13/07/2013

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Vassiliki Bay

When I decided to take my career break one of the key activities I wanted to spend my time on was windsurfing and it was such that I booked myself on a month long instructor course in Vassiliki with flyingfish. I decided to do the course because I would like to get into the windsurfing industry and somehow make my passion my work thus I figured training as an instructor would be a good start, but the course also afforded me maximum time on the water with some coaching thrown in for good measure.

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The freestyle rack

I arrived in Vassiliki a week before the course was due to start as I had not surfed since last September and wanted to get wet before starting the course. For this I had a stay and play package as I am yet to buy my own equipment (admittedly it is about time I did), which meant I could use the full range of equipment on offer at Club Vass. Vass are one of the only centres around that sell off all their equipment each year and replace it with the latest for the season. This season they had a wide range of Starboard and Fanatic boards coupled with Severne sails. While not bad kit, I was a little apprehensive as I had become rather fond of the RRD/Ezzy setup used at my old club at West Wittering.

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Light wind mornings

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Riding the tandem

Everyone I had spoken to about Vass had told me of a consistent wind that blows religiously, so on the first day when I got to the centre and the was a light onshore breeze, my shoulders dropped.  Then I heard Jem Hall’s words in my head, “Having good light wind technique means having good high wind technique” and picked up a big board and medium sail for some light wind freestyle practice. It was good to get back on a board despite it feeling like a dingy, though it didn’t quench the desire to be hurtling along at planing speeds fully committed to the harness. Fortunately after lunch Eric (the name they give the thermal wind there) made a half hearted attempt to show his face. By half hearted I mean 6.0 and gusty, though I had found a 111 RRD Firestorm hiding in a corner and with 6.0 it was enough to get a gleeful smile to appear on my face as I shot past others who had opted for smaller boards. The first week followed a similar pattern with the wind not really filling in to the legendary standards of the tales I had heard, despite this I soon found the Vassiliki ritual of light wind mornings and blasting afternoons. The highlight of the week had to of been trying out a tandem board for the first time, apparently it was a highlight for the spectators on the beach as well and inspired a number of guests to attempt the same feat over the coming weeks.

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Blasting in the afternoon
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40knts and survival sailing

Week two was something special as about halfway through we had afternoon winds of up to 40knts sometimes gusting more and it was the water sports week in Vass which included putting on a slalom race for all who dared to compete in. I was feeling pretty confident in the higher winds by now so decided to enter the slalom, okay there was a fair share of peer pressure from the flying fish crew. I selected a Fanatic Hawk as my board of choice and a 4.7 sail, I would have gone for the RRD, but in 40knt winds 111l board and my 70kg body would not have played well together. Heading out on to the water all I could think was this is mental, 40knts and a 4.7 normally I would be on a 3.9 or smaller. Despite missing the start flag and starting behind the entire fleet, I had chosen kit well and flew past many of the more experienced sailors, my heart pounding as I struggled to keep the board in the water. Then I hit the first gybe mark and it all went tits up, the wind dropped and I missed my gybe landing in the water. It then took me what seemed like forever to waterstart in the light breeze and I spent the remainder of the race wobbling back to shore while the rest of the fleet had already crossed the finish line. I missed the start of the second race so by the time the 3rd came round I had no energy left, but I needed to prove to myself that I could do this so made it out with the now depleted fleet for one last attempt. The wind had picked up again and I was stacked on my 4.7 so coming round the inside gybe I catapulted myself over the sail and skidded across the water like a dolphin surfing a wave, though despite this I managed to make it around the course and cross the finish line to collapse in a pile on the shore. I had never cared much about slalom before, but after this experience I can certainly see the appeal and the madness… take the biggest sail you can hold on to in the gusts and then add some more, find a board that has footstraps so far outboard that you feel like you are on a trapeze and hang on for dear life, this is what they call survival sailing.

As the weeks moved on and I got more time on the water I moved on to freestyle kit with the 100l Fanatic Skate becoming my board of choice with S1 sails providing a nice balance of power and lightness. With Scott from flyingfish egging me on I found my routine, forward loops on the way out and Vulcans on the way in, well attempting them at least. I found myself struggling to read the chop for my forward loops and my technique needs some work as they look more like cheese-rolls but still I made it further than I have ever before and managed to waterstart out of a couple, which some say means I can claim it, I’m not convinced. When I decided to do the course I never expected to be attempting Vulcans but am so glad I did as the first time I managed to slide I fell in love with windsurfing all over again. I still have a way to go before I land one but hearing that the guys who have stayed out there a few more weeks are now getting them, Í am dying to get back on the water and sliding again.

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My Vulcan attempt
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Instructor Vulcan

On the whole it was a month and a half of some of the best windsurfing I have experienced and I feel I have improved albeit not as much as I would like. The Flying Fish instructors course, although fairly costly, was a valuable experience and has really made me take serious consideration about living the instructor lifestyle, which if I do, having the Flying Fish name behind my certification will surely be a help. Would I go back? Most likely, the wind was pretty much guaranteed although more gusty than expected and there are plenty of inspirational sailors around to keep you fired up, though I don’t think it would be my choice of place to stay, I need waves.