Jeremy Leonard from Surf City Sailing gives his take on the Windsurfing Nationals…
I was able to make it up to the Windsurfing Nationals to catch their 4th day of racing, and to be honest, I really didn’t know what to expect. The last time that I had a close encounter with a windsurf board was about 1989, and let me tell you, things have changed a bit in the last 20 years. The boards have dramatically changed shape, the sails are completely different, and the fins on the course racing boards are about 3 feet long, high aspect ratio, and thin enough that if you were to run your fingers on the trailing edge you’d get cut. The course boards are short and fat, almost a meter wide, and are able to plane in fairly light wind. The slalom boards resemble a more traditional board, with a rounded nose and smaller fins.
When I show up to events that I know very little about, I seek out someone that can help me get up to speed, and right off the bat I met Alex Nielson who usually sails in the big breezes up in The Gorge. Alex, is a junior sailor with a ton of enthusiasm. He’s the type of guy that is just plain and simply stoked on windsurfing, and on life. He took me around and showed me the different styles of boards and introduced me to a few of the top players. Thanks Alex.
The races run by StFYC off of Crissy Field were spectacular to watch. The Course Racing is set up just like a typical windward/ leeward sailboat course, with the biggest difference being that these things absolutely haul ass. In the fairly light, early afternoon conditions, we were following one of the leaders downwind with our boat speed a touch over 20 kts and we were barely keeping up! The sailor’s motion was effortless, he just seemed to be mellowly hanging on for the ride, and in reality every muscle in his body was probably screaming. Seth Bessie, who won the Nationals in ‘07, commented on what it takes to win this event, “ Pretty much consistency. The top 5 guys are capable of winning races, so just don’t be over early, don’t undershoot the layline because tacking is so slow.” All said and done on this 10th Course Race of the series, Brazilian Paulo dos Reis finished in the top spot, followed closely by Phil McGain. These two have been trading the top spots for the entire regatta and today are only 2 points separate the two.
As the wind piped up mid afternoon, it was time for a little freestyle “expression session” where the sailors sail fast toward the beach, where the judges stand is, and pull off either a board trick or a sail handling trick or a combo. My friend Rob Warwick, local Bay Area transplant to The Gorge, comments on freestyle, “ We have a little bit slower speed, but we accelerate more quickly…we use a smaller fin so that we can break it free, we’re much more agile.” With no real ground swell to play with the sailors had to be creative, and they were. The conditions were a bit puffy and the sailors had to pump their sail to get enough speed to pull off their tricks, but when they did get enough speed it was like watching some hardcore, graceful ballet, but at 30 knots.
As The Bay fired up to it’s typical 20 knots, it was time to race the slalom course. The course is set up as a series of tets about 100 yards apart that the sailors alternately round while sailing downwind. This is where the real speed of the day was generated. Though I didn’t see any official speeds, surely they were up around 30knots. My bro Alex adds a little perspective, “…they have 6 or 8 people, and there’s a crash almost every race. It’s super high speed and sometimes guys just have to slam on the brakes just to make the turn.” The Slalom races had women, men and junior fleets. This was some very tight racing with a ton of crashes and tangles at the marks.
I always try to end on a positive note, and even though I’ve been puckering-up to these guys in my last few pieces, I have to do it again. The StFYC has their act together as far as racing is concerned. I showed up to Crissy Field and the RO immediately called Rusty the StFYC Dock Master, and pretty much instantly I had my own personal chauffeur for two hours of on the water shooting. It never seems like a fire drill, and they are always welcoming of media. Nice show!