Twenty-five kilometers off the coast of Cairns, in the tropical North of Australia lies a tiny patch of rock jutting out of the Coral Sea. Sized 600 meters x 300 meters, the pier is nearly longer than the island. Google it. A mere speck from space. Space isn’t the best way to experience it though, as the conditions at sea level are, well, far more “heavenly” if you’re in seeking a perfect winter windsurf environment.
And speaking environmentally, going “green” is all the go these days. So, while the rest of Australia shivered into winter under windless gray skies, Australia’s top windsurfers saved their power bills and headed North, all go for Green Island. The 2014 Australian Slalom, Freerace and Freestyle Championships. Once again, strong trades over reef protected waters and tropical temperatures welcomed quality teams from all over Australia and Tasmania. What an event.
Five amazing days of competition in surreal conditions every day; almost unbelievable in windsurf competition history. Green Island’s winter trade winds turned it on again and the enthusiasm and stoke from the event was electric. An unlikely or even impossible venue? Certainly. But why not? Born from a dream, sailing idyllic conditions outside of Arlington, last year’s inaugural event threw up some of the most iconic pictures in a long while. Now “GreenIslandNats” is rapidly establishing itself as “the” event on the Aussie Windsurf Calendar. Held inside a remote and heavily protected World Heritage area, this isn’t a roll up start. Starboard has a direct relationship with Green Island and is fully involved as event sponsor and facilitator. Our gift back to the sport, with a bit of personal contribution from many.
As “Blue Riband” class, slalom racing held the most prized title, and 9 full rounds were contested over the five sensational days racing, allowing two discard results and ensuring no one got lucky or missed out on a result. Precision starts into textbook perfect long, downwind courses with super fast finish legs prevailed over shallow water inside Green Islands spectacular reef flats area.
Australian PWA international and defending 2013 Australian Champion Sean O’Brien remained quietly confident and delivered a smooth performance to retain his title in convincing style, edging out consistent challenges from WA’s Rowen Law and QLD’s Michel van der Pligt, while Kaleb Smith from Tasmania in 4th and rising star Luke Baillie, 5th, kept hard charging Julien Ventalon relegated to 6th.
In the new GPS logged endurance Freerace Championship, riders contest for an hour over a open course limited only by outer boundaries to achieve the maximum distance within the same hour. Some ran long, open water. Others tight, flat courses inside.
2013 Champion Tasmania’s Kaleb Smith proved again he had the right stuff, applying both strategy and strength to prevail over Mr Consistency Michel van der Pligt and Tasmania’s Dave Morehead for top honors in this exciting endurance title. These guys went hard. Three days in, the fleet were on their knees. Interestingly, more top slalom racers participated in 2014 and were impressed by the sheer difficulty of holding the taps wide open for a one hour, nonstop compared to a 3-minute slalom heat. There is a lot more to this freeracing than meets the eye.
For both travel logistics and event challenge reasons, Green Island Nats tests the racers equipment selection and tuning skills too, as both slalom and freerace are conducted under a 2 boards and 2 sails (option 1 board + 3 sails ) equipment limit; "de rigueur" iSonic 107 with 7.8m² combos suddenly looked massively over-sized whilst racers scurried for iSonic 80s and 6.2m²s on days 2 and 3! Many with 7.0m² as their smallest certainly had their work cut out on these days in solid 30-35 knots conditions where iSonic 90 was the hot ticket and Sean even made very effective use of iSonic 80.
But the most radical action was on the South side of the island, where upwind of the helipad the Freestyle Championships saw an elite group of freestylers running the full gamut of technically difficult (in some cases near “impossible” ) tricks in a point scoring series of heats.
High wind made some rougher freestyle conditions than last year’s tidal ponds, but certainly provided plenty of powered up action. Western Australia based sailors dominated freestyle with 2013 Champion Al Bentley again winning 2014 ahead of James McCarthy-Price and Max Ploumis.
It was great to see the ladies represented strongly, with Australia's Olympian Jessica Crisp winning the Women’s Slalom and QLD’s Kellie Tusler placing an outstanding 4th place outright in freerace to take the Women’s Championship. Sadly, 2013 Champion Tasmanian Karen Robertson was injured by a bad coral spike during day one and spent a day recovering in Cairns Base Hospital after an overnight operation.
Event organizers and participants enjoyed an outstanding event and really want to acknowledge their appreciation of the fantastic level of support and assistance from the many people involved, all of whom contributed significantly to making 2014 “the” event of the year. Mahalo. Nui loa! And 2015? Yes, that’s a green!