Ross Williams finished lasts year’s PWA season with a bullet on the final day of Noumea and a credible sixth place in the overall slalom rankings. The new decade however will bring a major change in his lifestyle after twenty-one years full power on tour. With a baby on the way, due in February, Ross, who also just hit forty, will be taking a slight step off the gas this year to concentrate on family affairs. Read on as John Carter talks to Britain’s most successful racer for this candid interview to find out how he sees the year panning out! Note this interview is from our April 2020 issue which was put together before the Covid 19 situation escalated!
Words & Photos John Carter
It was nice to finish last season with a bullet on the final day in Noumea. That whole day of racing was great for me. The wind and the conditions were in my perfect zone of racing and instead of being out of control, I had the perfect setup and great power; I took a risk and it paid off. I had switched to my medium board and 7.9m and that helped. That is where I need to focus, those decisions sometimes allow me to nail good results. Dropping to a small size quicker than the other guys can pay off. Jumping from large board to medium definitely helps me. That round victory restored my faith and made me think I still have it in me to win events or even the title. It had been a while since I had won a race outside Fuerteventura, but in those medium style conditions it felt satisfying to win one. All the big guns were there. They were all going flat out, and it was fast and furious racing. There are a lot of hard-working good sailors on tour these days as well as the big three, Mortefon, Iachino and Albeau. Just getting to a final is a monumental task. The top three seem to do it easy. That win did feel like an achievement, but when I did it, it felt easy. When your gear is right, you are flying. The gear and being confident is so important at the top end of the sport.
Gaastra try their best to bring a product to the market that is going to be the most appealing for all riders. I just know personally that if they want me to win against these big guys like Albeau, Mortefon and Iachino, then I need something that is tailor made for me. It is like some wave sailors needing a specific wave board. Designers and shapers don’t think twice about making Traversa a small 60 litre board or a bigger board for Koester. That is not even a question. I feel like in slalom where the smallest gains can make the difference, then sometimes I need that gear that is built for me to fight for the title. Unfortunately, that is not possible with the way PWA windsurfing is, especially with the board restrictions and all that. I would love to have free reign on the designs for that one shot at the title. Maybe then a regular rider might try our boards and have a nightmare so who knows! I try to do the best with the sizes that are available to me, but often I feel like I fall somewhere in-between.
In PWA slalom I am the only ‘Brit’ on tour, which is a shame. I have always hung out with the international guys anyways and I travel in a group of friends, so it is not such a big deal. It would be great to have some new blood coming through the ranks – Scotty Stallman or somebody like him. I think Scotty is the closest to the right level to be able to step up to the big stage. I would like to help him do something like that. He is from Weymouth and trains at the OTC. He came with me to France last year as a caddy so I could show him the ropes. It is a shame that we don’t have so much interest in slalom in the UK and also the level is nowhere near the French for instance. If you go to a national event over there, there is a huge attendance of high quality up and coming racers. In the UK we have some decent events, but I would say our level is not quite up to scratch. I have tried to inspire and get more young Brits into racing, but it is difficult because a lot of the younger racers in the UK are automatically shoved down the Olympic route. That is the only route they know. We definitely have talented sailors, but most of them are following a different path. Now we have foiling at the Olympics, so who knows what is going to happen!
END OF AN ERA
Nobody knows how PWA racing will be next year. I think the likes of Matteo Iachino will still be in a good position to fight for the title. Riders that have their equipment already will have an advantage. The right foils will be hugely important. It is what it is for some of us. I think including foiling is the way to go forward. We want to go to events, and we want to race! On the PWA, apparently nobody likes light wind racing. It looks terrible and causes lots of problems. We had to find a solution to enable us to be racing out on the water in under 10 knots and it seems foiling is the way to go.
If I was twenty years old I would possibly go for the Olympics, but at 40, maybe it is a bit late for me. Now it is foiling it will be a different game. There are a lot of young Olympic guys in the UK that are getting dialled in on the foils. I think all those guys are secretly training away. You are not hearing much from them, but they are busy doing it. So I am sure we will have some worthy candidates aside from me. I have spent a lot of time foiling, but a lot of it has been freeride foiling, rather than out and out racing. Probably at some point the new foil Olympic rig could have a negative effect on the regular slalom market. But maybe that is for the better? Foiling has opened many more new doors and activities. I think slalom will always have its place, but it is fun to be doing something different and it can bring along other opportunities if you don’t close yourself away from it. I think any of the slalom guys can learn to race foiling, it’s not that difficult, it is just giving yourself the time and investing in the correct equipment. For me I actually enjoyed foiling more, even though I didn’t have the most competitive equipment or any time to train. I knew my results were not going to be awesome, but at least there was no pressure.
Unfortunately the most frustrating part of the foil surge is that we will have to carry more gear to PWA events, and it will cost more to compete. It really limits the numbers of guys that can afford to do the tour, and I find myself in that boat too. If I didn’t have sponsors to help me get to events and pay for equipment, there would be no way that I could afford to compete! I think there are a lot of talented young kids that should be in line to get on tour, but don’t have the sponsors or the financial help at home to follow their dream and that is a real shame. My advice to these kids is to think outside the box and try to attract local and national sponsors from outside of the industry. You can’t rely on just being the most talented kid and think that is going to be enough anymore. But I believe when someone truly dedicates themselves to following their dream then good things will happen and you will become a person that can deal with all the problems that life can throw at you!
I have been on tour for twenty-one years. This year I am going to be a dad and it comes at a time where I want to stay home more and put family first. I want to enjoy all those moments of being a parent, I don’t want to miss them. As for the racing, I will be taking it a little bit easier. I’ll do as much as I can, but won’t be doing the events in Asia or ones further afield. My focus is family! I will probably do about half of the events on tour. I will do France, Costa Brava, Fuerteventura and Sylt most likely. Those ones are easier to get to, less time away and the ones I enjoy the most. That is still four events which is fine for me. My sponsors are happy to support me during this season so I can spend the extra time with my family. I do want to come back next year and have a proper shot at the title. It will be nice to have a year without so much travel for once. It will be nice to be able to focus on my family and not on booking flights and working out travel schedules.
I bought a café last year and a house in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. You never know what is going to happen with windsurfing as it is a relatively short career. I had to investigate other options and when opportunities come along you have to take them. We took on ‘Tradewinds Café’ and I really enjoy being down on the beach, which is connected to my brother’s watersports centre. I feel like there are options for us to work together as a watersports facility. This year will be our second season for the café and the second year I am living in the UK. I am still kind of in a transitional period after living in Maui. It will take a little bit of time for myself and my wife Loreley to find our feet properly, with the house, the business and of course the baby!
For people that don’t know, I am married to Robby Swift’s wife’s sister, Loreley! My best mate hooked me up with his wife’s sister and we were married in Maui and lived there a couple of winters. She is Argentinian, but her dad has a US passport and is American. She has had dual citizenship all her life, which enabled us to live in Hawaii. We realized that the UK was more suited to us as we were able to afford our own house rather than rent. We also managed to buy the café. Maui was amazing, but all our money was going on rent! I would love to live there, but we would have never been able to own our own place. We took the jump and are settling into life over here. We still travel a lot because of Loreley’s family and my commitments on tour, but for now we are trying to figure out how to do things.
It felt amazing to hit 40, it is defiantly a transitional milestone age for me, not because of the number, but because where I find myself in my life and what is going on around me. So it’s only recently that I stopped travelling around the world so much and was able to create our first home with my wife, and now we are expecting our first child, which is something totally amazing to experience. I feel very lucky to have my family and close friends in my life, and I am more aware now of how important those relationships are to me. I think also when you have put a few miles on the clock you finally learn how and when to say no to things too, which is a good thing. The number 40 doesn’t mean anything by itself, but the time I had getting to this point has been what makes it feel so good.
UK WAVE TOUR
I have missed wave sailing with all my commitments to racing. I had a niggling injury with my ankle a few years ago that was holding me back. I feel like I am just starting to be able to go full power wave sailing again and have been enjoying the sessions back at home. I was in Chile with Robby Swift in December and was learning again how to do some of the new jumps like tweaked push loops. I felt some excitement again for the first time in a while with my sailing. Wave sailing every day was not boring me. I needed that break out there, just doing some fun sailing, wing foiling and surfing. I needed some ‘Ross’ time. It made me realize I still love doing this sport. I am still going to head out and go windsurfing whenever it is windy. I still feel I have the urge that I want to push my sailing as well as my commitments of being a dad and as a businessman. Wave sailing is pleasure for me. I love being in the waves and the feeling of a nice turn and seeing your spray gives a great connection to that canvas. It is good for your mind as well to have something that you are still passionate about. I am enjoying that a lot.
I love it here on the island! Just to be at home and then going out to find and making the most of the conditions that we have helps keep me motivated. I am always searching for perfection, never finding the same conditions twice, finding those optimum moments in the tide, the waves, the wind and the light. It makes the search more exciting when you score. The crazy thing is I actually think I spend more time in the water here than when I’m away in most places. As I write this it is 24th January 2020 and I think I will have been in the water for a session at least 22 days out of the month, sometimes more than one session a day, I love it.
I struggled all year with my motivation in the slalom. A lot of it was due to the fact I was going to an event knowing that I was unprepared. I didn’t really feel like I achieved what I know I am capable of. Towards the end of the Noumea event I had that great run and I felt the passion again and I was liking it. I was enjoying the racing again and was hungry for more. Now I have this break and hopefully that hunger will still be there in time for France and I can train enough to be competitive at least. I think I hold myself to a high standard and I want to perform at a high level. As I am a professional sportsperson, I should be always looking to be a couple of levels above a normal guy sailing at the beach. I sometime get frustrated with myself if I feel I haven’t been sailing much due to other work that I must do and then when I am on the water, I feel I could be performing better! In sports those changes in your performance level can and will make a difference to your results! That can affect your salary and contract potential, so I feel it is good to be critical of yourself, but then not to dwell on it and take it home. Better to just make the changes needed to strive to where you want to be.
I love windsurfing still because I feel there is always something to learn and that perfection is impossible to reach. I am sure even the very best sailors are always striving to perfect what they are doing, so that is the challenge. With windsurfing you can never completely reach your end goals. There is always more to learn and improve on in all areas of sailing. I love that challenge. You can always find something new to learn in the sport and that is awesome.