Twelve months ago; June 2012 - under a blazing blue sky, four friends cruised the outside tip of Arlington Reef.Fifty kilometers off the coast of mainland Australia, they were isolated and totally alone, except for the endless crystal clear flat water and warm trade winds that fan Australia's Great Barrier Reef during winter. A simply incredible location.What a place to hold a race. Impossible? Basically. We’re dreaming, right. Doable? Well, you simply never know...
A World Wildlife Heritage listed natural wonderland, in a remote island setting, extremely carefully and tightly managed and controlled by the National Parks service and respective stakeholders, this simply isn’t the place you just turn up and race. Getting this thing anywhere near happening was definitely a mission.
Fast forward; June 2103 - After years in the doldrums, Australian Slalom Championship racing explodes back into life at the inaugural Green Island Nationals event. Together with a long discussed - but never achieved - Freestyle Championship and iced off by the introduction of a brand new combination Freerace racing format, the dream of Arlington was very much alive, and about to become a reality. Backed by Australia’s National carrier Qantas as a flagship sponsor, Green Island’s Toody Scott and Starboard’s Ian Fox, together with assistance of so many others, leveraged every connection possible to deliver a benchmark event to the Australian Windsurfing community, in an absolutely pristine and unique environment. Game on!
Each day began with light winds greeting the 45 sailors on the 8.30 AM ferry out to Green Island from the Cairns Marina. The winds and atmosphere built on each ride out; slalom and freestyle competitors were tense, and with 2 full tables complete, all competitors had been keep busy by organizers focusing on participation rather than elimination, ensuring all riders got more than their money’s worth of action. Raw hands abounded, a few coral cuts infected, but the spirit and passion was endless. Fun times rolled. As the week closed out, an opportunity loomed to run a 3rd table of slalom and to finish off a 3rd freestyle elimination begun earlier in the week, both of which could potentially still change the podium positions for the event. Organizers were ready. Marks in the water. One more roll of the dice ? Loaded bases...
Alas, it wasn’t to be, with the final day winds failing to reach Slalom or Freestyle competition threshold, Freerace became the order of the day and the final placings after two eliminations held true, with Sean O’Brien (Starboard/Severne) of Brisbane taking the Australian Slalom title ahead of Seb Pouillet (Starboard/Neilpryde) from New Caledonia and Michel Van Der Pligt (Starboard/Loft), also from Brisbane.
The presence of Team NC comprising 5 top riders from New Caledonia made the event even more exciting, lifting the standard to even higher levels and certainly confirming them as skilled slalom racers. And great social guys.
All in all, a total clean sweep for Starboard, taking all 3 podium slots in both Slalom and Freerace, and an incredible 15 of the top 20 Slalom positions. Starboard Team AUS enjoyed a sensational turnout, with almost every Australian Team racer present for the Green Island event.
Sean said about the event after taking home the first prize of a return-ticket airfare from event sponsors Qantas Airlines:
“This was an amazing event, and an important one for windsurfing in Australia, as it’s been a number of years since we’ve run the Slalom Nationals and this event was extremely well attended by sailors from every windsurfing state in Australia. I’ve spent a month on Green Island training for the event and I must say it’s a perfect winter training location for windsurfing, with warm temperatures, good winds, relaxed vibe and plenty of fun to be had off the water in Cairns as well. I’ll definitely be back next year!
We ran a small gear allowance of 2 boards and 2 sails for all competitors, which made the gear choice really interesting. I registered the Reflex 4 8.6m² and 7.8m² with the iSonic 110 and 97. A lot of guys up the front of the fleet were running the Reflex 7.8m² and iSonic 107 combo, which was a little quicker in straight line speed with the thinner board width, but the iSonic 110 is incredibly quick out of the jibes and with the extra width I could get up high really easily after the turns and then run down on top of people with speed, which helped me get back to the front if I wasn’t leading at the first mark. For fins, I used a custom 42 cm I’ve been developing over the summer with my Dad which is perfect for downwind slalom and a 44 cm Z-Fin for the figure-8 courses we ran on the first day.”
Newcomer to slalom and 2nd place in the second elimination winner’s final was Luke Baillie (Starboard/Severne) of Brisbane. A former RS:X delegate for Australia’s Olympic squad, Luke registered the same equipment as his training partner Sean, and the pair traveled to Green Island one month before the event to take advantage of the consistent winds and warm winter temperatures on the Great Barrier Reef, to prepare for the event and the final events of the PWA World Tour coming up in Europe later this year. Luke had a disappointing first elimination, crashing in the semi-final and failing to qualify for the winner’s final which put him in to 7th overall with only 2 eliminations run over the event.
Super enthusiastic about the event and his Cairns experiences, Luke commented:
“After a month of hard training on the island with Sean, I was really happy with how my equipment was going and I’m starting to feel really comfortable on the small boards since making the transition from RS:X sailing. Green Island is a pretty amazing spot, but Sean and I were even luckier to join (Ian) Foxy and JC on a once-in-a-lifetime helishoot mission for Qantas out to a very remote part of the Barrier Reef, 30 km offshore – an incredible experience of which you're certain to see more of soon! For racing I used the iSonic 110 and the Reflex 4 8.6m² with a 42 cm Z-Fin (borrowed from Sean!) for the entire event which was a really nice combo.
It was nice to see I can mix it up there with the top of the fleet as I lead to the first mark in the last final before Sean passed me inside. I’m looking forward to hitting Europe next week for the rest of the PWA World Tour!”
In the Freerace division, the first time this discipline has held a National Title, Kaleb Smith (Starboard/Severne) from Tasmania was able to take the title ahead of local Cairns sailor Kelly Morgan (Starboard/Severne). Taking 3rd place outright in both Slalom and Freerace was Brisbane speedster, Michel van der Pligt (Starboard/Loft). The Free Race competition consisted of 2 one-hour long sessions held over 2 days in which sailors wore GPS units to record their sailing distance during defined one-hour periods measured within an open but GPS software restricted size course area. With the shifting tides on Green Island, sailors were treated to a perfect flat water speed-bank along the eastern reefs close to shore on the island, and this new and challenging discipline was a total winner with all those competing.
Tasmania’s hard charging Karen Robertson (Starboard/Severne) was aptly awarded Women’s Champion in both Slalom and Freerace – placing 4th and 10th outright amongst the Open fleet in the challenging GPS Freerace heats.
In the first ever official Australian Freestyle Championship, Al Bentley (RRD/Severne), the likable UK countryman now based in Australia, was able to dominate both eliminations of competition run over the week ahead of Stephen Flack (Starboard/Severne) of Victoria and Ben Severne (Starboard/Severne) of Western Australia. Freestyle is a booming international discipline on the World Tour, attracting the youth to the sport with its radical tricks and maneuvers able to be performed on flat water. Despite the smaller sized fleet, the level of competition and enthusiasm at this year’s event was extremely high.
After the event concluded on Friday, competitors enjoyed drinks and soirée at event sponsors ‘The Salt House’, a premium dockside restaurant bar overlooking Cairns Marina as part of the prize-giving ceremony. Major sponsors Qantas handed out a number of plane tickets to the division winners.
Australia had new champions, but everyone was a winner.
Green Island Nationals 2013 was proudly presented by Qantas, with sponsorship from Starboard and Severne Sails.
The event enjoyed considerable support from many local individuals and organizations, whose contributions are all gratefully acknowledged.
Official photographer for the event was John Carter. Additional images by Billy Craig.
Further information about the Green Island Nationals as well as a media service with press releases, results, rankings, background information and photo/video downloads can be found on the official website by clicking here!