The ‘One Hour Classic’ is a unique windsurfing race held in Lake Garda and 2019 marked its 30th anniversary. The aim of the race is to reach in 1 hour the largest number of laps around a course defined by two marks positioned on opposite sides of the lake. John Skye flew the flag in the event for the UK and his sponsor RRD; he recounts his experience of the event.
Words John Skye // Photos Alan Moan/Moan photos, Fabio-Staropoli/fotofiore.com
Having competed in just about every discipline of windsurfing, I would probably say my weakest point would be long distance racing. My relatively average height and weight means I am always going to struggle in a straight line against the classic large framed speed machine guys. So having fought my way around the 40 km race course at the Defi Wind, the last thing on my mind was the famous One Hour Classic at Lake Garda. However my RRD marketing manager had other ideas, and was determined that I should take part, so it was with a bit of reluctance that I booked my ticket for Italy. Going to Lake Garda is always a pleasure, but not so much the idea of racing full power for 1 hour straight, normally on pretty large slalom gear!
The One Hour for those that don’t know is one of the simplest concepts in racing out there, with 2 buoys set either side of the famous lake, roughly 2.5 km apart. A classic rabbit style start line for the 100+ competitors, who then blast full power for 1 hour whilst the race crew count the laps and the time on top to finish your last lap. The record was set last year by Bruno Martini at 19 laps in 1 hour 31 seconds, which is around 55 km in an hour.
Lake Garda is without doubt the most beautiful venue to windsurf at I have ever been to. Huge mountains tower either side of the lake providing one of the most stunning views imaginable. The small town of Torbole is a windsurfing hub, being home to some of the biggest windsurf shops, and full of sports enthusiasts coming to enjoy both the water and the mountains. Lake Garda is a wind machine, statistically one of the windiest places in the whole of Europe. The 51 km long lake is roughly 2.5 km wide in the windsurf zones and the wind howls either north or south up its length, funnelling through the narrow gorge of the mountains to provide over 150 days of over 15 knots a year. Typically the morning dawns with the 20+ knot ‘Peler’ north wind howling from first light until around 9-10 a.m. It then shuts down completely, providing a perfect opportunity to enjoy a relaxed lakeside breakfast, or for beginners to take their first steps on a board before the ‘Ora’ wind slowly picks up from the south in the afternoon to a slightly more mellow 15 knots. If you were to design a windsurfing mecca on a lake, it would be hard to make it any better than this.
The One Hour event is sponsored by RRD and is housed in the legendary Circolo Surf Torbole windsurf centre at the north end of the lake. This is base camp to many of the world’s RS:X teams, as well as the official race centre for just about every windsurf race event held on the lake. The briefing was set for 11 a.m. and the rules were explained in both English and Italian, with everything set for a 1 p.m. start. The only thing missing was the wind! The event coincided with a massive heatwave. The day before was a staggering 40+ degrees, and with Windguru forecasting zero wind, any hopes of wind were pretty low. I was not really complaining too much at this point, as my gear still hadn’t turned up! It had been lost on the flight, and whilst I had organised some backup gear, I hadn’t actually collected any of it yet. All the locals said there was almost no chance of wind and as my family were with me for a change I took advantage of the calm to hang at the hotel pool a bit. Suddenly however the trees started to move and very unexpectedly the famous Garda wind machine had decided to ignore all the forecasts and switch itself on, providing a steady 15 knots on the racecourse. Suddenly it was panic stations all round as everyone scrambled to prepare.
Grabbing what I could, I rigged a 8.6 X-Wing and connected it to a 122 X-Fire. This is my setup at home, so I knew it all well. Luckily my fins had arrived, so I was able to plug in my trusty F-hot 44 RWS-3 fin and was set for action. Being new to the event/spot/format, I asked local legend and record holder, Bruno Martini, for some top tips. His advice was to start towards the top and push as hard as you can for the first 2 laps, then you can relax a bit. So armed with some expert advice I set off for the start line. This proved to be further away than I had thought, being around 1 km upwind of the launch site. I arrived very promptly just in time to hear the 3 minute countdown and horn and just about figured out where to be. As the start rib flew upwind on zero, I passed behind it with good speed and the race was on! Bruno seemed to be the one to beat and he had opted for a downwind start. I was around 50 m upwind of him, but in touch with him. When I was pushing full power he was not pulling ahead too much, but there was no way I could maintain it and by halfway across the lake he and the other top guys were moving away. I bore off downwind a bit to gain some speed, but that turned out to be a bit of a mistake. With a 2 km reach, keeping ground upwind is critical and sure enough as we neared the mark, I needed to point upwind a bit, and the guys above me started to all go over the top of me. Still I rounded the mark around 10-15th place which was not too bad.
Then the procession begins. I would say after 2 or 3 gybes more or less everyone is set according to their speed. The fastest guys are disappearing into the distance, whilst the slower guys are left behind. You find yourself quickly surrounded by people of a very similar speed and locked into personal battles with those around you. For me that meant pushing hard to get past the Czech guy ahead and keep in front of the German guy behind. The German guy got close at one gybe, but I pushed him wide and he ended up getting caught up in some backmarkers and I never saw him again after that. Which then meant I was battling the Czech guy, gaining on him in the strong wind sections and then losing ground in the lighter winds. I eventually passed him when he went a bit too low on the reach and was forced to pinch to reach the mark.
“ Keeping ground upwind is critical.”
One of the toughest parts of the challenge is the variance of wind across the lake. In all the races we did it was typically really strong at each gybe, whilst backing off completely in the middle. That meant at times I was hanging on for dear life on my 8.6, whilst at other moments I was using every bit of strength I had to keep the board lifting and moving through some really light patches. For me it made it really hard to hold onto a position. Something that at the front Bruno seemed to be having no problem with! An interesting part of the race is that you can kind of follow what’s going on ahead. Obviously the format of a massive figure of eight course means you are passing everything going the other way on every reach, so you can really see what is going on at the front. Bruno was absolutely flying and I suddenly realized he was gaining on me rapidly. At the 50 minute mark I realized there was a very real chance of him lapping me. That gave me the extra motivation to keep pushing, but unfortunately it was not enough. My timing was off though as I passed the finishing line at something like 58 minutes, which meant both Bruno and I had to complete a whole extra lap. I then made an error and thought that meant finishing at the outside gybe, so rounded the mark, happy that I hadn’t been lapped, then went off the gas for a bit, before realizing everyone else was still pushing. That small error now meant Bruno was breathing down my neck and despite putting up a pretty decent fight for at least 1 km, he eventually passed me 200 m from the end. Whilst that might sound embarrassing, it is worth putting it in context, and I had finished the race in 10th place out of 100, which on its own is not too bad.
I was absolutely punished after that, but there was no time to rest as the ‘One Hour Foil’ was due to start in just over an hour. It’s exactly the same format, but with everyone on foils. Matteo Guazzoni, our marketing man, and I had decided to do the race in ‘freefoil’ mode, using the new Pocket Rocket foil board and our Compact Freefoil sails, and I was really looking forward to cruising around the lake on a foil. That quickly changed once I went over the start line. It turns out that despite plenty of hours wind foiling, I had never actually really tried to go fast for long periods of time, and quickly it became clear that I didn’t really know how to either. Matteo on the same gear as me disappeared into the distance, not only giving the full race guys a run for their money, but actually beating a lot of them, using a 3 batten 5.0 against their 7.8 full cam race sails. I meanwhile was not having much fun at all. Trying to push the gear and find the right position meant quite a few vicious catapults. In fact my race consisted of trying to push hard, before crashing massively. Then deciding to take it easy and cruise, before getting frustrated and starting to push again, at which point I would crash again! At the end of the race, having been lapped at least once by almost everyone, and double lapped by the frontrunners, I decided that would be my last foil race for the weekend.
What was incredible however was seeing the top guys pushing the foils to the limits. In a solid 15 knots they were absolutely flying on the foils. Bruno once again proved dominant, but for me it was Andrea Ferin behind him that impressed me the most. He had got off to a bad start, but then pushed and pushed to catch up. He had a peak speed of 30 knots on the GPS, which is unbelievable considering I only touched that a couple of times on slalom gear. His race unfortunately came to a premature end when at around 59 minutes he crashed so hard his boom snapped. After 1 hour pushing like a psycho, I watched him desperately trying to cross the finish line, but to no avail. Friday night was gala night, with an impressive dinner for all the competitors. The courses just seemed to keep coming and coming, but with 2 small tired kids, I left early, around the 5th plate, after the 2nd meat course!
“ I was really looking forward to cruising around the lake on a foil.”
Saturday was windy from early on, so I was a lot more prepared for the race compared with the day before. The wind was clearly a bit stronger, so I opted for the 8.6 with the 114, hoping that the smaller board would give me an edge and better top-end speed. With my 38 cm F-hot RWS-3 fin, it is a setup I really like at home, so I was feeling pretty confident. Being on borrowed gear all the footstraps needed adjusting, so I jumped in to sort them out and then lined up for the start. Yesterday had been relatively easy, but today it was much harder and I felt like there were double the people. Turns out that was actually the case, with many guys coming only for the weekend races, and it made it a bit more tricky. One poor guy even tired to jump the gun a bit and get a head start, a rather strange decision when you have a rabbit start and a boat flying by at 20+ knots. His race didn’t start well as the boat basically blasted through him, leaving him in the drink, but luckily unscathed.
Again up until about halfway I felt I was in touch, but as we neared the far side, the reach became tighter and tighter, and suddenly the medium board didn’t feel the best option. The guys on bigger gear were powering upwind and I got a bit caught up in the wake behind. With more people around it was harder to gauge my position as I rounded the mark, but it didn’t look good. It seemed like the reach out to the first gybe was pretty upwind, but the reach back across the lake was more downwind, and this was where I thought the small board would really come into its own. Unfortunately however when I tried to really put the hammer down I suddenly realized that my footstrap adjustment had not been that great. I always thought of Garda as a flat water spot, but with a fetch of 50 km and about 500 people on the water, it’s actually horrendously choppy. With my feet floating around and pretty disconnected to the board I was having real troubles controlling everything and couldn’t take full advantage of the extra speed potential.
My main goal in every race I have with teammate and friend Andrea Rosati is to get ahead of him. This race was no different and I spent 4 laps slowly creeping up on him and getting in position to get ahead. I finally had him in my cross hairs, having made some ground upwind out of his sight and was ready for the killer blow, bearing downwind, hopefully passing over the top and leaving him choking in my wake. Unfortunately, right at the critical moment with the straps too big, I couldn’t pin the board down, it bounced off some chop, spun out and I slid downwind, losing all my speed and ending up behind him and in his wake, which put a pretty quick end to my battle.
This second race turned out to be my worst result, finishing 11th. On the starboard tack side I was going really well and making up ground, but on the port tack side I never found a good trim. It was always upwind into a really short steep chop, which just seemed to slow me down the whole time. Once again by about the 45 minute stage Bruno appeared behind me, absolutely flying, with a huge lead. With more wind today, it was easier to keep pushing, but still as we rounded the last mark on 59 minutes he was once again metres behind me. I pushed and pushed and just managed to hold him off from lapping me, by literally 50 metres. It turned out he was very close to breaking the event record, missing out by only a few seconds.
I was exhausted and there was no way I was going back out again for the foiling. It was impressive stuff from the top guys as they all went straight back out in a solid 15-20 knots and absolutely killed it, Bruno once again dominating from start to finish.
Sunday was the final day and we woke to find the lake glassy. I half hoped for no wind, as I was starting to feel the effects of 2 days racing, but I was assured that this was the normal pattern in Garda and sure enough at around 11 a.m. the wind kicked in and looked to be increasing rapidly. Lots of people were reaching for smaller sails, but Bruno took one look at the lake and in an all-knowing authoritative way told me it would drop. As I didn’t even have a 7.8 at that point the decision was an easy one, but I opted for the bigger 122 again. The first day I had a really good trim with that board, compared to the struggles on the second day, so I thought I would go back to that. This turned out to be a good decision and lead to my best race of the weekend. The wind today seemed to be bending each side, meaning that it was basically upwind both ways, but with the bigger board and my trusty F-hot 44 RWS-3 fin I had good trim and good speed, and for the first time I felt in touch with the leaders.
I lost Bruno for a bit, but Malte Reuscher who was 2nd was not too far ahead, so I was pretty happy. Then, like always, suddenly Bruno was there again. At around 40 minutes we crossed paths in opposite directions and he jokingly pointed at me, gave me the slit throat sign and indicated he was coming after me! Again my timing was pretty unlucky, passing the finishing line on 59 minutes, meaning it would have to be a whole extra lap to hold him off. I rounded the last gybe with about a 50 m lead and put everything I had into the last reach. It came down to a 2 km drag race, which turned out to be my fastest run of the whole weekend on the GPS, but it was not enough. With the finishing line in touching distance I heard his board coming over the top of me and in a near photo finish he just pipped me. Anyone watching the fight and not knowing would have thought we were giving it all, battling for the title, but sadly I was 4 km behind him. What was astonishing was that despite being lapped I had actually finished a very respectable 8th place, and only half a lap behind 2nd place. Bruno had more than a 2.5 km lead over 2nd, which is amazing at this level.
The final foil race saw Andrea Ferin get some justice after the first day. Today it was Bruno’s turn to crash and break his gear, leaving the door open for Andrea to finally take the bullet. However not only did he take the win, but smashed the One Hour Foil record as well.
The results for the One Hour are different from most other events. Rather than accumulating points, it is simply your fastest race of the weekend that counts. For nearly all that meant Saturday’s race, which unfortunately for me was my worst of the weekend. That meant I finished the event in 12th. Our Croatian rider Luka Mratovic finished a respectable 5th, much more in touch with the leaders. The clear and obvious winner in the slalom was Bruno Martini, who absolutely dominated the weekend, whilst Andrea Ferin took the One Hour Foil title.
Having experienced this race I can wholeheartedly recommend it for everyone. Firstly the place is just outstandingly beautiful. Whether you come just for the sailing, or make it a bit of a holiday as well like we did, it is such a nice place for all the family. Then the format of the race and the atmosphere around the club makes it perfect for anyone, no matter what your level. Whatever your speed you find yourself head to head with similar riders battling away in your own private fights. Particularly if you prefer big sail racing to small sails, then this is possibly the most enjoyable challenge out there. I have already booked my place for next year!
1 – Bruno is a machine. He dominated 5 out of the 6 races, leading from the start to the finish. He is obviously very fast and really well tuned, and is local, which for sure is a big advantage However more than anything I think he is just so fit and strong, and that allows him to keep pushing for the full hour. As I said every time we actually were really head to head, the speed distance was not so great, but for me that speed is only achievable in small bursts, but for him, he maintains it for over 60 minutes!
2 – The local riders are so well tuned. Watching the good locals they just fly all the time. The board is railing perfectly, whether they are in a gust or a lull. I personally couldn’t quite find that trim. In the high winds I felt good, but it was in the lulls that I was really suffering. If I pushed I could just about keep
some speed, but this was really hard to maintain for long periods. Meanwhile the locals just kept going, which for me was hugely impressive. For this reason next time I will stay on the bigger board longer as it naturally lifted more in the lulls and made it a bit more confortable over the long course.
3 – Garda is a very technical place to sail. As I said I had always considered Lake Garda to be flat, but in reality it is very choppy. Add to the mix 500 windsurfers, fleets of dinghies, the occasional speed boat, and of course the passenger cruisers passing by, and you have a mega mix of cross chop. Also there is huge variance in the wind as you cross the lake, both in direction and strength. In every race there was probably a 10 knot difference between the strongest points and lightest points, which on an 8.6 sail is a huge difference.
4 – The race is also very technical in comparison to the Defi. At the Defi you pretty much just go full power in one direction for 10 km. However in the One Hour the wind shifts make it very tactical. For those that understood it all better, they could really take advantage, maybe bearing off downwind in the gusts, knowing that there would be a wind shift later to get them back upwind, or at other times using the gusts to get upwind, knowing the wind would shift against them later. I was forced to play it a bit safer and generally stayed high on the reaches, meaning I knew I would always make the marks. However that meant there were a few times when I found myself too high and then having to bear away downwind without much power, which was not the most efficient route to take.
5 – The One Hour is slightly less punishment than the Defi. Comparing the two legendary races head to head, the gybes of the One Hour really help to reduce the impact on the body. With 10 km straight reaches at the Defi, the body ends up really twisted and fatigued, whilst at the One Hour, each gybe gives a welcome break. At the end of the weekend my legs were punished, but my back and sides of my body were not so destroyed like the Defi, and I didn’t need a full week to recover!
“ The wind shifts make it very tactical.”