The summer of 2008 has seen a number of great windsurfing events held throughout New Zealand.
There were the slalom nationals in Dunedin, the Auckland freestyle competition and the Wellington freewave and harbour blast. The wind has cooperated for all these events. However for the most recent event, the 2008 New Zealand Wavesailing Nationals, Mother Nature was required to bless us not just with wind, but also with a swell to allow the event to run.
The days leading up to the competition showed that clean ground swell would be present for most of the competition, but the wind direction and strength were always going to be fluky. With competition scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the long Easter weekend, we had a good chance of getting a result as a full single elimination can be run in a little over 4 hours if required.
30 competitors entered the event this year, increasing the level of competition from the last couple of years. This shows either a growing interest in wave sailing and the elimination style competition, or perhaps the competition is just a good excuse to spend Easter in Taranaki enjoying the consistent swell.
The registration early Friday saw the countries best wavesailors chatting and scoping out the competition as the draw was revealed and the competition tee shirts were handed out, displaying a unique design by local artist Olivier Perkins.
The contest directors made the call to go to Kina road where a light North Westerly wind was forecast to build with suitable competition standards expected around lunchtime. The clean to half mast waves would have been nice to sail in, but unfortunately the wind never eventuated. Some sailors drifted around the north point on big boards, including Max Cross showing that a long board is the best way to get upwind and into the break. Being the wave sailing nationals the majority of competitors also surfed, meaning that no windless days were wasted. They took surfboards to the south break and surfed the left handers reeling off the point.
The swell was forecast to build on Saturday to over mast high, and a light South Easterly wind was forecast to come through in the early evening. Contest directors made the call to meet at Kina road at 2PM Saturday afternoon hoping the South Easterly wind would build in time to hold a few rounds of competition. Arriving at the beach, the swell was well over mast high with sets breaks a long way out to see on a previously unnoticed Kina Outer reef.
When the wind had still not started building at 4PM the contest was abandoned to allow entrants to enjoy the epic surf to be had along the coast. The Barbie was fired up at the beach, and refuelling commenced for the evening surf session.
Around 7PM Saturday evening the South Easterly blew in at 25 knots, and things were looking very promising for epic cross offshore sailing the following day. The briefing for Sunday morning was set at 9AM at the Carbon Art Factory in Okato.
Sunday morning dawned still, with the wind blowing out over the night. Often in Taranaki the South Easterly wind is light in the morning building strongly by 11AM. Therefore things were still looking hopeful for getting a days sailing. Kina road was again chosen as the sailing location, as the wind would arrive a Kina earlier than it would at Pungarehu. The 25 knots experienced over night did not re-appear but a light 15 knot breeze filled in by 12PM allowing competition to start around 1PM. This made it very difficult for those without a floaty board to compete, and some did not even bother going out for their heats knowing that they would not be able to get upwind into the break. Heat duration was set for 10 minutes with the best 3 waves counting. In these conditions wave selection was critical as there was not enough time to score a discard wave. Heats progressed throughout the afternoon without any major upsets, however two of the youths were standing out in their heats. Thomas Davies showed a huge improvement over the last year, no doubt due to his extreme stoke on windsurfing and regular trips the naki coinciding with some epic conditions. Andy Mabin a 14 year old from Waitara is a new comer to the national competition scene, who seems to have a new move under his belt every time he goes sailing. You will undoubtedly hear more about this guy, as he is sure to be a top wavesailing performer in years to come.
Eventually the field was narrowed down to the last eight contestants. Due to a dropping wind and lateness in the afternoon, contest directors made a decision to run a 30 minute eight man final to ensure a competition result. The top eight sailors in the country included Tim Haxell whose convincing performance in the open division resulted in him winning the youths title.
Conditions during the finals were difficult and people with bigger wave gear were at a definite advantage. However most sailors were using similar sized equipment with board volumes varying in the 74-82 L range, and sails between 5.2 and 5.7m3. The competitors were given 30 minutes to score 3 waves, this is similar to the way the TWC is run but it was the only system that would achieve a result at this late stage in the day. The wind was very light at the start of the heat and any mistake was punished with a trip onto the rocks spelling the end of any chance to make the top three placings. In this sort of situation, the best strategy is to score 2 or 3 conservative waves at the start of the heat, then try to go big in the last 10-15 minutes. Some sailors went hard on their first waves and never made it back to the point break. James Court, Gary McCory, Paul Barron and Julien Lefeuvre skillfully pulled off the waves before the inside closeout section and each scored a quota of set waves. James always seemed to be on the spot to catch the best set waves. Kina was big that day and with such light wind it was very difficult to get far enough up wind to get to the breaking point. The first drop on the point was well over mast, but most of the waves were taken from glassy peeling shoulder allowing 2 or 3 good top to bottom turns. The wave then reformed and offered a critical section to smack. But that smack was the one which drove you onto the rocks with no wind to get back out. At the end of the 30 minute heat, the last remaining competitor made it back to the shore in even lighter winds and a very low tide. Again the BBQ was fired up at the beach to satisfy every stomach while the judges finalised the results.
The Final result was that James Court’s smooth top to bottom style gave him the Open Division victory, over Paul Barron, who out of all the sailors I know is the person most stoked with windsurfing. Julien Lefeuvre who although being based in Taranaki for the last 4 years has managed to miss every windsurfing competition so far due to work commitments. Well this time he made it, and showed what a talent he is, with a third placing. Completing the top eight were Gary McCory, Clayton Dougan, Chris La Franchie, Mike La Franchie and Tim Haxell.
Jill Barron again showed that she is New Zealand’s dominant force in women wavesailing, competing in the open division as no other woman were able to brave the competition.
So in summary, three days were spent lounging around at Kina Road waiting for wind. Over 500 km was travelled over the weekend on the New Plymouth to Kina round trip, adding in to this the long distances competitors from Wellington, Auckland, Coromandel and Whangarei travelled to be there, the biggest winner on weekend was probably the oil companies. However Taranaki was buzzing all weekend with hundreds of visiting surfers, and a 6-8 ft swell hitting the coast. Jack Johnson played a wicked concert, and the windsurfers scored mast high point break action. It doesn’t really get much better than that. Thanks go out to all the sailers who made the effort to come and compete. Thanks to Olivier Perkins for judging and designing the tee shirt logo. Check out more of his work on http://www.spore.co.nz. The biggest thanks goes out to Carbon Art for their ongoing sponsorship of not only this event but windsurfing
throughout the country. See http://www.carbonart.co.nz for more information. The final results are tabulated below.
1st James Court
2nd Paul Barron
3rd Julien Lefeuvre
4th Gary McCory
5th Clayton Dougan
6th Chris La Franchie
7th Mike La Franchie
8th Tim Haxell
1st Youth Tim Haxell
1st Women Jill Barron