Wisps of fine white sand streaked across the beach in Leucate yesterday morning as the flags strained in the strong, early morning winds.
Despite a cold start it was a clear sign of the excellent conditions and the drama of the opening rounds of the 2004 PWA Super X World Tour, that were to follow.
The side offshore winds provided a perfect opportunity for beach starts and Race Director Klaus MICHEL set a start time for 11.00. As a gift from above, the sun burnt through the early morning clouds just in time for the first heats and the scene was set for great day. The first round was underway at 11.15 with winds by then gusting over 50 knots. Heat 1 saw Nik BAKER (Mistral, North) streak into the lead closely followed by Nicholas AKGAZCIYAN (AHD, Neil Pryde). Akgazciyan slipped into the lead after Baker fell on the first spock and held on to first until the finish line.
In general, it was the usual suspects who dominated the early heats. Julien TABOULET (JP, Neil Pryde) pushed through in first place of heat two shortly followed by Remko De WEERD (Fanatic, Gaastra) and Matt PRITCHARD (Gaastra). Heat three was conquered by Robby SWIFT (JP, Neil Pryde) and Peter Volwater (Arrows) and it was Antoine ALBEAU (AHD, Neil Pryde), the number one seed following Fuerteventura 2003, who showed clearly why he is favorite at the event, to win heat 4.
It was the big guns who continued to hold form in the semis with Pritchard, Baker, Volwater, Albeau and Swift all advancing to the final along with Taboulet, Akgazciyan and Pieter Bijl (Fanatic, Neil Pryde).
The losers final was very much a haven for the young pretenders and it was Benoit MOUSSILMANI (Gaastra) who kept his head to finish first. Douglas "Cheo" DIAZ (Fanatic, North) managed an amazing comeback after a disastrous, start which left him last at the first mark, to take second, closely followed by Benoit's older brother Cyril MOUSSILMANI (Fanatic) in third.
The winners' final was for most sailors simply a battle for third, as Pritchard and Albeau moved clearly into the lead and into their own private war. Pritchard came close time and time again, only to see the big Frenchman move ahead once more with powerful maneuvers and blistering speed.
After a short break for lunch, round two began and once again it was familiar faces that graced the winning slots. Baker, Pritchard, Taboulet and Akgazciyan all demonstrated a superb command of the language of windsurfing to move up into the semis. With the course now altered to have the sailors performing their forward loops on the way in it was a common sight to see 3 or 4 sailors looping in perfect synchronicity - definitely a hit with the crowds.
After a brief spell of shifting, gusty winds, which caused a few heats to be abandoned, the course was adjusted and second round finals could be run. Having narrowly missed out on a slot in the final, Taboulet was determined to re-establish his reputation in front of his home crowd. With great speed and superb spocks, he cleared the rest of the pack to finish clear ahead of fellow Frenchman Mathieu BONNO (JP, Neil Pryde) and Akgazciyan with Xavier HUART (Mistral, North) finishing the French quartet in fourth.
On to the winners' side and it was all action in the slightly lighter conditions, as seasoned veterans fought hard with the Super X virgins. Baker led to the first mark with the entire pack chomping at his heels. Positions were traded back and forth as sailors either fell or completed their moves but the race was between Baker and Albeau for first place. Eventually Baker held his final spock well enough to stay ahead of Albeau and win the second round. Diaz, who has already established himself well at this event, took third with Cyril MOUSSILMANI in a very respectable fourth. Pritchard and Swift failed to consolidate on their earlier performances and finished in fifth and sixth respectively.
The dynamic action of Super X has proved a huge hit with the crowds here in Leucate, who have flocked to the beach in their thousands to see the who's who of windsurfing strut their stuff.
With similar conditions forecast for today, it promises to be a superb event.