by Jerome Samson
The 2015 US Windsurfing National Champions were crowned after three days of hard-fought competition in dynamite conditions in San Pedro, CA! Jesper Vesterstrøm (DEN-111) dominated the proceedings at Cabrillo Beach in both Formula and Slalom to take the overall title this year, in front of last year’s champion (and this year’s event organizer!) Xavier Ferlet (GBR-451).
The US Nationals is always a unique event: it brings seasoned pros, wily amateurs and wide-eyed beginners together to celebrate the sport we love: top-notch racing of course, but also fun sailing, gracious clinics from the pros and all-around ‘good juju’ – as Donna Woods, a key benefactor of this year’s event, likes to call it! It’s a chance to joust on the water, trade stories on the beach and learn from one another. Windsurfing classes are often insulated, but not at Nationals: Slalom, Formula (the event doubled up as the 2015 Formula North American Championships), Freestyle, Kona and Fun Racing were all well represented, and we saw many competitors cross over from one discipline to the next, just for the fun of it! It’s not really surprising to see freestyle guru Phil Soltysiak perform well on the slalom course, but seeing Kona racers venture out in 25-30 kts on that same slalom course was something else entirely!
The cranking winds (this is ‘Hurricane Gulch’ after all) and beds of kelp kept everyone on their toes. For the course racing guys, the lifted tack was often on starboard near the cliff, but that’s where all the kelp was. You could save yourself a double tack further up the course by staying close to the kelp, but at your peril! That kept things interesting all the way to the windward mark, which was the fixed whistle buoy at Point Fermin, with its garrison of seals and sea lions keeping watch. Those who fell at that mark discovered a new spring in their waterstart abilities!
Jesper and Xavier were dominant in Formula all week, but the battle for 3rd between Al Mirel and Tom Purcell raged on ’til the very last race.
“We came in to the last race with Tom ahead by one point and battled from the starting gun until the very end,” said Al at the end of the event. “A strategic race with several lead changes, one fake tack and lots of covering, it was one of those races I wished you could have seen from the beach!”
They ended the series tied not only on points, but for each of two tiebreakers as well! Al was on the lucky end of the third tiebreaker by placing ahead of Tom in the last race.
“All the way to rule A8.3,” according to rules wizard Bryan McDonald. “Does not get closer than this when two great sailors from the same area (Tom and Al are both San Francisco Bay sailors) duke it out the entire national championship! Congrats!”
Fresh off a month-long tour to energize the West Coast windsurfing communities and reintroduce everyone to the joys of light-wind one-design sailing, the Kona Class was well represented in Cabrillo Beach. It missed out on the first day of action (when the wind came up early and took all the marks with it!), but made up for it on the other days with racing from the low-teens to upper-twenties – wind conditions that truly tested the upper range of the class! Steve Gottlieb (from Daytona Beach, FL) is the force behind the brand in North America, and thanks to him, Kona kits were available for charter at the event. Steve showed that he’s the man to beat on the race course too! Cody Steward, US Windsurfing’s Executive Director, gave him a run for his money but came up one point shy. The legend himself, Bruce Matlack, was there to compete and showed everyone the stuff he’s made of, and veteran Olympic campaigner Barbara Belt (from Houston, TX) impressed all week to take the women’s National title and third place overall to boot!
“Great event! Lots of wind, sparkling sapphire water, and a chance to spend time with old and new friends who share the passion for windsurfing!” she said. We asked Barbara how things compared to windsurfing twenty years ago: “I think people are getting friendlier, and we were a pretty friendly crowd back then. Shorts are still ugly and hair is still a hopeless mess. Sunscreen lotion is a lot better at staying on and not running into eyes! I’m glad I’m back racing, and I am more and more impressed with the versatility of the Kona board!”
In freestyle, hotshot Philip Soltysiak (CAN-9) made it look easy, with impressive aerial maneuvers and butter-smooth action in the shore break.
“Since my first time at Cabrillo Beach in 2013, I knew I wanted to come back,” said Phil. “It’s windy nearly every day here, and I was well powered on my 5.3 Sailworks Revolution every single afternoon that I spent at Cabrillo. So definitely one of the top windsurfing places in the US! I was also stoked to see a growing freestyle fleet fighting for the US Champion title. I look forward to coming out to next year’s US Nationals to represent Canada at the biggest US windsurfing event of the year! Do you think we can arrange a dolphin show for the opening ceremony, like we had this year?”
Young guns Alex Mertens and Justin Scott paid close attention to Phil’s masterclass, and already have a battery of new moves to work on back home!
“Being only the second competition that I have competed in, it was a blast,” said Alex, who finished 2nd at the event. “We had wind, fairly flat water, chop, and some shore break which Philip tore to shreds! The event gave off such a unique vibe, that was awesome to experience. I’m looking forward to competing more next year!”
Slalom was fast and furious, with the whole fleet (one A fleet, one B fleet) racing each heat together and completing an incredible number of runs, especially on the last day of the event. While Jesper clearly led the pack in the A fleet, Xavier had a battle on his hands with Phil Soltysiak, who was lightning quick around the marks. Phil took the last two races to make it interesting, but came up just shy and settled for 3rd overall. Not too shabby though for a freestyle artist in a fleet of hardcore slalom racers! The women’s title went to Tammy Bockius:
“I didn’t think I’d need my small slalom gear here and left it at home in Maui” she said with a tinge of regret, “but I made it work! This place turned out to be incredibly windy!”
Shaun Geer led the B fleet around the track ahead of Justin Scott, while Johanna Yee pulled off a really consistent performance (she was one of only two racers in the B fleet to complete all heats!) to finish the week in 3rd position, and 1st woman, in the B fleet.
The fun race on the last day of competition was aimed at less experienced racers, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the way everyone performed! It started straight on the beach, through the shore break and took competitors around marks in the open ocean. With gusts over 20 knots, the adrenaline was palpable! Big kudos to all for taking part and reminding everyone that pushing one’s limits is the key to eternal bliss!
San Pedro is its own little community but it’s part of the greater Los Angeles area, and you don’t have to go too far around here to spot a film crew. It just so happens that the “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders” film crew was on Cabrillo Beach this week to shoot Gary Sinise doing his stuff. All the windsurfing action on the beach was a major distraction, however, and the camera operators were caught a few times with their lens aimed in the wrong direction – look for windsurfers in the background when the show airs on TV starting next January!
We join Jesper to give “big thanks to the local organizers, Lyrah Colvin, Xavier Ferlet and all the volunteers!” They worked tirelessly to showcase this great venue, and Cabrillo returned the favor and blessed the event with ideal racing conditions. Principal Race Officer Darren Rogers was a hero on the water, bobbing for hours in a boat that was too small for the conditions, chasing after elusive marks, threading challenging course areas around beds of kelp, and running races until sunset every day. The days were packed, but Jesper and Phil found time (and energy!) in the evenings to run free clinics on the beach for everyone. Thank you both for being so gracious with your time and helping others raise their game! What an incredible opportunity it was to learn from the best.
Big thanks as well go to the Cabrillo Beach Park and LA County lifeguards on station there for their great support throughout the event. Without individual benefactors, partners and sponsors, an event like this would be impossible to put together, and we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to all who volunteered throughout the event, to Donna Woods for her enthusiastic support, and to our good friends at Starboard, Neilpryde, Severne, Sailworks, Adventure sports, Sandy Point Progressive, Ghost Drone, Seaspecs, Pacific Inn, Ronstan, Captain Kirk’s, AWT, and iWindsurf.
We can’t wait to do it all again, and are excited already about next year’s venue! Hang tight, we’ll have more details in a few weeks.
Good pictures are essential to spread the stoke, and we were privileged to have pro photographer Daniel Gallet with us this week. We used a number of his pictures in this article (thank you Daniel!), but you should check out his website for more outstanding action shots.
The 2015 US Windsurfing National Champions are:
FORMULA Men: Jesper Vesterstrøm (1st overall)
FORMULA Masters: Xavier Ferlet
FORMULA Grand Masters: Chris Radkowski
FORMULA Veterans: Weyman Lundquist
FORMULA Youth: Justin Scott
KONA Women: Barbara Belt
KONA Men: Cody Steward
KONA Masters: Jason Voss
KONA Grand Masters: Jerome Samson
KONA Veterans: Steve Gottlieb (1st overall)
FREESTYLE: Philip Soltysiak
SLALOM A Women: Tammy Bockius
SLALOM A Men: Jesper Vesterstrøm (1st overall)
SLALOM A Masters: Xavier Ferlet
SLALOM A Grand Masters: Soheil Zahedi
SLALOM A Veterans: David Whittaker
SLALOM B Women: Johanna Yee
SLALOM B Men: Cody Steward
SLALOM B Masters: Benjamin Pirih
SLALOM B Grand Masters: Shaun Geer (1st overall)
SLALOM B Veterans: Gary Peer
SLALOM B Youth: Justin Scott
FUN RACE: Peter Yavien