The 2017 BWA Cornwall Classic threw up tough onshore conditions and a real challenge for the pros as they battled the cold and current as much as each other! Managing onshore tests any sailor, especially in competition. John Carter caught up with some of the UK pros for tips and pointers on their preparation, equipment, technique and tactics to win the onshore and competition game!
Words & Photos John Carter
This feature originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Windsurf Magazine.
I actually don’t mind windsurfing in onshore conditions, it can be more fun than side-shore sometimes, sounds a bit odd I know but as long as you’ve got waves it can be challenging. I like gnarly, dredgy, sucky little bowls, if you time it right you’ve got a super vertical face with plenty of punch! To me that’s much more fun than a crumbling side-shore soft-lipped wave. But there has to be waves! By that I mean shoulder high at least, then it’s fun!I use my Simmer Quantums in those sort of conditions; they are Simmer’s onshore production boards and solid all-round boards. I think the gear changes over recent years have opened up a world of possibilities in what we used to call onshore mush. Now you can actually turn tight, staying closer to the section of the wave and there’s more speed carried through turns, so you are suddenly heading back at steep onshore bowls with power and speed. The sails have evolved also, helping you control all the extra power and speed too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not my all-time favourite thing! But it’s way more fun than it used to be! For Cornwall I used the Quantum 90 and the 5.0/5.3 Simmer Black tips. It’s a rocking combination. I don’t sail the Bluff any other time than the contests and it takes a little bit of getting used to. I started fairly terribly in the early rounds, getting caught wide right in the rivermouth close-outs, but later I figured you could sneak up the sandbank on the inside and out the left side of the rivermouth.
In a short heat in onshore conditions it’s very easy to go downwind very quickly when you’re hunting jumps and rides, so I try to start as far upwind and out the back of the break as possible. That way I can drop inside the break on a set if there’s one at the start of the heat. If it doesn’t come along I won’t go chasing it! I will then head back out and try a jump off a bigger ramp as I am already on the outer break line and not hopping over onshore mush on the inside. Once you’ve committed to coming inside the surf and you’re riding you’ve got to make that first hit count. That is the biggest the wave is going to get, that has to be your most powerful turn/smack as from there on it only gets smaller as it runs up the beach! Once you’re out sailing the adrenaline and the sailing itself is enough to keep you warm. It is the hanging around on the beach that gets me. I have a decent rigging jacket and try to snack all day and keep hydrated with water or tea.
Keeping an eye on the notice board is 100% important! You have got to know what you’re supposed to be doing, where you’re supposed to do it and when to do it, otherwise you have no chance! It’s basic stuff though, and is really easy if you actually listen at the briefings or ask at the board on the beach. The problems come when other things sidetrack you, changing boards, re-rigging sails, or disappearing off for a pee or coffee and forgetting the timings. So, the more of the ‘other’ stuff you can get out of the way the sooner the better. Rig early, buy your food and drinks the day before, stick your parking ticket on the van when you arrive, not waiting for the warden to arrive and then do it. In the past I have asked the judges what they are after and they are usually pretty keen at giving feedback, which is nice and reassuring when you hear that you’re doing something right. Just be prepared for when they say you sailed like a kook too! They can be so judgemental!
There’s a core of sailors that have been doing competitions quite a while now and they are all good at it, solid heat builders! I know what I can do too and all being well I fancy my chances against some of them, but you also know there are some where you have to sail your absolute best, and you get a little bit of luck making that move or wave and that luck can be the difference. One of my sponsors in the early days told me the famous golf saying, “The more I practise the luckier I get”, and that still sticks with me! So I know there are very fine margins and you can’t control them in a heat, that is dealt with in the previous 5000 onshore bottom turns or back loops in the last 12 months of sailing and what happens will happen, just go for it. In early heats the pressure is often off a bit and I can really let loose, there’s been heats where I was like, wow, that was awesome, I did 5 ace jumps and 6 sweet rides! And then the very next heat you tighten up as the contest gets harder and suddenly things don’t seem so straightforward. You scrape by with your 2 waves and 1 jump playing it safely. But when it comes to winning events, the difference is usually very small, and sometimes those whose take the risk win, but equally they can also lose, I guess it’s knowing when to take the risk? Ultimately the more you practise at it the less risky it becomes.