The 2008 RS:X World Championships gets underway in New Zealand this weekend with a world-class fleet lined up and the battle on for the final Olympic qualification slots.
Despite being on the other side of the world for many competitors the 2008 RS:X World Championships at Takapuna Boating Club has attracted maximum entries, a total of 200 sailors, including the best of the best. This is an Olympic year and consequently this World Championships is a 'don't miss' regatta.
Forty-eight countries are represented at the event which starts on Sunday 13 January and runs through until Saturday 19 January.
France, China and Poland are the nations which have the largest teams competing here in New Zealand outside the 22-strong local kiwi team. France has 15 sailors, China 13 and Poland 12.
(FRA) won gold in the women's windsurfing at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 and has been selected to represent her country in Qingdao. MERRET has a current ISAF World Sailing Ranking
of #7 and highlights in 2007 include a fourth place at the Olympic Test Event in Qingdao in August, and a third place at the ISAF Grade 1 Breitling Regatta in May.
MERRET heads a strong French team in both the women's and men's fleets. Other strong contenders from the French windsurfing team include Julien BONTEMPS
(FRA), Charline PICON
(FRA) and Nicolas HUGUET
Current men's Olympic windsurfing champion Gal FRIDMAN
of Israel is also in Auckland and will line up in the men's fleet.
Current world champions Zofia KLEPACKA
of Poland and Ricardo SANTOS
of Brazil are both in New Zealand to defend the titles they won at the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships
The young KLEPACKA from Poland, who holds a record four ISAF Youth World
titles, had an impressive year in 2007 with a string of top five results at major regattas and topping it off with a win at the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Cascais, Portugal in July. She has a current #2 world ranking.
SANTOS also performed well in 2007, not finishing outside the top ten in all the year's major events, SANTOS won not only the ISAF Sailing World Championships but also the ISAF 1 Breitling Regatta. The Brazilian's current world ranking is at #7.
As well as the star names, there are a host of younger windsurfers aiming to make their mark in Takapuna. Amongst them is local lad Josh NIXON
, from hosts Takapuna Boating Club, who, aged 16, is the youngest rider in the men's fleet.
NIXON was New Zealand's RS:X representative at the 2007 Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championships sailed in July last year in Kingston, Canada where he finished a respectable seventh place in a fleet of 21. It was on his return to New Zealand from Canada that he decided to pull out of school and focus on his RS:X training.
"I came home and decided I wanted to give the 2008 World Championships in New Zealand a good crack,"
"I joined correspondence school to finish my NCEA Level 2 qualifications, which means that I do school work with a tutor every morning and windsurf in the afternoon. My school tutor is very flexible and she fits in around my training times, which usually means that I am at her house at seven in the morning - it is so early that I have to bring her coffee each morning."
Stepping into the highly competitive world of Olympic class sailing at 16 years of age is a challenge that NIXON is prepared to rise to, setting himself some realistic goals for the future.
"Since I left school my windsurfing has become three times better than it was, however it has made me realise how good the top guys are," says Nixon. "Competing in this open world event at Olympic level where a good proportion of the fleet are 10-15 years older and more experienced will provide a good base for me to work from. I know it will take another three to four years to get to their level, but I will take it one year at a time."
"My goal is to have some good races that are just 'blinders', just to prove that I can get up there and compete with the good guys and also I would like to be the third best New Zealander behind Tom [ASHLEY] and JP [TOBIN]."
Practice Race Under Sunny Skies
Weeks and months of organization and preparation were tested today as windsurfers took to the water for the first organized race of the regatta - the practice race.
The scheduled 13:00 start was delayed slightly as race officials reset the start line after a slight change in wind direction. Generally conditions at Takapuna were excellent with a warm, sunny day and a constant eight knot breeze from the north east.
Most of the 200 competitors took the opportunity provided to test equipment and conditions. Results of the practice race do not count and many who chose to start the practice race didn't complete the course choosing to come ashore and rest before the start of competition tomorrow.
The first race of the regatta is scheduled to start at 12:00 on Sunday and two races will be sailed if conditions allow. The forecast is for 6 to 10 knots of breeze from the northeast and a predicted air temperature high of 22 degrees.
The practice race is also a chance for race officials and event organizers to ensure that they are thoroughly prepared for the week of racing ahead. A team of volunteers successfully trialled the exciting mark rounding and scoring system which allows immediate on-line publication of positions and standings for the first time at an event like this.
The fleet in Takapuna also took the opportunity today to mark the passing of New Zealand legend Sir Edmund HILLARY by flying black ribbons from their sails.
The entire New Zealand team of 22 sailors had black ribbons attached to the top batten of their sails as they headed out on to the water, a mark of respect mirrored by sailors from around another 20 countries.
RS:X World Championships - www.rsxclass.com/worlds2008.html