Isle of Wight Slalom report

1 November 2005

View down the beach. Travelling overseas with young family could be considered quite daunting, so a nice short hop to the Island just 30 minutes across from Portsmouth could be considered a nice gentle way of breaking them in. The main worry for many when travelling by ferry would be the sea state and the duration of the journey, so you can imagine the faces when the weather forecaster shows 50mph winds for our planned departure date.

One of the other events on the siteThe desire to get away for a few days and sample the delights of the Isle of Wight, perhaps surprisingly, overcame the fear of the rough crossing and we went ahead as originally planned. Wightlink as long standing co-sponsors of White-Air were offering very reasonable concessions to event competitors, and ferried us across without any drama.

Our first couple of days on the Island were to be spent doing family stuff, which is always nice when you have all your windsurfing kit with you and it's howling as you are driving towards one of many beaches in the area. We stayed at what can be described as a 'Hi-De-Hi' style campsite which had a camping area as well as hundreds of chalets dotted around it's site. This wasn't really our idea of the perfect campsite, however the kids were in their element with indoor swimming pool complete with flume, kids clubs, entertainment, crazy golf, amusement arcades and anything else you can think of while conjeuring up a chavvy paridiso ..... hey, for the old fogies there was even bingo !

Sanity took a firm grip and our escape to the main event was soon completed, moving to much more sensible surroundings at Yaverland just as the wind came back having taken a sympathetic break while we were doing much the same. Friday indeed dawned windy and the winds of change were in our favour as we made transition from the 'king of chavs' site over to the 'king of shaves' sponsored White-Air event site. With the freewave competition well under way as well as the self elevated kiting competition offering up it's own colourful display, the beach was a hive of activity. On land was no different with mountain boarding, skateboarding & BMX's everywhere, with the samba drummers banging out their own rhythm just to add to the flavour of the event.

Having been starved from my diet of windsurfing for a couple of days (was it really only a couple of days ?!) there was no disputing my intentions for friday. I'd got myself a nice new Neil Pryde 5.4m Search that I wanted to use, so unsurprisingly it was deemed to be the perfect size to couple up to my Tiga X-Style Wave to go and play. The wind was very onshore, the waves & shoredump were their usual friendly self, pounding in to the beach with relentless ambition to humble everyone & everything offered up, sacrificial or otherwise. The 5.4m was about right overall, although the winds were a little up and down, but this may have just coinicided with disappearing down between the waves / swell lines which were pretty big.

We were at White-Air for the final round of the UKWA Slalom series, which also incorporates the BiC Superblaster junior & challenge fleet competition. The White-Air is the decider for numerous silverware categories, and quite rightly so as it always offers up challenging conditions which will bring out the best and the worst of all of us.

Xavier Ferlet was looking strong in pole position for the Top Flight prize and with news the Keith Atkinson had suffered an injury to his shoulder (sustained while windsurfing as opposed to the RSI hairdryer injury theory offered up by a folically challenged photo-journalist type in jest), Xav's position was looking secure. Further down the fleet though there were scores to be settled, indeed Bob Ingram perhaps mentioned a little too audibly that he was indeed placed higher than the defending 2004 Slalom Champion, Dan Ellis. The position was to be reversed over the weekend as Dan put in an awesome display of slalom racing, while still taking the opportunity to encourage Bob to follow him around as he passed him, and then passed him again, and again .....

Bob deserves credit for perserverance and his attitude towards the racing, even a total rinsing and kit destroying session on the sunday couldn't keep him off the water. For comedic value, he'd sat on the beach cursing his luck for destroying his 7.6m rig and convincing himself that it'd not be sensible to go bigger, while all along it was his 8.5m rig that had been punished and his 7.6m was ready to go on the beach. Fortunately for Bob, his team of caddies were a touch more on the ball and as the salt water drained away from Bob's weary body he was duly offered up once more to the elements.

Saturday served up what looked to be ideal slalom racing conditions, but unfortunately the wind never really got up to any consistently useable strength, and with lots of seaweed floating around many planing runs were rudely cut short. Dave 'Tommo' Thompson was race officer for the weekend and a 5 bouy downwind slalom course was set regardless of the wind speed issues and we were geared up to put on some racing regardless. It may not have been official championship racing, but round after round of 'fun' racing was run for all fleets.

As has become the trend with UKWA competitions recently, the junior fleet continues to grow, as does the windsurfing talent within the junior ranks. Dan Simpson was pretty dominant, with James Simpson providing the main challenge throughout the weekend. Liam Round was taking no chances opting for the formula board in the light conditions on the saturday, while a decent number of Techno 293 riders also came along to try out their skills at slalom racing on the course race steeds. Although the saturday racing was not officially championship racing, the juniors enjoyed the close racing so much, it'd be a shame not to offer some credit for their efforts, and as such the Junior Superblaster scores are allocated from these results. Dan Simpson won the fun racing, and then went on to win the official junior racing on the sunday, with James Simpson again his closest challenger, and John Leonard managing a couple of races to secure himself a commendable 3rd place in the junior fleet, as well as give him something to write about . . . . check out John's report from the junior perspective.

The challenge fleet is perhaps the most aptly named, and for White-Air the fleet were significantly challenged. Saturday was a rig big or go home day, and I for one suffered the indignity of completing a downwind slalom course totally off the plane underpowered on my 7.2m Saber, despite having planed up to the startline. A combination of too small a sail, too heavy a pilot and a fine collection of seaweed being strung artistically from my fin actually saw half the junior fleet in the following heat pass me as I floated across the finish line!

Another challenge for the racers and the safety crew was the proximity of the kite contest one side of our course, and more critically the thunder cat course coming very close to the other side of our downwind slalom course. We were being sqeezed, and with the light winds returning upwind and avoiding running back up through our course meant shooting out either through the kite area or dicing with the thunder cats. The kiters were to suffer as a result of the squeeze with no-one taking the option to sail through the thunder cat course. In the interests of safety, and being polite enough to allow the kiters to get their heats in as uninterupted as possible, fun racing was held up until the thunder cats burned all their fuel. The spectacle of all three disciplines running side by side was quite something, however the practicalities left a little to be desired. Everyone wanted centre stage, and why not, but it didn't quite fit into the space available so with our racing being 'fun' racing due to the light winds, we got the chance to check out the other action on site.

So, if the challenge saturday was to plane for the duration of the course (or avoid collisions with other vessels - thankfully Ian 'Torpedo' Jones was on caddy duties with Rich doing the freewave event), Sunday's challenge was to be a challenge of very different proportions with a return to the big seas seen on friday. Tommo and his race crew set up a figure of eight slalom course, and decided to run two heats rather than the three seperate heats as they'd run on the saturday. It was decided to run the junior & the challenge fleets together, while continuing to give the top flight their own heats. Having got myself organised early, and witnessed Dan Simpson & Alan Jackon out early testing the conditions, I returned to the campervan confident that my BiC Superblast 62 & Neil Pryde 6.4m Excess combination rigged and ready for action on the beach was the ideal set up. Having casually taken breakfast and then suited up, I returned to the arena ready to battle the elements to be met with the sight of Dan Ellis taking his Naish 9.0m Stealth rig to the beach, with Alan Jackson, previously seen screaming about on his Maui Sails 6.5m TR1, now using his 8.5m TR1, and Dan Simpson who I'd last seen using his Neil Pryde 5.3m Zone and freestyle board now on his Blast & a Tushingham 7.8m Lightning. This was not what I'd expected, and to be honest, the thought of battling out underpowered in knarly onshore conditions made quite an astute spectator of myself and many others.

Paul Raven was the only challenge fleet racer to make it out as complete any races, putting us all to shame. Adding to this humbling experience were three of the junior fleet, Dan Simpson, James Simpson and also John Leonard, who not only made it out to race, they revelled in the conditions. Eventually Dan Simpson was the only one still racing as a combination of tiredness, hunger, kit damage or other reasons saw Paul, John & James retire to the beach for well earned breathers. Rather than come in, Dan just joined in racing with the Top Flight guys, and I'm sure he'd be pretty pleased having beaten both Xav & Kevin Greenslades in one heat, with the rest of the junior fleet and parents all cheering him on from the beach, in french at times so Xav could relish the moments.

A number of the challenge fleet were suitably inspired by the racing that we made renewed efforts to partake in the action. Perhaps it was psychological, but it seemed like the wind was picking up a bit so myself and the Gilroy-Scott boys headed out to the startline. My 6.4m wasn't big enough going out, though I made it all the way to the start, bobbed about for a bit to take in the surroundings, and then decided that figure of eight racing underpowered with the inside gybe mark in the pounding surf may prove expensive, so sailed back into the beach. Using the waves it was possible to plane back in, though it was advisable to keep an eye over your shoulder as some pretty big waves were chasing us back to the beach, they must have been pretty big as I couldn't see over them. Timing is everything, and with my kit safe on the beach, the wind filled in and a big squall followed.

This squall seemed to influence how the day would progress, the wind started to swing a little more cross-shore, Tommo and the guys moved the course to suit. The wind also increased a little and now my 6.4m was the right choice, and pretty soon we were back out testing the water. The swell was as big as I've sailed in, and some of the waves to get off the beach were towering above as I headed through the break, in fact some of the drops down the back were pretty daunting in their own right. The further out I went, the bigger the swell got, and I could truly relate to that windsurfing phrase, 'have you seen it, it's massive out the back mate!'. Recent sessions (rinsings!) at Camber Sands with Rich Carter, looping super-veteran Stu Ord-Hume and rest of the boys certainly seemed to have helped me to cope with the relentless onshore conditions offered up by Yaverland, but I'm yet to see Camber as big or as daunting ..... I'm sure, however, that one day I will ....

Unfortunately, the wind was a bit up and down, and my timing issues meant that I couldn't coinicide with any starting sequences for the challenge fleet, so despite having faced my demons and got out amongst it (and survived to tell the tale) actually doing a championship slalom race never really happened for myself or any other challenge fleet racer, with Paul Raven the only exception.

Hopefully you'll get the impression that the conditions were pretty testing for racing, and I hope this is the case. The top flight racers put on a real show of how exciting windsurfing slalom racing is, especially through big surf. Kevin Greenslades & Alan Jackson provided Dan Ellis with his closest challenges until Aaron Williams had sorted himself a big enough rig to show off his local knowledge. Paul Simmons never got to use his new toy, however the excitement witnessed as he unwrapped his 'Pro-Kids Sonic' will be a tough one to beat even for Santa this coming Christmas. Xav also had new toys with his new Starboard Isonic, however he looked to be securing Dennis Rouyett some decent points using the fellow frenchman's sails for many of the heats. It was good to see Dave Johnston at a slalom event, and taking the opportunity to let his hair down after a not so great couple of weeks or so. I'm not so sure that he can blame the monster of all hangovers for his wanten destruction of kit, but despite all this he just keeps smiling. The Ellis clan were at the event in force, with Dan's sister Becky coming along with her fella Andy Barnes. Mr Ellis senior was beachmaster and credit should go to him for resisting the very strong urge to abandon his post and head out to sea to prove that it's a genetic phenomenom rather than mis-spent youth that set's Dan Ellis apart from his challengers. UKWA webmaster Alastair Campbell spent sunday hiding behind the lens of his camera, capturing moments for publication on the site while staying well away from any form of rigging frenzy, while Lucy Horwood was mixing life in front of the lens with regular doses of anti-biotics to clear up an ear infection.

Roger Clark was doing a top flight impression of myself with fleeting visits to the startline and prompt returns to the beach, and perhaps it was no surprise that a TV crew decided that Roger and myself were suitable candidates for interviewing, both proudly adorning our 'King of Shaves' rashvests and looking like we had serious aversions to shaving. It was interesting to note that the media saw windsurfing as enjoying a resurgence of interest over recent years, and saw it as being considerably more exciting than the brightly coloured tea bag dunking exhibition downwind of the real action.

Overall, White-Air once again delivered as only White-Air can, extreme action on land and on the water, with one or two airborn excursions from competitors in all the disciplines on show. The crew have had a few years experience putting together such an extreme event, and this experience shows through with stuff happening for spectators whichever way you turn. Competitors were well looked after with their own lounge area, with coffee on tap, goody bags from event sponsor 'King of Shaves', and enough parties to satisfy everyone. The kiter attempting to fly off the beach into the sailing club car park probably gets the unscheduled big air award, and was apparently relatively unscathed, though limping a touch. Those kiters choosing to use the wet end of the beach for their tricks seemed to enjoy a good event, and apparently through the entry fees they received this year they will be able to buy another CD to listen to to replace the Red Hot Chilli Pepper one they wore out - hopefully the Chilli's will have a new album out for 2006 ! The thunder cats enjoyed good racing in the lighter winds and calmer seas on the saturday, but allowed us space to enjoy the really testing conditions on the sunday. The freewave guys had their cake and ate it (especially Julian DuVall in a literal sense - hope you enjoyed your birthday mate) with a wide variety of conditions over the 4-5 days of action, though the decider came down to the last two waves of White-Air... The slalom action, as ever, was fast and furious and seriously uncompromising... we were spoiled with high octane windsurfing action from some of the best competitors around putting on a show to remember.

Packing up and heading off always sees mixed emotions, sadness at leaving windsurfing playgrounds, anticipation of returning to some form of normality and homelife after a period living away in the van. No need to mention the kids joy at the prospects of returning to school, or the more vocational pleasures as you re-visit the workplace, but we still had time to play the 'I bet the crossing will be rough' card....... In truth, the boat barely swayed, and on closer inspection any alledged swaying seemed to coincide with more lardy passengers jay walking than the big seas we'd been playing in earlier in the day. Coming back into Portsmouth under the cover of darkness by boat and we were all treated to the sight of what must be the worlds largest and most expensive lava lamp. Our homeward journey from Portsmouth was a relatively short hop, but for others I'm sure Monday morning was still destined to be travelling time, hopefully everyone had a good ride back.

So that's another UKWA season's windsurfing over with, just the party to go ..... now that is something that I know I can train for. See you there.

Ian Kraft - GBR154
Sponsored & Supported by - Acutel, UltraSport (BiC / Tiga & Neil Pryde), Specialised Sailing (Windsurfing Hawaii), Superstar (Chinese Takeaway), SD Products Ltd, , the wife & kids, and the rest of the team