Finding the way to stay afloat in an above-board adventure;Profile of Penny Way, boardsailing champion

The drive to turn Penny Way into the best-known sportswoman in Britain and to make her sport - boardsailing - appeal to the masses is gathering pace. But the push to take boardsailing to the position that, say, ice-skating occupies does not come from some high-flown marketing organization. It comes from Miss Way herself.

 

Miss Way, the European women's title-holder, is the quintessential champion. She is a tough competitor on the water, sharp at interview, positive and determined, seemingly incapable of putting a foot wrong. Even now, with a cupboard full of trophies and likely to become Britain's first world champion at Paignton, Devon, this September, she cannot find anyone better able to sell her, or her sport, than she does herself.

 

Though she is promoting herself with gusto this summer, she believes herself to be unexceptional physically. Aged 23, and weighs about 9st 6lb. She is not, as far as she knows, even distantly related to Gordon and Ken Way, the prominent board designers.

 

Her introduction to the sport was humble. At the age of 18 and having just finished her A-levels, she sold an old Tripper-class dinghy, borrowed a little money and wrote her biggest check thus for - pounds 343- for a second-hand mahogany-boom board, made of materials now considered 'antigue'. While living with her parents near Liskeard, she could spend all day learning the sport, one of the few Britons in 1980 who could do so.

 

She recalls: 'If you boardsailed full-time then, you couldn't help reach a good standard. It was quite an expensive sport in 1980 - boards were not mass-produced - and those people who could spare eight hours a day to practice couldn't support themselves.'

 

Within two years, she had won the UK and Australian titles, and she went on to become European champion last July.

Boardsailing full-time and being able to pay the rent is far from easy. The number of full-time sponsored competitors in Britain is still in single figures, although some, such as Dee Caldwell and Andy Biggs, the UK champion, own sports shops. Financial problems have not deterred Miss Way in her promotion of the sport. In June, in fact, she set up a promotions company, Semenax Windsurfing, under the Government's Enterprise Assistance Scheme, aimed not only at selling herself, but also at generating sponsorship for others in the sport, particularly women, from her base, which is in Cowes, Isle of Wight.

 

None of this is half-hearted; indeed, her presentation would not disgrace a double-glazing salesman. Her home-made brochure proclaims: 'Your company needs me! My name is Penny Way. I am Britain's leading woman in the fastest-growing watersport in the world.'

 

The immodesty comes out of necessity. She says: 'I've had other people who've offered to act as my manager or agent and arrange deals for me. But there is not enough money in it for them to spend time working on it.'

Despite the sport's crying need for support, Miss Way is selective about sponsorship. Although she one agreed to display the brand mark of cigarette on her board, she now shies away from tobacco manufacturers. 'Boardsailing has a healthy, clean-living image,' she says. 'That's why I'd rather have sponsors like my present ones - Volume Pills, Brewhurst, the health food distributors, and Javlin, the sportswear makers, who supply me with wetsuits.'

 

She knows well enough that the big money is at the World Cup team championships, a professional series held in the Pacific. These events attract hundreds of thousands of spectators, and some races carry first prizes of pounds 30,000. She doubtless could eventually relinquish her amateur status and go for such rewards.

 

Can big money ever be attracted to the sport in Britain, particularly to help amateurs? Much depends on television coverage, which is why Miss Way keeps popping up on television screens in the West Country.

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