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Last Updated: Friday, 17 September, 2004, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Wales aims to rule the waves

By Gareth Jones
BBC Wales Business Editor

Surfer. Picture copyright: Wales Tourist Board
Wales has a 700-mile coastline. Picture: Wales Tourist Board
This summer's weather was terrible, but that hasn't dampened the spirits of those promoting the Welsh coast.

For them, the surf's up for the economic benefits of messing about in boats and plenty more water-bound fun.

Which is why the Welsh Assembly Government launched a new strategy at the Southampton Boat Show on Friday.

Economic Development Minister Andrew Davies and Wales Tourist Board chairman Philip Evans were there to launch their "Catching The Wave" plan.

Its aim is to increase annual revenue from water sports by 40% within 6 years, taking the total contribution to the Welsh economy to 224m by 2010.

The fact is youngsters would rather go to Alton Towers than try sailing... in France, sailing starts in schools
John Goode, Sailing Today
The strategy will capitalise on the growing popularity of sports like sailing, motor boating, kite boarding and kayaking.

There are plans to provide a string of safe havens along Wales' seven hundred miles of coastline, to stimulate commercial activity in towns and villages.

Mr Davies said: "Few destinations can match Wales' natural assets and the launch of Catching The Wave builds on the work already underway to support this area... developing one of our most important natural assets, and positioning Wales as a premier water sports destination."

French experience

But Wales will have its work cut out to compete with other water sports venues in Europe.

France is renowned for its first-rate facilities and thriving economy generated by water sports, and the Welsh initiative is trying to harness this expertise.

The assembly government is already in talks with Brittany, discussing economic co-operation and joint projects in the maritime area.

Surfer at Belharra Reef, south west France
France exploits its surfing potential
But John Goode, the editor of Sailing Today and a sailing instructor himself, says that beyond simply working with them, Wales needs to use the French experience as a template.

"The Welsh should develop their facilities on the French model - making the marinas municipally controlled for the benefit of the people of Wales.

"Everything should be reasonably affordable - this means the community benefits as people come ashore to spend their money and avoids the marina becoming nothing more than a ferry port, segregated from the town, with people passing through."

The massive potential revenue from large-scale projects such as marina developments is tempting for cash-strapped local councils, but Mr Goode warned that bigger was not necessarily better.

Pwllheli is probably the best sailing venue in Britain because of its conditions
David Evans, sailor
"Large scale 'initiatives' are always to be encouraged, but they don't always work," he said.

"The fact is youngsters would rather go to Alton Towers than try sailing. In France, sailing starts in schools, with small clubs so they don't feel like they are being charged exorbitant rates all the time.

"The volunteer ethos then comes out because the sailing clubs are so much part of the community."

One young sailor who started learning at a small local sailing club is 18 year old David Evans.

Now in Team GB's Olympic development squad, he is a huge advocate of Wales as a growing water sports resort.

"Wales has got great watersport potential," said David.

"Pwllheli is probably the best sailing venue in Britain because of its conditions, as it has big waves and strong winds.

"British Steel, Margam is great for club racing and is particularly good for winter training. And then there's Cardiff Bay - probably the most up and coming sailing venue.

"As the water quality gets better and better, more and more boats are being attracted there - the social aspect of Mermaid Quay is an added bonus!"

Whether the new strategy will be effective in stimulating coastal economies remains to be seen.

But there will need to be a careful balance between over-investing in large projects which could damage small communities and failing to put enough money into marketing and branding of current facilities.

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