The Marianas Open
7-10 February 200220
Date: 8 February 2002
Saipan is an island gem adrift in the immense Pacific Ocean. Part of the Northern Marianas islands, Saipan boasts a pristine natural environment that is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. The warm waters of the Pacific break upon a protective reef that runs the entire length of the western side of the island, and this creates a shallow lagoon which, when combined with steady northeasterly winds, creates perfect conditions for fast windsurfing action.
It is here that the annual Marianas Open takes place. Now in its 21st year it is the longest running windsurfing event in the world. This year competitors have gathered on Micro Beach from four continents to take part with Japan once again dominating the fleet.
The racing at the Marianas Open is "Course Slalom", and this sees the whole fleet cross the line together on an upwind leg. Sailors point as high into the wind as they can, tacking until they reach the top or "windward" mark. From there it is all downwind as the fleet flies around a series of marks towards the finish line. The first competitor to cross the line is the winner. The entire fleet sails together, men and women, pro and amateur and the older "Masters" division for the over 40s. With wind speeds expected to be around 15-20 knots the windsurfers would be travelling at around 25 knots or 46 kph.
The defending Adecco AWT Champion is Australia's Robbie Radis and he arrived here fresh from his victories in Indonesia and the Philippines. But greeting him here in Saipan was Frenchman Antoine Albeau, Freestyle World Champion and the man who had beaten Radis into third in the first event in Taiwan back in November. Also posing a threat is Japan's Yuji Wakimoto and Mitsuharu Niijima and local favourite Jeffro Elliott.
In the women's division it looks set to be a contest between Ayako Suzuki and Mimie Tajima, both from Japan.
Racing action continues until Sunday evening and at stake is prize money totalling over US$10,000, Neil Pryde equipment prizes and Quiksilver clothing.
In addition to the main slalom event there is also the Action Asia Speed Trial which uses a speed gun to measure the speed of the sailors over the water on a dedicated course. There's also a Foster's Forward Loop Contest which will see windsurfers head out to the awesome reef break that peels down the western shore. Lastly, in a busy schedule there's a kite surfing contest and demonstration.
As the competitors gathered on the white sand of Micro Beach this morning the air was still and a long day of naval gazing looked likely. But shortly after lunch the flags that colour the beach sprang into life, closely followed by the fleet of sailors. World Tour Race Director Klaus Michel set the course, the start sequence began and the fleet was in motion.
Across the line it was Albeau who surged through the pack into the lead with Radis left far behind. Wakimoto capitalized and chased Albeau hard. The lady professionals were close, ahead of many of the amateur men but local Jeffro Elliott was up in fifth. By the windward mark Albeau was looking strong and had a long lead over Wakimoto. Radis was closing the gap and moved up into third. And that's the way the race finished with Albeau followed by Wakimoto and Radis. Suzuki was the top placed woman ahead of Tajima. Elliott finished well in fifth.
The wind continued to strengthen through the day to 15-17 knots and two more races were run with Albeau taking two more first places. Radis was pleased to keep ahead of Wakimoto and Elliott but Albeau stayed beyond reach, though the margin was only 5 meters in the last race of the day.
Racing continues on Micro Beach tomorrow until Sunday.
The Adecco Asian Windsurfing Tour, presented by Fosters, began in November in the windy isles of Penghu, Taiwan. In January the Tour then moved to Kuantan in Malaysia before heading straight to Bintan, Indonesia and on to Boracay in the Philippines. The Adecco AWT has now arrived for a fitting climax for the last event on Saipan. Each event on the Adecco AWT is filmed for international broadcast to an audience in excess of 170 million households in over 100 countries worldwide.
The Adecco Asian Windsurfing Tour is Presented by Fosters with Official Magazine Action Asia. The Marianas Open is supported by the Marianas Visitors Authority, Neil Pryde, Continental Airlines, Quiksilver, Hyatt Regency Saipan, Shell, OneTel, Chongs Corporation, Coca-Cola, Bobby Cadillacs, Emery Worldwide and the Pacific Islands Club.