To the untrained eye, windsurfing is a rather peculiar watch. Athletes wrestle with their eight-metre sail, harnessing the wind to reach speeds upwards of 40 miles per hour. Races are won in a winner takes all final after six days of hard-fought racing.
To Emma Wilson, it’s an art form. At only 24, the Nottingham native has dominated the sport for half a decade. Since 2018, she’s amassed nine senior podium placements, including Olympic bronze in Tokyo and World Cup gold last April.
This year has been the most fruitful of her career, clinching bronze at the World and European championships, and silver in an Olympic test event alongside her World Cup victory.
Now, with only eight months until the action gets underway in Paris, Wilson is looking ahead to what she believes will be an incredibly tough competition.
“I didn’t expect to medal in every event this year, I just set out four events that I really wanted to peak for, so I’m super happy. Now I’m selected for the games, I have another chance now to plan, and work out what I want to peak at next year. I hope to just keep pushing, learning and enjoying it.
“There is something super special about wearing the Team GB kit and feeling like you’re part of something huge. It really motivates me and pushes me to be the best version of myself.
“The standard right now is super high, and with this new class I think it will just keep going higher as we all understand it better. The Israel team is very strong with a lot of good girls and then there’s the French, Italian, Spanish, Kiwis andDutch. There are so many people who could medal at the games. I think that’s what drives me to work harder and give my best. It’s exciting.”
Wilson will be competing in a new class in Paris, meaning she’ll be using a brand new IQFoil board, never before seen at the Olympic games. Female athletes previously used the slower RS:X model. In contrast to its predecessor, the IQFoil model glides above the water due to hydraulics on its underside, allowing athletes to immediately reach speeds of up to 25 kilometres per hour, five times the starting speed of the RS:X.
“At the start it was pretty tricky. I did a lot of crashing and had to get quite a bit stronger to deal with the equipment. My first competition, I surprised myself a lot and realised I could be good at it. I’ve just gone from there. I just keep trying to improve each day.”
Despite her tremendous record, Wilson’s World Cup win was her first senior gold, falling agonisingly short beforehand. After a thrilling few days of racing, she snatched gold on the final afternoon in Mallorca, narrowly beating France’s Lucie Belbeoch in second place.
“Yeah, that was amazing. Only six weeks before, I’d had an operation on my arm, and I didn’t really know what to expect. So, to come back straight away and win was huge for my team and I. I felt relieved but also just ecstatic, it was incredible to win, and the way I won it as well – with such a consistent series, I was very happy.
Despite her previous defeats, Wilson was anything but surprised by her first gold.
“I don’t think I ever doubted it. I just wondered when I would do it, I was never going to give up. I just sometimes wondered how long it was going to take me. So yeah, after missing out a lot of times I think it meant even more to me.
“It was physically & mentally tough, with six days of racing and a winner takes all final at the end. Whenever I’m racing, I just try to do the simple things well and be really prepared for it. And remember why I do it when it gets tough. Having a big team around you to help is also massive, and it wouldn’t be possible without them.”
Wilson is part of something of a water sports dynasty. Growing up on the Dorset coast, she was introduced to windsurfing by her mother Claire, who herself competed at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. Emma and her brother Dan – now a professional sailor himself, would battle it out in the typical sibling style.
“My family has always been super supportive. When we were younger my brother and I would just race each other all the time and I think that really helped. I was so competitive, just trying to beat my older brother.”
Despite the sport’s niche nature, Wilson is eager to spread the windsurfing word.
“Anyone who wants to get involved should go get a lesson and give it a try, I’d say between May and October is the best time to learn in the UK. Where I train in Weymouth there is a great little centre called the OTC that runs lessons and will help you out with everything you need.”
To keep up to date with her Olympic journey, Emma can be found at @emmawilson_gbr7 on Instagram or on her website: emmawilsonwindsurfing.com.