Part two: James Dinsmore’s guide to ‘slalom’ equipment, and why you DO NOT need the latest racing gear to get involved.
Concerns about equipment can easily put people off having a go at slalom. You might look at Antoine Albeau and his 4-5 cammed race sails and think that as you only have camless rotational sails and a freeride board you can’t give slalom a go. In actual fact it is only when you get to the highest level that dedicated slalom equipment starts to pay off as the more expert sailor can take advantage of its better straight-line speed and greater wind range. For the slalom newbie it may well be that they will do worse with dedicated slalom gear as the heavier cammed sails are more unwieldy and slalom boards more unforgiving at the gybe marks.
To do well at entry-level slalom (such as the BSA amateur or master blaster fleet) the most important things are firstly to start on time and secondly to make it around the gybe marks dry and then quickly get back up to speed. Therefore initially use gear that you are comfortable on. At the Hayling Slalom club evenings we repeatedly see people winning races on freeride and wave gear. Having excellent straight-line speed is lower down on the list and something to work on when your starts and gybes are sorted.
Personally, I used freeride and wave gear when I first started slalom racing and had some excellent results against guys on full on race gear. As my level improved over a period of several years I gradually progressed to use full-on slalom gear. This involved initially buying a couple of cammed larger sails and a big slalom board as it is in the lighter airs that you probably will first see benefit from that sort of gear. Later I moved to detuned race sails and eventually to full on race sails like the Severne Reflex 5s that I use now.
One tricky thing to master is choosing the right sail size. You usually will need a bigger sail when you are racing than when you are freesailing as other sailors on the course will take your wind especially at the start and gybe marks. You should also bear in mind that you must choose the right sail size for you. Just because the bigger guys in the pro fleet are using a 8.6m full-on race sails does not mean that you are wrong to be using a 6m rotational sail as if you are lighter it may be powerful enough for you and allow you to be comfortable and nimble at the gybe marks.