Words and pics: SWA (Student Windsurfing Association)
Back in April the Student Windsurfing Association hit up Colwyn Bay, Wales, for their National Windsurfing Champs. Here’s what went down…
Situated halfway along the prominent north coast of Wales, Colwyn Bay nestles peacefully into its gentle seaside profile. Its beauty is difficult to dispute as the rugged Welsh hills roll drowsily down to meet the shimmering Irish Sea. This year, for the very first time, this quiet seaside town played host to the most important windsurfing event in the university calendar: The British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) National Windsurfing Championships. Taking place over the last weekend of April (29th-30th) the event saw almost 100 student competitors take to the water across five divisions to compete it out for the coveted BUCS points and medals. Ever changing conditions and unpredictable wind patterns set the backdrop for a spectacular weekend of competition, a fantastic event debut into the Student Windsurfing Association’s (SWA) annual event series.
BUCS competitions are held for 48 different sports between 170 universities, and are recognised nationwide as the student showcase of sporting excellence. Windsurfing is no different, with the coveted BUCS points divided between the top two race divisions. Firstly the recognition for individual excellence is measured in the solo advanced racing a total of 30 points are allocated for the top 4 finishers in both male and female rider category. Competitors must sail around a course for multiple heats – the highest positioned racer over all races takes the top spot. With only one discarded result allowed per racer and almost 50 entrants it’s a very tight competition with very little margin for error.
A further 62 BUCS points are reserved for the top eight teams in the advanced team racing. This takes on the thrilling format of a 3-person relay race, where each rider must complete one lap of the race course and pass the kit to the next rider through a beached transition. Individual speed and close coordination are key to transitions smoothly between riders and break into away into the top spot. Qualifying heats and a final race separate out the competitors until one team reigns victorious. In addition, new and developing windsurfers battle out in beginner and intermediate divisions respectively, whilst a freestyle showdown allowed those with other talents on the water to shine.
With no hesitations preventing a snappy Saturday start, the advanced racing kicked off the weekend’s proceedings. Competitors were permitted to use any sail 7.5m or below, and any board – leading to a range of strategies from old school raceboards to modern freeride boards. Moderate winds with sparse gusts set for an exhausted pumping battle between the windsurfing elites. Through 5 grueling heats racers were tasked to traverse a half kilometer beam reach course stretching out into the Bay. Amongst the main competitors were the faces of the GB race squad, as well as a couple of regulars on the student windsurf race series.
Over the first couple of heats, the top three contenders established themselves as the ones to beat. No surprise, these were Matt Barton, Rob York and James Hatcher of the GB race squad. With perfect racing starts, smooth gybes and refined pumping, these three broke away from the pack. Forming the next cluster were the SWA favourites – Twins Ben and Laura Bulson, Thomas Sambrook and Leo Calnan. With the multiple race format it wasn’t all plain sailing though, with Rob York suffering an unfortunate kit malfunction in race 3 seeing him and his Severne sail drop to the middle of the pack. Heat four saw increasing winds, and many of the sailors suddenly becoming overpowered with their sail selection. This new dynamic was no challenge for the top sailors who used the gusts to their advantage and powered through to consolidate their podium positions. After five thrilling heats, with each competitor dropping their worst finish the results finished as follows:
BUCS Advanced Division
Matt Barton (Exeter) Laura Bulson (Sheffield)
James Hatcher (Exeter) Julia Stankiewicz (Manchester)
Ben Bulson (Bristol) Jane Paddison (Liverpool)
We caught up with the winner Matt Barton to get his thoughts on his performance: “It was nice to (race) in quite different ways to what we normally do, everybody here has been so supportive and happy, in all it’s been had a really great atmosphere. We don’t get to race with this number of people normally, which was very cool, it’s been really well run event and we were on and off the water in good time. I and Exeter University will be very happy with the BUCS points I’ve earnt today. James Hatcher and Rob York were also travelling to the European competitions straight after the event, to compete with quite a different fleet of racers. James Hatcher: “This type of event really keeps you on your toes, I got caught out on my first race and had a horrendous start with malfunctioning kit, but pulled it back in the later races.” Rob York: “It’s really cool to see everyone from the SWA taking part out on the water, you don’t often get to see this many people racing, it’s a credit to the SWA to sustain people’s interest in windsurfing, I’ve seen some people here that I raced with 6 years ago and it’s fantastic to see them back out on the water racing”.
Inspired by their advanced counterparts, many students took to the water to test out their skills in the beginner and advanced divisions. In the intermediates, fan favourite Luke Storry showed why he has been doing so well on the series this year, finishing in first position in all races to claim his position as top intermediate sailor. In the girls, it was Emma Seaton who came out on top, securing a second first place lady for Sheffield University, a windsurfing club which only began this year!
BUCS Intermediate Division
Luke Storry (Bristol) Emma Seaton (Sheffield)
Benjamin Essigman (Sheffield) Maddy Green (Cambridge)
Seb Olingschlaeger (UWE) Eliza Tilbury (Birmingham)
The beginner racing was conducted a few 100 meters back from the seafront on a small inland lake, which provided flat waters and sheltered shores. The competition was still fierce and very little room was spared for the competitors to edge beyond their rivals. Top riders from Bristol and Sheffield dominated the podium positions again but all round it was brilliant to see such interest and dedication to racing at such an early stage.
BUCS Beginner Division
1st – Brendan Chung (Sheffield) Joanna Philips (Bristol)
2nd – Jimmy Nguyen (UWE) Alice Hunt (Nottingham)
3rd – Christopher Outlaw (Bristol) Helen Anderson (Sheffield)
Widely regarded as the main event of the weekend, eight universities fought over the title of fastest University in the BUCS team race competition. With two heats, and the top two from each going through, it was all to race for. The wind had stepped up to a steady 20 knots, meaning some teams opted for smaller sails than the permitted 7.5m, whilst all teams used the one-design RRD Firerace, kindly supplied by division sponsors Boardwise. The first heat saw Southampton and Bristol consolidate their position as favourites, whilst Liverpool and Cambridge struggled to cope with the chop. In the second heat, Birmingham came out on top, with Swansea closely behind. Sheffield and Nottingham unfortunately fell foul to the tricky conditions.
Heading into the final and it was a clean slate, with all to sail for. Southampton’s team, comprising Oliver Bull, Leo Calnan and Charlie Wilson showed why they have a reputation for dominance as each sailor put in a solid leg, with slick changeovers, meaning they were never really challenged for the title. Coming home in second were Bristol, who also all sailed valiantly but didn’t have the skill or experience of the Southampton team. The closest showdown was for the final podium place, with Birmingham and Swansea battling for the valuable BUCS points. Swansea were in the lead going into the final leg, but expert pumping from Birmingham first year Tom Sambrook propelled them into third place.
1st – Southampton
2nd – Bristol
3rd – Birmingham
For those with a penchant for bending themselves inside out, the weekend of competition was rounded off with a freestyle competition. Spectators lined the beach to gaze in awe at the moves being attempted – borderline planning winds meaning many spectacular crashes were seen. Forward loops, vulcans and 360s galore were attempted, landed and crashed as the competitors attempted to woo both the judges and crowd. Southampton really showed their dominance in this division, with all three podium places being taken by their sailors.
1st – Oliver Bull (Southampton)
2nd – Charlie Wilson (Southampton)
3rd – Leo Calnan (Southampton)
The key partner and facilitator of the weekend was Colwyn Bay Watersports a Community Interest Company and Welsh RYA Training Centre. Providing all safety cover and race officials, they were instrumental in the events running. We caught up with founder and director Taffy Osborne for his take on this year’s BUCS event. “The Student Windsurfing Nationals have been an incredibly inclusive and colourful event to host here at Colwyn bay. We were apprehensive that as it’s the first year here there was always room for something to go wrong. But in reality we couldn’t be happier with how it has all turned out – we’ve had some good wind, which can always make or break an event and the SWA committee have been superb to work with. Windsurfing is one of our core activities that we provide at Colwyn Bay and we are delighted to have been able to support young persons to get out on the water and take part in this incredible sport. We hope this is just the first of many events to come here at Colwyn Bay.” The BUCS nationals draw an end to the student windsurfing event series 2016/17, it has certainly remained a core highlight of the year and one that leaves great memories and high expectations for the new year to come.
For more info check out – studentwindsurfing.co.uk