Picture: Oisin Van Gelderen looping with the Achill Cliffs in the background at last weekend 's IWA Wavesailing Championship event. (Pic: Fintan McMeniman)

IRISH WINDSURFING CHAMPIONSHIPS UPDATE

Last weekend, Keel Beach on Achill Island, Co. Mayo, saw some of the most spectacular wavesailing action ever witnessed in an Irish windsurfing event. After a week and a half of Gale force winds relentlessly battering the West coast of Ireland, there was little doubt that this event (one of four IWA Wavesailing Championships events) would fail to deliver the goods in terms of wind and waves. As such a strong fleet turned up, keen to take on the Atlantic storms, and also get vital points for the Championships, which has failed to produce a result so far due to a lack of wind at the first event in Kerry last Easter.

Conditions could not have been more suitable, with winds gusting to 40 knots and over mast-high atlantic rollers (15-18ft) pounding the beach in the bigger sets. From the off it looked like the current Champion Oisin van Gelderen (Dublin) was on form to deliver the goods, but could easily face an upset to his plans with a strong threat coming from the likes of Finn Mullen (Lurgan) & Rob Jones (Kerry). Throughout the heats these sailors made it look easy, pulling off jumps and loops upto 40ft high, and riding the waves with such apparent ease that left the specatators on beach in awe of what they were watching.

The first close call for Van Gelderen is when he met Mullen in the semi-finals on Saturday, and was beaten by only 8 points in that heat. With 2 of the 4 sailors in the heat advancing to the final, it was not over yet though. Jones too lost out in an earlier heat, and had to fight hard in the losers final to earn the one place that could get him back into the final to challenge Mullen, Van Gelderen, 19yr old hot shot Gwilym Williams (Galway) and Rob Crean (Dublin). The final itself was all action, with a frenzy of jumps, loops and hard carving waveriding. In the end, Van Gelderen was victorious with Mullen in 2nd and Jones 3rd, so for now the Champion could rest easy and prepare for the next day, and the next round of competition.

On Sunday, the wind increased a notch or two on the beaufort scale, and with it the driving rain made it look like a day more suitable for ducks than windsurfing. Perfect conditions though for a windsurfing event, and showing once again why the coastline of Ireland produces some of the best windsurfing conditions in the whole of europe. The more onshore winds gusting upto 45 knots made the sailing much more challenging, as it was harder to get a clean run out out to sea. When a 'house-sized' set of waves washed though, frequently comptitiors were seperated from their equipment, and left swimming after it the whole way to the beach.

No such problems though for the ladies fleet, who despite all being first time wave-competitors, were fiercely competitive and loving the conditions. All had rigged thier smallest equipment, and sailed a series of 'mini-finals' throughout the 2 days. As the event went on, the ladies rose to the challenge of the conditions and were more than a match for what the wind could throw at them. With incredible consistency, Noelle Doran from Westport showed her wealth of experience in the waves and won every heat to take 1st Overall. In 2nd place was Tricia Kenny (Skerries), followed by another Mayo resident Maureen Johnston (Newport).

In the mens fleet the increased winds meant the jumps were getting higher, and on his way to the finals, Finn Mullen attempted the first ever double forward loop seen in Irish competition. In another heat 14 year old Finn Gormley (Galway) looped with incredible skill to challenge Van Gelderen, but could not match the experience of the Dublin sailor (yet). Also dissapointed, upcoming talent Gwilym Williams (Galway) failed to produce his form from Saturday, and just missed out on a place in the Final.

Again Jones and Mullen were there to challenge Van Gelderen's lead from Saturday, and the sailing was the most spectacular action ever seen at an Irish Windsurfing event. All the sailors chose bigger sails than usual (around 4.1m in 40knots), in an effort to jump higher and impress the judges even more. Unusually, Van Gelderen just missed spotting the landing on a 40ft Back Loop, and with it the possibly chances of taking the win. This was confirmed back at the beach, where it emerged that although extremly close, Jones had won this final and Mullen in 2nd and Van Gelderen 3rd.

This meant that JP/NeilPryde Team-mates Jones and Van Gelderen now stood in joint 1st Overall, so it meant only one thing: a grand finale sail off between the two to decide the outright winner. By now the guys had already packed up, but both re-rigged quickly and were keen to get back out there and settle the score, particularly Van Gelderen who had his sights on another National Championship title at the end of the year. They ran to the water joking together about the chance to sail again in such good conditions and this turned out to be THE heat to watch. Both launched and it was clear they were totally overpowered, so this could only mean bigger jumps and faster wave-rides, and who had the energy and power to hold it all together without falling. Van Gelderen chose a big wave on the outside for his first wave score, and ripped and slashed the wave apart the whole way to the beach. A perfect loop off the lip landing back on the wave mid-ride boosted the difficulty and gave him the highest scoring wave-ride of the event. As ever, Jones' riding was good too, but he failed to pick off the bigger waves in the sets. Van Gelderen's confidence boosted, he went into a jumping frenzy, and landed a series of every variation of forward and backward rotating loops with precision. A tiring Jones could not answer back on the jump scores this time, and this was clear from the score sheets, with Van Gelderen taking the win by at least 20 points from every judge.

This puts Van Gelderen in a stong lead for the rest of the Wavesailing Championships, and he will be keen to continut tis form at the next 2 events tis Autumn. Round 3: Coolmain, Co. Cork 2/3 - October Finals: Belmullet, Co. Mayo - October Bank Holiday Weekend.

For more information on windsurfing in Ireland or the Irish Championships, see: