Before coming to the event I had been picking the brains of everyone I knew about the Défi, trying to piece together as much information as I could. The best place to start, which tactics to use, gear tuning and just about everything else I could think of. My strategy was to start about 50-100 metres from the pin end of the line, out of the way of the top guys, but not too far behind them either. The start is what they call a rabbit start with a 30ft powerboat charging upwind at around 30 knots, and 1300 windsurfers blasting behind. It has to be seen to be believed, so check out the online videos.
Not really knowing what to do, I set about the start like any other slalom start, crossing the line in the right direction with 4 minutes left and then gybing on the 3 minute mark to come back the other way. That is when the wall of windsurfers blew me away. It is something you have to see to really understand what it is, and when you add in 40 knots of wind, whitewater being ripped off the surface and metre high chop in all directions, it just adds to the spectacle. My problem now is that I am heading towards this wall in the wrong direction and there doesn’t look to be much space! I spot a small hole and pass through into a cauldron of turbulent water and dirty wind. I just about wobble around a gybe and then find myself stuck in the middle of 1000 sailors. Luckily in 40 knots of wind even dirty air can get you moving, and I start to move towards the front row. Finding a little space, I push upwind and hang back a bit, creating a little room below me. When I catch the first glimpse of the boat I sheet in, hold my breath, close my eyes and fly through the front line of windsurfers out into clean water!