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To Fast for France…

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Fom the 5th to the 15th July this year two British speed riders travelled to the south of France to compete against a fleet of 40 of the world’s fastest kitesurfers, this is the story.

On April 4th 2012 it was announced on the IKA website that the World Speed championships would take place in Camargue in the south of France from the 5th to the 15th July 2012.

Speed World Championships announced  
Tuesday, 03 April 2012 12:09

The 2012 Kite Speed World Championships will be held from July 5 to 15 in the South of France (near Port St. Louis).
The event is limited to 40 entries, of which 20 have been pre-selected and another 20 are open for qualification. The pre-selected riders have already been contacted by the organizer and have time until April 15 to claim their places; otherwise the slots will be given to the qualification pool.

Qualification is done through GPS speeds over 500m achieved in the past 12 months – June 5 2011 till June 5 2012 which is the qualification deadline.

4 places are reserved for pre-qualified women, and another 4 for women to qualify under the criteria outlined above.
The event will have 5000 Euro prize money (TBC) and the Notice of Race as well as the official registration will be published soon.

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Amongst the 20 pre-qualified riders list was current British champion and all time fastest British speed kitesurfer Dave Williams. Dave was aware that another British speed rider “Gary Powell” had been looking for a speed event to attend and contacted him via GPS-kitesurfing.com which is the site the worlds speed surfers use to upload sessions to gain GPS rankings. Gary then checked out the criteria and decided that a GPS track from a very successful speed session in Sept 2011 may be fast enough to qualify for the championships. The next thing that struck Gary was the logistics of attending an event in the south of France, the cost of going and the amount of kit needed for a 10 day event allowing for all eventualities. After a chat with a mutual friend and speed board builder Mike Pacey Gary contacted Dave to see if he was definitely attending and if a van share was possible if he ended up qualifying, Dave agreed without hesitation, having known Gary for some years from the BKSA freestyle comps and from supporting him through his speed quest for a couple years.

The wait for Gary was torture as they would not announce the final qualified riders until 3 weeks prior to the event, in the meantime he rode nothing but his speed boards in all conditions including the chop and swell of the Irish Sea just to condition his legs to the level needed for a high level event and adjusted his diet to include more protein to help repair and strengthen muscle.
Dave prepared by working his arse off as a marine engineer right up till the day of setting off and not doing what a normal professional athlete would do in the run up to a major competition. The lifestyle of marine engineering is about as far away as possible to that of a top flight athlete (drinking heavily and eating crap food with little chance of exercise.

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After a long wait Gary received notification of qualification and let Dave know who promptly booked the ferry and could plan for two people going. This was just 3 weeks before the event and being Gary’s first major event the churning stomach and panic of being prepared started pretty much straight away and really didn’t subside until he set off on the 209 mile trip to Dave’s just 2 days before the event started when the feeling then was utter excitement rather than panic. During the 3 weeks prior to the event Gary posted the news on Facebook and kiteboarder.co.uk and within a few hours Tony from kiteboarder.co.uk sent a message to Gary pledging support in the form of money towards the fuel, within another couple of days Sarge from kiteboardingUK.com made exactly the same gesture, it’s gestures like this that keep your faith in the human race THANK YOU BOTH. Soon after Gary received an e-mail of congratulations from Richard Gowers including criteria to apply for funding towards international events, the expense of the trip was slowly being eased. After discussions with the Core UK importer Adam Carey at the kite loft he managed to get the loan of 2 new kites from Core in Germany which is always good to have extra sizes.

The next problem was going to be how to fit Gary’s Astra van full of equipment into Dave’s already fairly full motorhome boot. Nothing much phases Dave and the Sprinter boot ended up packed well with 6 speed boards, a twin tip, course board, 11 kites, 2 inflatable SUPs, wetsuits, harnesses  etc. To say this was an achievement would be an understatement. So the 1400 mile journey from Dave’s to the event location began and by 6pm the following day they were signing up in Salin De Giruad in the south of France. After meeting some of the riders it was time for an early night in preparation for the morning race briefing and impending week 10 days of competition.

The first morning started with a wind-less visit to the event site, this was a 5 mile drive including 2 miles of dirt track and a stone slab restriction allowing Daves van just 2” either side to get through, they had to park on a dry pond bed 2km from the actual speed course and were then ferried in 4wd pick-up trucks to the speed course. The course was within the Camargue national park in a Salin pond and had a maximum depth of 50cm and a salt concentration 10 times that of normal sea water. The set up area was on semi-dry mud that was not long ago another salin pond so pretty awful and slippy especially contemplating being on an overpowered kite. After a look at the course and set up area the first official briefing begun. The course was set out such that there was a large buoy that had to be tacked around at the upwind end of the course that led into a 200m conveyor area, this is where the riders were to enter slowly and begin to space themselves out by the end of the 200m to allow the rider in front to initiate his 100m run-in to the first camera line of the 500m course, if the next rider was too close behind he would be flagged and air horned to pull downwind and travel outside the buoys to start his approach again “this worked well”. There were a row of small orange buoys on the down-wind line getting slightly wider further down the 500m course then one yellow buoy marking the 500m camera at the end of the course, behind the rider on the shore 100m past the finish the score board was there to give an instant result, rider number, average speed over 500 and standing. There was then a large down-wind buoy that had to be tacked around to begin the 2km back up to the start. The event would not go ahead in much less than 20 knots of wind and it was announced that a round would not be valid unless at least 3 riders achieved average 500m speeds of 30 knots + twice. There was a warning system in place that after 2 warnings you were out of that round and this was put into practice throughout the event “Weymouth speed week take note” it worked and was a very gentlemanly event even with 40 kites on the water.

Thursday 12th.  First day of racing. Meeting was called for 9am and the racing started at approximately 11am. This was the first time 40 riders and equipment were shuttled from the last place you could park to the event site via pick up and trailer. It took a little longer than anticipated as once everyone’s kit was there and the round started it was apparent they had missed the best of the wind and only 2 riders from the fleet had managed to exceed 30 knots within the 1.5 hour round so unfortunately the round didn’t count which was quite a bad thing for Gary as he had placed 12th. Dave had a bad day mainly with kite size choice and managed 20th place. The early afternoon thermal had kicked in and killed the Mistral wind which gives the NW wind that is the perfect angle for the speed strip so some stayed on the water for a practice using the new angle to try a different part of the pond. The feeling amongst the riders was good as this was first time it felt like the event had started.
Briefing in Chez Germaine regarding tomorrow’s event, winds are good and the shuttle will start taking riders over from 5.30am “WHAT”

The British lads were there and set up as the sun was rising and the first round started bang on at 7.30am, the course was fairly squarer than perfect and the wind was switching around slightly. Towards the end of the first round lasting 1.5 hours Gary decided his 11m Core Riot was too big and pulling him way too far down-wind causing him to edge hard thus killing speed so decided to quit and go to get his 9m ready for the next round. After extending the course open time for 15 minutes he decided to get a few runs on the 9m and it was perfect.  He ended that round with a disappointing 31st place but Dave made some good choices staying on his 12m Best Nemesis throughout and took 6th place.

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After a 30 minute break the course was opened again, during the break the wind seemed to switch more NW and slightly drop so it was 11m weather again. It was quite noticeable a lot of riders were underpowered with big lulls and wind switches but there were still loads of riders over 30 knots mostly on course boards which was pretty amazing with the depth of 50cm maximum. Things still didn’t click for Gary managing 24th in that round with Dave getting back into the groove ending up 10th in that round. Gary was of course disappointed but it’s all about being there and learning from mistakes and remembering what worked in what conditions.

Friday 13th. A full day off due to low wind forecast, the lads went to Beauduc again joined by Maxime Richard, Sylvain Moret and Jessica Winkler. The Max and Sylvain grabbed some funny looking sausages from the mini market to put on the BBQ Dave had tucked away in his boot somewhere. A quick tip for wind in France “eat funny looking sausages”.

Sat 14th. Good wind forecast with anticipated increase later so racing started at 11ish. The first round was marginal and once again Gary placed well at 13th but once again the minimum of 3 riders didn’t make over 30 knots over 500m so the round was void. Soon the wind picked up and the second round of the day went better for Dave with a 10th place and Gary with a 25th place. A pattern that started to emerge was that in marginal conditions Gary was getting better results, in more powered conditions his results slipped.

Sun 15th. Great early forecast again so everyone set off at 5.30ish for the strip before sunrise for a 7.30 first leg start. The wind was just below 20 knots so possible for some over 30knot 500m runs. Gary chose the 11m Core Riot XR2 and ran with plenty of back line slack now knowing how with a slightly square course the power just increased further down the 500m. Most of the riders were big guys and although running on some big kites “13m and 14m” didn’t do as well as Gary and other lightweights, he ended in 12th position and prayed more than 3 riders had completed at least 2 x 30knot 500m runs to make the round count.
DAVE was having a nightmare morning and couldn’t find any speed finishing in a discarded 18th position in the first round and a slightly better second round coming 16th but as the wind increased in the 3rd round of the day he changed down to his 10m Nemisis and hooked up with a good wind shift and gust and hit a top speed of 33.5 knots which dragged him up to 6th for the final round of the event.

During the 20 minute break it was announced the round counted so good news for Gary, what else happened was the wind switched more Westerly so “square” and increased meaning the bigger guys who ride powered gained the advantage over the lightweights once again.

2nd round. Wind increased 9m weather for Gary, Dave stayed on his 12m, none of the riders like a square course but some cope well with it and lighter guys just get pulled out of the course and don’t manage to stay within the finishing buoy making their runs more than 500m between the cameras. The wind had swung so much that the course could have been run as a Port tack course but it was logistically impossible with all the timing gear and cables.

3rd round. After a half hour break the final 1.5 hour round started. Dave as always was happy to stay powered and Run Square on his 12m and Gary set his 9m on the first pigtails with slack back lines to cope. Dave was well up in the positions and getting loads of runs in with having minimal tacking time getting back to the start, Gary however was well down the pack and struggling to keep an edge so decided to change down to the brand new 8m Core had sent, after a 10 minute pit stop he was back on the water and approaching the start area with just 2 more riders when he was run to the beach and his kite passed between the lines of the guy following resulting in a bit of panic and a ripped canopy and leading edge on the brand new Core. He had to pack down in the mud and walk the 2km back to the finish line in 30 degrees of heat which took that long the final round was finished. Dave had a great round placing 6th that went a long way to his final standing. Running 3 rounds on the last day meant a quick pack up in ever increasing winds and heading back to Chez Germaine in Salin De Giraud for the results and prize giving.

Most people had chance to shower and get changed before heading to prize giving and this would be only the second time in 10 days the whole fleet would be together in a position to talk and catch up on how things went without being under the pressure of the competing. Some great words from the winners that echoed the feeling amongst the whole fleet who travelled from all corners of the world. The event from start to finish was well run with excellent communications to the riders on a nightly basis and although the event site was logistically challenging the crew did their best to keep things running smoothly and efficiently.
The British lads were invited to dinner with the USA crew at a restaurant 100m away, the atmosphere was a lot lighter than it had been during the event and the USA lads were very chatty and everyone spent time reflecting on the last 10 days and previous event tales.

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To summarise Dave ended up fulfilling his goal of a top 10 placing with a fastest 500m speed of 33.55 knots, this was just 2.88 knots slower than the winner Rob douglas who’s top speed was 36.43 knots and although at first Gary was disappointed at his 24th place with a top speed of 31.89 knots he soon realised he was just 4.54 knots slower than the winner who is also the world record holder so returned home very positive about his future in speed riding. Both riders proving age is no limit to ability with Dave being 39 and Gary 48 and that the UK can produce top class riders able to hold their own against the best in the world.
Dave would like to thank Best kites for bringing back the Nemisis kites after dropping them, Deadman for some bad ass clothing, Juice boardsports the best kite shop in the UK , Tony @ kiteboarder.co.uk for been a top bloke and running a bad ass forum, the BKSA who have continued helping me out over the years and the true legend that is Mike Pacey who has built some amazing speed boards and mentored me when most would of given up .

Gary would like to thank, Core kites, Tony from Kiteboarder.co.uk, Sarge from kiteboardingUK.com, the BKSA, Boughton Estates, Mike Pacey and Dave Williams for making the trip possible.