Words and pics: Pete Davis
Zara is probably one of the best known female windsurfers in the UK. With two world records and numerous European and World titles in speed sailing to her name, it’s not surprising.
But what a lot of people don’t know is she is a qualified Osteopath and holds down a full time job running her own medical centre – Walnut Grove Clinic in Portishead. Zara also recently turned 50 years old.
Like most of us she tries to get as much time on the water as she can. But with work, weather and life getting in the way that is normally only a few days a month on average. We caught up with the queen of speed and asked her how she has achieved her success and what keeps her wanting more.
‘I started windsurfing at the age of 13 in 1979 but stopped after a couple years due to illness. I didn’t take it up again till my late 20’s, mainly because my boss windsurfed at Brogborough Lake. I met my husband, Pete, there and never looked back. Starting off I did a little bit of low key competition in early 2000’s but didn’t enter my first speed event until 2005 in Sotavento, Fuerteventura. It was the World Championships and Pete had always wanted to get involved, so I did too. I came 5th out of 15 in the world. After that I thought I must be pretty good at this, so I started to concentrate more on speed.
I went after the speed thing because I don’t gybe well! Seriously, I was always fast, even as a beginner. Always chasing the guy in front. My father and brother drove rally cars and my grandfather raced motorcycles in the Isle of Man TT so I think speed is just in my blood. Also less kit is required, meaning it’s cheaper to enter comps and travel and you can race with your hero’s – men or women – on the same course. Speed competition isn’t aggressive and you are really competing with yourself and the conditions, mostly.
GPS has also made it easy to compete in speed. In national and international competitions you can record your fastest runs when it’s windy and time allows before uploading time to GPS Speed Surfing (www.gps-speedsurfing.com) and compare yourself with others. This is how the annual NWF British Speed ladder was run. But it was disappointing that I was the only girl taking part out of 77 men. Come on girls it’s easy, get a GPS and get uploading!
Training for my World Record speed run was done mostly in the gym utilising suspension training, Pilates and weights, plus triathlon for general fitness. Due to work, the time to windsurf can be short. It did help going to West Kirby Marine Lake and getting some runs in as it’s a similar start and corner to Luderitz.
I am very lucky to have sponsors who help me get my equipment tuned up. I use the same gear but set up slightly differently to men. For example, I was on the same size sail as Antoine Albeau when we both broke the record in 2012. My sail had a softer mast and battens to allow it to breathe easier so it was less powerful as I am obviously not as strong as him! Farrel O’Shea has been a real mentor in this regard. I couldn’t have done it without his technical help. I am lighter and not moving as quickly as the top men so actually use a larger fin. Also with modern high modulus carbon now available my booms and masts are so much lighter and more responsive.
Being awarded ‘Most Inspiring Windsurfer of the Year’ at September’s National Watersports Festival means more than any of my other of titles. It was such an honor to be recognised and presented with this award. I have made it a bit of a mission to inspire and get people taking up windsurfing. Particularly girls.
I love working with kids as well. Pete is one of the coaches and I help out as often as I can with technique and encouragement. This year the Axbridge Animals won the National Club Championships so huge congrats to them and all the coaches and backroom staff who have helped this happen.
There are not that many girls speed sailing which is sad isn’t it? Speed sailing is the easiest form of competition. No turning and no aggression going round a slalom course. I think the perception is you have to take a massive sail out and need to be big and strong which isn’t true. Good technique and being in control will always win over brute force – so come on girls, have a go!
For 2017 I am planning to get a foil for my slalom boards as this looks like fun and I think could be the future. Any advice on the best one for me gratefully accepted. Then hopefully I will get some slalom training in the bag with TWS (Fuerte) between Jan-Mar. I then plan on competing in the British Slalom series and may even try to attend a PWA event! (If I can get time off work). And don’t forget the British Speed ladder and Weymouth Speed Week – a full year as always.’
Zara is sponsored by RRD, Simmer, AL360, Synergy Worldwide, Sonntag and Walnut Grove Clinic.