The course changes to challenge us when possible. Usually in the mornings we train with a start line on starboard tack and in the afternoon it’s port tack. Like the PWA, the course is set as a broad downwinder but different to the PWA, the course does not get changed when the wind alters unless the angle changes really drastically. This forces all racers to pay extra attention to slight wind changes. We also don’t have time to go back to the beach to change sail size or boards if the wind drops or picks up during the round. I really like this aspect as it pushes you to race on equipment that is perhaps not perfect for the conditions we are training in, which in turn is actually an important skill to have for racing as in real life world cup races it unfortunately happens a lot that you just somehow end up being on the wrong kit. For this situation I have learned my number 1 rule for slalom the hard way but still have to repeat it to myself pretty much every time I am racing – “If in doubt, go big”. Simple as that, but extremely effective. Honestly there is nothing worse than being underpowered on a slalom course. I try and stick to this rule also for training, but with 20 races a day I sometimes opt for the smaller sail option indeed. To cut a long story short, training in conditions that are momentarily not ideal, whether this is that you are stuck on the wrong equipment, or that all of a sudden the second mark is upwind, all helps you to become a better, more tactical racer. Slalom training in Tenerife at the camps, you gain experience in days that would normally take years of competing at PWA level. What’s more, you can get video feedback about jibing and starting by simply asking the TWS staff. They are well equipped with Go-Pro’s, drones and cameras and really helpful when it come to feedback in this form. That’s why I can strongly recommend joining the Tenerife training to anyone who wants to start or improve racing or in fact to simply anyone interested in slalom. But although I think that the training here is definitely a great way to push your slalom sailing to the next level, it’s also tough and definitely not for the faint hearted. Slalom is always a lot more physical than just normal windsurfing, but the training here is especially tough – open wounds on feet, hands and legs are the norm, and once there’s a hole, it is not going to close, the saltwater just makes it deeper and deeper.
It is the combination of having to always take the biggest sail you can possibly hold and a constant urge to reach new top speeds, combined with a competitive nature that brings out the best or worst in everyone. Combine that with Tenerife conditions (a lot of swell, chop and gusty winds) and it can bring even the toughest racers to their breaking points. I windsurf all year round and consider myself very windsurfing fit but nevertheless even taking into account any ‘over-earlys’, rounds I had to abandon because I just couldn’t possibly hold on to my equipment anymore, missed starts, or simple fatigue after 15 completed races, I have after 3 weeks of training yet to see the day that I complete the full 20 races. It’s not only being on the water for many hours training each day that will bring you to your physical limitations, but also the fact that since you are constantly racing and under time pressure that will really make you feel the need for rest days.
For me personally the most important part of the training is the physical aspect, race training of at least 3 hours a day is a workout that is hard to replicate anywhere else! Besides the physical training I also find the fact that we have to stick to a strict timetable especially helpful. Learning exactly how many minutes you need to rig that sail or put that fin in your board and still make it to the line in time for the perfect start is time management at its finest and it is a skill hard to acquire on a normal training day. But at the same time it is a skill that during world cup competitions should not be underestimated and actually one that can greatly help you to relax a lot more during a real race. When it comes to tuning I find that Tenerife is maybe not the ideal place for me, as it doesn’t really resemble the conditions I get in most of our race venues and I am testing mainly against guys. But still it is great to be able to test different set ups on a ‘real’ race course and not just by looking at my top speeds on the GPS. I generally try to change something after every 5 races. Ideally to get a good preparation for a slalom racing season it is always important to train in as many different locations and conditions as possible. But for the moment, as a girl here in Tenerife, I compete mainly against the guys and whilst after the start I struggle to keep up with the elite, I take great pleasure in racing with the slightly more amateur or younger guys, which I find is really helping me to push my level. But because only a few of the PWA girls are here at the same time as me and I don’t get to train on the race course against my biggest competitors I think my approach to the training might be quite a bit different to some of the guys. There was one week where both Matteo Iachino and Pierre Mortefon were here at the same time (number 2 and 3 in the current world ranking) so I had this burning question I wanted to ask them and share with you. I wanted to know whether the guys here are always pushing at a 100% trying their hardest to beat their opponents using all their technical secret weapons, or if perhaps they even give themselves slight disadvantages to compensate for with better, more technical racing? Slalom is known to be extremely secretive; everyone has heard the stories about how which fin the pro’s choose for racing is top secret. Rumour even has it that some racers use covers of different fin brands to throw off opponents about their fin choices during competition. But to what extent does this happen during training? I asked some of the pros here about their various tactics and thoughts about the Tenerife slalom camps.