Biography

Bruce Kendall Born 1964

Bruce Kendall and his younger sister – by three years - Barbara are New Zealand’s first family of the Olympic Games. Between them they have won two boardsailing gold medals, a silver and two bronzes. 

What’s more, Bruce’s impressive record of Olympic gold (1988) and bronze (1984) medals would have been even better, but for faulty equipment causing him to fall to fourth place at Barcelona in 1992. 

He was born in 1964, the son of former Auckland Yachting Association chairman Tony Kendall. Like many youngsters with a sailing bent, he started on P class and starlings. He then progressed to crewing in 470s and keelboats. But he was a person with an eye for the unusual, and the colour and fun aspects of a burgeoning new sport - boardsailing – appealed to him immensely. 

In 1982, the Pakuranga College second year sixth former was off overseas, finding accommodation and food where he could and enjoying the challenges of the international boardsailing circuit. He was fortunate that another young New Zealander, Grant Beck, travelled with him, and they pushed each other to ever better performances, just as the New Zealand kayakers were doing at that time. 

Still in his teens but already rated among the top eight in the world, he won selection for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, though he had to battle hard to hold off Beck for the New Zealand team spot. 

At Long Beach, near Los Angeles, where the Olympic boardsailing was held, he was a close third. This was the inaugural Olympic boardsailing competition and competitors used the Windglider. His finishes were 2-3-DSQ-13-2-3-5, and he was less than half a point behind silver medallist Randall Scott, of the United States. 

Kendall was disqualified in one race after a collision with a Frenchman. Once he had been disqualified the onus was on him to prove his innocence, and with no witnesses it was impossible. The decision cost him the silver medal, and possibly the gold. 

By the next Olympics, Kendall had added international experience to his raw talent. He was generally one of the smallest competitors in the field, but had rare determination and plenty of strength. 

At Pusan in 1988, when the Lechner was used, Kendall was in magnificent form, despite a bad bout of the flu, and had already sewn up the gold medal before the final race. There were 45 in the fleet in Pusan and his placings were 3-3-1-5-8-1-9. 

He was the second New Zealander, after Russell Coutts, to have won a single-handed Olympic yachting gold medal. He was voted New Zealand Sailor of the Year in 1988. 

Kendall prepared himself in an unusual way – he listened to music by cult American rock group the Dead Kennedys on his ever-present Walkman. He was certainly a free spirit. Some New Zealand officials worried about his penchant for skateboarding, but he was always eager to enjoy himself. At Pusan, Kendall was advised by his former rival, Beck. 

Kendall always struggled for sponsorship, and this limited his appearances at major world events. A broken neck, the result of a diving accident in 1990, didn’t help either. He struggled to edge out the emerging Aaron McIntosh to win the New Zealand boardsailing spot for the 1992 Olympic team for Barcelona. 

At Barcelona, again sailing a Lechner, Kendall was desperately unlucky not to win a third consecutive Olympic medal.

Kendall’s equipment – all supplied by the Olympic organisers - was faulty and he snapped a fin in the third race. He appealed, but the jury of appeal dismissed his complaint. 

The massive points penalty Kendall carried from that disastrous third race caused him to finish only fourth of the 44 starters. The 28-year-old New Zealander, the fourth-oldest of the 44 competitors, was naturally upset. “It even soured my pleasure about Barbara’s gold for a while,” he said, “and I’m the guy who coaches her.” Bruce Kendall’s finishing placings were: 12-18-DNF-3-10-1-1-13-14-2. If the dnf had been replaced by a good finish he’d have been among the medallists. 

Bruce won the world Mistral title in Japan in 1993 and was second to McIntosh in 1994. 

Though he sometimes appeared to some to be anti-establishment, he never was, and he matured into a fine ambassador for his sport. He became a member of the International Mistral Class organisation’s technical committee. 

At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, he helped Aaron McIntosh and continued to assist New Zealand boardsailors, while maintaining his own form well enough to push McIntosh and Jon-Paul Tobin for the Olympic spot in 2000. When Grant Beck retired, he took over as Aaron McIntosh’s coach. 

In 2007, Kendall attempted to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the tornado class along with fellow former Olympic boardsailing representative Aaron McIntosh, but they were unsuccessful. 

Kendall has also served sport in various other capacities, including being a Halberg Awards panellist in 2001. He won the Lonsdale Cup in 1988.

News and Blogs

Joseph Romanos writes: Sailing recaptures its glorious past

11 August 2012

One of the really warming aspects of the 2012 Olympics for New Zealand has been the way sailing has reclaimed some of its former glory.