…and they will come – Behind the scenes at the Avon Wave Classic 2016

Words: Gregg Dunnett

Pics: Olly Wood

Probably one of the most amusing event write ups we’ve read. Author, windsurfer and stand up paddler Gregg Dunnett ran us through how the Avon Beach Wave Classic 2016 went down. A good read, even if we do say so ourselves!

‘When I agreed to Clyde Waite’s request to write an article about the Avon Wave Classic I was pretty confident I wouldn’t actually have to write anything. His plan was for a wave sailing event, not on a remote Scottish island, or in the wilds of Cornwall or North Wales, but at Avon Beach, Christchurch. Dorset. And this was Clyde asking me. We’ve been friends since we were teenagers (so he won’t mind me saying this): Clyde struggles to organise himself out of bed most mornings. The chief reason he does is down to his very organised wife who hands him his car keys each morning, reminds him he’s a teacher, and explains that the two little people at the breakfast bar are his children. No. The Avon Wave Classic was a nice idea (apparently born following Clyde’s excitement at winning the Rhosneigr UKWA event amateurs division earlier in 2016) but it wasn’t going to happen. And even if it did there weren’t going to be any waves.

I should also, smugly, declare an interest. I recently passed a couple of years working for a local council organising a Christmas ice rink so I know something of the complexity, the commitment, the determination to succeed – that putting an event together takes. Clyde’s a lovely guy, but organising an event? His idea of a complex challenge is to rig his 4.7m on the right mast and not put his wetsuit on back to front.

So when Clyde invited me to an ‘event meeting’ at his house I wasn’t that keen. I’ve sat through enough council events meetings. They’re places where exciting ideas are chipped away at over hours of negativity and custard creams until only the least risky, colourless elements remain – along with those pink wafer biscuits that no one likes. But because he promised free beer I went anyway.

And it turned out Clyde had assembled an unusual team of people interested in supporting or sponsoring his fledgling idea for an event. First up was the heavily bearded face of Jim ‘Jimmy’s Iced Coffee’ Cregan. Think the bit in Dragon’s Den when they call in someone who’s obviously going to make millions to contrast with the numpties who have invested their life savings in 10,000 units of a toaster that retails at £169.99. You know the sort of thing:

 ‘My business plan shows sales of a million units in year one, rising to eight billion units in year five.”’

 ‘You do realise that’s more than the population of the entire planet?’

Jim makes iced coffee and sells it in in supermarkets near your house, and that’s true no matter where your house is. For the event he’s agreed to turn up with his massive Jimmy’s Iced Coffee camper truck and put on the public address and sound system. On hearing this I get a confused look coming over my face. A sound system at a wave sailing event? Isn’t the infrastructure usually limited to a whiteboard and three camping chairs for the judges?

Sitting beside Jim is Charlie. Charlie runs a company which makes a very high-tech mobile ‘structure’ with a name that isn’t easy to say because it includes brackets. It’s called C6(n) and it’s a beautiful octagonal carbon fibre temporary tower that when you’re inside makes you feel as though you should be watching Formula One and sipping champagne. Charlie has agreed, either because he’s very generous or mad, or both, to put up his mega structure to be the event HQ housing the judging platform upstairs, and house the event’s Gin Bar downstairs. Excuse me? The what?

That’s right. The event Gin Bar. You didn’t know a windsurfing event needed a Gin Bar, and arguably you’re right, but this event is going to have one anyway. The Conker ‘That’s the Spirit’ Gin Bar, which is going to be run by Rupert, sitting next to Jim and Charlie. There are other people there too. Clyde’s brother-in-law, who owns Rivershack boats, and can supply safety cover. James Cox from the Big Salty weather website is going to do all the event web stuff, whatever that actually is. Also there is Olly Wood who is going to be the event camera man, but who’s so enthusiastic there’s no way he’s going to limit himself to that. He’s like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. He’s going to do everything. All the time. And some of it two or three times just because he’s having so much fun.

And the atmosphere in this event meeting is all wrong. People are enjoying themselves. They’re positive, enthusiastic and relaxed about putting this event together. And the beer is slipping down. This is not how these meetings are supposed to be at all.

I decide I have to stop things before they go too far, so I think back to my extensive event experience and ask whether they’ve all considered risk assessments. Jim, Charlie and Rupert still look pretty chilled, and Olly has just nipped out for a bounce outside, but Clyde looks worried now. He’s already had a real meeting with the council, where such things were talked about at length. He turns to me and says he’s got me down to write the risk assessments for him. In fact, that’s why he asked me here. Bollocks.

The meeting ends with them deciding they want to serve alcoholic drinks in this space-age structure built right on the beach, while the BWA runs the event. They might as well add bikini clad babes on the beach serving Pina Coladas since none of this is going to happen – but I let them get on with it. Better they learn their limits through experience, I think, helping myself to another beer.

A couple of meetings later, which somehow I missed the invitations to, and apparently things are all set, but my prophecy of failure is coming good. Clyde has to put together an official event plan in order for the council to grant his event licence. For this he needs not only to prepare risk assessments, to show (among other things) that he has considered the possibility of an asteroid strike, but also write a vulnerable adults protection risk plan, a lost-donkey procedure and provide paperwork in sixteen languages including Egyptian hieroglyphics to show he is insured against an outbreak of Ebola. The chances of Clyde sorting this little lot out? Don’t make me laugh.

But, apparently, he does sort it all out. For several weeks he goes noticeably quiet on Facebook, and I get occasional emails asking me to check over his Long-Tailed Newt Protection Plan, or spell check the Emergency Evacuation in the Event of the Sun Exploding and Destroying the Solar System assessment. But somehow he gets it all done. The Avon Beach Wave Classic is happening.

With an actual event put together, and the council pacified, the other problem fundamental to windsurfing events looms large. You can’t plan for the wind to be there.

And actually with a wave sailing event it’s not just wind you need, waves are kind of essential as well. On its day Avon Beach is a great place for wave sailing. It’s a river mouth break. An underwater sand spit creates down-the-line wave riding conditions, sometimes allowing six, seven or even more bottom turns on the same wave. For the well-travelled think Jericoacoara, but without the Italians in skimpy speedos. Or on a really good day, think Punta San Carlos, but without Jem Hall (UK guru windsurfing coach) barking orders at you.

What’s more it’s a starboard tack beach – unlike every other destination on the UK tour – and this is an important point. Clyde is hoping the event will appeal to the many south coast windsurfers who are put off from entering the Ireland and Rhosneigr events because everyone in those places is cack handed and sails the wrong way round. And when I think about all this I start to ‘get it’ – the reason for Clyde’s enthusiasm for the event. It’s just a glimmer in my mind. But if the forecast comes good this could be pretty amazing.

Just as my enthusiasm finally fires up, all hopes are dashed. We’re just a week away, and the forecast very much doesn’t come good. The wind is stuck in the wrong direction – they’re might be enough wind on the first day of competition (the Friday, when the pro’s sail) – but it’s coming from completely the wrong side to normal. This means instead of gusting in from the Atlantic, it’s blowing off the land, meaning the fetch for waves to build up is barely half a mile. There’s zero chance of swell. Even if a miracle happened, like the south east of England, France and much of Europe being replaced overnight by a wholly new ocean, it would still be bloody port tack. All of which means that, even with all of Clyde and his team’s seriously impressive work, nobody is going to turn up.

But this certain fact barely dents the flow of positivity and smooth efficiency coming out of the Event HQ Wassup group. Then amazing C6(n) structure goes up (I guess there are brackets in the construction?). The Conker Gin Bar goes in. Jimmy’s van arrives and tunes up. Olly is so excited I fear for his health. And the big day dawns.

And so, amazingly, do lots of people, many of them windsurfers. On the Friday there is indeed enough wind for the pro’s to sail, and bust out a few back loops off chop, and some mildly impressive but ultimately stupid freestyle moves (I’ve long since given up any pretence of interest in freestyle, I can’t afford the chiropractic bill). But there’s zero realistic chance of a wave event happening.

There’s even less chance on the Saturday. But – the place is still busy, and the atmosphere is frankly amazing. I’ve been to many windless windsurfing competitions where people mope about discussing the weather, or when they can reasonably go home. Here it was obvious an event wasn’t going to happen. But everyone is still incredibly upbeat. It was like people were so impressed with the infrastructure laid out for them on the beach, the Jimmy’s Iced Coffee sound system pumping out laid back tunes, the Conker Gin Bar. It was almost as if people were slightly drunk.

In the end there were no waves. But then there was hardly any real wind in the whole of 2016 to generate them, and there’s no doubt that the Avon Beach Wave Classic made a serious impact on the BWA UK Wave Tour even without them. There were several impressive tow-in windsurfing competitions which wowed the many passers-by who stopped for a drink. There was a youth non-planing freestyle competition which baffled them. There were 120 people in the pub listening to a windsurfing band and vowing to come back next year.

The point of this article – which you might be reading a while after the event finished – is this: I still maintain that Clyde Waite can’t personally organise his own breakfast, but it turns out he can assemble a team of people around him who can, and that means that when the Avon Beach Wave Classic announces its dates for 2017 you should put them in your calendar right away. Why? Because if you’re a wave sailor it’s absolutely worth going to even if it’s not windy, but more importantly because it should be supported because if they can keep it happening one time they actually will hit a good forecast, and if that happens, it’ll be epic.’

More info and pics here – www.facebook.com/AvonBeachWaveClassic/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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