Reflections On An Almighty Season – Slalom Racing
With the silverware all dished-out and the big names sent home to re-charge and review their years work, the world of windsurfing can be proud of an impressive run of competition that pushed levels far beyond most peoples expectations.
All in all 6 world championship titles were settled in wave sailing, slalom racing and freestyle between the most talented men and women windsurfers on the globe.
The Slalom series boasted no less than 7 men’s events and 3 women’s races, including an exciting new stop in Korea.
The 2007 Ulsan PWA World Cup – Korea. May 5th-12th
The colourful and explosive opening ceremony set the tone for a firecracker of an event on this, the PWA’s first visit to Asia in Ulsan, Korea. An incredible reception from the amazing local organisation, and the event’s high profile in this region certainly helped the 2007 Slalom 42 tour open with a big bang.
From day one Jinha beach came up with the goods, immediately serving-up wind to get racing started as the battle for the €45K prize fund got underway. In fact good wind on the first 4 days allowed 6 full men’s races to be completed and 10 women’s races in all.
2006 World Champ Antoine Albeau (Starboard / NeilPryde) had a slow start to the year by slipping-up with some risky overtaking moves and premature starts. That allowed Kevin Pritchard (Starboard / MauiSails) to take the initiative and take 3 race victories compared to just one from Albeau.
Peter Volwater (F2 / North) also had a bonus when good awareness let him take race 2 after the entire final line-up crossed the line too early.
After the last two days disappointed it was Pritchard who took the event win without a 7th race and the discard it would’ve allowed could be completed.
Micah Buzianis (JP / NeilPryde) emerged stealthily from the shadows to steal second overall after a well-crafted final race win and a consistent string of results.
Albeau recovered to cement third overall and keep himself in touch with the leaders before the next event in Spain.
Karin Jaggi struck a lethal blow to any pretenders in the women’s’ contest. With just one glitch on her scorecard for a premature start Jaggi steamed to victory in all of the remaining 9 races.
But the scrap for second and third place was certainly intense between Sarah Hebert (Starboard / Naish) and Ayako Suzuki (Starboard / Gaastra). The pair exchanged second and third places continuously and Hebert was sure to pounce and take a bullet in Jaggi’s absence after her disqualification from race 8.
Eventually Hebert accompanied Jaggi on the podium in second overall and Suzuki made Japan proud in third.
The 2007 Catalunya Costa Brava PWA World Cup Slalom – Spain. June 12-17th
The Ballena Alegre Camping resort - the site of many famous Freestyle and Super-X face-offs in the past, hosted the elite talent of the PWA’s men’s electrifying Slalom racing fleet.
This, the second racing event of 2007, spluttered into action over the first two days as fluky, conditions challenged both patience and skills of the 48-man fleet.
Buzianis stole race 1 after a close lead kept 2006 champ Albeau at bay. Around 20 knots of wind allowed Bjorn Dunkerbeck (T1 / North) to ruthlessly hammer home a decisive win in race 2’s magnificent 24-man final of the half-fleet format. After two races Ulsan runner-up Buzianis kept pole position for an agonising three day wait for the wind to return after tour leader Pritchard bowed-out from equipment failure.
Eventually adequate breeze permitted a classic final-day face-off to settle the event title. Albeau, celebrating his 35th birthday, immediately muscled his way into the lead with a crucial Race 4 win. The phenomenon from the Isle de Re boldly chose a massive 9.0sqm sail whilst others struggled on 7.8’s. This tenacity out-shadowed even Dunkerbeck, who opted for the same tactic, although he merely used an 8.3 to obliterate all behind him!
Buzianis was now on a downward spiral. Perhaps feeling too relaxed, the American rolled in 9th in Race 4, before his attention wandered and he went over early on Race 5.
That 5th race was comprehensively taken by the vastly experienced German, Bernd Flessner (F2 / NeilPryde). Flessner, a veteran of countless Grand Slam contests, showed he could easily compete with the younger generation of racers.
The mixed bag of results continued. Finally Pritchard restored pride and seized a vital victory in race 6. Gusts of nearly 30 knots really turned the heat up for the final race, the deferred half-fleet race 3 that was run over an elongated long-distance course.
Smoothly slipping into top gear, Cyril Moussilmani took the opposite tactic of the giants of racing, by cunningly picking the more comfortable set-up of a smaller rig to gain control in the choppy water.
The random results and one race discard allowed Albeau to take the event title ahead of Buzianis and Dunkerbeck.
The 2007 Costa Teguise Grand Slam – Lanzarote. June 30th-July 7th
Some epic surf-slalom conditions and logo-high surf hindered the crew’s chances of safely setting a course on the first two days.
More solid surf on day 3 made for a gruelling day with the maximum 4 races run across the reef. A variety of results were thrown up but Bjorn Dunkerbeck came out as the event leader after 4 separate race winners in Micah Buzianis, Dan Ellis (Fanatic / Naish) – the half-fleet race victor, Pieter Bijl (Fanatic / NeilPryde) and Dunkerbeck himself.
The crowds on the beachside grandstand were thrilled as the heats streaked through the gnarly waves and back the finish line under their noses on the breakwater.
A full afternoon's slalom racing on day 4 showed that Dunkerbeck wasn’t messing about. He set about building an event lead by taking 2 wins from the 3 full races run. Finian Maynard (F2 / NeilPryde) won the third race as the stronger wind favoured the heavyweights. Tour leader Albeau grafted hard to hang on to his smallest registered sail, (A 7.8sqm!), in wind of up to around 30 knots.
On day 6 lighter winds made for ideal slalom conditions, but this didn’t exactly favour the heavyweights. Antoine Albeau finally overtook Bjorn Dunkerbeck to seize the event lead. Kevin Pritchard snuck into second overall after victory in 2 out of 3 of the day’s races – Britain’s Ross Williams won the third.
A final day of nerves started when Dunkerbeck failed to make it out of his semi-final heat. But it was lightweight, light wind specialist Gonzalo Costa Hoevel (F2 / NeilPryde) who won first race of the day.
More anxiety got to the top names in the twelfth race. Even Albeau failed to make final and neither did Pritchard as the event lead was left on a knife-edge. In the rankings this also intensified the race for third as the final race of the event loomed.
As the tension got to everyone there were several re-starts and disqualifications as no less than 5 of the finalists were sent back to the beach for premature starts. Eventually Dunkerbeck won easily, using an 8.3, he crossed before anyone and drove it home ruthlessly all the way to the finish line.
A conservative approach form Albeau won him the event despite not winning one race. Pritchard ghosted into second overall and Dunkerbeck was rewarded with 3rd for his efforts.
The 2007 Gran Canaria PWA Grand Slam – Canary Islands, Spain. July 9th-19th
The racer’s got their first start on the third day and with two races completed the top seeds sprung into action to take the early bragging rights. Bjorn Dunkerbeck showed form early by beating Albeau in the first race in a desperate bid to avenge his defeat at the Frenchman’s hands here in 2006.
But not wanting to let Dunkerbeck have a key psychological victory Albeau pulled-off a perfect start and kept his lead to win - the race event was on!
Albeau cut another clear and decisive victory in race 3. The champion successfully snaked Dunkerbeck who’d led from the start to record the race win.
The 4th race signified a landmark as the fleet earned their first discard and the chance to throw away their worst result so far. Albeau was in danger of blowing it in the 4th race final, but recovered well after a mistimed start.
The race 5 final turned-up a few surprises as team mates Ross Williams (Tabou / Gaastra) and Matt Pritchard (Tabou / Gaastra) capitalized on confusion at the first mark to slip past and allow Williams the race win and Tabou/Gaastra team boss Matt a second.
Widespread nerves spread like wildfire through race 6 as many top names slipped-up under pressure, and once again Williams was primed and ready to pounce on the unwary.
The seventh race was run using the magnificent half-fleet format to treat the spectators to a spectacular sight of 22 racers streaking across the ocean and through the start line simultaneously.After 2 qualifying heats all the favorites made it to the 22-man final, which brought a straightforward victory for Albeau.
The course was adjusted for race 8 and included two long reaches after the start before some tighter zigzagging reaches nearer the beach to really test the full range of the competitor’s skills, and was another perfect example of Albeau’s flawless racing technique.
In break from the routine Bjorn Dunkerbeck who gave everyone a lesson on how to compete in the ninth half-fleet race as Albeau blew-out in a pile-up at the first mark.
The wind was howling by race 10 in typical Pozo style and that suited old hand at racing Matt Pritchard (Tabou / Gaastra) like a glove. The swell, especially at the outside marks became a crucial weapon for overtaking moves Moto-X style.
For the 11th race many riders were on their smallest registered sails of 5.0 but the heavyweights muscled it out on larger rigs of around 5.4 to 5.8sqm.
The final was a brilliant example of high-wind slalom racing. Albeau led the fleet down the first reach before tail walking as he slammed-on the brakes approaching the first gybe mark to subsequently allow Dunkerbeck the lead, and consequently the race win.
Race 12 - This time a half-fleet format was chosen and the shorter course kept to really keep the pressure on.
Everyone’s breath was held as Dunkerbeck and Maynard screamed along the last section of the first reach and around the critical gybe. Perhaps only a miracle prevented the two giants colliding as they skirted the buoy whilst Albeau cruised around wide and into third place. Dunkerbeck’s fighting spirit was fortified with the extra wind and he made no bones about taking a consecutive race win here in his own backyard.
The 13th race was unlucky for some as quite a few top names struggled around the course. A lot of the top seeds played it safe in the final but one player was determined to make this race count. Dutchman Ben Van Der Steen (Exocet / Naish) lived-up to his growing reputation for gaining consistency by taking his virgin PWA race win.
For the second year in a row the racing title came down the final race. The tension was rife before the 14th and final race due to the hair- breadth point’s difference between Albeau, and Matt and Kevin Pritchard.
No one really pressed the line too hard at the start, but the fleet was even all the way along the first reach. Race winner Kevin Pritchard however was a little more determined and that shone through as he screamed along every inch of the course to bag the victory.
Albeau rolled-in second to consequently take the Pozo event win and strengthen his grip on the tour lead. Kevin Pritchard’s third place for the event slid him into second overall for the year.
Albeau’s victory once again showed that he can play the full deck of cards when it comes to competing, from total domination to a safe and conservative approach.
The 2007 Fuerteventura PWA Grand Slam – July 20th-30th
The women were back in action alongside the men at the long-standing Fuerteventura event.
The maximum 15 races were run for both men and ladies and both fleets’ turned-out surprising results.
Men’s - The first few days of the men’s racing threw-up some bizarre error-strewn racing. Eventually Albeau got a grip on the event after a late resurgence by Buzianis who’d suffered early in the week to take the win with 6 victories.
Pritchard steered a steady ship to seize second overall ahead of Dunkerbeck. Buzianis must’ve been both pleased and kicking himself that he finished in a credible 4tth place after a hat trick of victories on day 4.
Albeau’s win here was enough to seal him the 2007 title with two events to go.
Women’s - With a fleet full of new faces and some tough competition from established competitors, Karin Jaggi (F2 / North) had her work cut out in the women’s fleet. But Jaggi proceeded to send out an early warning shot to any pretenders in the women’s fleet after taking 3 out of 4 race wins.
At this stage both Jaggi’s podium rivals must’ve thought she was about to repeat her unassailable lead of Sotavento 2006. But the event would turn out to be the best women’s race event for years and involved a nail-biting final day decider.
After missing-out on Korea it was time for last season’s surprise package Valerie Ghibaudo (Tabou) to show up and make her presence felt. Also intent on spoiling the party where Iballa Moreno (North) and first-time racer Sarah-Quita Offringa (Starboard / NeilPryde).
Despite Jaggi’s good start Ghibaudo clawed her way back into the game and the two titans of women’s racing exchanged race victories, with Jaggi accounting for 8 wins and Ghibaudo crossing the line in first on no less than 6 occasions.
Jaggi topped the podium after a tense 15th and final race on the last day to more or less wrap-up the 2007 title with just one event remaining.
The 2007 Pegasus Airlines PWA World Cup, Alaçati – Turkey. August 13th-18th
Cesme province’s stylish coastal resort welcomed the PWA’s men’s and women’s fleets back after a joint sanctioned event with IFCA back in 2006. Now boasting full World Cup Status and impressive sponsors to boot, the stage was set for a fiesta of competition and music served parallel to the host nations Surf ‘n Sound festival.
Men’s - Antoine Albeau touched down in Turkey with the 2007 title already secured. The French all-round master of windsurfing had the luxury of a stress-free end-of-season wind-down in Alaçati, yet still managed to coast to victory.
In conditions ranging anything from 10-25 knots, the race director kept everyone on their toes all week by setting a selection of both short and long courses, with the layouts featuring 4-6 buoys and a variety of length in the reaches.
Over the course of 10 fierce men’s eliminations, Albeau’s error count overall stayed low, despite a slow start on day one when his NeilPryde team mate Pieter Bijl stepped-in and took the early lead. Albeau also wobbled with a small blemish in the form of a premature start on day 4 when nearly everyone’s results went haywire.
In terms of consistency only Bjorn Dunkerbeck stayed watertight until the last as he shed only one of his low discards after qualifying for all but the critical race 10 final.
Kevin Pritchard also showed remarkable character to stay in the frame. He suffered gear failure during a collision on day one that negated his race 2 victory, but the gutsy American gritted his teeth to pull himself back into the game over the next 4 days, starting with a crucial win in tricky conditions on day 3 to stay ahead of Dunkerbeck.
Apart from Bijl, the only other players in the frame to truly pressurize Pritchard and Dunkerbeck for a top-3 finish were last season’s victor in Turkey Finian Maynard and Peter Volwater 2006 overall runner- Micah Buzianis’ woeful season continued as he struggled in the lighter winds and never really threatened to push for glory.
There was no exception to the season’s trend of final-day tension in Alaçati. Dunkerbeck exploded in the quarterfinals on a day when he’d planned to oust Pritchard from the runner’s-up spot, but was eventually gifted second overall when Pritchard himself missed the final.
Dunkerbeck’s lower discard scores were therefore enough to allow him to leapfrog Pritchard for the runner’s-up step on the stage. Albeau of course made no mistake in banking a fifth and final race win in their absence to top the podium and take home the winner’s trophy.
Women’s - The Women’s event was always going to be billed as a mouth-watering match between Karin Jaggi and the resurgent Valerie Ghibaudo.
Jaggi’s last-gasp victory in Fuerteventura denied Ghibaudo the tour lead, but Ghibaudo’s lust for victory intensified after her performance in Sotavento to a totally new level.
Ghibaudo and Jaggi were fairly equally matched for speed, but the clear difference was in the Frenchwomen’s starting skill. If anyone thought Jaggi was letting someone else share the limelight they could not be further from the truth. This was evident as tension rose and Jaggi was forced to push the start, which resulted in two painful disqualifications.
Ghibaudo’s superior timing earned her 9 victories from the 15 races completed against Jaggi’s uncharacteristically meagre 3 bullets.
The real excitement in women’s slalom are the contenders of the future with many young and exciting names rising to the fore, plus a wealth of local talent in the fleet. It was also pleasure to see Verena Fauster (F2 / Gaastra) recover well from surgery early in the season to finish consistently high enough to claim third overall.
Turkish TV celebrity Cagla Kubat (Starboard / North) may well show at more PWA events after her impressive 4th place finish which was grafted through speed and cunning turning skill to entertain the excited local crowds.
Ghibaudo’s victory in Turkey must have cut deep into Jaggi, but by the same token Jaggi will be amped-up and excited by the prospect healthy competition in the 2008 season already, plus she had the last laugh by topping the year-end podium once again.
The 2007 Colgate World Cup Sylt – Germany. September 21st-30th
With 3 disciplines on offer at Sylt the weekend crowds were treated to some fantastic slalom racing for the conclusion to the men’s Slalom season.
Team Fanatic’s furious featherweight Arnon Dagan (Fanatic / NeilPryde) took the early lead on a frustrating first day’s racing for the big guns.
Light wind specialists Australian Steve Allen (Tabou / Gaastra) and youngster Julien Quentel (Starboard / NeilPryde) also drove home their advantage as the opening volleys of the slalom shooting match began in just 10 or so knots of wind.
For the mid-week section of the contest Sylt played it’s typical 4-seasons-in-one-day act and fluctuated between bright sunshine and howling wind and showers. Eventually the final weekend gifted the chance for some further great racing action.
2006 racing champ Albeau was initially slow out of the blocks. The Frenchman appeared seemingly lethargic after already sealing the 2007 crown and allowing Dagan the early event lead.
And a fourth place finish in race 3 didn’t deter the champ who went on to destroy everyone else later in the afternoon.
Dunkerbeck stormed out all guns blazing for this second day of racing but his performance faded in comparison to Albeau’s massacre. Kevin Pritchard also recovered well over the day after missing the race 3 final, but dug deep to record another 3rd place and a critical 2nd place finish in race 4 to take second overall in the event standings.
Albeau’s resurgence was immediate and lethal. Three back-to-back race wins followed where the champ fully stamped down his authority, taking a crucial and lasting psychological victory for everyone to carry with them far into next season.
The final day started with Ross Williams topping the leader board after a useful 4th in race 2, but, as the first discard came into play after race 4 he slipped to 4th overall and allowed Dunkerbeck and Pritchard to leapfrog him into the remaining podium slots.
Onshore wind for the 6th and final race meant an exciting 4-bouy course was set winding back towards the beach with a shoreline finish within touching distance of the die-hard onlookers on the beach.
The fresh breeze and rolling swell made for exciting racing with crashes and catapults galore as the racers streaked along the fast downwind sections.
Albeau took a fourth consecutive race victory ahead of Dagan, who’d suffered a rib injury earlier in the event, and Dunkerbeck, who’s third place here sealed him third overall for the season and second overall for the event.
Albeau’s victory in Germany was the icing on the cake for a champion who’s blitzed all of his competition in unquestionable fashion over the past two seasons.
The Frenchman stepped ashore the Island of Westerland for this regatta with the 2007 trophy guaranteed to be his, but unrelentingly kept his foot on the gas to leave a lasting impression in his rival’s minds for the upcoming 2008 campaign.
No one could have predicted or even wished for a season of this magnitude and intensity. As the footage and word spread throughout he mainstream media the imagery windsurfing presents is of a sport re-born and emerging freshly into and exciting new era. Such inspirational sights will hopefully inspire new generations of champions and see the equipment developed to allow even more progress and evolution.
A short rest period precedes another mammoth schedule for 2008, which will contain even more exciting new tour stops.
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Thanks for following the action with us. See you on the water.
© PWA Brian McDowell