Windsurfing slalom racing returns to Eastbourne

Invasion! Looking like a viking raiding fleet, windsurfers racing towards Eastbourne.
Phil Benge

The Wellington Windsurfing Association (WWA) staged its final summer event in Eastbourne recently when riders revelled and raced in winds ranging from 28 to 38 knots.

Slalom racing is the ‘Formula 1’ of windsurfing, with equipment and courses set to achieve maximum speeds, usually in a down wind zig-zag course and speeds up to 70 km per hour.

The stronger conditions dictated a figure of eight course which was easier to set and adjust as the wind changed, and races were started from the beach in a ‘Le Mans’ style start with 2 laps around the 1km course, long enough to challenge all competitors without turning it into an endurance race.

The size of sails and boards are determined by the wind strength, and in lighter conditions bigger boards and sails up to 10 square metres may be used. For this event however most sailors opted for smaller boards and sails (around 5 sqm) more suited to wave sailing and tricks (freestyle) as control and completing the course was more important than speed.

Eventually ten sailors competed in seven races which tested their abilities to maintain control and stay on the water in the strong conditions, and go around the buoys without crashing.

The event was intended to rekindle interest in racing of this kind in Wellington, with a focus on participation rather than results, and was completed with a BBQ on the beach and much analysis of equipment, technique and options for future racing.

A great day on the water, Wellington turns it on.
Phil Benge

James Court, well known Wellington wave sailor was first in winning most races on his freestyle equipment, with local sailors Peter Hahn taking the final race to finish second, and Bruce Spedding third.

In the late 80’s when windsurfing was at its peak Eastbourne was host to several National windsurfing events, when over 100 sailors would be camped out along the parks and beaches and the shoreline was vibrant with colour and action. Buoyed by an awakened interest in water activities with related sports such as stand-up paddling and kiteboarding, windsurfing is experiencing a resurgence, and it is hoped that Eastbourne may once again be host to a national racing events.

Eastbourne is ideally suited for this kind of event with its extensive coastline, reliable winds and ample resources to support events of this nature. Currently the National Slalom competition held in Dunedin attracts more than 50 sailors over 5 days, and the Taranaki Wave Classic has an even bigger attendance.

Windsurfing offers a broad range of options for all ages, from recreational sailing for young and old (7-70 years), to racing, freestyle, wave sailing and speed sailing. The equipment is much easier to use and more reliable than it was in the 80’s when many people tried it for the first time. Many who tried it and found it too hard, or drifted away to have families, are now rediscovering the sport which they can also share with their kids. The Techno 293 junior Olympic class is becoming very popular in some other centres with windsurfing being New Zealands most successful Olympic sailing sport.

James Court has a play between races off Eastbourne
Phil Benge

The WWA would like to see local yacht clubs take up the Techno class as an option for youth sailing and to encourage more kids to get on the water. It’s hoped to get Bruce Kendall down to Wellington over the winter to talk to clubs about getting Techno started in the region. Bruce is a double Olympic windsurfing medallist and currently contracted to coach the Techno class by Yachting NZ when he’s not overseas coaching other countries Olympic hopefuls.

Safety and support for the event was provided by a boat and crew provided by the Wellington Ocean Sports Centre who have been working in partnership with the WWA and Wild Winds to promote windsurfing in the Wellington Region.

Thanks to:
Wellington Ocean Sports, Wild Winds, Simon McVeay and Ben Murrin (boat crew), and Vic Crookes (starter/scoring). Phil Benge - photos