A simple guide to 'slalom'... everything you need to know if you are thinking about entering your first master blaster or slalom event.
Why Practice Makes Perfect by Tris Best.
Between hosting several BSA events each season at the WPNSA, we've also put on a winter slalom series over the last two winters to help extend the season as much as possible. I think the point we'd like to highlight about slalom is about not taking it too seriously and thinking you're going to make a fool of yourself out there.
Even the most hardened pros on the circuit are practising the things you think you're not too hot at ... and make mistakes as you do.
Race starts, straight line speed and gybing are the things we've focussed on time and again in the winter camps we've run, yet the camaraderie amongst the guys attending is brilliant, with a social and informal atmosphere. Throw in a small competition element and it is amazing to see how fast you progress and your skills develop.
[part title="A guide to easy slalom equipment, by James Dinsmore."]
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.
[part title="5 top tips with Izzy Hamilton"]
RS:X champion Izzy Hamilton knows a thing or two about racing, here she shares a few things she learnt from her first slalom event in Weymouth.
'Slalom' racing isn't just about the pro fleet, it's great to see rising numbers in the amateur and master blaster fleets. Here Boards will bring you the ultimate guide to mastering the master blaster, starting off with some words of wisdom from BSA Weymouth top woman Izzy Hamilton:
1. Bring as much kit as you can, I'm not talking about dedicated slalom equipment, just whatever you can get your hands on. It might not be a slalom sail but a 3.5m might get you around gybes when it is +35knots!
2. Warm wetsuits, drink and quick snacks! There is lots of waiting in-between heats so staying warm is key!
3. Starting - timing is everything. Put your clock on count down and listen to the beeper so you do not have to look down while sailing along. I use the Optimum Time Series 3 as it is really easy to use.
4. Practice runs. Most of the time the course is free to use before the starts! Time how long it takes you to get to the line from a fixed point then you can hit it with speed on the go for the first race!
5. Gybe safe... especially if it is windy! You will finish better by taking the easy gybe path around the collisions and not falling in.
I would like to say a massive thank you to Gaastra, Tabou and the OTC for lending me kit for the recent Weymouth BSA.