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SOUTH’KIPA: NIK BAKER AND JOHN SKYE

20/11/2020
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SOUTH’KIPA: SOUTH COAST UK

From our August issue we visit Shoreham and Worthing along with Nik Baker and John Skye for a good old south coast showdown!

Words: Nik Baker and John Skye // photos: John Carter.


With classic south coast conditions looming, John Carter launched a plan to head down to Shoreham and Worthing (a.k.a. South’kipa) for a catch up with UK Fanatic, Duot­­one and ION agent Nik Baker, but at the last minute he heard through the grapevine John Skye was also back in the UK for an RRD Demo! Two of the UK’s most successful wave sailors, both retired from full-time competition and now involved in the industry in different roles…surely this was the time to pitch them on the water together for a good old shoot-out and hear about their south coast roots and the good old days! We hand it over to Baker and Skye for the lowdown!

NIK BAKER

UNDER PRESSURE

When I heard John Skye was coming along, if I am really honest, I suddenly felt nervous. It took me back to being a pro windsurfer when everybody was still scrutinizing me performing whenever I sailed. I always felt I had expectations every time I came home of what I was doing on the water. I never wanted to fall off learning moves or make myself look silly and I think I put too much pressure on myself. Even after quitting competing I did that for a long time. It has taken many years to let go of that pressure and realize I am not a pro sailor anymore and I have not been for ten years. I am just out sailing the same as everyone else. I actually sail a lot less than most guys because I am busy with work. So now I feel I don’t have to prove myself anymore, I am not paid to go windsurfing. I am going out because I love it. As long as I walk up the beach with a smile, I don’t care what anybody thinks. When JC said Skye was coming along, I suddenly thought, ‘I am going to look daft!’ as I know he sails a lot. Then I thought, who cares, it will be nice to see him, he is a lovely guy and I have always liked him on and off the water. We are both still in the industry from slightly different angles and we are both retired from competition, so I guess we have a lot in common. He has a family as I have, so it was lovely just to sit and chat and catch up. Because he was on the water, it actually pushed me. Rather than sitting on the beach chatting with the boys every half an hour, I stayed out on the water and kept going. My forearms at the end of the day were in agony from hanging on in the wild gusts! I absolutely loved it. Skyeboy is such a good sailor and made it more of an exciting session. After the day I sat and had a chat with Sam Latham and we were just recalling what a great day it was. I did not expect to be sailing with John Skye and we had some great conditions. I was well stoked.

BACK TO THE ROOTS

It is interesting to me to look at where we both started, what we have both achieved and where we are now. John is in the industry with RRD, while I am involved with Fanatic and Duotone. We still have our interests in the sport that we love and we still have our most fun from a good old session back doing what we did originally – going sailing on the south coast of all places, in rain, sunshine and gusty wind at Shoreham and Worthing. It did not matter, we both came off the water agreeing it was an awesome day. It did not have to be mast high in a pair of shorts and down the line. I love south coast sailing and I always have done. Coming from these roots massively benefitted me on the world tour. I think it helped me that I do live in this location and was forced to sail in these conditions. Guys like Jason Polakow probably never even sail in these conditions, he would be out riding motocross! He is only in it for the upper end of extreme sailing. I am back where I started and it is just as much fun for me, it really is. I can do a lot of other sports, but ultimately if I had to pick one day of a sport it would be wave sailing, absolutely. I am lucky I can still do it. I am not too old, not too fat and my job allows me the time to still do it. I cannot complain.

EARLY DAYS

I moved to live beside the beach in Shoreham when I was nine, but I was mostly into whitewater canoeing, BMX racing and skating. On my 12th birthday my dad got me a kids rig so he could teach me. I learned outside our house. Once I got my teeth into it, pretty much all my other sports fell to the wayside. I was very light so I could plane in bugger all wind. My dad used to tie my rig with a piece of rope to the groyne so I could not go too far out. As a kid, once I was planing I was so excited I always forgot I was tied to the groyne so I went over the handlebars countless times. I could not get enough of windsurfing. My first real board was a BIC Show, which was about 3 metres long and a supposed short board. It was amazing I loved it. I went from that to a Limited Edition 250. When I was 13 or 14 I had custom Teltale sails made in black, with a lower clew and lower cutout. We went on the water regardless of conditions. When my dad was working, I would walk my kit up to the car park on a trailer with Danny Seales. It was summer sea breezes and 15-20 knots and we would sail on the lake which was only 80 yards wide. I did so many gybes I reckon that is how I got quite good for indoor (laughs). I have so many good memories of those days. I lived on Pot Noodles so I could eat quickly and get back out on the water.

I started out racing when I was 15. My dad switched from a recruitment business to a windsurfing shop, which really changed his life as well as mine. I went along to an event at Worthing and Fanatic distributor Mike Prout, who had just received the new Fanatic Ultra Cat, offered to lend it to me for the weekend. It was an amazing board with cool graphics. I followed the leaders around, especially a guy called Chris Lovelock, and won all the races in my class. At the time there was a Robby Naish trophy for the youth that won the series and we made a deal that if I won it then my dad and Mike would work out a way of getting me to Hawaii to meet Robby Naish. I won everything after that, Robby Naish was my hero, I guess he still is; I was going to Maui come hell or high water! I enjoyed all the racing and the technical side of it, but ultimately I was into the waves after I had my first taste at the South West Funboard Cup down in Cornwall where I saw the likes of Duncan Coombs and Stuart Sawyer sailing.

SOUTH COAST

Most south coast conditions look fairly simple, but at the same time they are not. There is a lot going on in the water out here when it is windy. There are lots of currents, it is choppy and then the waves pick up and drop off, move and shift. It can be onshore, side-shore, offshore and there are a million different things happening.

I used to do all my training at Shoreham aside from some specialist wave sailing. Even when it was 25-30 knots I would go slalom sailing. That is what I did, I had to train every day. I was always out on the water doing something different. I had to learn Ho’okipa sailing, but for general sailing like Sylt and Gran Canaria, which are quite technical sailing locations, sailing at Shoreham held me in very good stead for my career. We did slalom racing in Holland, Sylt, Tenerife and Gran Canaria, all these tricky locations. I look at the crop of sailors in the UK now and it worries me to death. I don’t see who we have that has had the opportunity to come through and make it on the world stage. We have a few great slalom sailors, but mostly they are sailing at Weymouth. Jenna Gibson actually sails in all sorts of conditions, which is more on it than most of the guys. Some sailors soon come unstuck when they sail in chop or rough seas, they don’t know what to do. In our day we had myself, Anthony, Jamie Hawkins, Robby Swift and Ross Williams, who were all brought up sailing the south coast. You can put Ross out in anything. He comes from the Isle of Wight and sails and surfs in all conditions. He can sail or surf pretty much anywhere from Fuerteventura to Jaws and everything between. Swifty and John Skye are the same.

HOME

This year we have had so many good days I don’t feel the need to drive anywhere. A few years ago I felt I took my eye off the ball and was too wrapped up with work. Everything was about the business, and I ended up too focussed on it and was all out of shape. I lost the desire for a while to drop everything and head out on the water occasionally. I had a lot going on in my life with business and personal problems. This year I have found the love again. January and February there were some great days and I made the effort to get out there. I found my fitness coming back, started losing weight and was really enjoying sailing again. Foiling has helped a lot as well and I have got quite into that.

NEW GEAR

If I had the kit I had now back in the day I would have been world champion many times (laughs). It is not just boards or sails. The masts are so much better and the booms are insane now. These factors allow us to have the new style boards and sails. It is not one thing; it has just been an amazing evolution. I take my kids windsurfing and they complain how hard it is, but I tell them they have no idea how it was when I started! I used to have to wear fingerless gloves in Maui because my hands were raw from sailing with those old booms.

CONDITIONS

I live on the beach now. The reason I moved so close a year and a half ago is because I wanted to be back by the ocean. I lived close when I was younger and I felt I was missing it in my life. I can open the curtains in my bedroom and look onto the water. I can sit in bed with a cup of tea and see the conditions. It is incredible really that I am fortunate enough to live like this. I can go home, jump into a wetsuit in the house, walk across the road and go sailing. At the end of the session I can jump in the hot tub in my back garden. I am pretty well spoiled. My kids have been in the water all winter doing it.

Anything from west to southwest is great for this area; although I like dead onshore, so a southerly is ok also. Generally it is west-southwest and we sail here out the front of my house. If it gets a bit of north in it then I will drive down to West Wittering for high tide. There are some fun waves there. Ideally we want it to be blowing onshore all night to build up the waves. Then as it swings side-shore we get the best sailing. If it is blowing its tits off dead onshore it is jacks the waves up. As it goes side-shore then we have down the line riding. In Shoreham it is great mid tide down to low tide and then back up to mid. That is when people sail at Shoreham. Past that the waves start breaking closer to the beach and ultimately right on the shore. You can’t really do a lot. It is still sailable, but there is a big shorebreak. Back in the day I sailed it in all conditions, on wave or slalom kit because I could not drive until I was seventeen and was stuck at the house. I went out in everything, which in hindsight was brilliant. Nowadays we move up to Worthing at high tide to the Sea Lane Café. The shorebreak is more manageable and the waves break out to sea still as it is a shallower beach. There is a little corner in front of the café and there is a nice vibe there. More westerly or northwest we go up to Bracklesham or West Wittering and sail with Simon and the guys at 2XS.

JOHN SKYE

On the face of it I should not complain. Having moved out to the Canary Islands around 10 years ago, on paper I have it all. It’s sunny all year-round, the water is warm and above all else it is probably the most consistently windy windsurf location in Europe, possibly the world. A windsurfer’s dream right? However with that level of consistency comes a strange sensation of monotony. It’s not that I get bored of windsurfing, but when the conditions are always the same you lose that sense of achievement when you do score. That is what I love most about the UK and what I miss the most. When I scored this perfect south coast windy day, it made me realise not only how much I missed it, but how much I missed lots of other things as well.

UK BOUND

The reason for my trip was to support the new RRD UK agent for both a demo day in Poole at the Windsurf Academy and then for an RRD shop tour around all the biggest retailers in the country. I didn’t have any expectations to sail, I had packed a wetsuit and harness to maybe go for a foil, but when I saw the decent forecast I managed to keep hold of a couple of demo items, a Wave Cult 82 and a Compact Rig set, thinking about maybe a quick trip to Kimmeridge (the nearest beach to my parent’s place) or something. However at around 8 p.m. I had a message from JC, “Are you in the UK? Want to come on a mission to Shoreham to sail with Nik Baker?” This was the first thing I missed, the expectation of a good day and the getting together of friends. For sure we have that in Gran Canaria too, but it’s more like meeting up for a game of tennis, than a search to find the best conditions. There was something more exciting about checking the forecast, checking the tides and making a call on where to go. So 30 minutes later I was added to my parent’s car insurance and the alarm was set for an early start in the morning.

SKUNKED?

It may sound strange, but I really miss getting totally skunked! I met JC at the ferry port and rather than the forecasted 30 mph southwest winds, it was dead still. The trees weren’t moving and having just crossed the Solent JC was gutted by the total lack of breeze. We checked the wind readings and it was pretty much calm everywhere. Nik confirmed there was nothing his way and we sat at the port trying to figure out a game plan. Do we change the plan and go west to catch any possible wind sooner? Do we continue as planned and hope for the best? Or do we sack it off and both go home? As it was not even 8 a.m. yet, we decided just to go for it anyway, and if we got totally skunked at least we could both be back for lunch anyway.

SHOREHAM BOUND

On arrival at Nik’s place it was still dead calm. Memories came flooding back of all the countless times I had driven for 2-3 hours to get skunked, and surprisingly a smile appeared on my face. It was a trip down memory lane! Unlike Nik, I grew up on the northern side of London, 100 miles from the coast. When I first passed my driving test I used to drive to the south coast pretty much every weekend, a minimum 4 hour round trip, but having to negotiate the M25, it often ended up 6-8 hours or more. My early learning spots were pretty much Hayling Island and West Wittering, but one of the few positives about living miles from the sea, is that everywhere is equally far away, so I had a good variety. Whitstable, West Mersey, Calshot, Hillhead, Hayling and Witterings were all pretty much 2 hours away, so there were plenty of options and I could pick and choose a bit depending on the forecast and the tides etc.

TEA TIME

Nik invited us into his house and we enjoyed a cup of tea, which is also something I miss in Spain. You can buy the tea, but the milk is not the same and a good old cuppa over there never quite hits the spot like it does in the UK. We chatted for a bit and it was great to catch up. If I am honest Nik is probably the reason I managed to do anything in windsurfing. Growing up in the early 90s all the guys on tour seemed huge. The sport was dominated by Bjorn and Anders who were all well over 6 foot and weighed over 100 kgs. At that point I was sailing on Brogborough Lake and, pre-freestyle, it was all about racing. Honestly I remember thinking I didn´t stand a chance and actually one of my first sponsors even told me so, which was pretty encouraging! Then along came Nik in the magazines. Not only very average in size, but also from the UK and quickly rising up the ranks of the world cup. Add to that he was the star of Peter Hart’s “Towards the limit” video, which was what I learnt everything from. I had a few heroes growing up, but 100% Nik was my sole inspiration. I remember at around 15 looking at what he was doing and thinking I can do that too. I didn´t quite make it to his level, but got close enough!

FIRST SESSION

After a while Nik suggested we go check the beach. According to him we had about an hour left before the tide would get too high, so it was more or less now or never. Poking our heads outside we found 20 mph winds and solid head high waves. No idea where it all came from, but it was on!

Rigging in a rush was next on the list of things I miss. That panic mixed with excitement, knowing that you are about to score, but it is not guaranteed as the wind could switch off as quickly as it arrived. Whilst Nik pulled a rigged sail out of his van, I hurried rigging my compact 5.3, and in 10 minutes we all hit the water, accompanied by local ripper Sam Latham.

It was cross-onshore starboard tack…. this is what I truly miss the most! At home it is port tack nearly every single day. On a good year we maybe get 1 or 2 days of starboard, but they are rarely good. For me south coast UK cross-onshore is still the best. It’s where I learnt everything. It’s where I spent probably the most enjoyable years of my life learning our wonderful sport! During my university years spent at Southampton I literally lived windsurfing 24/7. Sailing was priority over classes if it was good, and every evening was spent watching the old VHS videos of the Namotu event, Polakow KA1111 and PWA tour videos, and actually Nik Baker himself in that old Rushwind video.

OUT OF TOUCH

Unfortunately despite learning my trade on these south coast waters, I needed to go back 20 years to remember how to do it! It normally takes me 10-15 minutes to find the flow again, but today it was taking longer, particularly the jumping. Nik meanwhile was clearly loving life. His home spot, literally walking distance from his house, he was toying with the shorebreak like a little puppy. Me on the other hand had forgotten how terrifying it was to be bottom turning into a bowl, with the dry shingle beach literally two metres in front of you. Nik was punting airs, and I was using lip avoidance tactics! In the old days I used to sail my Tiga 250 literally into the stones, but now my instincts prevented it. Whilst it was good to remember, I am not sure it was actually something I missed too much!!!

BAKER STILL RIPPING

Nik was ripping to be fair. He might me older, heavier, and less fit than he used to be, but he still had the moves and style that made him the UK’s most successful pro windsurfer ever. Back when I was pushing for the top he was not really around too much. Like I said he was my inspiration back then, but actually the guys that were around and pushing me day in and day out were mainly Jamie Hawkins, Julian Anderson and Mark Shinn. Mark was the first guy on the south coast doing push loops, and watching and learning that one move was a bit of a game changer for me. There was a whole group of us back then based around the south coast, really pushing to get to the PWA. Chris Audsley, Andy King, Andy Funnell, John Hibbard and Matt Pearch. They were good times, and I think thanks to everyone we all pushed each other to get where we got. We were part of one, if not the most, successful generations of UK windsurfers, and I really hope it gets repeated again.

SUN AND SQUALLS

Back to Shoreham and a big squall hit. Reverting to the elbow up, face protection stance, I had possibly the biggest grin of the day as the wind picked up 10 knots and the rain lashed against my face. This was turning out to be a ‘classic’ UK sailing day. Sure enough as the squall passed by, the wind dropped to 10 knots, leaving us floating out to sea. Nik has always been wise, and as I wobbled around, I noticed he was already on the beach waiting it out! It did pick up again, but by this point the tide was too high, so the decision was made to move to Worthing.

WORTHING

Borrowing my parent’s car I didn’t think they would be too happy if I drove in a wet wetsuit, so after a quick de-rig and change we were off down the coast.  Arriving at Worthing it was looking really solid and we were rigged again in minutes. Then came the next miss. I am never one to hang out my suits to dry in Gran Canaria and regularly put on, not only wet, but also slightly mouldy suits. However, no matter how wet they are, they are never as cold as a UK wet wetsuit. Again the smile beamed across my face as I pulled on the wet and very cold suit.

It was another great session, this time with a 4.6 on the 82. It is crazy how the gear has changed since those early days. Back in the day I remember I always had a wave board around 68-70 litres and then something big for the light winds around 75 litres! Now the smallest board I own is the 82! Ok I may have put a couple of kilos on since then, but still the difference is crazy. Plus the new bigger, easier boards also turn better too. A frontside snap on an old single fin in onshore was a difficult manoeuvre, now we can smash out 2 or 3 on the same wave. The boards are also 50 cm shorter, so they fit much better in my parent’s car!! Add to that a RRD Compact Rig with a complete quiver in a backpack and you have no space worries to ever think about.

This time after another big squall I came in to take shelter and to rest a bit. I had been pretty warm on the water in my 4/3 Celsius suit, but on the beach, I soon started to cool down! Then came the next thing I miss, the feeling of cold feet walking on the shingle. I haven’t had that feeling in ages, and I loved it. A little bit painful, but my feet are still just about tough enough to deal with it.

HOMEWARD BOUND

By the end of the day I was exhausted. At home, I tend to sail for an hour, maybe two maximum. If you sail more than that every day, you quickly start to get really tired. However, in the UK when it’s windy, you never know when your next session will be, so you sail until you can’t physically sail anymore! When I left the water I was struggling to get my gear up the shingle banks, but after getting changed and having another cuppa (this time with cake), I was ready for the drive home. And that was probably the best bit of it all. That sense of satisfaction that I only seem to get on these sorts of missions. I was exhausted, stoked and had a sort of burnt face from being punished by the elements! I realized now that I need to come to the UK more often!

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