David Minton reports from the ‘endless summer’ of the Irish Slalom Series 2011
One of the bleakest summers to ever hit the isle of Ireland proved be the breeding ground for some of the most exciting Slalom racing this country has ever seen. This year has been the windsurfers dream and our ‘Irish Endless Summer’. It never stopped blowing!
The spectrum of conditions throughout the year ranged from gathering storms, rolling swell, glass like courses, waves, tornado gusts and parties like it was the final days of Rome!
The series had everything and attracted competitors from all walks of life and ability. In its fourth year now, the series has gone from strength to strength attracting the best competitive sailors in Ireland and abroad, and mixing it up with local free-riders from six ideal locations around the Irish coastline.
The strength of the series has been the appetite for racing in Ireland and the number of windsurfers from around Ireland thirsty to learn the techniques and tricks of slalom racing. A core group of sailors from the early days back in 2008 are now after four years competing for top positions and titles, making competitive slalom racing in Ireland a spectacle for viewers and families. Even on the poorest of forecast the series attracted a minimum of 30 competitive sailors to each event and maxed out near 100+ for our biggest event in Downings, Donegal. The Irish Slalom Series has managed to maintain the development of Slalom in Ireland through encouraging a strong Silver Fleet and welcoming Gold Fleet. Winners and sailors finishing well in the Silver fleet are annually shamed into promotion to Gold. A few trophy hunters have been named and shamed, but this has led to a burgeoning Gold Fleet and everyone is improving, putting pressure on the Old Guard of Irish Windsurfing.
The Series takes in some of the most beautiful and remote parts of the Country. The touring bus of Irish Windsurfers is now becoming an attractive proposition to towns and villages, as they seek to host events in their locations. The selected venues for this year was Bantry, Cork; Castlegregory, Kerry; Newtonards, Derry; Downings, Donegal; Seapoint, Dublin and Kinvara, Galway. These locations took us North, South, East and West with a pit-stop in the midlands for a fun slalom lake weekend.
Bantry kicked off the series this year hosted by no one other than current ISS Champion Pearse Geaney of www.Bigsurf.ie . Pearse managed to squeeze in the event before the new arrival of baby Tim. Everyone in the Series has a lot to thank Tim for this year as we all finished a little higher up the rankings. Even when Pearse could turn up, his main focus was catching up with some sleep!
Bantry gave all the competitors the opportunity to shake off the cobwebs, dust off the gear and display some newly purchased gear. It’s fair to say Bantry set the tone for the year ahead. Guys who previously were happy on free-ride gear made their intentions well known with some brand new, full on, thruster slalom gear! The series was heating up and it was only May! With a poor forecast it was incredible to see 43 sailors registered on the Saturday morning making up two fleets – Gold and Silver. Bantry witnessed the birth of a new starting technique baptised ‘the Maurice Manoeuvre’. For health and safety reasons we cannot disclose or condone the technique only to say its effective. If you want to learn it, sign up for next year!
Castlegregory, Kerry was the port of call for Round 2. Anyone who turned up for Round 2 of the Irish Slalom Series in Castlegregory at the end of May witnessed one of the best weekends in the short history of the Slalom Series. Hosted by Jamie Knox Watersports, back-to-back races were held across two days with nearly fifty competitors across a Gold and Silver Fleet. War time images are invoked to describe the amount of bodies on the beach by Sunday evening. If you weren’t in Kerry last May … you missed out!
Kerry Round 2
Cormac Daly deservedly won out over the weekend in the Silver Fleet with consistent finishes but was run close by Kevin McGuinness, Ed O’Connor and Alan White. Some of the best racing seen in years was done near the top of the fleet with Maurice Owens, Hannes Louet, William Revels and Cormac O’Brien fighting it out all weekend. Maurice Owens walked away with a deserved top spot in the Gold Fleet that weekend. Kevin Cunningham along with Paul Reid, showed why his status in Irish Windsurfing is growing with some top ten finishes.
Newtownards Sailing Club hosted Round Three of the Irish Slalom Series 2011. An unbelievable setting only matched by the welcome from locals and club members will make this one of the most memorable events of the year….oh and the windsurfing was fantastic!
Hannes Louet staved off a lot of close competition to take 1st Place overall. A deserved win, for some great consistent racing. There was a world class display of slalom racing near the top of the fleet with Cormac O’Brien and Chris Lockridge out performing most. One of the closest battles fought out over the day was ‘El President’ Gareth Nihill with Steven Williams. Some neck and neck exits made things very interesting. Paddy Lyner and his crew earned a well deserved drink on Sunday evening after a fantastically organised event.
Downings, in Co. Donegal was the location of Round 4 of the Irish Slalom Series 2011. A massively successful year in terms of numbers and participants, this event was going to be a success, wind or no wind. Unfortunately for the numbers who travelled we got the only wind-less weekend for months. However, as usual that never stopped the event organisers in Donegal putting on a good show. Downings has been traditionally associated with ‘bumper-wind’ weekends, mast high rolling swell and hundreds of great volunteers to meet and greet arriving volunteers. Unfortunately this year, the wind never played ball but it gave everyone the chance to catch up and listen to some of the finest music played in Ireland that weekend, by the recently engaged, former windsurfer Aidan Breslin!
A brief interval in the Slalom Series calendar, allowed us to host the first ‘fun slalom weekend’. Lough Ennell, Mullingar, in Co. Westmeath was host to the first fun slalom weekend of 2011. Flights had been rearranged, plans changed and family occasions cancelled on the basis of a good long range forecast that ended up providing two quality days of racing and great fun; on and off the water. Barry Whitelaw (aka the Bat), ISS competitor and all round windsurfing ‘super’ enthusiast organised the event to the minuets detail. It has been 20 years since racing was held in Lough Ennell but with its scenic backdrop to Belvedere House, great facilities and flat water blasting, it won’t be long till we are back.
Seapoint, Dublin was the home to Round 5 of the Irish Slalom Series and one the competitors had been looking forward to. Malahide Estuary had been the usual venue but event organiser Fintan Day and Surfdock Watersports decided to add a bit of excitement to this event and re-locate to Seapoint. On it’s day (and most days) Seapoint is an ideal slalom location. For this event, Day 1 evolved into a combination of a slalom / wave event as the swell and waves grew throughout the day. Challenging conditions on Day 1 really tested the technical sailors but it did turn out to be one of the best events of the year on Day 2.
Tracht Beach in Kinvara, Co Galway again played host to the final series on the Irish Slalom Tour 2011. Sponsored by Rusheen Bay Windsurfing 2011 has been a fantastic year for breeding new slalom racers as new faces showed up and shook up the mix. Overall conditions were mixed over the 6 Series Events but when it was good it was real good! From Cork to Kerry up to Newtownards and Donegal; back by Dublin; there was nowhere better to finish than in the fishing village of Kinvara. The community of Kinvara invited us in 2010 for the first year and we promised we would be back. The October Bank Holiday weekend was lining up to be a good one, and it delivered. Saturday was forecasting 18-20 knots with gusts up to 25 knots and Sunday similar with slightly less gust. A few sailors arrived on Friday evening to give the course a run through and give a few local spectators a taste of the action to come.
Racing commenced on Saturday on the beautifully flat Tracht beach. Throughout the day the wind and swell developed to give us some of the best racing all year, comparable to the Kerry event. Sail range was from 5.8 up to 8m sails with a downwind slalom course. Hannes Louet-Feisser was back in Kinvara to sustain his Number 1 position in the overall Irish Slalom Series and fend off his close competitors like Maurice Owens, Stevie Williams, Cormac O’Brien and Gareth Nihill. Pearse Geaney (2010 Champion) returned to action for the Kinvara event in fine form securing a number of 1st places. He scared everyone a little by announcing their new born baby would be ready for racing next year…….. watch this space!
The Silver Fleet has been competitive all year but with a number of new entrants for the Kinvara event, things were heating up. Steven Lawless had one of his best events and could be seen smiling from the beach. With two first place finishes he was putting a lot of pressure on Gerry Staunton and Keith Gorman. Gerry in the end had the resolve and technical skill to stave off the competition and finish 1st overall for Kinvara. Gary Browne showed like the lads he is ready for some Gold fleet competition with a number of podium finishes. Eilis NiDhuill turned up to take the overall series Ladies title with some fine finishes to cement her place as National Champion.
It has been a fantastic year for Irish windsurfing with a newly crowned Irish Champion Hannes Louet-Feisser. None of it could have happened without the support and sponsorship from Jury’s Inn, Cloudmaster, Rusheen Bay Windsurfing, Surfdock, Bigsurf.ie, and of course Boards Magazine
Next year is going to be bigger and better, and like the Irish Government guaranteeing the Banks the Irish Slalom Series has always ‘guaranteed the wind’. If you would like to check us out or register for any events in the future why not check us out on Facebook or www.irishslalom.ie