garda this past August!
They turned heads at the event! Were you pleased with their results?
PR: Absolutely. But there’s always room for improvement! We approached the Kona Worlds as another opportunity to develop as windsurfers and as human beings. They all had their own goals throughout the event, for every race. Every evening, we took the time to debrief as a group and analyzed what was good, what they learned and what to focus on the next day. It’s really encouraging to see how they performed. They now know what it takes to be at the top at a big event like the Kona Worlds, and we’re going to keep working and raising the bar. We’re on the right track!
A pretty good week then?
PR: For sure! Everyone lives and breathes windsurfing in Garda, and it was amazing to spend a week in such a beautiful place. Hard to find a better venue in the world for our sport! Most of the kids in our program came to practice twice a week this summer even after the school year ended, just so that they could be at their best for the championships. We then all hopped on a flight from Copenhagen to Bergamo, booked a transfer to Torbole, dropped our bags at Casa Gabbiano, walked to the lake, and you should have seen the smile on everyone’s face. We knew this was going to be an awesome experience! But even more than the beautiful scenery and great conditions, it was the positive energy of the group and the support they gave each other that made it such a special experience for me.
You must be drowning in enrollment applications! How do you decide who gets in or not?
PR: For the Elite program, prospective student-athletes apply in the fall the year before. We take time to meet with them, test them, and inform them one on one about our program. They come train with us a couple of times in the spring and we might ask them to join the group to a competition too to see how they fare. If they have the potential to develop into a high-performance athlete, and their academic grades are solid, they’re in! For the Club program, we’re much less stringent: as long as a kid shows interest in the sport, has the right attitude and knows how to swim in open water (!), they can be part of the program, even if they’re beginners in the sport.
PR: Keep working hard! Our school is pretty unique. There are a few sailors at Elite programs around the country, for other sailing classes, but we’re the only program in Sweden focused on windsurfing, and sometimes we can feel a bit isolated. But I just learned of a secondary school in Italy, near where we were this summer in Torbole, where they do the same thing and combine academics with windsurfing! We’re going to find out more and explore the possibility of setting up an exchange program!