Brandon Bay and Jamie Knox Watersports has long since been a mainstay venue of the UKWA Wavesailing circuit, and has seen some amazing action over the years. With the 2007 wave series based around the “Four Nations” concept – events in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland – it was always going to be the favoured event for the Irish leg of the tour. The one thing that often keeps people away from making the trip is the forecast, but as anyone who has been to Brandon Bay will tell you – forecasted wind strengths are pretty unrepresentative of the actual sailing conditions that often prevail. The local funnelling effect of the mountains behind the beach can cause even the shakiest of forecasts to deliver more than enough wind for great sailing.
This year was no exception, as day one’s 25knot forecast saw most sailors out on their 3.7m sails and some even resorting to 3.2m. In a word it was WINDY. Not a huge amount of swell around, but the 40knot wind soon pushed in a decent head high peaky swell at the beach break aptly named “Dumps”. For many, this event was the first competition of 2007 and many hadn’t sailed in anger since October last year, so it took a while for the heat sailing cobwebs to wash away!
The UK pro fleet is a very competitive place with a whole bunch of very dedicated and polished performers, all vying for the top spots. The amateur fleet on the other hand is a much more relaxed affair with a real mix of abilities and aspirations. For sure, some people really want to win, while others are happy just to be out on the water experiencing competition and then there are some who just come for the party scene or Craic, as it is known in Ireland.
The people that really make the Irish leg of the Four Nations Cup possible are those of Jamie Knox Watersports. From sorting out accommodation, to judging the heats and running the flags and notice board these guys worked flat out to make sure the event happened. Due to their weekend duties of running watersport lessons and opening their surf shop the Knox team had to run this years event during the week, which may have accounted for a lower than usual entry list, especially in the Junior and Youth fleets.
Four sailors who had managed to skive school or college were Youth fleet sailors Rich Jones and Graham Woods and junior fleet sailors Aleksy Gayda and Tom Knox. Those first two are potential members of the next generation of UK professional windsurfers. Rich Jones has already left college in pursuit of a career in windsurfing while Graham Woods has an agreement with his six form college that allows him time off to compete at the top level events – A good move for Graham as this event really showed that he is well on the way to his dream of being a pro windsurfer as he won every round of youth fleet competition with ponches, controlled forwards and balls to the wall back loops. Rich Jones has all the moves too but was lacking a little bit of consistency at this event. Both sailors are really going to offer up a challenge to any other youths keen to take the title this year.
The juniors saw action on the first day with Aleksy Gayda proving that, at well below 60kgs he can still mix it up in the big winds and was riding confidently and scoring some nice controlled jumps. Tom Knox, son of Jamie Knox is pretty well positioned to do well over the next few years. Living only meters away from one of Europe’s top wavesailing venues he certainly has no shortage of conditions to practice in and with regular visits from the world’s top windsurfers he will certainly be one to watch over the next few years. This winter has seen day upon day of nuclear winds in Brandon Bay and you could see that this practice had paid off for young Tom as he won 5 out of 7 rounds in the junior fleet. Aleksy Gayda though was certainly giving him a run for his money, despite relatively little experience in big winds.
The amateur fleet was dominated by a lady. Louise Emery, although not the most radical of sailors has learnt well over the years and has competition sailing down to a fine art. She knows how to score points and pays a lot of attention to her waveriding during heats, knowing that this scores highest. Simon Crowther, although the better jumper fell foul of Emery’s riding tactics on more than one occasion and had to settle for 2nd overall in the amateurs. Mark Seaney spends a lot of time close to the water as part of his job – he works on boats and rigs on the North Sea – so the scene of high winds and rolling seas is something he is more than used to. He sailed some good heats and seemed to be having a great time during the competition and as soon as the wind dropped was always the first out on the water with his big red surfboard. The guy is keen to be in the water as much as possible, regardless of what vehicle he uses to move over it.
The pro fleet this year saw the return of John Skye, who had taken a break from UK competitions last year and who could blame him – he’s pretty much won every title going in the UK wave and freestyle competitions. A new sponsorship deal with Naish though saw him back on home waters eager to steal more silverware away from the rest of us. Skyeboy is a polished competitor and rarely makes a mistake. Drawing him in a heat really calls upon every ounce of competition tactics in order to beat him. His score sheet is always filled and he always manages to squeeze in radical moves to up his points even in the trickiest of conditions.
As the Day 1 pro heats got under way most peoples money though was riding on Andy King. He had spent a solid windy winter in Cornwall and it showed. In the pre heat practice he was skying some of the biggest jumps and most contorted moves many have seen this side of Gran Canaria. Huge arched back push loops and crazy stalled forwards are Kings favourite big air moves. This guy knows no fear! The early rounds saw Skye, King, Audsley, Hancock, Van Geldren and myself make it through to the quarter finals. This was where we were expecting to see the King unleash his full potential. But half way through his quarter final heat with Skye and Audsley he buckled and was dropping moves all over the place. Furious with himself he blasted way out to sea and disappeared! Obviously knowing he was knocked out of the competition he finally arrived back within sight of land and put on a ten minute display of bad ass double forwards and monster back loops – but it was too late, as he was out of the competition.
The second quarter final of myself, Jamie Hancock and Oisin Van Geldren was a slightly less traumatic affair with me and Jamie nudging ahead of the Irish wave champion to advance to the semi finals.
Skyeboy put pay to any further advancement for Audsley as he busted out Takas, Pushloops and big forwards to advance to the winners final. I had to draw on some table top forwards in order to push ahead of Jamie Hancock in my semi final which left myself and Skyeboy fighting out for the top spot. John had come second to me earlier in the day in a three man heat (2 go through) so I knew I could beat him again. However, John always seems to hold something back for situations like this and no matter what I did he always seemed to do it that little bit bigger or cleaner. Frustrating for me, but great to watch from the beach. I thought I might just be able to get ahead of him as I pulled on to one of the bigger waves of the heat with a minute to go. I left no stone unturned in search for points. Slashing at the wave with all my might I made as many turns as possible, mixed in with backside aerials and front side cutbacks. As the wave came closer to shore I pushed my luck one step too far and catapulted over the front on landing an aerial – blunder. A potentially high scoring wave wasted. I had to settle for second place as Skyeboy pulled out ahead to take top honours. The loser’s final was taken by Chris Audsley ahead of a determined Jamie Hancock.
By now it was well in to the afternoon of the first day and with the tide at its lowest the waves were all but gone at Dumps. Jamie Knox is never one to rest though, and was soon off in search of more waves further around the bay. Finally he settled on Stradbally, a great wave on its day and accessed by a small track through the sand dunes. Once we had been given the go ahead from head judge Brian McDowell the whole circus shipped off to fill up a normally quiet Irish lane with a frenzy of rigging and preparations for round 2.
The waves were small but the wind was cross off so the bias turned towards waveriding. It wasn’t long before the wind was dying off too but not before the juniors, Youths and amateurs got another couple of rounds in. Louise revelling in the riding opportunities and Tom and Aleksy having a right royal battle in the juniors. Graham Woods stunned everybody by almost landing a Goita back on the wave on his way to another heat win in the youths.
The pros saw Andy King, now recovered from his quarter final wows of round one, make it in to semi finals along with Skyeboy, Oisin and I. The small waves must have been giving the judges hell as a number of heats were cancelled in the dying light and wind because no real sets were coming through, making judging really difficult not to mention the sailing. Competition for the day was ended at 7.30pm leaving the semi finals of round one to be run on the next windy day.
It was a couple of days before the wind returned. Not wanting to waste a drop the skippers meeting was held at 7.30am and by 8.30am we were on the water. King made short work of my efforts to beat him and moved ahead into the winners final, which left me in the losers final fighting for 3rd and 4th with Oisin, who had been beaten by Skyeboy.
We were once again sailing at Dumps, but this time rather than cross shore port tack conditions and 3.7 sails, it was onshore with a slight starboard tack bias and 5.2–5.7 sails. Tricky conditions to say the least. The Amateurs, Youths and Juniors had another round of competition, which left them with a total of 7 rounds for the event.
By mid morning the wind was starting to drop, but there was just enough to run the pro finals and my most nervous heat was one I wasn’t even in. If King beat Skye in the final then I would slip to 3rd overall, as I had lost out to Oisin in my loser’s final leaving me counting a 2nd from round one and a 4th from round two. King was counting a 5th from round one and if he won this last final he would get a 0.7pts, meaning he would beat me by 0.3pts. I sat on the beach and willed Skyeboy to victory. King seemed to have it sorted though and was nailing back loops and stalled forwards all over the place. Right up until the last minute he was winning the heat. All he needed to do was get one more wave, log a few turns and he would take the win in round two and catapult himself up to 2nd overall. Yet out of nowhere Skyeboy found a decent head high set and rode it all the way to the sand, pulling out flakas on the wave and mixing in backside airs with some frontside riding in the now fully onshore conditions. King missed the set and missed that last wave which would have seen him steal my 2nd overall. That left the overall standings as 1st John Skye, 2nd John Hibbard, 3rd Andy King and 4th Jamie Hancock
The wind was all but gone now so any chance of further competition looked unlikely. The wind did fill in briefly after the final, allowing just enough time for an expression session sponsored by Boardseeker.com, which saw King claim a rightful 1st place with some tricky moves and Chris Audsley come back and take 2nd with a very nice backside 360.
So that was it, the end of another great UKWA Irish event. The no wind days were filled with surf so we were never stuck with nothing to do. Without a doubt we will be returning to Brandon Bay next year, the place offers so much variety on the water and the local wind effects almost always seem to produce good conditions for competition and freesailing alike.
A massive thanks to Brian McDowell and Dan for judging and to Jamie Knox Watersports for hosting the event and making the whole thing happen. Thanks to Ultra Sport for providing product prizes.
Next event is Rhosneigr in May and then we break until Bigbury 21st – 23rd September, followed by the final in Tiree in October (dates TBC).
Everyone is welcome at any of the Four Nations wave events. You don’t have to be a master of competition or even windsurfing as there are fleets to suit all levels. Keep your eyes on the boards magazine home page for press releases relating to upcoming events.
See you on the beach……..