PWA day 1

11 January 2005

Nik Baker launching down the ramp after Steve Allen The PWA Slalom kicked off in style today, the first of three days of competition. Each day follows the same format, with Freestyle after lunch, slalom in the afternoon, and jumps in the evening.

Watching the slalom has been fascinating, with various styles of sailor taking part, from freewave sailors (e.g. Ricardo Campello) against more traditional racers (e.g. Nick Dempsey) as well as 6 times indoor champion Nik Baker. The wind in the pool is much better this year, allowing the heavier sailors to compete on more-or-less equal terms, but with differences. It has also allowed figure of eight slalom, so the sailors do 3 gybes in all, before racing to the finish.

The heavier (stronger) sailors have an advantage at the gybes, as they can really sheet in when starting the gybe, the lighter sailors (especially the women and youths) struggle at this point.

Ricardo Campello gybing at the first mark. However, the lighter sailors have the advantage when coming out of the gybe and getting going to the next mark, where there can be a lull in the wind.

The early rounds showed a bias towards the more powerful gybers, but there were exceptions! For example, Ben Proffitt went inside Guy Cribb, and although neither planed out, Ben practically free-styled out of the encounter with his board backwards! Other strong gybers were Josh Angulo (knocking out John Skye), Steve Allen (knocking out Robby Swift) and Nick Dempsey, who although light, showed real strength round the corners and blew past Tonky Frans. Perhaps the olympic training is still paying off?

Second round

The second round survivors were: Ricardo Campello vs. Baker, Steve Allen vs Ben Proffitt, and Josh Angulo vs Nick Dempsey.

Steve Allen took a leaf from Nik's book, and completely closes the door at the first mark, heading upwind to the side of the pool, and using the far edge of the pool to guide his line. Ben Proffitt managed to stay in the pool despite Steve's efforts, and gybed tight, coming out upwind and sailing over the top of Steve Allen to take the first heat (of three).
Ben Proffitt chasing Steve Allen.

Ben Proffitt chasing Steve Allen. Unfortunately, Ben missed (or rather, hit and sailed over!) the second mark, and Steve took the lead on the last round to hold on and make the semi finals.

Nick Dempsey was out of luck in the second round - he made the first mark and gybed well, just just too wide and ended up walking upwind. If you come out just one meter wide, it can mean the difference between planning and not planning to the next mark. Nick took the second round, but in a chaotic last round Josh gybes inside Nick, clue-first through practically no space, and makes it to the line first.

Nik Baker was taking on freestyle expert Ricardo Campello, who is the first person to gybe inside Nik successfully! However, Nik showed great confidence and still came out planning to take the first heat. In the second, Ricardo manages to actually force Nik wide and out of the wind area, possibly the only way to make sure you beat Nik. In the last heat, Nik dominates from the start to comfortably make the semi finals.

Semi Finals

The semi final included: Nik Baker vs Steve Allen, and Josh Angulo vs Ricardo Campello (fastest runner up).

Baker vs Allen

Steve Allen overcooks his first gybe, and Nik squeezes past. Nik Baker vs Steve Allen is a real battle of the hardened gybers, both able to crank into the gybes and come out with real speed. But in the pool there is only room for one person to do that at the first gybe. In the first heat, Nik gets first to the mark, and leads all the way round with Steve right behind.

In the second heat, Steve closes the door at the first mark, leaving no room between him and the fans, but somehow Nik squeezes through as Steve over-cooks the gybe and plant his sail firmly in the water. Nik wins, taking him through to the final.

Angulo vs Campello

Josh Angulo, cranking in at the same depth as Baker. Josh Angulo shows his very aggressive gybing style, and powers around the course ahead of Ricardo in the first heat. However, Ricardo finds a variation on Nik Baker's style of gybe (as any good freestyler would!) and works out that he can hang-on around the gybe if he carves hard upwind just before the gybe. This style of gybing appears to be slightly easier on the arms, but still allowed him to come out tight to the mark with speed. Ricardo capitalises on this well, and stays ahead of Josh in the next two heats to get to the final.

Final - Baker vs Campello

Nik Baker practically buries the inside of the board in the water. The question before the final is whether Ricardo could use his weight advantage and gybing technique to end Nik's dominance of the indoor slalom. Another factor in Ricardo's favour was the shear amount of sailing Nik has been doing this week, as he has taken part in every discipline for both the UKWA and PWA events, doing hundreds of laps of the pool, and many jumps and tricks.

However, Nik's speed along the first leg, and smooth gybes let him pull out a good lead in the first heat, and despite dropping a gybe (1st of the day), he finished almost a leg ahead of Ricardo.

In the second heat, Ricardo forced Nik wide, they were so close on the gybe Nik later commented "I thought we were going to swap kit!". They both crashed, and both took a little time to get going again. The second mark was almost as spectacular, with both sailors colliding. The judges can order a re-match or disqualify a sailor if they have sailed dangerously, but it was too close to call either way.

Nik managed to get up first and sail away, before rounding the last mark and head home for another indoor victory.

You can see the re-matches on Saturday and Sunday at the Schroders London Boat Show, or watch online at

- Alastair Campbell

Pictures courtesy and copyright of John Carter.