Season So Far

Maciek Rutkowski Talks Photoshoots, Israel & Croatia & Being in the Title Race Conversation For the First Time Heading into Season Finale in France

Maciek Rutkowski (FMX Racing / Challenger Sails) was touted as being one of the best up and coming youngsters on the world tour having being crowned the Youth World Champion in 2012. However, it’s only in the last few seasons that that has started to come to fruition after a mixed bag of results in the preceding years. Now though, with a new level of maturity and consistency, the Pole is starting to become a force to be reckoned with. The 29-year-old finished 4th in Israel, whilst he successfully defended his event title in Croatia with an extremely strong performance. With the late edition of France to the calendar in November we caught up with Maciek to talk about the season so far, and how he feels about having his name in the title race doing into the decider for the first time.

Hey Maciek, how’s it going?

Very good! I’m just here in Tarifa for the annual FMX Racing photoshoot. It’s always exciting when you get to see the year’s ahead collection in real life with factory graphics and proper finish for the first time. It’s a very rewarding end of the whole process you go through with the designer and R&D team. You spend hours and hours talking, conceptualising, testing, testing, testing… then the boards go off to production and as a rider you have no awareness of what’s going on then until you see them at the photoshoot. So it’s always super exciting and the shooting part itself is pure fun, no more performance pressure, just cherry on the cake. The more fun you have the better it looks, so it’s pretty straight forward! 

Overall you must be delighted with how you performed in both Israel and Croatia? Defending your event title in Croatia and finishing 4th in Israel… but were you also a bit gutted to miss out on the podium in Israel as you had a real shot at it?

Delighted is maybe not the right word. I’m so damn competitive it’s hard for me to be satisfied, let alone delighted with a 4th place. Having said that I’m happy to be in the mix as with the new format you never know - maybe somebody was hiding some piece of equipment and you’ll be 3 knots off the pace, you never know! Yeah Israel was right there for me to podium, a couple things didn’t go my way and I also wasn’t fully aggressive, especially in finals I didn’t make the most out of some opportunities. So I made adjustments for Croatia and I’m pleased it worked out the way it did. Both events were full of racing so it was a great barometer of where I’m at and what to work on. 

How happy are you, not only by your high level of performance, but also the extraordinary consistency you have shown at both events? You never finished outside of the top 8 at either event - and in Israel you were the only sailor who could boast a 100% Winners’ Final Qualifying Record…

This was something I was very aware of coming into 2020 and rolling over to 21. In 2019 I had some great heats, won my first finals etc but totally lacked consistency. So it was something that I was consciously working on and I’m very pleased it paid off. Funny enough in Israel it almost worked against me, as with 7 eliminations you’re right on 2 discards, so 7 is the exact number of eliminations you’re allowed to be the least consistent in. But I can’t complain, actually if I could make all finals for an entire season this would be something to be proud of I think! 

Where does winning Croatia rank for you in terms of achievements in windsurfing? It was a pretty strong lineup over there!

It’s gotta be somewhere up there for sure - it was a great event with perfect conditions and like you say most of the current top 10, World Champion included. I had to bring my absolute best every elimination and I’m stoked I managed to perform at that level. But I don’t necessarily rank my achievements or look back much at all. There’s so much going on in the moment, and so much to look forward to as well! 

There were a couple of occasions in Israel when it looked like you were cruising to excellent results - I think once you were about to finish 3rd in the final - and got lifted by a huge gust… how tricky were the conditions and is that what actually happened?

Haha yeah that was like the definition of “tricky”! The majority of the event was in really gusty and shifty wind. And when I say gusty I mean like all time 10-25 knots within the same reach. My smallest foil dedicated sail I registered for 2021 is an 8 meter, and as much as it has unbelievable high-end range and amazing stability, sometimes when you get a 25 knot gust with a 25 degree shift you just can’t handle it. And I guess in this case I was already cruising and my focus went from 100% to 98%… I just remember getting pressure from the leeward side of the sail, my foil lifting at the same time and my front foot going out of the strap. Like a perfect combination. Landing in the water didn’t feel the best I can tell you that much!

And then there was another final where I think you rounded the first buoy in second place and then got taken out by your teammate - to all but ruin your chances in that one - what was your immediate reaction afterwards?

Yeah that was the afternoon of the penultimate day. At that time you already know more or less where you are and what positions you’re chasing, what you can and cannot afford. I knew I had been super consistent so I could put everything on the line and risk it for a bullet or a top 3 or something. So I nailed the start toward the top with my 7.7 fin setup fully powered up and all I can see is a white sail below me. It was Pierre, who had an equally good start, and equally good speed. We came down the reach and arrived to the mark together with him on the inside, but I managed to push him down enough that I fancied my chances of getting a good exit and challenging him on the 2nd reach. As I’m finishing my gybe and eye that crucial exit I get hit and land in the drink. I was p***ed! I never really had a problem confronting someone and that’s what I did. Didn’t really get an explanation or an apology and that was that. Then you have to summon yourself and try to focus on the next one which is one of the hardest and most key skills in our sport!

It seems you’re sailing with a lot more maturity now - would it be fair to say that after being taken out in such a position in the past, that it then may have affected you for a few races? Whereas this time you seemed to just put it to the back of your mind and get on with it…

Yeah exactly. I think I learned for those things not to affect my confidence. After all it’s not something I can control and I can get p****d off as much as I want, but it’s not gonna change the fact. In a funny way that’s why I like no rules racing. You don’t kid yourself you’re right and you still have a chance at proving it in the protest room. Shake it off and go. It also helps when you’re fast and you see you can replicate that performance. Before I would probably think it was a fluke and it would never happen again. So you look a lot more mature and mentally strong when you’re fast haha! 

Is there anything specific that you would attribute to this level of consistency that you showed?

Just being aware it’s something that I should improve. And then believing it is something you actually can improve and finding ways to do it. I’m as analytical and self-critical as they come. I break stuff down… even too much sometimes. I’m happy it worked so far and I’m very motivated to keep that trend going! 

There was also an incident in one of your semifinals when Antoine Albeau sailed across the first mark in the opposite direction to you guys… what was going through your head when you could see where he was and what he was doing?

First thing that goes through your mind is trying to react and adjust your gybing line to the situation. In my case I had to go fully around him and lost enough places to push me outside of qualifying at the finish. So I’m happy the judges checked the video evidence and decided to re-run the heat. As for Antoine’s motivation I never really questioned it. He did what he thought was best for him at the time - whether it really was or wasn’t is not my place to judge.

After 18 months away from windsurfing on the world tour - how good was it to be back out there competing with the best guys in the world?

Yes. Competing was amazing and the response from the fans was amazing. They’ve been waiting for it as much as we did! But also just seeing everybody after a long time is cool. After all we’re like a family. Yes you might have the annoying cousin or the uncle you secretly don’t like but it is like a one big windsurfing family! 

Nicolas Goyard blew everyone away with his amazing performance on the foil, which led to a lot of people online particularly - asking why the two disciplines are together and not separate still… what’s your stance on this?

I believe the high end of the sport is always driven by performance. If Brawzinho went against Robby Naish in 1985 and did a perfect air taka would you ban air takas? Or say its freestyle not wave sailing? It’s human nature to be a little bit resistant to change, we often feel threatened by new things, but when this new thing is in certain conditions faster and gets us racing way earlier than before, providing overtaking opportunities, crashes, simply a better show… what’s not to like? 

Fans love to know what size gear you were on - so you can just give us a quick run down of your most used setups over the two events?

My most used setup in Israel was my CHS Aero + 8.1m foil slalom sail, FMX Racing 178 LR foil board and Exploder foil with 600cm2 front wing and 100cm fuselage. Of course I did heats on my 7.7m and 118, and even maybe some on 7.0 and 98. Croatia was a bit more mixed, we had some ultra light finals with 9.1, 700cm2 and 110cm fuselage pumping to even stay on the foils… all the way down to 7.0 and 98. But the killer combo that at some point won me 4 finals in a row was my FMX Invictus 118 and CHS Aero+ 7.7 with a 36.5cm fin. That combination was absolutely motoring there! 

After winning in Croatia have you given yourself a little bit of time to celebrate? If so, how did you celebrate? Or was it straight back to the grind and training?

Yeah I jumped on a sailboat with my family and we sailed around Croatia for 5 days, which was basically scratching the surface. The place has so many islands and hidden places you could probably spend months there, but at some point you gotta get back on the grind as you say and prepare for the next thing.

The PWA has just announced a grand finale in France with the SOMWR 10 x Marignane PWA Grand Slam. What are your expectations for that event coming in ranked 4th… with a shot at the World Title perhaps? 

First of all I’m really excited and grateful that we will have the opportunity to race again this year! And yeah it’s really cool to be in the title conversation. That was my goal for this year, to try to get in that conversation, get in the realm of possibility and just see how it feels, see what it takes, what’s the next step. Of course I’d prefer Croatia counted, even with less points or whatever, that would make my position even better, but being in that conversation is all I can ask for. From there it’s just about performing - I race good, good things will happen, simple as that! 

Great, thanks, Maciek. Good luck in France.