Startline Secrets

World Champs Spill The Beans On Top-level Tactics


The PWA Slalom Format’s certainly got a buzz going on about racing worldwide.

With so much gear being developed to cut it at the top level budding racers are going to need some tactics to match their machines.

Perhaps the biggest area to consider for up-and-coming slalom starts is the start line.

Who better then to ask for advice  than Karin Jaggi (F2 / North), our 31-yr old current Slalom Champ with 13 PWA world titles to her name, and windsurfing’s most successful competitor ever, Bjorn Dunkerbeck (T1 / North) and his 35 world titles and over 100 single PWA event victories?

Before the start…

Bjorn – “Of course you’ll hear the start is critical, and it is. But first and foremost you need to choose the right board and sail for the wind and water conditions to be in with even a sniff of a chance. The start is worth half the race in medium and strong wind, but in light winds it’s even more even more important.”

General things to consider…

Karin – “The start is half the race – no bullshit. It’s worth at least 50%. Timing is everything: So keep it simple  - the goal is to cross the line full speed when the clock counts down to zero.

Where should you position yourself at what time on the countdowns/flags sequences?

Karin – “4 min to start = red flag up: Then I’m at the boat taking the countdown from the crew as they call it out and sound the horn. From there I cross the start line and sail into the course.

At 3 min to start I gibe and head back to the start boat – at exactly two minutes I will therefore pass the start line again. That gives me the chance to see yellow flag go up (I check my watch is correct) and have a good feel for the wind as well (did the angle change?).

Now I do exactly the same to the other side, cruising – not at full speed.

Just before 1 min to start I gybe. Now it’s time for tactics – which end? Do I show the others where I intend to start (go that direction early)?

30 seconds before the start I want to be fully planing but still cruising, 10 seconds before the start I turn it up to full speed.

Everybody does it exactly the same. From a spectators view it might not be clear what’s going on – but out there it’s war: the best place, the most space, the clearest wind, the perfect timing, the personal line, etc. etc.

Which end of the line should you start?

Bjorn – “I look at the line 4 min before the start, and 2 min before the start. Only after that do I decide where I’ll cross the line. The wind might’ve shifted, and you don’t know where everyone else is planning to go for it yet so it’s best to judge it late in the sequence. You want to hit the line at full speed, but you don’t want to be over the line or else it’s game over!”

Karin – “There are several different things which determine what end I start from.

The shortest distance: which side has the shorter distance to the first mark?

My sailing style and skill: is my speed greater on a downwind course or on a reach (cross wind) compared to the other competitors?

The fleet: where do most other competitors start? A clean start with free wind (not covered by other sails) is a great advantage. I always tried to avoid the ‘pack’.”

Advice for new racers at the start line

Karin – “The trick is to concentrate on yourself and never let the others out of view. It’s a bit like driving a car – where you look always ahead but have this round-vision switched on. From the corner of your eye you always see what the others are doing. But good starts you really have to learn – do as many as possible – and rather risk being over-early once than always just following the others.”

Thanks guys - now get racing!

© PWA / Brian McDowell