“THEY MADE ME DO IT!”
At the NWF 2013, I met my demons – and I’m not just talking about the gruesome visions walking around at the Horror-themed fancy dress party
I have a big admission to make – I have never actually entered a windsurf race… Sure, I instinctively knuckle down into a Super 7 to stop my mates overtaking, take pleasure in burning off kites and when it is honking, give cars on the A354 to Portland a run for their money, but entering an actual race…
“I think I’ll just watch the first race and see how it pans out…” said a sudden attack of nerves. “Oh come on, Jackie, you’ll enjoy it and you can work up the rankings just by going in for the race. Not everyone does all the races.” said David, a Sea Vet in his 70s, not that you would believe it to look at him. Then Laura, Felicity and Emma drafted me in as Fourth Man in Team Ladies That Launch (we were only allowed 3 team members, but as with a Wonderbra, I appreciated the support!)
So this is how I found myself on the start line of my first ever windsurfing race, with the objective to finish at a number lower than my age and without getting my hair wet, due to the limited washing facilities in my van (more of that later!)
I had been to the race brief and was horrifically confused by the whole 5 minute countdown to the start – different coloured flags up, down, hooters – until they told me that this was all for the benefit of the boat! Basically, all I needed to know was that when the boat goes past – you start!
There was quite a buzz on the start line with about 200 others; long boards, short boards, big sails, little sails. I struggled to get off the line in light wind (under the nose of Simon Bornhoft – embarrassing!) but it was quite serene sailing out on the sparkling, sun-kissed waters to the buoy, having a chat with my fellow competitors on the way, including Santa and a chap dressed as a Heineken bottle! I took a nice tight line around the buoy, which was not my first mistake. My way was blocked by a couple of wipe outs and I had nowhere to go. Didn’t get my hair wet, though! I drifted miles downwind, despite trying to tack upwind, landed my kit and ran for the finish with my lungs bursting and Laura cheering me on. But here’s the thing about racing – even after the first race, I was already thinking about what I could do to improve my performance next time round…
There were 4 races on Saturday and I did them all. I was shattered by the end of it, but quietly pleased with my performance. Absolutely clueless, never having raced before and on completely the wrong kit for the light conditions (110L / 6.3m), I finished mid-table. (I present for you the case for the defence of long boards and wind-SUPs – Top 40 every time!) As I watched the sun go down over Hayling after having a kind of bed bath by the side of the van, using a flask of warm water that I had brought to make tea, I still had dry hair!
Tim Frampton of Fanatic / North had warned me that racing was addictive. Overnight, from “I don’t want to do this…” I had gone to formulating a cunning plan to improve my rankings overall. I had brought ear plugs, so I hadn’t heard the end of Saturday’s beach party but, quietly cocooned in the back of the van, I had sensed carnage in the early hours.
I was right; the start line for Sunday’s 10am race was distinctly sparse! There was no wind and the tide was pushing the nose of my board round so that I was facing the shore. Thus, I managed a proper crowd-pleaser of a start by sailing backwards off the line (under the nose of Peter Hart – embarrassing!) Peter’s commentary ran something along the lines of “Those upwind have got away to a fine start and have nice, clean wind and an excellent line downwind to the buoy. In seconds, they have opened up, what, a 200m advantage over those downwind, who are fighting through their wind shadow and all that messed up wind.” Yep – that was me! I got off eventually and thought… life doesn’t get much better than this. A beautiful, sunny, Sunday morning on the water, having fun with a whole bunch of like-minded individuals.
My cunning, tactical coup (simply turning up for the race) worked a treat and I moved right up the rankings – 41. Never mind finishing at a number lower than my age, I’d shaved off nearly a decade! My pumping technique had certainly improved markedly and the tuning (larger fin) helped. I was fully alert, feeling for gusts, wary of wind shadows and super-conscious of my stance (straight 7, hands together). See! Racing really gets you thinking about squeezing every little bit of performance out of that board, which you wouldn’t do if you were just sailing around. Heck, I wouldn’t even have bothered rigging up for this – and how much fun was I having?!
Staying out of trouble at the buoy also helped immensely and despite a couple of nightmare starts, repeated wipe-outs at the buoy and a couple of finishes so far downwind that I was nearly in the next county, I ranked 46th out of around 250 (a first-page finish!) and my team, Ladies That Launch, came 4th out of 9. I was pretty pleased with this for my first date with a buoy and I think it is fair to say that more than a couple of Likely Lads will have to admit – they got chicked!
Special thanks to David, Laura, Felicity and Emma. They made me do it!
If you have any stories to share about your own experience of the NWF, please e mail them (with a photo if possible) to firstname.lastname@example.org