Profile: Windsurfing UK
Pics: Russell Groves
If you’ve ever had the fortune of travelling to Costa Teguise, Lanzarote, to windsurf, then you will have probably come across Russell Groves. A UK transplant to the island, Russell has been a permanent face on ‘the rock’ since 1989. Affectionately known as the Wave Hobbit, Russell has been coaching, filming and sharing the stoke to all he can. Showing no signs of stopping, his mantra ‘Live to Ride’ echoes all around the resort.
You’ve been a permanent fixture in Costa Teguise, Lanzarote, for years. When did you first come to the island and what made you decide you wanted to stay?
I came to Lanzarote the last day of August 1989 to set up a windsurf school for Whitehall Leisure Sports. They were based in the Celeste Apartments in Costa Teguise. I had never been to Lanzarote and came in time to experience the last of its summer conditions. I set up the school over the winter and left the company in March 1990.
Jill (my other half) and I decided to try and stay for the summer and discover the island. By September we were running out of money and had to make the sad decision to go back to England. The day before we bought the tickets to go home, I was offered a job in the F2 Pro Center so we could stay.
What appeals about ‘the rock’? How would convince riders to visit?
I am an artist and waterman. Lanzarote gives me everything I need. The light and colours, to every water condition you can dream about. It is said that you either love Lanzarote or hate it; there is no in-between. Never a week goes by where I do not see old friends. Lanzarote is about discovery. Open your mind and you will find.
Tell us a bit about your background. Where did you first learn to windsurf and what age were you?
I was put in a boat when I was three and started playing in waves when I was five. So you can say I started my love of the ocean very young.
I went to a sports boarding school when I was nine on the Isle of Wight in Bembridge and my mother moved to Bonchurch. I say I come from the IOW, as it became our permanent home. During the summer term, every Tuesday was sailing.
My mother worked as the chef in a residential sailing school, so every holiday I was there. When I was 13 I started to help in the school, rather than just sailing – teaching and general maintenance. At 18 I could legally get my coaching certificates and when I was 20 I was made a senior sailing coach – teaching instructors.
My introduction to windsurfing was when I was at the National Sailing School in Cowes, where they introduced it to the programme. All sailing instructors had to give it a try one evening after work. I was not convinced, as all I ever saw were people falling off. The principle of windsurfing is exactly the same as sailing a boat without a rudder. My balance is very good, so I found it very easy in light wind. I was sailing high performance dinghies and had no interest. But then my instructor gave me his race sail and I experienced planing. I was hooked – and next summer I was teaching windsurfing!
I love to learn, so I worked my way up to a windsurfing trainer. Moving to Lanzarote gave me the opportunity to be involved with international riders, especially once the PWA started to come to Costa Teguise. I moved away from the RYA system and started my fascination with how things work.
How do the windsurfing conditions in Lanza compare to those in the UK? In your opinion is it better to sail in Costa Teguise?
Most windsurfing in England is on beach breaks, so it cannot be compared to Costa Teguise. In England my sailing area was the south coast and the prevailing wind was starboard tack. I had never sailed waves on port. Costa Teguise is that – so when I first came here I sailed Famara (north coast) a lot. Matagorda was also a popular spot for the English. Las Cucharas is a reef break, so in fact a simple spot to sail, even when quite big. The wave jacks up in exactly the same spot. It’s much easier than a sand bottom location.
Where’s the best spot to windsurf on Lanza for advanced riders? What about beginners/intermediates? And what time of year would you suggest for each skill level?
Lanzarote is an amazing island for advanced riders. As the level gets higher and higher, more spots are being discovered. When I first came here, the main areas were Puerto del Carmen for beginner / intermediate, Costa Teguise for beginner / intermediate / advanced, then Famara and Jameos del Agua for advanced.
Things have changed a little now, as the only windsurf schools are in Costa Teguise. When we get good conditions it is not easy for beginners. July/August can be tricky.
The Canary trade winds are NE and when it is true NE Las Cucharas is the best spot, with several different waves to play on. However there are many other spots we go to in different wind directions. When the wind has more north in it we hit Jameos del Agua – a reef and point break. Too much north we move up to Jameos 2 and a bit of east down to Cartel. NW sees us move further north to English Left. This has to be big otherwise it breaks too close to the rocks. Arrieta is also great for freestyle.
When an E blows we move down to Playa Honda and the airport – especially when Costa Teguise is big. My favourite spot in ESE is Orzola, but Famara is also popular. S/SW for San Juan or the ship wreck in Famara or Puerto del Carmen. West winds favour Playa Blanca.
You can see that we have spots for all wind directions!
There are some pretty stand out riders on the island – who’s killing it lately? Anyone coming up through the ranks we should keep an eye on?
Las Cucharas is Noah Voecker’s home spot. He is the most exciting one to watch as he is developing his jumping. It is also Tonky Frans’ playground too. They are always out together, pushing it to the limit both in waves and freestyle. We get the most amazing display of incredibly high back loops and forwards.
At the moment there are no really young ones living here coming up, but there are some that arrive during the summer and I look forward to seeing how they have developed through the winter in their home waters.
Which sailor do you like watching the most – either in Lanza or elsewhere?
I like watching all sailors, so I do not have a favourite. That said Gollito Estredo’s videos are a must watch! The same with Victor Fernandez. Also two freestyle sailors I am following a lot are Amado Vrieswijk and Hugo de Sousa. They are really working on new variations and it is amazing to see what they are doing when they have perfect conditions.
In waves I take note of Loick Lesauvage – he will be a world champion one day. He is one of the few that is equal on both tacks.
I have also been looking closely at Riccardo Marca for a few years. I met him this July when he came here for the EFPT. It is his first year on tour. We spent many hours talking and he has a very interesting view on how he wants windsurfing to develop – not just about himself. He has a project for the winter, which I will be helping him with.
What’s your opinion of general windsurfing standards these days?
The gaps have moved further apart again. Top riders are pushing the sport to areas I never dreamed about. Their moves are unbelievable. Not just in the way they rotate but the height too.
How can they go so high off small waves? Ok it is windy BUT…! Riders and equipment designers are working more closely together. The top five sailors in all disciplines can be world champions. It just depends on the day.
The top 10 are very close but then there is quite a gap when you go to the top 20. Below top 20, they have a long way to go. Standards of good local riders have gone higher, especially in wave and freestyle.
Tell us a little about your job and what you do.
It is all about getting people on the water, having fun. Helping them to make the correct choice of kit and making sure it is set up correctly for them. That is my daily routine. I can rig up to 100 sails a day. I also make sure the club runs smoothly; board repairs, swapping harness lines and general maintenance.
Admin plays a part too. And I make sure that I keep up to date with everything that is going on in the windsurf industry.
In terms of coaching, I only do the high level stuff now. I spend a lot of time watching and editing video. This means the days can be long, working before and after we close the club when it is quiet.
Promotional work. Photo shoots and videos for the tour operators to sell our destination.
Everybody’s dream is to work in a windsurf centre, they think you have lots of time to go windsurfing! What many miss is that it is your job. The better the conditions, the more work you have to do. If I do get a chance to be on the water at work, it is coaching – so following people and doing demonstrations or sailing around doing safety.
How many windsurfers (and SUPers) do you see coming through your doors each season, on average?
We are open 365 days of the year, unlike most destinations that have a season. July and August we limit to 35 fixed clients who book a board for their holiday. This means, counting the people who just rent for 1 or 2 hours, we can have up to 50 people a day hiring. With lessons we can cover around 35 people a day. The team is made up of six people. In June/September this drops to four. We then have 15 fixed clients and around the same number in lessons. The rest of the year only has three of us working, when we have 10 fixed clients and 10 people a day in lessons – on a good week. There are stand up paddle boards for people to use when there is no wind.
How does stand up paddle boarding add to the Costa Teguise mix? Is it more popular than sailing or are riders using both sports to max out their water time?
SUP is not so popular in Lanzarote, due to the wind. But in the winter we have many perfect days for paddling. Since the introduction of the inflatable SUPs I am seeing more in Costa Teguise with people bringing them on holiday.
I was one of the first people to get a SUP here. Surfers and windsurfers thought it was strange. I did a lot of kayak surf and surfski when I was younger, so when I saw SUP I just had to get one. Mostly a longboard surfer, riding a SUP in waves came naturally. Boards in the beginning were large, so I quickly made my own custom 8’5”. It was based on an 8’4” Bonger Perkins Mal. For me, SUP is the perfect alternative to windsurfing. In light winds I will windSUP and in no wind will paddle.
The SUPs I am riding at the moment are the Fanatic pro wave 8′ and the 10′ Stylemaster. We have a nice small wave in front of the club (and my house) when there is a NE swell. It is sheltered from the wind a bit, so quite often we can be windsurfing on the outside reefs before coming back inside to SUP surf. We get a small window with the tide of about an hour. The incoming tide is safer; on a dropping tide you have to know when to stop, otherwise you’ll be on the rocks!
With Costa Teguise being one of those key global windsurfing destinations, you’re in a position to gauge the overall popularity of the sport. Do you think windsurfing is due another boom – as some industry types are predicting?
It is interesting if you think there may be another boom in windsurfing. My gut feeling is the reverse. The sport has become way too expensive and there is no sign of the prices going down. It is true that the designs are getting better and better. Boards and sails are easier to use and have a wider wind range. It is possible to have less kit to sail the average conditions.
This year I have seen a decline in the amount of people just having one lesson to give it a go but an increase in people taking three or more lessons. There has also been an increase in the more advanced lessons.
If this is the new trend, then this could create a mini boom as people taking lessons will improve faster. I have also seen a boost in the amount of people that only sail on holiday – destination sailors.
You’re known as a photographer and someone who documents sessions. Is this still a big part of your life? Who do you enjoy snapping the most and why?
Yes I take photos and also create videos. When I pick up these tools there are two objectives: to create art or to help my teaching. Art is always the primary goal.
Finding time to do photo shoots is always tricky but I love to do them. When there are good conditions I seem to always be busy with other areas of work. When there are good people sailing I try to find time. Tonky and Noah are always great to shoot.
Yes there are times that I just go out with the camera – but mostly I go with an idea in mind.
As we understand you’ve hung up your windsurfing harness for the time being – what brought about this decision?
No I have not hung up my harness. My job is very physical so I have stopped sailing after work. The chance of injury was getting too high, I cannot afford a day off work. I used to sail a lot at sunrise but there have not been so many days this year where we have had conditions.
Spending a lifetime of doing high impact sports is taking its toll on my body and I am having problems with my joints now. This year it is my hips. I am finding it difficult to do certain movements which has made it hard to sail strong winds and big waves. Being a person who was on the water a lot early in the morning meant I sailed alone, which I love, but you must be very fit and able to rescue yourself.
It is not a question of will I get back out there, as I have not left. It is about having the correct conditions to be safe and have fun. Just sailing up and down has never interested me. I have to have something to think about. That is why wave sailing is my passion. Now it is small waves and light wind, not a combination you get so often.
It is funny, I have had problems with most of my joints at some point. I am learning to correct my movements again.
Once the summer season is done, do you head off on trips yourself?
Being on the water is all year round on Lanzarote. June/July/August are the windy months with waves in Costa Teguise. October through to March we get waves on the north shore. So it is only a case of which board takes priority in the bag. Costa Teguise is now my home again and so it is where I go on the water.
I had a B&B in the north of the island in Maguez, and a windsurf/surf/kite/mountain bike academy for 15 years. I travelled every day, riding the best spots. It was hardcore discovery with many excellent wave riders.
I sold everything and moved back to Costa Teguise, where I could sail kinder swells that did not punish my body so much. I also wanted to stop all of the driving and searching.
Would you ever move back to the UK or is this it, Lanzarote is your permanent home?
I have no plans to move back to the UK but you never know. Lanzarote is my home. I have lived here longer than anywhere else.
Any final shouts, thanks and praise?
Who do I thank? Well everybody, I would not be here now without you. I am riding Fanatic and North Sails at the moment with Maui Ultra Fins. But thanks also has to go to all the designers and manufacturers I have been involved with over the years. R&D has been a large part of my life.
My passion is to ride waves and be one with the ocean, which is like a form of meditation. This year I coined the slogan: ‘living to ride’. And that’s what I tell everyone: ‘live to ride’.