The size of successful slalom sailors in the modern era has moved away from the giants of old. Advances in equipment have levelled the playing field and podium places are no longer the preserve of the ‘big guns’. We asked a selection of the world’s best slalom racers for their thoughts on body weights and if size really does still matter!
Words Andrea Ferin, Cedric Bordes, Antoine Albeau, Pierre Mortefon, Matteo Iachino, Arnon Dagan, Amado Vrieswijk, Maciek Rutkowski, Lena Erdil, Sarah Jackson & Jenna Gibson // Photos John Carter
ANTOINE ALBEAU 186 cm/ 100 kg
I don’t think I am the perfect racing size. I think it is better to be between 92 and 95 kg. I would also like to be 190 cm, a bit taller also, but what can you do? This is the size I am! You can have sailors that are not the perfect race build that can still be competitive but if you are the perfect size I think it is an advantage. Some of the smaller guys like Cedric still race very well, they have learned to adapt. You are like you are! If you want to compete on the PWA I would say you need 90 kg at least, but if you want to do RSX class for the Olympics you need to be 75 kg. On the tour you will find only people who are between 85 and 100 kg. I think I am the heaviest. I normally have to hold down bigger sails and bigger boards. I think I am a little bit too heavy for the light conditions, especially at the gybe. I am not the last one to get planing because I have a good pumping and gybe technique. Smaller lighter guys can race with us, but it would be tough for them. Sebastian Kornum did some really nice races in Korea, especially in the strong wind. He is super agile and strong also. If you have great skill at the start and you can gybe well then you may have a chance. The only problem would be in light winds, the first reach will be more difficult against taller guys with more leverage. You can’t hold a bigger sail and you will go slower.
In the winter I try not to put on any weight. I am not on a special diet. It is hard, I like chocolate! I just try not to put on more weight. I lost a few kg since last year. Look around the beach you see guys eating ice creams! You won’t see me doing that, even though I would like to! I have to be careful. I like my chocolate in the evening though. In the winter I go to the gym and do a lot of bike riding for my cardio. I do my training, but naturally I am pretty strong. I don’t need to go too mad in the gym. Now I have my son I go much less than I used to. I don’t like to leave my wife alone while I go for three hours. I want to be there as well. It is hard for me to maintain the way I used to train. I want to concentrate on my family, I have done my time in the gym. I still need to stay strong. I think a lot of people don’t understand that the gym is important but we saw a lot of guys who were not strong physically who are good in slalom. These guys just have the feeling and the talent. I think the key to working at the gym is to prevent injuries. If I could change my size then I would be a few cm taller and a bit lighter but you are what you are!
“ If you want to compete on the PWA I would say you need 90 kg at least.”
PIERRE MORTEFON 187 cm / 91 kg
I don’t know the perfect slalom racing size. We have a few kinds of rider, quite a few like myself around 90 kg and then a lot of old style guys like Antoine and Bjorn when he was racing who were 100 kg. When we raced the final in Japan last year it was super windy on our big equipment so it was an advantage to be bigger. The more weight the better. But in places like Costa Brava where you can get super light winds, that’s when the 90 kg guys or less sailors can be more competitive. With today’s equipment you can be a bit lighter. In Fuerteventura I feel very competitive even in the strongest winds. I think Antoine weighs 10 kg more than me, but with the modern style of boards and sails we can be as fast as him. Amateur riders can use our equipment as well which is good for the sport. That means a normal body weight can have fun on today’s slalom gear.
I work on staying around 91-93 kg. If I am spending a lot of time on the water I can lose a few kg. If I want to keep my weight up, I do that by eating more and training in the gym. I eat a lot more than a normal person! When you are windsurfing every day you have to eat a lot. The maximum I ever weighed was 95 kg and I had to work at it to put this weight on by eating extra. I put in my hours at the gym, I go four times a week. If there is no wind, I may go five times. I normally go for 1-2 hours and do some weight lifting and cardio workouts. All the body has to work. For windsurfing you have to be strong in your legs, arms and back! A lot of the training is to help prevent injury to my back as there is a lot of pressure on this when you compete. Our races are short, but the days are long and sometimes you have to be focussed for six to seven hours. You have to be a sprinter, but also have endurance like a marathon runner. It is not easy. I take care of my diet but I do not weigh all my food. I try to stay healthy. I eat the odd pizza, with our sport we can do this. I am French and I really like eating and enjoy my food. If I have five days of wind ahead then I know I can eat extra! After three weeks in Asia for sure I am going to eat well when I get home to France. On tour it is not easy to keep your weight up. We are all losing kg in Asia. We don’t even know what we are eating there, some of the food is a mystery!
For a PWA slalom racer I think the perfect size is between 185 and 190 cm tall and around 90-95 kg. The smaller guys still have a chance and they have to sail more technical and use different skills. They have to work on it, but for the weight I think you need to be close to 90 kg. You cannot work on your height, but with weight a lot of guys can put on the pounds! Small guys like Benjamin Auge, I don’t think it will ever be possible for him to be champion with the weight he has now. All the past world champions were tall, so that is what you need to be!
“The perfect size is between 185 and 190 cm tall and around 90-95 kg.”
MATTEO IACHINO 187 cm / 93 kg.
Back in the days when sails were stiffer, being heavy would have helped a lot, but now with the new sails I think 90-95 kg is the best weight. My height is tall enough to be fast in light winds but you are not too tall to lose comfort in strong winds. If you are too tall then maybe you will suffer balance problems. Arnon and the taller guys are still very competitive, so the rule is not totally fixed. Each sailor learns to adapt. Guys like Cedric, who is shorter, still races amazing in every kind of condition, but when it gets light and you enter a hole in the wind we have more leverage. So probably we have an advantage. On the flip side when it gets windier he is lower so that can play favourably into his hands.
I try to gain weight in the off season but there is a balance of getting too heavy. A few years ago I was up to 95 kg before the season, but I would drop to 88 kg by the end of the year because I could not train and control it at events. Now I try to maintain the same weight the whole year. I try to stay 91-93 kg through the whole race season. Basically you need to eat a certain amount of protein, coming from normal food and supplements, to keep the muscles. I try to eat as much as possible, especially in Asia. It is a different culture so it is quite difficult. In Europe it is easier to keep the diet and weight constant. I bring supplements, cookies and extra food to the breakfasts or dinner in case there is something I do not like. It is better eating more than eating less, let’s say that! Now is the first year I have a specialist taking care of what I eat. He works together with my physical trainer to make sure I am on track with diet and exercise. I eat what normal people eat, but they let me know the amount of meat, fish, carbs or vegetables I eat per meal. As a sportsman you need to learn a lot about your body and I think diet is quite important. In the evening I might eat 400 grams of chicken with vegetables and rice or half a kg of fish with the same balance. You just need to know the amounts of protein, fat and carbs that is in the food you are eating. I try to eat the best quality food I can find. In winter time I try to be more focussed. When you are racing you are already stressed, so for me it helps to be in balance. If you want to eat a pizza at a race then eat it. The mental side is very important in windsurfing for me. I need a positive mindset! I know a pizza might be bad for me but if I feel it will make me happy and more relaxed then I will eat it. I don’t care!
In the winter I focus on the water for sure. We are windsurfers, so that is where I spend most of my days, on the water! I supplement my training on the water with two or three gym sessions per week. I do two proper sessions where I do strength work, like bench presses and squats, the normal basic exercises. The squats are very important for us. We push a lot with the legs and that helps a lot to push down on your board. If you have good technique and you have the strength also that works out best. I also work on balance and stretching. This is more like surfing training exercises. In summer time I go mountain biking which is also great training. My place at home is great for that, so I join my friends and ride as much as possible.
“ If you want to eat a pizza at a race then eat it.”
AMADO VRIESWIJK 183 cm / 90 kg
I think taller guys with weight around 90-95 kg is the perfect size for PWA racing. I wanted to be heavier this year to see if that made a difference to my racing and so far it has worked out well. I have built up to 92 kg during the training season back at home. I have been eating a lot of extra food and I also train very hard in the gym and on the water. You need to know how to train, you cannot just put weight on and end up a bag of muscle and very stiff. I do a more ‘CrossFit’ style of training, a lot of endurance and explosive type workouts. We do not go full power lifting heavy weights. We do a lot of reps and a whole circuit of different exercises. We work on legs, arms and the back and do this three times a week. I only eat healthy food – a lot of chicken, rice and vegetables. I don’t eat pizza, that is a way of getting heavy but not the right way. I feel I have to balance my weight and strength for freestyle as well so I don’t want to get too heavy for that. If you get heavy normally you get more stiff, which is not so good for freestyle, so for me personally there is even more of a balance I need to maintain.
”I only eat healthy food – a lot of chicken, rice and vegetables.”
ANDREA FERIN 177 cm / 85 kg
It is tough for smaller guys. I am working really had in the gym to gain as much weight and strength as possible. At least if you are heavy and strong you can ‘push’ the gear down. I use really long harness lines and I try to sail gear similar to the big guys. I feel that is the only way to fight with them, using extra technique to hold the sail down. For this, I need to keep well trimmed and have good balance, especially out of the gybe. It is not easy to compete when you are overpowered. The really long harness lines help control my equipment on the reaches and I try and get my body as low as possible in the gybes so I don’t catapult. My top weight is 87 kg and those extra few kg help a lot. It is not easy keeping your weight, especially after 20 days in Asia. You just eat what you can when you are there, at home in Italy I can eat properly again. I would like to be taller and heavier but who cares, I work with what I have.
“It is tough for smaller guys.”
SARAH JACKSON 169 cm / 70 kg
The size conundrum is something that really interests me, and potentially something I am looking to study in my dissertation for university. The guys all seem to be really focussed around the 90-95 kg mark, but then there’s still so many anomalies. The girls don’t talk about weight so much but there’s certainly a big spread. If you look at the girls at the top you have Sarah-Quita Offringa and Delphine Cousin Questel who are really tall, but Lena Erdil and Esther De Geus also did really well last year and they are much smaller. Personally I think it’s more about technique, good starts and working with what you’ve got to get the most out of your gear. I’ve been training a lot with Ross Williams this winter to try some softer fins and masts, as what I need versus what a 95 kg guy needs is very different. It would be kinda cool to know the stats for the whole fleet, but as the guys say it changes so much throughout the season, yet the same guys seem to stay on top no matter what the conditions!
“ Personally I think it’s more about technique”
JENNA GIBSON 173 cm / 73 kg
Most of the time when I windsurf it’s against men, most of whom are at least 10 kg heavier and 8 cm taller. I think it makes a difference, but it’s not always a bad thing, I find being light it’s easier for me to make places on the gybes, where I can accelerate out quicker. I find it easier to compete against the men in waves compared to flat water where there is a bigger difference in speed, and I think that is because of my size. But I just have to work around it and be more aware of where the guys are around me. Against the men I always do best when I start at the boat end of the line, even when it is pin biased, because I’m sometimes on a smaller sail so can get covered easier, but it’s also so that I don’t get rolled by faster sailors and lose even more ground. Against the women, it really helps that I am one of the tallest and heaviest, I have the speed that allows me to pick where I want to be on the course, and that makes racing a lot easier.
“ I find being light it’s easier for me to make places on the gybes.”
LENA ERDIL 165 cm / 63 kg
Size matters, that is a fact for slalom sailing. Being quite a bit shorter then Sarah-Quita Offringa and Delphine Cousin Questel, my two biggest competitors, I do feel at a disadvantage because of that a lot of the time. But I try to make up for it by spending extra time tuning my gear and of course technique. In the end if you have a shit start or gybe, no weight or height in the world can help you recover. I also try and gain muscles and be extra fit for when we start racing. I have found I am quite competitive with 65 kg, but would actually prefer to be a bit lighter. I am playing around with it a bit now, things like wearing a thicker wetsuit and bigger heavier harnesses can make a few kg difference that can be quite helpful sometimes. Conditions matter a lot as well, the harder conditions get, ironically the less weight seems to matter as skill becomes way more important. To go fast in flat water with medium wind, weight and leverage is a definite advantage.
“The harder conditions get, ironically the less weight seems to matter as skill becomes way more important.”
ARNON DAGAN 194 cm / 90 kg
I am one of the tallest on tour. For the perfect size I suppose you would have to say Antoine’s size! He is heavier than most of us, but he is a special case. He is about 10 kg heavier than most racers, but he is really light on his feet when he needs to be. That can compensate for being heavy. He is so talented he is a special case so we kind of have to ignore him! Most racers are aiming to be around 90 kg and 190cm tall. I tried to put on more weight but I became too clumsy on the board. It is hard to stay quick on your feet when you are heavier. I am taller than Antoine, but I think when it gets windy the shorter guys gain a little bit. They are more compact and ‘boxy’. Taller guys have an advantage in light winds. You get a lot of lift when you are tall. Your body gives the lift to your gear. It is hard to call the perfect size so that is why a lot of guys fit in that compromise area. Look at Sebastian Kornum, he is short, but he is a beast. You cannot fit any more muscle on his body. He compensates because of that. He is super strong and he is technical as well. He suffers in the light winds but he can be there. I believe in the person not in the build. You definitely can have a disadvantage being a short light guy, but it is the person that can make a difference. It is nice to see all sorts competing on the PWA. Mateus Isaac had some great results and he is kind of a short guy. He is strong and has trained hard. He holds his gear down when it is choppy. There are taller guys like Cyril Moussilmani, Tristan Algret and myself who are all super tall and we can do well also. It is nice to see now the different shapes and sizes competing. Personally I can change my weight pretty easily if I feel I need too. I just need to work at it a bit. I found out a lot of things about myself and my perfect bodyweight over the years. I have been dreaming to be 90 kg most of my racing career. Now I am a bit older it is easier to achieve that weight. My natural weight is more like 75-80 kg. I am a super light guy for my size. I train in the winter. The last few years I have been biking a lot which really helps. I don’t do the gym with heavy weights too much. Biking is the perfect exercise for me to make my legs stiff and strong and still maintain some sort of agility. I became bulky before training in the gym and I could not move. Part of my strength was that I was always quick on my feet. I want to keep my agility so I do a lot of training like football players to keep quick feet. Strong legs are important. Not with crazy weights, more with the ‘CrossFit’ style! I used to not care about my diet at all, but now I have a vegan wife I almost don’t eat meat any more. I actually feel really good with this diet. On tour it is tough at events like Korea. We windsurfed quite a bit in Japan and Korea last year so I was hungry. If I don’t do activity then I don’t want to eat so much. I will come back home from Asia super light. After putting on weight all winter, in one month in Asia I can lose 2-4 kg.
”Taller guys have an advantage in light winds.”
CEDRIC BORDES 178 cm / 88 kg
I am one of the smaller guys for sure. Basically three years ago you needed to be 100 kg if you wanted to be competitive and make the big sails work. I could sail with a 9.6m back then, but I did not have enough power to close the sail. Now with the new generation of sails, which breathe easier, even a guy who is 90 kg can have amazing performance on big sails. The consequence of this is that you see a lot of the heavier guys from three years ago have lost weight. Before to make that big sail perform you had to be a machine, but now it has all changed. If you are 90 kg you can still use a big sail and plane quicker than 100 kg sailors. In the last two or three years a lot of guys have lost around 5 kg. Matteo and Pierre were more or less 95 kg and now they are closer to 90. I am like I am so I have to work with my body size. If I could I would be 185-190 cm tall but you can’t change that. You have more leverage when you are taller, guys like Jordy Vonk for example. For sure it is harder for me to compete but I do my best with what I have. In the end I think I do ok. I know that I can’t be taller so I eat more sometimes.
I like to be in the 90 kg range for my weight at least. The most important thing is to feel in good shape for your body. If you go to the gym too much you can end up heavier but less manoeuvrable. You don’t want so much muscle that you are stiff on the gybes. I think it is good to go to the gym once a week just to be fit and good to do cardio exercises like running and cycling. For me this is more important. This helps with pumping and getting planing when it’s light. It is always a balance. I just eat normally at home, I don’t eat anything special but try to eat healthy. I eat some chocolate sometimes if I had a good race! I eat salad with every dinner and lots of fruit and vegetables. I take care of what I eat for sure.
When I started slalom racing it was well known you had to be heavy and tall, so I was at a disadvantage and tried to find a different way to race. At the end of the day the final customers do not have the power of the big guys so we need to design gear for these guys also. They are not machines, it is always a compromise and you learn a lot about this!
“In the last two or three years a lot of guys have lost around 5 kg”
MACIEK RUTKOWSKI 183 cm / 90 kg
I think for me a few cm taller would help me in light winds but possibly harm me a little in high winds. In light winds leverage is an advantage, and in high winds you want your centre of gravity to be low and compact. When you are low you can make adjustments, if you hit a gust you want to move your hips a little bit forward. If you are 2 metres tall that distance is much longer than if you are 180cm. Generally you see tall guys like Arnon being dominant in light winds and then the more compact guys like Antoine are better in high winds. That is just the general view as there are guys like Bjorn Dunkerbeck who was amazing in high winds as well. If I could change something I would probably add 4-5 cm in height. My natural weight is around 82 kg so I have built up 8 kg to be competitive. I need to keep my weight up as much as possible. In the winter I do a lot of gym work and eat as much as possible. On tour is just eating, eating and sailing. When my training is organized like it is in the winter I have certain times I go training and certain hours I do on the water, then I can adjust the diet accordingly. Once you get on tour you don’t know what workout you are going to get and how many calories you are going to burn. So it is much harder to plan your diet. I just try to eat healthy food and control how I feel.
In the winter we train really hard. It has made a huge difference for sure. Over the winter we must have raced over 250 heats. That is like ten PWA seasons of racing! So now when I come to an event and I do five heats in a day it is nothing to me. I am not tired, I’ve been in every situation before and I know what I have to do. I have been in the back chasing, I’ve been leading, and I’ve been in the middle and rolled, all these things. So I don’t freak out anymore. I have been in all situations so there is nothing that can surprise me. I feel fit for windsurfing because one thing that people underestimate is how different windsurfing is to any other activity. You can be the fittest guy in the world, but if you don’t windsurf your muscles will still ache when you do.
In the gym I do three main things. We do cardio fitness, spinning classes, rowing and running. That is everyday a base of around 45 minutes. We go for four days and then take a break for one day. That is just to keep the body moving. Then we have proper strength weight training. This builds muscle and strength. That is just pumping weights in the gym. Full power, classic strength training. Bench press, dead lifts and squats. Then to keep agile we then do we do what we call ‘Jedi’ training. That is balance and coordination.
This is stuff like standing on a ball and catching tennis balls flying at you. You have to catch them and throw them back or jump from ball to ball. Balance and coordination are both brain and muscle function. The idea is to be over 90 kg and still be agile. You see a guy like Antoine Albeau who is 100 kg, but if he goes wave sailing he is still amazingly flexible.
Small guys still have a chance. Their skill level and mental side need to be super amazing. We all make mistakes, so a guy who has the perfect mental attitude to racing that rarely makes mistakes can make top four in most heats. If you can maintain that over a season you can make top three in the world. It is possible, but it is simply easier when you are 188cm and 90-95 kg.
“ The more compact guys like Antoine are better in high winds. ”