The third annual Scottish Windfest hit Barassie Beach in Troon this past weekend, and with two days of dramatically contrasting weather, it turned out to be an event which will live long in the memory. All images credit Richard Whitson.
Saturday dawned sunny and calm, which resulted in thousands of spectators thronging the event site, with many taking part in taster sessions in a range of wind and water sports, including windsurfing and SUP, which both proved extremely popular.
It also meant a chance for the large posse of young windsurfers to compete in a series of light wind races against a group of more experienced sailors. In the end it was John Meek who won the day, narrowly beating a trio of youngsters who hadn’t even been born when he was regularly getting onto the podium on the old Scottish course racing series. Youth sailors Hamish Burns and Graham Brown came second and third respectively, with a big shout out to first girl, Lori Provan, who came in 4th place.
For those not taking part on the water, there was heaps of 2014 kit on display from the likes of Gaastra, Vandal, Tabou, Fanatic, North and local shop, SailRepair, as well as free skills clinics covering everything from the carve gybe to freestyle.
However, as the sun began to set on what had been a super chilled day, there was an air of anticipation growing around the site for what was to follow. This was only heightened by the arrival of several huge lorries. Their job? Pretty simple: to stop the event marquees from blowing away on Sunday.
The epic forecast for the final day of the 2013 Scottish Windfest, which had been the subject of a lot of hype during the build up to the event, was holding up! Big Sunday was looking very much on. So much so, that the regular Windfest Saturday night party, had something of an ‘eve-of-the-battle’ feel to it, with a few taking it relatively easy – at least by normal Scottish standards!
At first light on Sunday morning, it was clear that we were in for a real treat. The wind was blowing at 25 knots, topping 40 knots in the gusts, and there were ramps a plenty across the bay. Before most of the campsite inhabitants were even awake, the local Troon crew had hit the water, making the most of the conditions alongside the likes of Ross Williams, Ant Baker and a host of other top sailors from across Scotland and beyond. This went on for hours, before the event organisers could persuade them to return to the beach to get started with the CMS Enviro Systems Expression Session.
With Ant Baker helping with the judging, PWA superstar Ross Williams agreed to take part as guest rider in the Expression Session. It was clear straight away that the presence of one of the world’s best windsurfers was really pushing all those competing to raise their standard. With Ross throwing huge one-handed backies, it wasn’t long before the likes of Scotty McDowell, Jonny Freshwater and Gregor Gall were also getting round some big backwards rotations. Never one to be left out, Alan Jackson got in on the action with a sick push-loop, and a host of others sailors landed everything from big endos, to wave 360s and even the odd vulcan. With the conditions almost cross shore, there was plenty of frontside riding on show, with some big smacks and a few takas thrown in for good measure.
With the hoisting of the red flag to signal the end of the session, the judges knew they were in for a tough deliberation. So much so, that the decision was taken to throw it open to those taking part. Democracy reigned, and the 40 or so participants decided that the overall winner was multiple Tiree champion Scott McDowell. Scott had certainly been the busiest rider, with several good waves in conditions that, even with the favourable wind angle, weren’t perfect for riding. He added plenty of forwards on both tacks, and several big back loops. Alan Jackson picked up the prize for best hit, and Jonny Freshwater (who had not taken it easy the night before!) walked away with best crash!
As the wind had shifted onshore, event organisers ran a series of bump and jump master blasters, which saw Helensburgh sailor, Chaz Hood, win the first two races only to miss the third, handing first overall to David Naylor. The same fate befell top U18, Tristan Levie, whose 4th place finish would surely have been higher if he too had spotted the final race taking place.
However, by now the focus of the top sailors, as well as that of the event crew, was the annual Beach2Beach Challenge, which brings together kitesurfers and windsurfers in a long distance race. With conditions proving very tricky even for the highly experienced safety boat crews, it was decided to switch the start of the event to Irvine to enable spotter crews in land rovers to more easily track the participants. The revised course meant a flat out reach of nearly 5 miles across some seriously bumpy seas!
Due to the extreme conditions only 12 out of over 100 registered participants decided to put themselves forwards for the big race, including 8 windsurfers and 4 kiters. A convoy of vans ferried them to the launch site, as discussion raged on the beach as to which sport would prevail. With the score tied 1-1, this year would see one sport pull ahead.
Given the conditions, the smart money was on windsurfing having the edge, and it was no surprise when eagle-eyed spectators saw the bright orange sail of Ross Williams well out in front. Then things suddenly got very exciting, as downwind of Ross, local legend Alan Jackson was locked in and absolutely flying. With the finish line looming the gap started to narrow, 200m, 100m, 50m… Sadly for the 2011 winner, Ross hit the finish line before he could reel him in. Another few hundred metres and we might have had a major upset on our hands!
Scott McDowell rounded off the top three, with a big shout out due to the three kiters who made it to the finish – well beaten this year, they nevertheless deserve heaps of credit for heading out in those conditions! Other notable finishers were Tristan Levie who was the only U18 sailor to take part, and Barassie regular Jim Gamble, who flew the flag for the over 50s!
Once the chase crews had ensured that all those starting were safely accounted for, the safety boats could finally stand down, and prize giving could take place. Ross Williams will now see his name added to the stunning trophy, carved out of a piece of driftwood by a local artist, and kindly donated to the event by TryKitesurfing.com. He joins Mike Birt and Alan Jackson as Scottish Windfest Beach2Beach Champions – which is a pretty impressive trio by anyone’s standards. The question for all those reading this is come next September, why not head up to Scotland and see if you can add your name alongside theirs!
For more event info and pics, check out our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/scottishwindfest