The Slalom competition at Sylt 2013 proved to be one of the bigger ‘REVELATIONS’ I’ve ever had. I always thought putting together some good races was the hard part and, as much as I was absolutely correct about that, I came to find out there’s another layer that exists once you do put together some of those good results …
First let me lay a little history. As many readers here may know, my youth and strength in windsurfing was wavesailing and having such a deeply rooted experience in that area. A gained confidence that comes from being at that level (in my prime) made me used to being in the driver’s seat – and the different pressures that come with it.
I’ve been slalom racing for some years now and did it as well as a youngster, but only in recent years has it become my focus and slowly, but surely I have been able to better my time management with family and business commitments that allow me to put a bit more mental effort into my slalom.
The point being, even though I’m a bit of an old dog, I’m still learning new tricks when it comes to slalom competition and being in the ‘driver’s seat’ was a whole new experience for me and I was about to receive a bittersweet revelation, which I believe will be a turning point for my slalom career.
THE DRIVER’S SEAT
Slalom started off with some extremely gusty, shifty, 9.5, offshore-wind racing conditions. I got through my first heat and was immediately Over Early (OE) in my 2nd heat.
The sail from the boat back to the beach (approx. 5 or 6 mins.) was the amount of time it too me to ‘get over it’. I was genuinely pretty OK by the time I set foot on the sand and I just brushed it off and figured we’d have more races and I’d fight back the best I could.
Fight back I did! The next day saw a bit more wind and I had just barely enough time to switch down to my 8.7 and 44 cm fin before my first heat in Race 2. I went on to get through all my heats into the final with the highlight being a back-and-forth quarterfinal battle with Ben Van Der Steen (one of the fastest guys in tour) that resulted with me getting the 4th place qualifying position by half a board length (at most).
Heading into the final I decided to be a bit more aggressive and get closer to the pin, however I was quickly pushed back upwind by [Antoine] Albeau, [Pascal] Toselli and [Matteo] Iachino.
Not wanting to get caught up in the tussle, I felt close enough to the pin to be in a competitive position but still having ‘clean wind’, which was my key focus on all the starts.
The good start saw me in 2nd to Toselli. I had enough boat speed to stay close to him and seemed to gain a bit on the jibes. On the 3rd leg we were tight for a while, but I pulled back to catch my breath and prepare for my assault on the jibe.
This proved to be the right choice as surely he was a bit winded from pushing hard to hold his spot and I got the inside line and rode out the rest of the heat in 1st and a nice little buzz of winning a final.
Fast forward to another day, way out at sea, gusty, choppy and shifty with lots of current. I start stringing together some good starts and mistake-free sailing and find myself in another final.
Hitting the final start perfectly I find myself again in 1st trying to hold that into the 1st jibe, which I manage and then continue to maintain through the rest of the race and into my 2nd ‘bullet’ in a row.
Now I’m tripping out a bit, but mainly just concentrated to get in and get some food, drink and supplements into my body. The 1st place position puts me in the 8th heat of next race allowing a little more time to rest.
Race 4 is the all-important one as it allows me to ‘throw out’ my bad result of the first day. So clearly I understand the implications, but fatigue and cold were at the forefront of my mind so my concentration got broken down into very simple steps, of start good, hold on, don’t fall, which I once again carried through all the heats and into the final.
In the 4th final I find myself still in rhythm and in 2nd place where I was content to just ‘defend’ that position rather than try to be on the offensive. After crossing the finish the mathematician in me knew that I was now leading the event.
So now I’m in 1st, but not in some fluky one-race situation, but rather after 4 grueling races where I had a dominant showing through most of the event.
Emails, texts, back pats and such were flying in and all I wanted to do was lay low because I honestly knew the reality of the situation and that Julien [Quentel] and Antoine [Albeau] where actually in much safer spots than me, since they weren’t holding any bad results.
Well, the freestyle started, forecasts were changing and, although I was feeling good about things, my ‘highs’ of the successful results were almost on the same scale of my ‘low’ of the first race, meaning that I was keeping a level head during it all.
Although, I would’ve been more than happy if the wind just buggered off, in my heart I was real confident we were gonna race again, so I prepared myself to go do some more smart, clean racing.
Race 5. Late afternoon. Out to sea. Gusty. Shifty. Current. Pretty much what we were used to at this point. There’s a lot that could be said about the start line that day, but the bottom line was that, even though it was clearly skewed to the point of invoking many OEs in the heats leading up to mine – and during my heat – the fact is I crossed prematurely with the rest of the donkeys.
7 guys jumping-the-gun in one heat – plus 2 OEs in the heat before us. The line was finally adjusted after mine … WTF! I was spewing. It’s like it all came crashing down on me in one fell swoop.
Back to the beach, with my only hope being that the wind just shut off before completing race 5, which it didn’t. My hopes now move to getting off 2 more races, which looked unlikely with the extremely unfavorable forecast.
That day took me a few hours to bounce back mentally and I geared up for the 2 remaining days hopeful for some more races, which when it became apparent wasn’t gonna happen and the event wound down and packing and train rides began, I slowly started feeling a growing feeling of regret, pain and misery.
All the while, I’m trying to be upbeat…. You know, “it’s just a windsurf contest, no big deal etc. etc.”, but, look, I was hurting and there’s no two ways about it …
After going back and forth in my mind and working through it all, a few things started to be very clearly to me. Antoine, Bjoern and co., the guys who dominate, they deal with a lot more than just stringing together good races.
They deal with the waiting game, the media – and peer pressure as well as maintaining posture in the do-or-die moments. And this is as big a part of the game as tuning equipment, racing strong, being strong etc.
If you want to be the world’s best you’re gonna need to learn to succeed on a multi-layered field of engagement. Also, I realized it just wasn’t my moment.
It’s like when we are kids and we get punished, we often do the same naughty thing the next day – we forget so quick. But when we get older and get spanked (metaphorically) at home by our spouses or in business etc., the sting stays with us longer and we really want to avoid that reoccurring.
And we should have a bit more maturity to able to learn from our lessons. So basically, I got tanned and the smarting was big enough that I’ll carry that lesson well into the future.
Carrying the humility of my slapping down through the winter and into next season will be a valuable lesson for me and I took away from Sylt a fire and focus that, ‘til now I had yet to experience in slalom racing, so, thank you Jesus! JA
Born into Hawaii’s talented Angulo windsurfing Dynasty, Boston-based Josh won wavesailing World Titles in ‘03 and ‘09 and now represents his adopted country of Cabo Verde.