Words: Andy ‘Bubble’ Chambers
Pics: NeilPryde/Jerome Houvet, Maleen Hoekstra, Tim Vowles
Mohawked, colourful and able to stomp a plethora of freestyle tricks as well as sail solidly in wave arenas Andy ‘Bubble’ Chambers has successfully made the transition from overseas windsurfing coach/PWA pro to UK based sailor, competitor and brand manager. Having nailed the runner up spot on 2016’s British Wave Sailing Tour we decided to catch up with Bubble and get some insight to his daily routine and how things have changed since his time overseas.
I got into windsurfing after my parents joined a watersports club in Cyprus when we were living there. It was called Lemmings and part of the British Forces Army base in Episkopi. There was a campsite there so we pretty much lived on the beach all summer. It was windy every day and there were loads of windsurfers out – windsurfing was a way of life! I picked up a rig when I was eight and basically windsurfed the beach for two years. I would dig the fin into the sand and stand there all day long. I learnt so much rig control and wind awareness. When I was 10 I was carried into the sea and just sailed off.
I ended up in Vass (Vassiliki) after seeing an advert in a magazine for Flying Fish Instructor training courses. I really liked the look of going somewhere new to get a qualification as in Cyrpus at the time it was really hard. I actually had no idea what Vass was all about. I went on a four week level 2/3 instructor course at the end of the season. I helped out around the beach a lot mostly putting sails away for the guests. When my course finished I asked the manager if I could stay on and get involved with pack up in exchange for accommodation and using the equipment. Once that finished, and over a few shots of Tequila, the manager said I could have a job the following season. The next 12 years, as they say, are history.
I had seen the first King of the Lake competitions on TV and also there was an American windsurf shop in Cyrpus which had lots of videos playing. There was one called Airborne by Ian Boyd which had lots of freestyle in it. Back when I was learning freestyle was the thing to do in light or strong winds when we weren’t racing. So I guess it was just the natural thing to do and fun! Once I got to Vass it was like watching a full on freestyle movie – it was epic!
Working in Margarita, Venezuela, after I had won the British Freestyle Champs, I met a lot of the world tour pros who were there training. My sailing level improved massively and I became good friends with guys like Andre Paskowski, Antxon Otaegui and the locals like Ricardo Campello and Goliito (current world number one freestyle sailor). The first tour stop was in Bonaire and everyone was going so I decided to give it a try and managed to get my sponsors to pay for the trip. After that I just kept attending events in between working at Club Vass – it was awesome!
There are too many good memories from being a travelling pro – some not for sharing with younger readers! I think the one that really sticks out in my mind was that first Bonaire comp again. On the first day I managed to knock myself out and put a hole through my lip when my downhaul snapped as I was pulling it on. Blood everywhere, local hospital and stitches. It was a great way to meet people. I think turning up to the opening ceremony wearing a pink floral shirt, sporting a bright pink Mohawk, with blue and red stars on the side of my head, also meant I made a lot of friends.
My whole time at Club Vass was totally amazing and I will never forget it. The season I joined JP/Neil Pryde was also pretty epic.
If I had to spend the rest of my life in one spot I guess it would have to be somewhere you could do waves and freestyle. Probably Big Bay in Cape Town; great location, great vibes, variety of conditions and cheap beer. Having said that Gwithian, Cornwall, and Avon Beach, Dorset, are places I could happily sail every day providing it was windy.
Was moving back to the UK a bump? More like back down to Earth with a bloody bomb! It was sooo hard. Vass is like a drug, you have to be weaned off it. I definitely struggled initially. Luckily I have a very understanding and supportive girlfriend and boss which made things easier. It was very hard knowing that I was missing out on so much. Social media doesn’t help.
I’m definitely more desk bound these days. Well, when there’s no wind or waves at least! I do tend to sneak out as soon as the conditions turn on. I didn’t get into this job/life/sport to not do it. A normal day at work involves emails, phone calls and Skype conversations between UK shops and our distribution company in Germany. Processing orders, dealing with magazines, team riders and end customers is all part of the deal.
I can pretty much do everything from my smart phone so I can stay on top of things quite easily. If I can get back to someone quickly with an answer I will do so. Usually the conditions will be such that I can get out before or after work in the summer and also before work in the winter, or at least during the not so busy times. (Really hoping my boss in Germany doesn’t read this!) I truly believe that to work in this industry and sport you have to be actively doing it – I meet more customers at the beach than I do in the office.
I miss all the other guys and girls which I have been friends with for so long. After so many years of travelling and never having a base you realise that actually most of your friends are the ones that you travel and compete with. Endless days of awesome conditions and only having to concentrate on winning my heats and learning new moves, what’s not to like?
Freestyle definitely still delivers for me! A lot of it, however, depends on the conditions you get at the spot which is the quickest and easiest to get out at. Locally I have Avon, Southbourne and Kimmeridge – not the best spots for freestyle. It’s either those or Mudeford/Poole Harbour. Neither of which are great for freestyle either. Most of the time when it’s windy there are some waves. I would love to do more freestyle but there isn’t a UK freestyle tour which doesn’t help. The UK wave tour (BWA) has some awesome events on the calendar which is why it makes sense to follow it and train for that.
I would love to win the UK wave tour. My ultimate goal was to become UK Wave and Freestyle Champion in the same year but I think my freestyle level, although still fairly high, isn’t good enough to beat the likes of Max Rowe, Jamie Howard or Nic Hibdige for example. Let’s see how events pan out in 2017. As long as there are no event clashes I will definitely get to both wave and freestyle comps.
Experience is probably one of the biggest parts of competing – I wouldn’t say that any discipline of any sport is harder than the other. Skill is a massive part but without experience it doesn’t matter if you can do more tricks than the other person. You have to be able to adapt to whatever the weather and judging criteria are at the time and that is one of the hardest things about competing. Kit does make a difference especially in certain conditions. Making sure you have the right gear is very important.
It’s definitely frustrating at events without wind/waves because you know how good the conditions can be. But it is the nature of our great sport. Tiree was all time, we had wind from every direction and all wind strengths. I used every bit of kit I took with me. It’s great when you get varied conditions because it allows sailors another chance and it shows who is really at the top of their game because they can do well in anything. Wales was also really fun although it was classic port tack, cross on riding which really favour the local boys and also any World Tour competitors. Most PWA wave events are port tack cross on. In Cornwall we had epic waves but not quite enough wind to get a comp started and we ran out of light. I think if we have all four events run in 2017 it will be an epic tour.
Competing is fairly costly. Especially having to get to places like Tiree because it’s so far away and you have ferry costs and everything else. Sharing the driving and accommodation keeps prices down though. Also if you can sleep in your van then it isn’t too bad. Sponsors tend not to cover for local events unless you can find an out of industry supporter.
The UK can hold its own for sure. We have some of the best all round sailors in the world. A inter-nation’s event would be amazing! That should definitely happen! We have a few trump cards like Ross Williams for wave and slalom and Ben Proffitt is pretty handy on a slalom board as well as his wave kit.
I guess you ‘make it’ by getting yourself on the World Tour and getting some decent results in. Also being at the top of your national rankings. You will then have some good leverage to go to potential sponsors with. Media coverage and exposure usually comes from doing events. Generating your own media exposure is expensive and difficult if you don’t have backing. If you are lucky enough to generate your own exposure then great. You can use this to find further support. You learn so much and meet so many people by travelling and going to events. All the brand managers and potential sponsors are there. Go somewhere with great conditions, train hard and then enter some comps and do well, that’s the secret.
Outside of windsurfing I do all the usual stuff like surf and SUP which I suppose these days is about it! Haha! I used to play rugby, kitesurf and mountain bike but my body and time don’t allow for them any more. Surfing definitely helps with your wave sailing.
UK beaches are definitely getting busier with windsurfers. The shops might not be feeling it yet but windsurfing is a slow burner. Stand up paddle boarding and kitesurfing have helped get people back into windsurfing. Kiting is bringing people back to windsurfing because of the dangers and mishaps there. When it goes wrong with kiting it really goes wrong! Generally when you fall off a windsurfer it stops. Paddle boarding is attracting lots of people who had given up windsurfing. WindSUP is so easy to do with their families and you can do it anywhere in light to moderate wind strengths.
My girlfriend has stuck with me for so long whilst I’ve been travelling the world to exotic places windsurfing while she was at home. She needs some MASSIVE thanks! She also deserves credit for helping me with the transition from the overseas life to the life I have now at home. Chris Martin from Agent Eight (now the boss of NP Surf in Hong Kong) gave me the opportunity to work in the industry and taught me so much in the three years that Agent Eight ran for – thanks for that! A big shout to Club Vass for being the most supportive sponsor, place to work and my family for so many years. My current sponsors Neil Pryde, JP, NP, K4 Fins and Animal are all awesome for making sure I always have the necessary tools to play and compete with. Lastly to all my friends around the world who have helped me out numerous times, with all sorts of things, you are legends!