Just in case you are a little confused or unsure what the Finn class is and what it stands for, here is a Finn 101 tutorial that will hopefully clear up any misunderstandings and misconceptions.
We’ve tried to use the class’s collected data and media as much as possible to make this as interesting and as evidential as possible, so just in case you have not seen the extensive work the class has done over the past 10-15 years to promote its athletes and the sport of sailing, please do follow the links.
You can shortcut the below and skip straight to all the major papers here: http://www.finnclass.org/technical/papers, but it’s probably worth persevering.
The Finn now has the honour of being the longest serving equipment at the Olympic Games, and by quite a few years. However, this should not be a distraction to what it is, what it stands for and what, and who, it creates. The design may be 70 years old, but the equipment is among the most modern, and highly developed, of anything currently used or proposed to be used at the Olympic Games. It is also, without exception, reliable and consistent. See the report here on how to measure a Finn. [Measuring a Finn 2018]
Over the past 15 years, the class’s media platform has been one of the most wide-reaching in sailing. Through thousands of press releases and media reports, the class has attempted to inform the world of the transformation that has taken place in Finn sailing worldwide as well as to showcase the amazing sailors and athletes in the class.
The Finns of 70, 40, or even just 20 years ago bear no resemblance to the advanced state-of-the-art equipment that is used today. The tolerances have not changed, but the technology is now so advanced that it is possible to create a fleet of boats so evenly matched that success comes down to skill, not budget.
This was the dream and the objective when boats and rigs used to be supplied at the Olympic Games. However sailors complained that the supplied equipment didn’t suit their physique or sailing style.
With improved production quality, the consistency of hulls, masts and sails produced by the main class suppliers, equipment has become more refined than ever. Sailors can order equipment tailored to their physique from a number of independent suppliers but with the same construction method and guarantee of quality as his competitors. The result was that the speed of each Finn racing at the Rio Olympics was more even than at any Olympic Finn regatta in history.
Adapting equipment to suit physical size and sailing style is very much part of the skill of Finn sailing and is a skill that creates well rounded sailors who become an asset to the sport, not just to the America's Cup and the Volvo, but also as future sailmakers, boatbuilders and designers. The experience and knowledge gained through a Finn campaign is invaluable for the industry of sailing. Sailing has thrived on development and innovation and much of today's leading companies were created by those who competed at the Olympics in their youth.
The sailors, or athletes, have also transformed over the years. The class now attracts sailors who are taller, stronger and ultimately fitter and more athletic than at any time in the class's history. The advent of free pumping has completely changed the class and the sailors. Sailors have become much better athletes, almost acrobats, performing astonishing feats of endurance and stamina. It could be argued that they are the perfect epitome of what an Olympic athlete should look like. They are faster, higher and stronger and over a wider weight range than ever due to the availability of suitable equipment.
Over the past few years the Finn class has been very active in researching its sailors and pushing out press releases on sailor fitness and demographics such as weight and height. The class surveys [Finn Class Survey 2009] and [Finn Class Survey 2015] demonstrated that it is important to have equipment that caters for sailors over 85kg and that in general the world’s population is increasing in height and weight due to better living conditions.
These studies were supplemented by the [Morphological Study of Elite Finn Sailors 2015] and most recently the [Weight Distribution Study 2018] which analysed the weight of Finn sailors over the past eight years with comparisons to other classes and other sports. It concluded that Finn sailors were most similar to elite male rowers in terms of physical fitness and size.
The Finn class media platform and output is often described as probably the best in the Olympic classes, as well as showing what can be done on a shoestring budget, with a little bit of passion and time. It has certainly been the most active of any Olympic class in terms of showcasing its sailors. The high point was the Rio Olympics when the class achieved an amazing Facebook reach of 1.8 million. In addition, the press releases that are circulated worldwide achieve readerships of an estimated 250,000. [Media Report 2016]
One message the class has been trying to get across is that any perceived problems with the media appeal of sailing has nothing to do with equipment or format, but everything to do with presentation. It is all about the athletes, telling their stories, their success and their failures that will engage anyone outside the sport. The class even investigated different race formats in 2017, which led to some interesting conclusions. [Format Evaluations 2017]
With sailing depending on conditions outside anyone’s control, it is not always easy to create thrilling media. But occasionally something works really well, even if done on a limited budget. The stern mounted cameras used at the Europeans in Cádiz this year are a case in point. The conditions were very touch and go, and the race was nearly abandoned because of the severity of the conditions. But it happened and we were rewarded with some exceptional footage of athletic sailing, arguably better than anything the Rio Olympics produced. [Medal Race Footage 2018] It was compelling, in-the-boat action that caused a sensation in the sailing world. Here were real athletes, surviving (if not completely in control), in the toughest conditions that dinghy sailing could realistically be held.
While the Olympic Games is the essence and heart of the Finn Class, it is just one side of the bigger picture, with the class having a huge, and growing, following worldwide.
National fleets are larger now than they have been any time in the last 30 years. Numbers are unrecognisable compared to just 10 years ago. The misconception that Olympic classes are gradually declining at national level is certainly not the true with the Finn class, with many national fleets experiencing the strongest growth for more than a generation.
It is not uncommon to have national championships with more than 40-50 boats, and that happens in more than a dozen countries worldwide. While there have always been strong fleets in certain European countries, in others there is steady and sustained growth. For example, the UK and France now have bigger fleets than at any time since the 1970s.
In addition, new dealerships in Australia and USA have dramatically increased the number of boats being sailed. Regular imports can barely keep up with demand. New Zealand, Poland and Spain are all growing fleets at a significant rate. Growth on a smaller scale is also happening in Brazil, Chile, Japan, Serbia and many other countries. The enthusiasm within the class right now is contagious.
The class has builders in Poland, Italy, UK, Hungary, Switzerland, Germany, Brazil, South Africa and USA, and other equipment manufacturers across the globe. It is easier than ever to get hold of a Finn.
Then just consider the 350 Finn sailors that are about to converge on El Balís, Spain, for the Finn World Masters. That is a huge investment in the Finn class by these sailors from 32 nations. Many are club sailors, but some are returning Olympians and former champions who just cannot seem to kick the Finn habit. It is a class for life. It is a way of life.
In the 2016 Olympic cycle, the class brought 36 nations to the Olympic qualifiers, one of the top five classes in terms of numbers. In the 2018 cycle, that number will already be 44 nations at the first Olympic qualifier in Aarhus, the largest number of nations represented in any class except the Laser and the Radial. The entry quota has also been increased from 80 at the 2014 ISAF Sailing World Championships in Santander to 100 in Aarhus in 2018, to cater for the demand for places and the huge increase in interest in sailing the Finn.
On the current World Sailing World Ranking List there are 224 ranked sailors, making the Finn the second largest men’s dinghy discipline and fourth largest of any discipline.
The Finn class has active fleets in around 40 countries on five continents as well as limited activity in another 15-20 countries. Each year there are around 250-300 Finn class regattas worldwide. [2018 Calendar] Finn regatta attendance and membership is at its highest level for more than a generation.
There is a valuable side effect of these hugely competitive Masters and club fleets. They provide an almost inexhaustible demand for second-hand equipment, which keeps the market very buoyant for all aspects of Finn equipment, and makes competing at the top so much cheaper because there is always a good market for used equipment.
One of the buzzwords these days seems to be ‘universality’, which includes factors such as the number of nations, and new nations, that a class brings to Olympic qualification events, availability of equipment and low participation cost. [Cost of the Finn 2018] The evidence is quite clear.
The class has tried through its press releases and videos to tell the sailors stories, to create the heroes, legends and, as much as is possible in sailing, the household names. The class seems be a melting pot for huge characters and major players in the sport. Sometimes these stories tell themselves, the champions, the gold medalists, the famous battles on, and sometimes off, the water, but without the stories being told, who would know? The story is everything.
The public probably remember the battle of Ben Ainslie and Jonas Høgh-Christensen on Weymouth Bay in 2012, but how many would be able to tell you what class they sailed in. This may seem a counterproductive argument, but not really. It is to show the story is king. It is such a powerful story, with a to-the-death battle, and the back-story of Jonas defending Paul Elvstrøm’s legacy of four gold medals. The Elvstrøm-Ainslie comparisons in 2012 dwarfed most other stories coming out of Weymouth. It was a classic Finn story.
Which brings us on to tradition and heritage. Sailing's heritage is its strength, its flag staff, its main mast, but not its burden. Without its heritage sailing would be a mere shadow of itself. Sailing's heritage is as important as technical innovation. The Finn's heritage continues to play a vital role in attracting athletic youth to sail a 70-year-old design, but in a state-of-the-art boat. The former sailors in the class are their heroes, their role models and their standard setters. There is nothing old fashioned about aspiring to sail like Paul Elvstrøm or Ben Ainslie.
The Finn class was designed in 1949 and has known nothing but Olympic competition. Its tradition and history is legendary. Elvstrøm, Kuhweide, Raudaschl, Bruder, Bertrand, Law, Coutts, Rohart, Kusznierewicz, Lööf, Percy, Ainslie, Scott…the list is longer than we have space for here. All are legends in the Finn and in sailing. It is far easier to explain a class through its history and its legends, than to create a story out of nothing.
Over the past decade Finn sailing has re-invented itself. The athleticism of free pumping has to be seen to be believed. The sailors are more athletic, more powerful and more Olympic than ever before. The boats are better built, more reliable, more alike and more widely available. Quality controlled manufacturing means the boats last longer, which makes campaigns cheaper. Fleets are growing internationally and locally. The Finn has come a long way and still has a long way to run
The story of the Finn, THE power dinghy of today, is not over yet.