THE NEED FOR SPEED – ZARA DAVIS ON LIFE, LOVE & LUDERITZ
If you are looking to boost your performance in the NWF races, this article is for you!
There is a long and proud tradition of speed in windsurfing. Windsurfing held the overall speed record for wind-powered craft in an almost unbroken run for over 20 years. It started in 1985 with Pascal Maka’s 38.66 knots and lasted to Antoine Albeau’s 2008 record of 49.09 knots.
For those not in the know, speed windsurfing is not a race; it is all about achieving maximum velocity in a straight line. These days, records are often contested in a specially constructed canal in Luderitz, Namibia.
We are privileged to have a few Home Grown Heroes on the Speed circuit and I was delighted to catch up with Bristol-Based Speed Sailor Zara Davis. Zara is not only the fastest woman in the world on a windsurfer, but also the only woman in history to hold not one but TWO World Records at the same time!
Zara holds the Women’s World Outright Record for the nautical mile at 34.74 knots and also the Women’s Production Board 500m record / Women’s Windsurfing World record for 500m at 45.83knots, which is an eye watering 52.74mph in old money!
So, why did Zara take up windsurfing, what motivates her and how does nearly 53mph feel on a windsurfer… and what are the Tips from the Top that will boost your own performance?
1. When there are so many sports to choose from, why did you take up windsurfing? What other sports do you or did you do? My father introduced me to windsurfing in 1979. We sailed big boats then so it was a natural progression and we did it together. I loved it but only did it for a couple of years as I was poorly and had to stop sport. I took it up again at Brogborough lake as my first boss, when I qualified as an osteopath, windsurfed there. I was 26 then. Now I train with the Portishead and Clevedon tri club so I swim, cycle and run. I ski and snow board. I SUP for fun and core stability.
2. How and why did you get into speed sailing? What other disciplines in windsurfing do you relax with or compete in? How often do you sail? I got into speedsailing 2005 when my husband, Pete, wanted to enter Sotovento as THE speed event of the day – they were short of women so I entered. It was the world championships and out of 15 women, I came 5th. Thought I was pretty good at this so took it more seriously. I am tall and heavy so speed was the obvious choice.
I sail as often as I can, mostly wave sailing and some slalom when I can. It’s not been windy this summer so I have hardly sailed at all – but I train 15+ hours a week – mostly tri stuff and core stability with suspension training and pilates.
3. What role does your hubby, Pete, play and how does he feel about your success? Pete, as you can see from the previous comments is a pretty good speed sailor! Certainly in the top 10 in the UK. He is my training partner and without him I wouldn’t be where I am. He is my “rock”, does all my publicity but so much more and he is very proud.
4. What drives and motivates you? What makes a winner? I was born “driven” – don’t know why. Pete says I am the most competitive woman he knows – but it’s not competitive. It’s all about driving my own performance, not about what anybody else does. That’s another reason why speed is good – you’re not next to the other competitors. It’s you against the conditions.
I believe focus and effort makes a winner – I can’t windsurf much due to work and where I live, so I put huge effort into maintaining my fitness and strength.
5. What challenges have you found as a female / juggling work with training and competition and how do you overcome them? What has been most difficult or easy? What has surprised you? Juggling work and training is hard. I am self-employed and run a busy, multi-disciplinary, complementary medical practice. But I have patients booked in so can take time off, but with a month’s notice – any idea what the wind will be in a month???!!!!
Being female is hard for the sponsorship side – it is difficult to get interest. Women’s windsurfing is a small market and speed is even smaller, so even getting free kit is a battle and I am very grateful to my sponsors for all their support.
Having said that, what has surprised me is the level of interest from the public – they are so supportive and lovely. It really does spur you on.
6. I assume that speed sailing must be a rather testosterone-filled discipline; is that so and was it difficult to break into? How do you feel you fit in as a female with the male pros? Will the girls ever beat the boys? No the girls will never beat the boys – it’s like saying in women’s 100m sprinting will the girls beat the boys – no chance. They are bigger heavier stronger – and they get more sponsorship.
That said, it’s a great event for women to get into – no competing on the line with testosterone – it’s all about your performance.
The men are very helpful, respectful and good to sail with – I have had very few issues with male sailors over the years and on the whole they have been generous with their time and support. I think I fit in well – maybe you need to ask them!!!!
7. What does it feel like to go at 45.83kts?! The speed on water is amazing – wind noise and the feel of the wind is what you miss in a car, so it feels like you’re flying.
8. Harty once said of speed sailing “The first thing you need to know is – it hurts!” There must be a considerable fear factor, going at those speeds. How do you cope with this? Have you had any big wipeouts? Do speed sailors wear protective clothing? It does hurt – I have had loads of wipeouts. You have to get used to crashing, however, serious accidents are rare. I am at the upper level – not many sail in a canal like at Luderitz!!
I don’t seem to have much fear – my father was a rally driver my grandfather on the other side was a TT motorcyclist – far more deaths there!!!! I am bold and to do these speeds in a 3 m wide canal you need to be. But it’s exhilarating and I love it.
Some wear protective clothing – mostly the Germans!!!! I am looking at wearing some body armour this year – it’s the finish that’s dangerous, not the course – last year all the injuries were at the finish.
9. How do you train and where do you practise? How did you prepare for Luderitz? As I said above on the training front and I windsurf when I can – West Kirby marine lake is where I go to speed sail. It’s pretty like the canal, so it’s a great place to test kit and prepare for Luderitz, but it has to be windy. This summer has been pants; last summer was fab.
10. What has been your best / happiest day on the water? Just a normal good Weston-Super-Mare day with my friends in the sun – they are the best days. Don’t need records or foreign conditions to have fun windsurfing – the best days are on your home beach with the dog, Ziggy, licking you on your return and an Indian take out for a treat!!!!
11. Do you feel windsurfing is in decline and are you worried about the future of windsurfing? Windsurfing is in decline – no doubt and we are all getting older. We need more youngsters – thank god for windsurfing in the Olympics and RYA Team15 – it gets kids into windsurfing and we need more of them.
The manufacturers need to come up with cheap, robust light kit – back in the 80’s there was a windsurfer on everyone’s car roof – we need that again but it needs to be affordable and accessible to the masses. SUP has taken this role a bit, as it’s easier to learn – but SUP with the opportunity to attach a sail and a cheap rig is the way to go – get families doing it and get away from windsurfing being “a double forward and if you can’t do that forget it.”
12. What is the funniest thing that has happened? There are so many funny moments with speedsailing, as the guys who compete around the world know each other well and we are a sort of family. But mostly you have to have been there and know the characters for it to be funny.
The latest thing I can remember in Luderitz is trying to explain what “being chicked” means to testosterone-filled German males when I was beating the German champion- everyone thought that was funny!!!!!
13. How do you spend a lazy day?! (Do you ever get one?!) I rarely have a lazy day – I guess a dog walk and a pub lunch in the sunshine in the UK would be my favourite day away from windsurfing – dull really!!!
14. Do you have any top tips for ladies coming into windsurfing or speed sailing? Would speed sailing be an achievable aim for an average windsurfer? Top tips for getting into speed for girls and boys – get a GT31 (GPS), go out and race your mates and have fun. Anyone can do it – if you can sail in a straight line you can speed sail.
15. Any top tips for intermediates on how to go faster and burn off their mates? As for going faster for the average windsurfer – play with your kit, tune it and change things. A GPS will tell you how fast you are going – you don’t need specialist equipment, although obviously if you have it you will go faster. It’s not all about the cheque book; play and change the settings on what you have.
Try changing – boom height, down haul and outhaul settings, footstrap positions, fins, masts (you probably have another mast – try a shorter mast with a longer extension and see if a softer luff helps.) Some of those things people don’t change from the first time they rigged that kit!!!!
16. You have achieved your goals, so what next? What are the limits of speed sailing with current board / fin / sail technology and how do you see future development? Go faster!!! I want to get to 50 knots this year – get closer to the men and beat the kites.
We are getting closer to the kites but I think they will be quicker for some time to come – we are nowhere near Paul Larson and Sailrocket – to get the outright record back (65kn) there needs to be a material shift in the equipment. I don’t know what that will be but for sure I won’t be speedsailing then!!! Somehow the water needs to be flatter and we need more wind.
So there you have it – more Speed is at all of our fingertips and it is not every day that you get tips from the person who holds a World Record by default for holding two World Records! We won’t all make the dizzying speeds that we saw in the specially-dug canal in Luderitz during 2012, but we can still certainly have fun trying to go faster!
Zara is sponsored by Simmer, Mistral, Sonntag fins, AL360, Spartan wetsuits and her own business, Walnut Grove Clinic. For further information, see www.zaradavis.co.uk