Chris Lewis on Clacton and the aims of the series

29 April 2008

UKWA- JP/Neil Pryde Slalom Series 2008

Ski Surf, Clacton, 12-13th April

Racing. A word that splits opinion across many sports, fear in some, excitement in others, and windsurfing is no different and in fact in many ways it's a sport that highlights this split more than others. This year Pryde Group UK have joined forces with the UKWA, the association that organises and runs all forms of competitive windsurfing in the UK, to try and show us all that racing need not be all about expensive kit and the fear of where you might finish, and in fact racing is more about just getting on the water with other sailors and enjoying like minded company both afloat and ashore, seeing new places and sailing in new waters, whilst all the time enjoying the benefits of free advice, technique clinics, product presentations and tuning talks.

Some of the demo kit on display.The new slalom concept has seen the 5 slalom events that make up the British series being franchised out to key and active retailers who will endeavour to provide windsurfing extravaganza's for their customers and local sailors. The 5 retailers and their venues who have taken on this mantle are Ski Surf for Clacton, Wet n' Dry for Minster, Surfladle/Hove lagoon for Hove, Boardwise for Aberdovey and FCW for Poole. Each event will involve demo kit for you to try from all the manufacturers, parties, promotions, technique clinics from the pro's on subjects ranging from speed to gybing, spock's to rigging and tuning! As well as all of this Pryde/JP are also offering a £1000 prize fund per event as well as numerous on the spot product prizes and merchandise give aways. The UKWA will also be on hand to run and organise racing for all levels of ability.

Mike Blackgrove heads out.Slalom is something that we're all pretty good at but probably don't realise, sailing back and forth across the wind, gybing at each end and with numerous rest stops depending on how fit you are! If you fancy doing this with another 30 or 40 sailors at the same time then you're going to love slalom sailing, add this with the opportunity to try out all the latest kit at the same time and get prizes for doing it, enjoying some après surf in the evening then the 2008 JP/Pryde Slalom series is for you.

Ski surf hosted the first round of the JP/Pryde 2008 slalom series at Clacton on sea in Essex. Clacton has long been a welcoming venue for the UKWA and this year was to prove no exception, sailors enjoy the luxury of an expansive grassy area right on the sea front for rigging, parking and camping, added to the fact that the town centre is barely a stone's throw away you have a great venue shore side. Afloat the venue just gets better, having a southeast facing shore means that Clacton enjoys most prevailing winds conditions and in particular a south westerly which for this weekend was blowing nicely at 15-20 knots in glorious sunshine, perfect for windsurfing and perfect for slalom sailing.

Jamie Hawkins leads Alan and Xavier out of the last bouy.Ski surf's slalom event was the first event of the UKWA calendar for 2008 and as always the racers arrived with great expectations and anticipation, last year saw a close race for the title with Alan Jackson just holding out to take the title ahead of long time campaigner Guy Cribb. This year was going to provide a new challenge for the top step on the podium as following lengthy break from competition Jamie "J dog" Hawkins was making his return to the British tour and competitive windsurfing. Once again the number K96 was to prove an intimidating sight on a windsurfing race start line. To enable Jamie to compete he has rekindled his long standing association with Neil Pryde and had chosen to use Exocet boards in order to formulate a successful campaign for 2008.

The entry list was split evenly between top flight sailors and the challenge fleet, this provide a great race format for all involved with equal time on the water for all sailors and everyone benefitting from watching and learning off each other. With the Wind Blowing a 5 buoy down wind course was laid and racing began, 5 buoy downwind courses are favoured by all slalom sailors as it's easy to see where you're going! Figure of 8 courses is easy to sail but it's very easy to forget how many laps you've done in the heat of the moment!

Jamie showed that class does not age and though not having it all his own way was soon heading the top flight with a number of bullets, leaving last year's champion Alan Jackson and previous champion Xavier Ferlet battling hard to close the gap on the leading board. In the Challenge fleet the guys were enjoying some great sailing with results and places very close and the top of the leader board was changing all the time with every sailor in with a chance of success with Paul Kearns, Adrian Wallis and Larry Chan all battling for the top three placing's. Young Matt Brown was sailing well in the junior fleet with newcomer to slalom Tom Bennet Lloyd also fairing well.

Thommen and Pryde kit.In-between races competitors were making full use of the demo kit available, and thanks must go to Thommen and Pryde/JP for laying on plenty of kit for sailors to try out whether they were free sailing or racing!

At the end of the day competitors and organisers alike trooped off into the sunset and into Clacton Town centre for a meal and some social drinks before an early bed time following a long days testing sailing! Race events are often over looked for their après surf entertainment, having raced hard all day there is nothing better than chilling out with mates, sharing stories, disasters and top tips over some food and with a few drinks. To help the evening's entertainment a number of product prizes were awarded for numerous entertaining episodes throughout that day, such as sailing into the committee boat, sailing the wrong course and making up your own course! All entertaining and all well rewarded!

Sunday breakfastSunday, dawned with glorious sun again, but as the London marathon was getting under way the lack of breeze in Clacton meant sailors had the chance to relax and enjoy a lazy Sunday morning of rigging, tweaking, sharing tips and tuning. As the day went on the skies changed and a number of squall swept through and despite both fleets being called out for racing the wind never stayed around long enough for anymore races to be added to the overall results. Mid afternoon and, with travelling in mind, a close of play was called and prize giving was quickly arranged. JP/Pryde had donated a prize fund of £1000 to the podium and class winners, with a spread across all fleets most people ended up taking something home! Those missing out on the podium were awarded yet more product prizes for honourable and dubious achievements. Whatever your achievement, placing in the top three, completing a single race/heat, beating the guy in front of you or just having a great time and meeting new people the event to all was a success.

And that's the attraction of slalom sailing, whatever your results are it doesn't make any difference to the great time you have. Sailing in new places, on new waters, getting away for the weekend, and sailing with new or familiar faces the slalom tour has something to offer everyone.

Wet N' Dry will host the next round of the JP/Neil Pryde British Slalom Series on the 7th and 8th of June. The event will feature demo kit for all to try, product give away's, free technique clinics from the pros, product talks, promotions, merchandise, special offers, party and of course some racing! Its open to all whether you race or not, come and enjoy the atmosphere and the location and see what side of the "racing" split opinion you sit on......I hope you'll enjoy it.

- Chris Lewis