PWA POZO 2015
Words FINN MULLEN // Photos JOHN CARTER
‘The best competition at Pozo we have ever had’ – Duncan Coombs.
Duncan Coombs is the head judge of the PWA; his accolades don’t come without reasoned consideration. Duncan has been coming to Pozo for 25 years but even he struggled to process the seismic shift in the level of wave sailing on show. To put this in context, in the trials for the main event, sailors were doing push loop forwards. Until very recently, this was the sort of move you’d normally expect to see in the finals. From the moment the green flag was raised on day 1 of the event, it was like the pressure cooker of 7 months of training for the first wave event of the year was unleashed all at once. What made the contest so special wasn’t just the level on show but the brutality of the conditions themselves. Pozo is windy, in summer it’s probably the windiest beach in the world, but this was another level with winds gusting well over 50 knots at times. Just getting in and out of the water was a struggle let alone sail and compete. ‘’I’m rigging my 3.0, I last used a 3.0 10 years ago’’ said an excited but clearly nervous Iballa Moreno, Pozo local and 2014 women’s world wave champion. And there was waves, logo to over mast high at times. Last year Pozo was becalmed for the PWA, this year it was in danger of being engulfed! Make no mistake; this was windsurfing at its very limit by sailors going beyond their limits.
Contests normally have a natural momentum, like a band warming up to the crescendo of the final crowd jumping kerrang, the first rounds are normally just to sort the wheat from the chafe. Not at Pozo on the 12 July, 2015. Right from the first heat horn; sailors, staff and press scrambled to process the pace of what was happening before their eyes with the level so insanely high. First round knockouts left the beach dazed at having not only been knocked out by their opponent but battered by the relentless winds – ‘’The sailors were challenged more by the conditions than beating the other guy’’ – Duncan Coombs.
The margins of difference in heats were some of the slightest I have ever seen, which only made the judge’s pen seem even crueller to the loser. There were two notable exceptions, Philip Koester and Ricardo Campello. From the get go, these two were keen to send a message as to who was going to rule the air. The decision would come sooner than expected with the pair meeting early on in round 3 of the single elimination. The much anticipated match up turned out to be a rather one sided affair, as one seasoned observer put it. ‘Ricardo was Koestered’. You had to feel for Ricardo, prior to the heat and the event, he looked a strong contender. Social media was awash with videos of him sailing like a man possessed and in the crazy style that has made him such a crowd favourite. Koester had other ideas though. Campello has been one of the few sailors to challenge Koester in his prime but on home soil Philip was keen to set the record straight with a devastating display of jumping and riding excellence to take the win from an unlucky and visibly shaken Campello who had suffered a nasty crash warming up for the heat. Being ‘Koestered’ did not look a pleasant experience.
Quietly moving up through the other side of the draw was Alex Mussolini, new sponsors and watching your best friend, Thomas Traversa, win a world championship had lit a fire in Alex’s sailing and by the end of day 1, it would be his wave riding and Koester’s insane jumping that would vie for the money in the final. Alex had earned his spot against Koester but Philip was in a league of his own. A huge planing double forward, followed by a technically perfect push loop forward, finished off with that much watched and talked about fearless triple forward were just some of the highlights of a performance that not only saw him take the win but the respect of every sailor, man, woman and child on the beach. It was a clear statement of intent and no doubt it was a sleepless night for the rest of the fleet as Koester’s performance had set a scarily high bar. Duncan Coombs commented ‘’Koester messes our scales up a little bit because he just seems to be in a class of his own and we are trying to fit everyone else’s scores to suit his’’
An early skipper’s meeting on day 2 saw the double elimination continue at a frenetic pace. Most people sail with a heat plan but the violence of the wind strength and level required to advance saw any semblance of plans quickly abandoned. The only reasonable course of action in a heat was to be unreasonable and lay it right on the very fine line between lunatic and lunacy.
Notable performances came from Thomas Traversa, Antoine Martin, Dany Bruch, Marcilio Browne, Jaeger Stone and Robby Swift. From Jaeger’s massive delayed forward to Robby Swift’s first ever delayed double forward, they and the rest of the notables were all pushing their own personal boundaries and while heat results may not have reflected the effort they put in, the results certainly didn’t lessen the commitment being shown. The come back story was of one man though – Victor Fernandez. Victor’s clinical approach has seen him in the final of every Pozo contest over the last 10 years. Day one had seen Victor look decidedly un-Victor like. For whatever reasons, the man still with the most wins at Pozo had been off form but not today. Fernandez was back and the passionate Spanish crowds on the beach were cheering the return of their favourite countryman.
After the fireworks of Koester’s colossal performance on day one, all eyes were on the wounded winner to see if he could reproduce his form in the super final. The triple loop crash had clearly rang Koester’s bell with a hard blow to his head. But even in pain, Koester wasn’t letting up. A proud dad hugged his son on the shore after another decisive victory. Victor proved again what a danger man he is at Pozo or any conditions for that matter and a second at Pozo had him smiling the smile of a man who knows a world title comes from a foundation of top tier results. Mussolini, Bruch and Traversa rounded out the top five with results they too will gladly carry to the title battle for the long year ahead.
Winning at Pozo is ‘’still about waveridng’’ as Robby Swift sagely observed, noting that he, Marcilio and Ricardo can sometimes spend too long looking for the perfect jump ramps while those sailors who don’t have their explosive jump armoury rack up valuable wave riding points. Regardless of your style preference what is common throughout the fleet is that to do well you have to make the effort to come early and hunker down for the long haul in Pozo. The likes of Victor and Marcilio spend up to 6 weeks training here prior to the event to try and dial into the unique conditions. The prudent sailors make sure they practice and sail at all stages of the tide and not just in the best conditions as the nature of competition and the venue means that conditions throughout the day and heat to heat can vary greatly. For Victor his results have come from years of lengthy and methodical training at Pozo, they are not an accident. Thomas Traversa while not spending the same length of time in Pozo training, is one of those sailors who thrives on extreme conditions and the thrust of competition which makes him push harder and display his crazy style we all know and love.
For the Brits it was a mixed bag of results but that really didn’t tell the whole picture – Skyeboy (17th) was extremely unlucky in his heats. Probably the only father of two in the world consistently banging out double loops, in this competition he wasn’t just banging them out more like firing them off at every opportunity. Those opportunities just didn’t come at the right time though with ramps or waves not lining up when he needed them and his progression was halted by an on form local, Josep Pons, who Duncan Coombs rightly named as one of the top 5 jumpers in the world right now. Ben Proffitt (17th) ran into some similar bad luck with his heats and was extremely unlucky not to advance against Simmer team mate Klass Voget but could hold his head high with some strong sailing in the double elimination and certainly being the online crowd’s favourite as he continues to bring windsurfing to life across the internet as the well versed voice of the PWA live webcasts.
Adam Lewis continued to show his port tack prowess in his adopted home away from home in the Canaries with an 11th place finish. In his own words on the event, ‘’We always talk about how windy Pozo is but this year really took the biscuit! It was ballistic; I didn’t use a sail other than 3.4 in any of my heats. I guess the main difference compared to pretty much every other time I’ve sailed Pozo was the waves! It was pumping, it didn’t even feel like sailing Pozo, all the little line ups you have to get a good section were totally different and a few sets came through you could have even described as solid logo high! From a personal point of view, I was pretty gutted with the result. It was conditions I’d normally really enjoy; I guess a few key moments just didn’t quite go my way. I also can’t ignore Philip’s triple either! I mean wow! It was so freaking high and so so close, I mean he water started straight out of it…I think he was feeling the impact after, I know he had to have someone drive him home because he was so dizzy! Good effort!’’
Robby Swift (9th) is world class and at this year’s Pozo he showed why neither new fatherhood nor the legacy of past injuries will slow him down this year. Robby went out to Jaeger Stone in one of the closest and most radical heats of the day. A solid push forward and incredible tweaked out aerial was backed up by a perfect stalled double forward but without a high scoring second wave he took his loss with sanguine sportsmanship and will no doubt look to the rest of the year with increased motivation to put his hands back on a deserved trophy place finish.
And what about the ladies?. Well, the ladies were looking very un-lady like. With most of the fleet on 3.0’s, this was no time for feminine finesse and the ladies were throwing caution to the wind with equal abandon to the men. Justyna Sniady, Alice Arutkin and Waka Nishida of Japan all suffered some heavy wipe-outs but shrugged them off with a courage representative of the women’s fleet as a whole. For the Moreno twins it was business as usual. With Pozo firing on all cylinders, experience counts and Iballa and Daida have experience at their home spot of Pozo that is hard to count against! Iballa had suffered a nasty ankle sprain prior to the comp. and hadn’t sailed for over 2 months, not that you could tell. It was Daida’s time to shine though and leave the windsurfing world wondering just what it will take to depose her and Philip from Pozo’s throne. The most likely contender apart from her sister looks like coming from the all round talent of Sarah Quita but it won’t be an easy task as Daida was landing doubles in the expression session later in the week. Sarah turned heads of her own with her push loops being perfected heat to heat as she practiced under the pressure of the flags and horns to bag a third behind Iballa in second and Daida first. Stefi Wahl flowed into fourth position with some of the most stylish turns of the event while a spirited and typically gutsy performance by Amanda Beenen rewarded her with fifth, showing that 6 months in Maui hadn’t dampened her port tack skills.
With the main event wrapped, it was the turn of the juniors to take centre stage. Anyone concerned at the future of windsurfing need not worry. The only concern is just how the pro fleet, will cope with the influx of Koester wannabes in the not too distant future. When 12 year olds are doing perfect table top forwards you suspect even Koester might be looking over his shoulder. It’s worth mentioning at this point just how much effort the Moreno twins put into organising this event and in particular a gateway for the local youths into windsurfing. As well as numerous competitions for the juniors, they also bussed in at their own expense hundreds of local school children to educate them in the world of windsurfing and just what is available on their doorstep. From learning to tie knots to meeting the pros, the emphasis was on the next generation. For two athletes with such a great legacy already established it’s clear their intention is for the island to continue breeding champions. Perhaps the most surprising admission from Daida was that having lived all her life in Pozo she didn’t know until the age of 15 that a round of the world windsurfing championships took place on her doorstep. It’s clear they are resolute to not let that happen again. Their mission goes some way to convey the community feel of the event the Moreno twins aptly title as a festival of wind and waves. As a spectator, it’s hard to think of a more fan orientated event. Run a competition anywhere in the world in 50 knots plus of wind and you would be lucky to coax anyone out of their house let alone to the beach. But at Pozo, perversely 50 knots at sea is comparatively pleasant on land.
Anything that was going to blow away at Pozo has long since blown away so the worry of being hit by low flying animals is nonexistent. A shaded area (from sun and wind) is situated right by the beach, ample parking is 50m from the beach, 50m from that is a marquee streaming the event and windsurf videos by day and live entertainment at night. Further in the marquee you can imbibe fresh smoothies or icy cervezas while watching the prize givings on stage or indulge in gelato ice creams or filling bocadillos before or after going outside to watch the best men and women in the world attempt to sail into the nearest accident and emergency department. My top tip, head down to the infamous bunker and watch the mad men and women of the PWA hurl over head at spitting distance from the shore while you top up your suntan. I challenge anyone to find a more spectacular view in windsurfing to watch the world’s elite rotate through double loops and the rest of their aerial antics, in fact from a spectator point of view, few sports can compete with the view on offer. When conditions aren’t good enough for competition and you’ve had your fill of rubbing shoulders with the great and the good of the PWA, then why not take part in some sailing of your own. Outside of heats I witnessed Pozo with only one or sometimes no sailors on the water in perfectly fun conditions of small waves and force 6 winds – a mere splash by Pozo standards but above average for most people’s definition for anywhere else! This year’s PWA contest will go down as the best ever, where Philip Koester set new standards for the level of wave sailing and Pozo delivered conditions above and beyond extreme but let’s not forget that whether it’s the sailors it produces or the conditions it delivers, Pozo has never been about the normal. As they say, ‘Windsurfing is King but Pozo is King Kong!’.