Down ‘the park’ with Simon Pettifer – slalom windsurfing pro rider profile

Words: Simon Pettifer

Pics: Andy Stallman, Kevin Greenslade.

Simon Pettifer is a long time UK slalom competitor who’s as passionate as ever about windsurfing. With long locks flowing in the breeze Simon epitomises the ‘real world racer’ that many can associate with. Holding down a day job, yet still managing to squeeze in valued training time, and push for podium finishes, we caught up with Si P to find out more about what goes on ‘down the park’.

I was super lucky with my windsurf beginnings. Dad was in the army so when we moved to Cyprus windsurfing began around aged ten. Pretty much every day after school was how things went (which finished at 1pm – awesome!). So, down to the Dhekelia Watersports Club, sail all day every day – rinse and repeat for three years. By the time we left Cyprus I was fairly competent. We then moved to Gibraltar and even though I had to go to boarding school in the holidays I got plenty of high wind action across the Straits in Tarifa.

Windsurfing is welcome relief from work, haha! I’ve just been sailing today for the first time in four weeks due to a foot injury – a dislocated big toe. Two and a half hours on the water was amazing. I was in the middle of Poole Harbour grinning like a kid. The sun was out, it was warm and some good friends were with me – what’s not to love? The feeling after a good session on the water never changes: total contentment, super chilled and happy. According to the wife I’m much easier going after a sail. (I think we can all relate – ed).

Slalom is what I do. I guess I dabble in speed as well. I love doing Weymouth Speed Week – it’s great when the wind blows. A whole seven days of charging down the speed course is cracking. It’s been a long time – years in fact – since I have ventured out in waves. I can bust a forward and find my way around but with it currently being so tough trying to keep up with the youngsters of slalom this is where my priorities lie.  I don’t have time for anything but slalom training at the mo. The fact I don’t have any wave gear is also an issue. Though any day now I’m sure Jim Brookes-Dowsett or Nik Baker are going to send me some… They are both such nice guys and super supportive. I can’t thanjs them enough.

My favourite place to windsurf in the UK is Portland. It never let’s you down, works in most directions, is mostly flat water, but with the option of popping outside the harbour wall into Weymouth Bay. The place I sail most, however, is Hamworthy Park, Poole. Spectacular views, works in every direction (except NE – I hate NE winds!) and I love it. It’s ten mins from home so I can go there after work. There are about 150 buoys already laid ready for gybe practise. Also there’s the Hamworthy Hero’s: a highly tuned group of windsurfing athletes ready to race at a moment’s notice. We have some quick sailors usually in attendance so it’s great for tuning up.

At the moment I’m mostly focusing on trying not to damage myself after what seems like an onslaught of annoying injuries. But as a rule I find I just can’t get enough gybe practise. It’s really hard to copy what happens in a race. I like to think I’m pretty good at gybing but in a race it can go so wrong so quickly with 8-10 people all wanting the same piece of water. It’s good to be as on form as you can be. The other thing I focus on is trying to go faster than anyone else – same as all the other slalom sailors reading this. Sometimes a couple of us bang out an hour of figure of eight slalom and how could I forget the winter training camps at the OTC?  These are great for honing you’re skills and staying sharp during the off season.

I have some of the best slalom sailors in the country to tune up with. Kev Greenslade, Simon Cofield and Scotty Stallman to name a few. Then there’s the Hamworthy Hero’s:  Nigel Springs, Garry Connell and Yan Vasseur. These guys are down ‘the park’ most nights, so I nearly always have someone to sail with – it’s great!

When he’s in the country Ross Williams also trains with us in Weymouth. He’s no slouch round a buoy that’s for sure! Kevin and I have assisted him in testing F-Hot fins for Steve Cook the last couple of years. Portland Harbour is a great place for that.

The aim for 2017 is to podium and win a couple of finals along the way. This is going to be achieved by drinking a horrible green power thing every morning (consisting of broccoli, spinach, ginger, apple and seeds) then sailing my arse off whenever there’s a puff of wind. Fingers crossed…

I would like to do some international comps but that’s all on hold for the time being as Herbie my dog and best friend is not well. I’m not leaving the country for any reason for the time being. But I’d like to do some of the IFCA slalom events again in the future – maybe a trip back to Bol, Croatia, which would be cool. It’s an amazing place and I can’t recommend it enough. Also I quite fancy a pop at the Dunkerbeck Speed Challenge in Fuerte, which seems quite a chilled out event.

Competitive windsurfing isn’t hard as such. You do end up having to make yourself go for a sail more I guess to stay sharp. If there’s an event coming up and there’s been no wind for a while you suddenly find yourself stood on a big board with a 9.0m up,  pumping your arse off whilst telling yourself you will get planning soon, haha! Apart from that it’s a blast. It’s not like I’m a professional so although results are important I’m not relying upon them for an income. Training in winter can be cold and limited by daylight, but it’s oh so good in autumn, summer and spring. If there’s one thing that’d help it’s not having a job that knackers you’re back!

Support for me comes from a few people. Firstly we have Jim Brooks-Dowsett from Puravida Board Riders in Wales. He sorted me out when I got back into racing. He also helps with my deal through Fanatic, North and ION. The man himself Nik Baker provides boards, sails and wetsuits. Also he’s really helpful and always happy to give advice and good ideas. Then there’s Steve Cook at F-Hot – he’s the man that provides the world’s best fins IMO. Sam Latham at South East Signage also helps out. Any type of sticker making or designing, he’s the man. Sam produces my awesome flaming sail numbers.

In return for their support I basically have to go to all the UKWA slalom events and a couple of demo events throughout the year, like NWF. (Sorry Allan couldn’t make it to this one!). Also there’s social media. I’m sure all my non-windsurfing friends are pretty peed off with seeing my windsurfing photos all the time, but that’s what sponsors want – as much coverage as possible.

If you’re looking at getting into comps then practice, practice and practice some more. That’s it! Watch movies, note how the pros do things and then time on the water.

I’m a carpenter full time. I build houses around the Poole area. It’s a job and it pays the bills. It occasionally allows for quick sojourns to the beach, but I’m not one for letting people down at work. If the forecast is really good, and the Hamworthy Hero’s are all out playing, then I can sometimes leave early. It only takes 10 mins to get to the beach so it’s not like I need all day.

I’m going to get stick for this from the boys but my North Power XT extensions are my fave pieces of kit. I’ve not hurt my back downhauling since I got them. And no wet bum from sitting on moist grass. And to top it adjusting my downhaul in the water is unbelievably easy.

If you’re talking about being at the top level of competition then I think you do need the latest gear, maybe. Having said that if you rocked up to an event with sails and boards four or five years old you’d still be fine. I think maybe just at the highest level, where you need that edge, is when you need new stuff.

I love windsurfing! I’ve met some amazing people, made great friends and have some hilarious memories from windsurfing. I’m going to have to thank my dad for getting me into it, and all the driving to events and putting up with me when it didn’t go according to plan; thanks Dad. Melly my awesome wife is a legend. She actually tells me to go windsurfing – you got to love that!

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