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In less than ten years windsurfing, Heidi Ulrich has become the fastest women windsurfer in the world. She tells us more about her winning ways.

WORDS – HEIDI ULRICH // PHOTOS – Jaco Wolmarans, Evelien Van Den Bossche

My name is Heidi Ulrich, I am thirty-eight years old and I live in the middle of Switzerland at the wonderful Lake Uri. I work full time as a payroll manager and am fortunate enough to be able to work remotely. It takes a fair bit of organization to allow me to windsurf and still work, when the wind conditions are there, but my flexible work does allow me to travel to speed spots for training. I am also lucky that I have a very windy lake just in front of my house in Switzerland. World record

In the channel at the Lüderitz Speed Challenge in Namibia, on the 25th November 2022, I set a new women’s windsurf world speed record by completing a 500 metre run at an average of 47.06 knots between the gates, 47.2 on the GPS average, with a top speed of 49.94 max, which beat the previous record of Zara Davis which was 46.49 knots set in 2017. To be honest, I am still feeling super emotional about that day and it is still such a surreal feeling to have achieved this. Slowly I am able to realize what happened and I am very proud to be the world record holder. It is a dream come true! A dream I have been chasing since my first year learning to windsurf back in 2013.


I started windsurfing in 2013. In the same year I also did my first Défi Wind without straps, but I finished all the races on a 125-litre Patrik freeride board and a 3.7m sail in 30-40 knots. Stupid, I know, but you must start somewhere!

That same year I went to Lüderitz with Patrik and Remo Diethelm. The boys were competing in the speed canal and I learned how to windsurf with straps and harness in the bay. Every hour I went up to the canal from the bay to watch the boys sailing the speed run and it was so crazy. By the end of the trip, I said to them, “I want to do this also”.

In 2015 we returned to Lüderitz with Karin Jaggi and the crew. They helped me improve on the speed board in the bay. I was always able to sail down the bay, but Karin brought me a slalom board to sail upwind and she would sail the speed board back. After a lot of practice, I was allowed to go on the canal. Well, I had to wait until the competitors finished, then Patrik, Karin and Remo would practice with me until it was dark.

I managed a 36-knot average on the 500 metre course with a 39-knot max speed. So by this time I was addicted. I returned to South Africa in 2017 for two weeks, but the wind and the canal did not produce the right conditions for me. So I decided to practice as much as I could back at home.

Back in Switzerland, I trained super hard. In 2019 I missed the current world record set by Zara Davis by 0.3 knots and the Swiss record of Karin Jaggi by 0.11 knots. I was so close! I went home with 46.2 knots as a personal record, but no world record. This was hard for me to digest, so I decided to train harder than ever before.


Physically I trained five times a week. But not in the fitness studio or gym. I did trail running, climbing, swimming, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, snowboarding and for sure a lot of windsurfing! I managed to sail 250 windy days in a year. Speed training is not that easy because we always have to go to the south of France to score the perfect conditions. But there is a perfect training place in La Palme where I could really improve my technique.

I knew I was improving and that breaking the record was possible on the right day. I believed in myself and Christian my boyfriend supported me as much he could. We worked a lot on my technique and my stance and eventually it paid off.

The magic run

In 2022 in Lüderitz in total I sailed the canal on seven days. We did not have that much wind and I only managed to complete around 120 runs. The record run was totally unremarkable. It was run number 102 for me and number four on the second last event day where the stars aligned. As usual I was the first person into my wetsuit and I was ready for the channel early. I did the first run which was 41 knots average. The course was super square and easy. Christian, my boyfriend, added four kg more lead in the weight vest and on my second run I hit 42 knots average. Once again two more kilos of lead were added, and the third run was 43 knots! By this time, I wanted to take a short break, but Christian said: ‘Heidi go again’. The wind was freshening up and it was now turning more downwind. He added another three kg of lead! In total sixteen kg of lead was added during the day from the first run.

I jumped on the board and had almost no wind at the start box. I accelerated very well around the corner and felt that the wind was no longer square but more downwind. Despite the fact the water was already very choppy, I tried to bring my upper body out and just let myself go down without over-sheeting. It went well and I only had a small wind hole on the run. The run did not feel that fast, but it did feel easy. At the finish I did my 360, braked and looked at my GPS. Then I collapsed with happiness when I saw the 46.9 knots. Wow! I could not believe it. After my shuttle back, everyone was waiting for me and cheering. It was an indescribable feeling! Then I fell into Christian’s arms and we hugged in celebration. We had done it!

After the run, I did an interview with Ben Proffitt and then went for another run. I had the same feeling that it was fast, but it was choppier. I gave it my best as always and when I looked at the 47.2 knots on the GPS, the feeling was overwhelming. For the run I took the new PATRIK Slalom Sail Race 5.2m out of the bag, put the SDM 370 mast in and then it was rock ‘n’ roll. It was all on standard equipment! I also used the Patrik Speed Board 37 with the 18 NoLo fin from Günter Lorch.

Location, location

Lüderitz is a very special place to me. You see hardly any greenery, it is a very desolate and barren place, but it has its own charm and the great Namibia Desert begins there. The canal is in a nature reserve and has to be freshly dredged every year. The starting pool is about 120 metres, then comes the slingshot curve. The canal is around five to nine metres wide, 40-50 cm deep and 800 metres long. You need to take a speed or slalom sail between 4.6m-5.6m and speed boards between 37-45 cm wide. You don’t need any extra Lüderitz material, slalom gear works quite well, you just have to find a good trim for a super downwind course.

This canal is super crazy. It’s risky for sure. I mean I had a 49.94 knot top speed and this is almost 94 km/h. Most of the time the canal is super choppy and it can be extremely dangerous for spinouts. I had two this year and luckily, I saved both. But for sure the most dangerous is the finishing part. Before the finish is always the strongest wind and you really have your top speed there, but then you have to slow down in this tiny finishing box of around 80 metres and that really messes with your mind.


Speed is a small discipline but at the moment also a increasingly popular one. I think this is because there have not been so many PWA competitions as in the past and a lot of fin-lovers are coming over into speed. In the future I think the attention will be more on speed, because it is one of the coolest things you can do with a fin under your board. I just spoke with Patrik today. He thinks it would be possible that a woman can break the 50 knots average on 500 metres. So let’s work on it!

A lot of people asked me, why I can go so fast as I only weigh 70 kg and am just 172cm tall? Well, for sure a 2 metre tall and 100 kg person should have the more perfect leverage for speed. But for me, I think the right material has helped me a lot, but speed is not only about the gear. Speed is all about the technique, the bravery of the rider and the commitment.

I have several goals for the future! One is to win the world championship in France. I am going to try to beat the world record over a mile and then maybe in 2024 I will go back to Lüderitz to hopefully break the 50 knot barrier, at least on top speed.

I really want to say a big thanks to my boyfriend Christian. He coached and trained me the last six years just for this dream. And without him it would never ever have been possible.

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