Despite the lack of professional windsurfing competition, Ross Williams has been a busy man of late with a new business and baby. From our April edition of Windsurf Magazine, Ross tells us more about his last 12 months spent at home on the Isle of Wight and his solo storm sessions.
Words Ross Williams // Photos John Carter
I have opted out of the tour this year. I have told Gaastra that I can’t commit to doing a tour that is not a hundred per cent going to happen. I can’t rely on income from doing that and then events get cancelled like last year. I have got to be realistic with my plans. If it was going to be a normal year then yes, I would be committing to training and going to events. I don’t want to put all that time effort and money into something that might not happen. I am not twenty any longer! I have responsibilities with my family now.
So, I could not commit to the tour in 2021. But I have negotiated a small contract this year to do the things I want to do. I still want to be able to go on the water and represent the brand in different ways. I hope to do some travel if possible and obviously sail at home when the conditions are good. Maybe I will be UK based only again this year, who knows! I was sick of going away spending all that time and money at events and ending up sitting around on the beach half the time not even sailing. I was also missing the good days of sailing which I normally enjoy. This way I can enjoy my watersports more. I will be wave sailing, winging and kiting as well. I think I can offer more value to my sponsors this way than maybe potentially just training for a few events that are uncertain. The equipment these days is so specialized you must be completely dialled in or you won’t do well anyway.
The door is still open for me to go back to events in 2022 when hopefully everything will be more settled down. My daughter will be a bit older as well and I will be more inclined to spend longer away. This year I could not justify the tour.
I feel like that in 2021 I can do some more videos, like I did last year with my Island Life episodes. It is nice to be able to show people all the watersports we can do here on the island and around the UK. I want to inspire people and show that you don’t have to be the best in the world to enjoy these sports. I hope that I can enjoy my windsurfing whenever I can get on the water and providing these clips will enable me to do that. Gaastra and Tabou have stuck by me and they are going to continue to support me which has been awesome. So, my plan basically is to stay home in 2021 and hopefully inspire others to get out on the water as well!
In 2020 I had made the decision to just partially do the tour. I was going to do four events but they were all cancelled. The big four events were the plan if the tour had gone ahead, but then the world changed! I knew we had a baby coming, so that is why I wanted to plan my year that way. I wanted to be at home and in hindsight it turned out to be the perfect decision and I really enjoyed the time with my family.
I was able to see my daughter grow up and not miss any of those little moments. I would have missed so much if I had been away so I was happy to be at home. It felt right and I was incredibly lucky. I had devoted twenty odd years to saying yes to everything to do with my career, and the first time I made my own call to step back and say no…it worked out well for me. This is my life and it was important for me to have this year on my terms.
It was quite a difficult season at our café, ‘Trade Winds’, but also rewarding. I hadn’t had too much experience in catering and then to be slung in at the deep end was difficult. I knew I was going to be spending a lot of my time being in the kitchen. I actually enjoy cooking and working in the café was fun as well as stressful. It is satisfying presenting good food and also seeing contented customers. It is nice to see people enjoying the atmosphere in an environment you have created. There were always new customers to talk to and I almost became like an ‘agony aunt’! Some people were just coming down for some nice food, good coffee and somebody to talk to! I felt like we did a decent job and it was extremely rewarding in that way. There was a lot of stress as well. I oversaw all the shopping, the accounting and opening up every morning. Everything was on my shoulders, not to mention the chopping and changing of the regulations with Covid rules, lockdown and whatever. It was a never-ending challenge! It definitely felt like a real job, but it is my own business so the effort was worth it.
I used some of the skills I have learned through windsurfing to help run the business. I had to be prepared each day the same as when I was at a race. What you put in usually equates to what you get out. If you go the extra mile with your effort, then you will see the direct benefits. At PWA events I was always one of the first at the beach rigging up and being prepared on a race day which helped me a lot. It was the same with the café, I knew what was expected and made sure I was ready for the day. The day might be longer, but getting there an hour or two earlier made everything so much less stressful. I was working on the beach so it was not really a problem. I could enjoy those moments. The sun rises on the water and it is always very mellow in the mornings. I could get everything ready at my own pace and make my day easier. I could slowly wind up, bake the cakes and be ready for those first customers without being stressed. We were open seven days a week right through the summer and up until Christmas. It was a lot of work and a lot of hours.
Even though I was busy in the café, I was very conscious to try and score as much water time as possible. I still had obligations to my sponsors that had supported me for 2020. I had to do quite a lot of wing testing and then I also naturally wanted to be on the water as much as possible because that is my passion. I have been a full-time windsurfer for twenty years and that is something you can’t just turn off. Every time I saw the wind blowing or knew that there were waves, I naturally wanted to be out there. I had to really plan ahead to be able to secure that time on the water, especially with my wife and our baby to consider as well. Again, my windsurf planning helped me. I would see a forecast from four or five days out and start making a game plan. I would check the tides, wind and all the factors and then work out what my best window would be. I would have to work out if it would be possible to get a few hours off work logistically and how it could be done. I would arrange staff, make sure food was prepared and everything else possible taken care of, all well in advance. Then I could go sailing or surfing. It took a lot of organizing and I had to make sure the people I asked to help me were capable of doing the jobs. I had to work harder to have those times, but I would always do that over missing a good session.
I hate missing good forecasts! I did miss a couple of sessions as I had to stay at the café when they needed me. But for the most part I did not miss too many epic days and scored those good moments. On the island, we have plenty of decent days so it was a great break from all those hours at the café. Plan ahead, go sailing and then go back to work, that was my regime!
For hard-core wave sailing on the island there is not such a massive scene. There are plenty of guys windsurfing, but the likelihood would be, that I would be out sailing alone during most of the stormy days. It would be just myself windsurfing at Niton, especially last year with the pandemic. Windsurfing was my chance to escape from all that was going on in the world and score my own slice of normality. On the water I was away from all the news and stress. I could switch off and just enjoy myself. It was almost therapeutic for me to go wave sailing in 2020.
I had some great sessions at Niton. One of the best sessions I had there was late one afternoon after I had been working at the café. It was genuine wave riding and I was out on my own. The wind had switched a little more offshore than normal and I sailed up towards the lighthouse. The tide was low and the swell was not massive, but the waves were peeling nicely and were super clean. It was super fun conditions. I could just line up and take my pick of the waves. I only had an 82-litre board, which was a little small, but it was still an amazing session to score. It was the Isle of Wight at its best. I was working in the morning, but I knew the tide would be going out and that slot would be the premium. I love the shots from that evening session. I had worked hard not to miss out and when I got in the water and scored such sick waves, I was stoked.
STAYING IN TOUCH
I took part in zoom calls last year to stay in touch with PWA sailors, Gonzalo Costa Hoevel, Finian Maynard, Ben van der Steen and Arnon Dagan. I have been travelling around the world with most of these guys for over a decade so this was our way of communicating. We had these calls three or four times during last summer. It was nice because we were not competing. At events there was always a bit of rivalry going on, but this was just chatting purely as mates. On tour at events, even with your friends you have known for years, there is still that air of competition in the background. They want to beat you and you want to beat them. But last year it was different. We were genuinely checking everyone was ok and talking about old stories. It was just a really nice interaction. It felt like what we would maybe do if we were not windsurfing anymore. It was great to check in and have a good laugh. The banter was next level as you might imagine. A podcast of some of those conversations would have been gold, but maybe also censored!
Through my contacts as the agent for Gaastra in the UK, I quickly became aware there was a surge in people wanting to get out on the water last year. A lot of new gear was sold, as well as guys dusting off old gear from their shed. There were also a lot of new people coming into watersports, which was awesome. There was definitely an increase in the windsurfing market as well as SUP and wings. The pandemic has made people kind of realize the beauty of being able to get out on the water. It is good for you physically, but also helps your mental health too. We all need a bit of a break from what is going on around us and the best way for me is always to hit the water. If I was feeling a bit down, depressed or whatever, getting out on the water would always make me feel better. I don’t think it even matters what level you are at, water time is very therapeutic. It helped a lot of people in little ways!
I took up wing foiling at the end of the summer in 2019. I just saw it as a way of getting out on the water on the days when the conditions were not good for wave sailing with small waves and light winds. I could go out and use my wing as a tool to catch waves and ride swells that I would never have previously imagined getting excited about. I saw the potential straight away after seeing the guys in Maui doing those downwinders on foils, riding swell for miles. I could see the potential for it on the Isle of Wight, to have some fun days when I would not normally even go out and do anything.
I could go slalom sailing or foiling, but my idea of slalom is doing it on a racecourse against other guys; by myself, I am not so interested. It is difficult for me to find the motivation to slalom sail alone. The wing filled that void for me. I could pump up a wing, grab my foil and be out there riding swells within five minutes. I could catch loads of waves that I could not catch surfing or windsurfing and have way more fun on my wing in marginal conditions. As it has developed there are now guys doing crazy loops and other moves on the wing. I can do a bit of that, but my main thing is riding waves. I want to get a group of my friends who are surfers, kiters or windsurfers and introduce them to winging, it’s something that we can do as a group and have fun. Coast runs, riding swells and the unlimited options are what appeals to me. It feels like you are flying and floating on an endless wave, so it really appeals to me. Wing foiling has sung to the surfer side of me and that is what I love about it.