UKWA Slalom - Clacton 2005, the Essex Experience
24 April 2005
Round One of the 2005 UKWA Slalom Series took place over the weekend of 9th/10th April at the Essex resort of Clacton-on-Sea, and as with all UKWA events it drew a dedicated mix of enthusiastic competitors, organisers and volunteers.
For ourselves this would be an early introduction for our two week old baby to the ways of the tour, although with the guidance from her tour hardened sisters it'd surely be a walk in the park. Coinciding with the tail end of my paternity leave and also the Easter school holidays, we managed to head off mid-morning on the Friday to be sure to miss the worst of the traffic hitting the Essex hotspots. Our journey was pretty trouble free with just the one feeding stop en-route to report, we made it to the event site in time to take pole-position on the front.
The forecast for the weekend was a real mixed bag, giving offshore winds and cold temperatures warming as weekend progressed. Friday afternoon is normally a good time to sneak out and familiarise yourself with the local conditions, but neither Bob Ingram or myself were tempted as it was really cold and the wind was offshore. Setting up camp was enough activity for the Friday afternoon, although we did take a trip up to the pier to wear the kids out a bit.
As is the norm, people were arriving in a steady flow from mid-afternoon through the night and into the morning, and Saturday dawned to show a busy area with mixed camping and rigging duties co-existing. Competitors sorting and rigging according to what they thought may be required, based on rumour, hear-say and forecasts.
One definite requirement would be a warm wetsuit as people were reporting a layer of snow overnight as they arrived, though this wasn't apparent as we returned to the campers from the pub the night before. Obviously, should anyone ask, I wasn't to be seen anywhere near the pub enjoying a quiet drink using the age old excuse that the baby's head needed wetting, and any such accusation will be strongly denied. Mike â€˜PJ' Simpson may even lay claim to buying myself a drink, so now everyone will need to check their prescriptions for details of hallucinogenic substances or admit, it never happened. I digress, so back to the plot â€¦.
Saturday morning, campsite buzzing with competitors rigging sails and boards, support crews firing up the burners for bacon butties, race crew readying boats and marks for on the water action and tannoys and heats for onshore co-ordination. Jay Williamson was the man in charge of proceedings with Mike Dempsey, putting aside parental responsibility for Nick's medal, returning to the role of beachmaster for the weekend.
With the offshore winds we opted to send out a test pilot, and the last person to step back one pace was young Dan Simpson. Dan was duly gaffer taped to his Hypersonic and 8.5m Lighting and launched into the Essex waters and with surprisingly little resistance or complaint. It was soon apparent that once clear of the wind shadow, which we were most likely causing ourselves, there was an abundance of wind and Dan was pretty soon trying to convert apparent board speed to equivalent trekkie warp factors so he could tell everyone to rig appropriately.
Jay wasted little time getting a figure of 8 course set and the heats were called out accordingly. The Top Flight saw 20 hopefuls looking to take the UK Slalom Champion title from Dan Ellis (2004 winner) over the coming season. Dan has enjoyed his winter with competition on the AWT (a series which he's won with one event still to run) and also running a Slalom clinic / Camel Cup event in Dahab. The smart money would be on Dan to continue this fine form so long as returning to the UK temperatures was not to prove too much of a culture shock.
As it turned out, Dan Ellis proved to be the man to beat once again, with Xavier Ferlet vacating the furry comforts of his pimp mobile long enough to take second overall, with the one guy who may consider the weather semi-tropical, Alan Jackson travelling down from Scotland and taking 3rd place for his efforts.
Richard Potter who has been making a play for wave / freestyle status recently, showed that his racing skills hadn't deserted him as he secured 4th overall and 1st Youth, ahead of 2004 event winner Nick Deverell. Nick's scoring ability proved more effective with the locals, or that's how it sounded in the early hours as his beach front love-nest revealed the soundproofing qualites of modern tents to be more than a touch ineffective. Finishing 2nd youth was the 2004 junior slalom champion, Richard Jones, with a commendable 9th overall.
With Dan Simpson providing the warm up entertainment, if is perhaps fitting that he went on to take the junior victory over the weekend with some impressive slalom sailing. As ever, the standard of the junior fleet improves every time you see them, and just seeing how Richard Jones fared against the top flight shows how good they are becoming. James Simpson proved to be Dan's closest rival, with Chris Higham piling on the pressure in 3rd place.
As ever, the really serious action was to be found in the Challenge fleet, where people are doing it for the craic. Paul Raven took the event win with a tactical master-stroke switching to his formula board and 10.0m-ish sail for the final just as the wind dropped, with Mike Blackgrove who'd been on his Techno Formula throughout picking up 2nd place and top Veteran. The Gilroy-Scott boys were back and again after their successes in 2004 (and some secret Camel Cup coaching ?) proved in-separable with Andrew securing 3rd over brother Mike in 4th. Ian â€˜Torpedo' Jones avoided the numerous boats offering themselves as potential targets to pick up 5th place, proving that avoidance is quicker than passing through when there is a boat in the way.
My own racing was a catalogue of excuses and occurrences that contrived to scupper any challenge I could pretend to have put down. Ultimately spending time helping Mel find the kids, who were in Mrs Simpson's van chatting, while I should have been making my way through the dead-wind area to my final was the killer, well that and no further opportunities to score points following that distraction. Joint last, great, but to add insult to injury Trevor Funnell demonstrated elements of cool and calculated persona to the extent of his remaining dry all weekend, excluding the sweat from rigging his favourite (apparently not?) 4 cam sail, to finish joint last with yours truly. I reckon Trevor could claim a few bonus points for the pimp value of his VW T5, perhaps even setting the standard for those looking to put together the ultimate windsurf van. Apart from the racing aspect, I had a pretty good time sailing on the Superblast 72 and my 7.2m Neil Pryde Saber and was showing decent speed too. Shame I couldn't attend my final to score some points for my efforts.
All the action occurred on day one, with the Sunday bringing warmer weather but less wind so further racing was not possible, giving no chance for atonement of any previous misfortunes. It wasn't that we didn't make the effort, and special mention for Alan Jackson who made the start line for his heat, which was binned before it really got going, but suffice it to say he was still wearing remains of the late night Essex kebab he'd craved on his return from a Saturday night on the town. Alan must've been in a bit of a state as Dan Ellis managed to borrow some money of Alan, though no matter how disadvantaged Alan may have been on the night, and a picture of elegance he was Sunday morning too ... he remained aware of the loan and managed to reclaim without fail.
Meanwhile, the kids made full use of the decent weather and the sandy beach, Mike Simpson spent time trapped in his Sola winter suit having planned to further his photo-journalistic talents taking action shots from the RIB. In the interests of humanity, Mike was despatched to sea for cooling aboard my Superblast 81 with my 9.0m Neil Pryde V8, however the stability of this vessel proved too great and Mike returned as dry as when he left us.
With no more action on the water it was time for the prize giving and all those who'd done well were duly rewarded. What was really nice was the number of quality prizes provided by Ski Surf who had sponsored the event, so many in fact that a raffle was held for all competitors to have the chance of winning a prize. This was the only thing I managed to win all weekend so I offer a very special thank you for my roof rack pads. There are numerous types of roof rack pads available on the market, and all are effective in their own manner. Certain conditions require specific pads to be used, but not being an expert in this field I will be enlisting the help of my buddy and highly acclaimed formula coach to the aspiring youths. While sadly not related to a famous comic, I'm certain that Mark Kay will take on the assignment, with all seriousness and due respect, to research and report on the virtues of the humble roof rack pad.
With the prize giving sorted and lots of happy people with their own raffle victory to enjoy, it was time for everyone to head for home, back to whichever corner of the UK that may be. Then it's time to look forward to the next opportunity to get back together and enjoy the social as well as the competition environment that the UKWA offers all comers. Once again, a big thankyou to SKI SURF & also to Tendring BC for their excellent support with this event. It's great to have such good local support and we can all look forward to developing this event and venue over the year with their continued support.
Round Two of the Slalom Series is at Eastbourne and is to form a big part of a brand new event for the area. Eastbourne Extreme has evolved form the annual skate festival that has been running since the 90's, however the local council have injected more sports to increase the exposure of the event, and the resort, across the board. Along with the slalom racing will be a round of the freewave series, there will be kite displays on land and the sea, local sea-rowing clubs and sailing clubs will be looking to show their skills and hang gliders are even possible. The council are piecing together all the plans and the layout as I pen this, but expect lots of stuff to be going on to entertain all family members and interests, from fairgrounds to beer tents to windsurfing taster sessions at Spray Watersports. The event has also been pencilled in by many of the windsurf importers as one to attend and show off / demo their wares.
Next on the UKWA calendar for myself will be the Welsh Open Cup event at Pwllheli, and I'm so confident that my RS5 is fast that I'm giving everyone a whole day's head start â€¦.. we've got a wedding to attend on the Saturday so I'll see you there mid-morning on the Sunday â€¦.
I'd like to thank my sponsors for their continued support, especially Ultra Sport for the excellent Bic / Tiga boards I have access to and the superb Neil Pryde rigs to power them. It was really good to see the new Bic Sport UK Brand Manager, Andy Wood, taking an active interest in the racing at the event and I offer special thanks to Andy for bringing along my RS5 fresh out of the container. Thanks also to Acutel, Specialised Sailing (Windsurfing Hawaii) and SD Products Ltd whose ongoing support will allow me to continue my pursuit of having fun competing with the UK's finest windsurfers whilst satisfying the ever increasing family requirements.
Interest in the UKWA competition scene is increasing, and with major brand representatives attending more events, for example Andy Wood from Ultra Sport attended as an interested spectator while Paul Simmons from Starboard / Tushingham took in a more involved perspective finishing 6th overall in the Top Flight fleet. If we can increase the awareness and interest from grass roots right through to those in positions like Paul & Andy's then we are likely to enjoy a huge increase in public awareness of the sport, and we may yet get all the answers we are seeking regarding the ultimate roof rack pad.
See you in the country that's still singing about the rugby... oggy oggy oggy