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24Dec/15Off

ZARA DAVIS – SPEED QUEEN

ZARA DAVIS - SPEED QUEEN

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ZARA DAVIS – SPEED QUEEN

Zara Davis is the holder of two WSSRC world speed sailing records, the 500m for windsurfing and the outright Nautical Mile; in other words she is officially the fastest female windsurfer on the planet! Her speed exploits have earned her a place in the Guinness book of records and she has been ISWC European Speed champion a record 4 times. Believe it or not, Zara is not a full time sailor she holds down a full time job as an Osteopath and runs a busy health center in Portishead near Bristol. JC caught up with the Queen of speed to find out more about her gift for sailing fast.

Words  & Photos  JOHN CARTER 

(This feature originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Windsurf Magazine. To read more features like this first, Print and Digital subscriptions are available. Prices include delivery globally for 10 x issues a year!) 

JC: How did you catch the speed bug?

ZD: I think speed is in my genes. My dad was a rally driver and I was just born into the world around people that like going fast. Even when I was a beginner, all I wanted to do was catch the guy in front of me. I just love going fast in a straight line!

JC: When was your first ever taste of windsurfing?

ZD: I learned way back in 1979 while on holiday in France. When we returned home we bought a BIC DuFour Wing which was the board of the time, it had one of those big solid booms and a triangular sail. I sailed for a couple of years before I became ill with serious glandular fever. I had to stop all sports for quite a while and never got back into it until I was 28, after I had passed a couple of degrees and started work in Milton Keynes. I started sailing at Brogborough Lake, near Bedford where I met my husband Pete. I did not know anybody when I first moved there so I joined the club to help meet people. Windsurfing had moved on quite a bit since my first sessions in France.

JC: Were you straight into speed back at the lake?

ZD: Pretty much! I was never very good at turning the corners and I am still not (laughs). The great thing about speed is that it is so accessible. In the early nineties, speed was quite popular. They had events at West Kirby and Weymouth with speed guns and there were quite a lot of those events happening. You could roll up, pay a tenner and have a go on the speed course; it was great fun. It was low level competition, you did not need to be able to do anything aside from be in the foot straps, harness and go in a straight line. That is really where it all started!

JC: Have you ever been a full time pro or have you always had a day job?

ZD: No! Definitely not no! I run a medical clinic, I am an osteopath and I have always worked. Until recently I worked full time but now I only see patients three days a week. We live in a very tidal location on the Bristol Channel so I don’t get to windsurf as much as I would like to. If I can squeeze forty good days in a year I am pretty happy. Most of the girls I compete against on the world circuit are sailing three hundred days a year. That is a massive difference.

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JC: When did you first start becoming serious with speed?

ZD: My first major event was 2005, Pete wanted to do Sotevento, it was ‘the’ place at the time. That is where the records were being set and it just happened they were offering half price entries for women. There were about fifteen women in the fleet, it was a world championship and I ended up fifth. So I was delighted to do so well and thought maybe I have a talent for speed! The girls that beat me were Karin, Valerie and Alison Shreeve. They were the best in the world. In 2006 I headed out to Warvis Bay in South Africa to have a go at the mile record. I broke the record and that really triggered me off to get more serious. Valerie was there, I broke her record from the previous year and the story goes on from there!

JC: So when did you head out to Luderitz?

ZD: We had tried to do a 500 meter record attempt in Warvis Bay in 2006 and then I had a bad accident in 2007. I fractured my left foot and had to have a couple of operations. I missed the record attempts in the Canal in France because of the injury, that was the year Antoine did 49.09. I was desperately sad to have missed that. It was also the year of Driven by Wind, with Whitey at the Ray so I missed out on that as well. In 2010 I broke the women’s production record at Luderitz on my Mistral 47 but the trench they made was not the best. They had put all the sand that they dug from the canal on the wrong side and it meant there was no wind in the bottom half of your sail when you were blasting down and hitting it at forty knots. By 2012 they had dug the canal inland and that is where Antoine and I both broke the world record. The trench still was not perfect, it could certainly be better. But either way it was an amazing opportunity. I did a 45.83 run and that record still stands!

JC: So how was that particular run?

ZD: It was really weird. We were all getting quicker all day. It was probably about 3pm in the afternoon. All the times were building. After I broke the record I decided stupidly to change down sail because it was getting windier. I was on a 5.5m at that point and it was blowing about 45 knots. I thought maybe I would go even faster with a 5m and I made it to the end of the course and just when I put my feet down, the board flicked up and whacked me on the front of my shin. Somehow it managed to chunk off a piece on the front of my shin. I had to go to hospital and have that stitched. In the next two hours everybody went two knots faster while I was in hospital. It was quite gutting. It was awesome that I had broken the record but being that everybody improved their speed that afternoon I know I could have also improved my time. It was disappointing that I could not have taken that opportunity. Hey, I still hold that record so it was still a good day!

JC: Was that particular run scary or did you enjoy it?

ZD: It was not scary, if you go down the canal and you are scared you should not be there! It is too dangerous! I knew that my kit was working and the Sontag asymmetric fin was also perfect. Each day records are broken your speeds build through the day. You don’t just get in the canal and do 45 knots on your first run! You can start at 12pm and do a 39 knot run and gradually you pick up as each run happens. You almost don’t notice that you have picked up an extra five knots or so later in the day. I knew I had nailed a decent run, the best runs are when everything goes quiet and it feels easy! It was just one of those runs. I was on my 5.5m Simmer SER and a Mistral 41 and my Sontag 20 inch asymmetric fin.

JC: What is the key to nailing the perfect run?

ZD: It is really difficult to know exactly the secret to the technique. I am not a very geeky sailor. I don’t spend hours priming my gear, I rig it, get on it and sail it! I think I am quite a natural sailor from my point of view. You need to be a bit bold, you need to maybe have a screw loose. You need to be focused to where you are headed for. It does not take long to do it. The whole thing is over in twenty seconds. That is a very short period of time. I guess it is like running the Olympic 100 meters final. You have to be 100% in the zone. I think the key is having that ability to absolutely concentrate for that bit of time and know that your gear will get you there.

JC: What do you think set you aside from the other women that day?

ZD: I think I have a physical advantage in the sense that I am taller, bigger and longer levered. I am not saying that is the only aspect, Antoine is not the tallest for instance. He might be the strongest, he possibly is but he is certainly not taller than the others. Jürgen was there, Anders was there, what is he 6’4 or 6’5?; so there were taller guys there. I think there is just something in his technique and ability that enables him to go faster than anyone else down the canal. I think the Mistral 41 holds more than half the records in the canal. So I think there is certain evidence that the 41 was a particularly great design by Chris Lockwood.

JC: When you are at home do you ever go chasing big speed days when the forecast is on?

ZD:  God yeah! Again because I work it always seems to be windy when I have bookings. My work is not at all flexible. A month in advance is fine but I have patients that are booked in.  If I see on Monday that it is going to be windy on Wednesday; bad luck! There is absolutely nothing I can do about it. West Kirby is a long way away. It is a three and a half hour drive for us. I can’t just pop up for an hour, pop back and then see patients! So it always seems to be windy on the only days I can’t move anything. Monday and Fridays are paperwork days so I can shift those around at least! Kirby is the place to go in Britain and my last decent session was way back in January! The Ray also has potential but it is equally far away. I don’t know that place so well so it is much harder for me to just turn up. Whitey is always raving about it. The nice thing about Kirby is that you rig up in the car park next to the water, do the run, walk back up the wall and you are done. It is simple speed sailing! Also practice for Luderitz is amazing because it is very similar to how you take the corner and enter the course. That bend into the wall is a very similar physiological barrier. You have to be able to go at forty knots round a corner!

JC: Do you think Pro-am speed events like the Dunkerbeck Challenge are helping attract more people into the sport?

ZD: For sure!, at this event we have little kids and some very talented older youths racing together. The kids are doing 17 knots while some of the older youths are doing 34, isn’t that fab! They can windsurf, they can get in the harness, straps and sail between buoy A and buoy B. They have a result and they have competed next to some of their idols and legends of the sport. This is a fantastic way to inspire the younger generation to start competing.

The harder thing from the women’s point of view is that most women are not naturally competitive so they simply don’t want to compete like that. But the nice thing about speed is that you are not necessarily competing against the others. Out there on the course you have no idea what speeds anyone else is clocking up. It’s not like slalom sailing with eight people at the buoy screaming at each other. You go down the run on your own, you do your own thing and end up with your own set of results according to the conditions. People ask me if I am competitive, I am not really like that against others, I just want to be the best I can be. That usually means winning! If I do the best I can be, usually I do win! All of us can have a go at that and challenge yourself! Speed gives you that. The other disciplines are more fraught with danger and that is what women don’t like. I think women should speed sail actually. I think they see it as a big, heavy man’s sport while the reality is that it’s a great sport for women. It is fab what Bjorn has done and that is why I am here! I love the idea that everybody is here from all different levels. There was one guy here who had never rigged a sail before because he always rents from centres! He will be out there on the course with the likes of Bjorn! Where can you do that in any other sport. That is such an amazing opportunity alone. I would recommend this event to anybody. It is warm, sunny, windy, pretty flat and relatively easy. Nobody is expecting this guy to beat Bjorn but he is sailing with Bjorn and he will probably go the fastest he has ever been. That is what it is about; doing your own personal best!

JC: How would you feel if your record is beaten?

ZD:  Records are there to be broken aren’t they? My mile record was set in 2006 but now there is a girl called Hanna White who is setting herself up with a boat called Speedbird to break my mile record. That is quite exciting. She is sponsored by Landrover, has a team together and is trying to beat my record. If she does it, I would have held it for ten years so I am happy with that. I am proud that I have done it and the nice thing about records is that your name will be in the book forever. It would be nice to have another go at the 500 metre record. I feel that there is slight unfinished business in Luderitz because of that injury the day I broke the record. I had that window of opportunity that I could have gone to maybe 47 or 48 knots. Maybe I should go back and have one last stab at it. I am getting older and if you have that sort of crash at 55 miles per hour with little protective gear on, it can be pretty lethal. Maybe I’ll feel differently if somebody breaks it, who knows! 50 knots for a women is certainly possible; I think it would be tough. I still think there is a possibility that I could get there given the right day and the right location. If I had done the 47 or 48 that day I would be pushing now for the fifty because that would be my next big hurdle. Right now I am four knots off and that is a hell of a chunk to improve on at that speed. In women’s windsurfing there are some fantastic younger girls coming along and sooner or later one of them will go that fast!

Medium shot (2)

JC: Is Luderitz the only place where the records can be broken?

ZD:  I don’t think so, what we have established is that in order to beat the record what we need is absolutely flat water. If we could find a better canal in an easier location for everybody to get to that would be the answer. The South of France or maybe some places in Holland might be the ones. I think you need to build two or three canals at slightly different angles! We are not talking a huge amount of money to dig a hole. I know it is a kilometre long hole but it does not strike me as that expensive, but you need a big sponsor to put that effort in. I think there are guys looking into this right now, yes you will have to wait for a forecast, but I think there will be more opportunities to go quicker.

The post ZARA DAVIS – SPEED QUEEN appeared first on Windsurf Magazine.

Click here to read more: Windsurf Magazine

15Dec/14Off

Thunderous Thursday – Speed Edition

Huge storms swept over the northern part of Europe during the middle of last week and without much end in sight it looks like they will keep on rolling in during the coming week. So now is definitely the time to get those early Christmas presents out or if you are still in need of […]

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13Dec/13Off

Steve And The Storm

Windsurfers are a pretty adventurous lot and not afraid to go chasing off after storms seeking those magic conditions. But it does not always go to plan, but it does usually make a good story, this one is from Steve … Continue reading

Click here to read more: Hot Sails Maui blog

15May/13Off

REAP WHAT YOU SOW

REAP WHAT YOU SOW

TRISTAN HASKINS ONE HOUR PB RECORD

UK Speedsailor Tristan Haskins, weighing just 70 kg, has clocked some impressive speeds recently after putting in some serious practise and work on his equipment setups with a PB 1-hr record and membership of the 40-knot club. You can read and view a clip about his recent achievements at the Tushingham website!

Click here to read more: Windsurf Magazine

15May/13Off

West Kirby 2nd ALL TIME 1 HOUR RECORD

Off to West Kirby for what turned out to be a classic day trip. Not the pure off the wind, neck breaking, speed session that we love at West Kirby, but a day to savour and enjoy all my toys….

Started on the Starboard iSonic Speed Carbon W44 with a Tushingham X15 5.8 and 5.2 – experimenting with spacers, outhaul, downhaul etc. Whatever I did, I was just hovering around 37 knots run after run after run, with 10s average of 36.6 knots. Once I realised the wind was too light (25 knots) and a bit too square for mega speeds I decided to put in some gybe practice.

 

ONE HOUR, and 49 gybes later… I’d managed an average of 18.6 knots without stopping. Shame I hadn’t put the 5.8 on, but by this time I’d been sailing for 5 hours and I was pretty well knackered…. With the Starboard iSonic 87 and the Tushingham X15 5.2 it was “easy cruising” to 2nd place on the West Kirby ALL TIME 1 HOUR RECORD.

Gybe track

1 hour stats

Click here to read more: Tushingham

8Feb/13Off

What does 44 knots at West Kirby feel like?

Ever wondered what 44 knots actually feels and looks like? Recent signing Steve Thorp takes us down the wall at West Kirby (UK) with his harness mount during one of his runs which had a top peak speed of over … Continue reading

Click here to read more: Hot Sails Maui blog

8Feb/13Off

Top News This Week

One of the first videos to hit our screen’s this week was this little offering from Ben Proffitt and friends; the return of Proffitt’s Training Diaries was a very welcomed one and we cannot wait for the next installment! The next video cam from a little closer to home, as SWA freestyler Ollie Acton took to the water in Hayling…and it didn’t end well. That of course reminds us that it is the Plymouth and Exeter SWA wave event this weekend too, good luck to all those attending; we’re sure it will be a raucous affair!

More action at home came from West Kirby last weekend, where some incredible speeds were notched up by some of the UK’s, Ireland’s and Holland’s finest, check out the gallery here and a video from Ant Baker here. 

This week also saw the launch of a great new APP from Puravida Boardriders, making searching the latest info on their windsurfing equipment a lot easier.

And our final highlight for this week is to remind you that entry for the amazing Defi Wind is now open, all the info is here and we look forward to seeing a lot of Brits taking on the event this year!

Until next week….

Click here to read more: Boards Windsurfing » Windsurfing News

8Feb/13Off

Speed catch up

I looked at all my tracks on GPS-RESULTS and my top speeds where all running at about 125 degrees to the wind..  big bear offs in to the middle of the lake where the chop then kills the speed. The wall – and the flat water –  was running at 100 to 110 degrees to the wind, very square really. I am putting the disappointing speeds down to 2 things… Moo Board not getting loose on the square coarse and Moo Swept back Assy fin not giving me enough lift on the square sections. My Moo set up is fantastic for those perfect broad days, but maybe not so good on the squarer days. X15 felt great – well powered up, but I just couldn’t transfer that power to speed. Still not had a PROPER session on the Moo board. So ?? What to do ??

I’m doing three things.

1)      Getting myself some mXr UFO fins. Delta wing shape – had a go on one on Monday on a Falcon 45. Brilliant fin. Great grip, plenty of low speed lift – then BAMMM!

2)      Maybe get hold of a Starboard iSonic W44 Carbon

3)      Next time it’s square (less than 110 degrees offwind) I will try a regular mast – not the speed tip (or maybe just tighten the outhaul a tad to totally + 1cm or so beyond neutral – as opposed to neutral / negative 1cm to 3cm).

That’s all for now, fingers crossed for higher speeds next time! Image credit Oisin van Gelderen

 

Click here to read more: Tushingham

8Feb/13Off

Video: Ant Baker at West Kirby

First Boards shared a great gallery from the 4th of Feb speed sessions at West Kirby, now you can check out this video from the day from North Sails/Fanatic rider Ant Baker…looks like he had an early start!

Click here to read more: Boards Windsurfing » Windsurfing News

7Feb/13Off

Gallery: West Kirby Speed

Yesterday, Boards reported there had been some top speeds clocked up at West Kirby this weekend and now we have a gallery from the day showing many of those taking on the wall including Ant Baker, Martin van Meurs, Steve Thorp, Oisin van Gelderen and more! From what we hear it was a tough, tight course which makes the 500m speeds especially even more impressive. Fingers crossed there’s another day like this soon, even looks like the sun came out to play too!

Image credits Oisin van Gelderen.

Jim Crossley Jon White Gildas Bechet Stephen Lawless Stephen Lawless Michael George Gildas Bechet Gildas Bechet Martin van Meurs Ant Baker Pete Young Ant Baker Jon White Pete Davis Michael George Pete Davis Andy Holland Matthew York Michael George Pete Davis Pete Davis Jim Crossley Stephen Lawless Ant Baker Stuart Trunkfield Martin van Meurs Martin van Meurs Jim Crossley Jim Crossley Jon White Gildas Bechet Mark Hayford?? Stephen Lawless Martin van Meurs Trsitan Haskins Martin van Meurs Martin van Meurs Martin van Meurs Martin van Meurs Gildas Bechet 40-Steve Thorp and Izzy Steve 'The Thorpedo' Thorp Steve 'The Thorpedo' Thorp Oisin van Gelderen Oisin van Gelderen start

 

Click here to read more: Boards Windsurfing » Windsurfing News