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29 September 2005, 06:48 pm
RS:X Fleets Grows As Anticipation Builds In Cadiz
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RS:X Cadiz Race 2005
Cadiz, Spain

Over 120 of the world's top windsurfers are in Spain for the RS:X Cadiz Race, by far the biggest event so far on the new Olympic Windsurfing equipment. In the first of a series of reports from Cadiz, has been speaking to some of the major players in the new class as well as getting feedback on the sailors who have already had the chance to race it.
Two time Olympic medallist Mike GEBHARDT (USA) has been a key figure in the development of the RS:X board and is now a member of the Neil Pryde team. He is in Cadiz this weekend and on Saturday morning will be running a clinic with the board´s designer Jean BOULDIRES before the racing gets underway.

Taking about the Saturday morning session, GEBHARDT said, 'My intention with the clinic is just to pass on all the little tit-bits we´ve learnt on how to rig it. We´re still in our infancy in understanding the refinements. Just looking around at the fleet nobody has figured out their optimal positions so we can help them with that and give them some ideas on tuning.'

For GEBHARDT, who represents male sailors as part of the RS:X Management team, the new equipment presents windsurfers with a genuinely fresh challenge, 'The board really does require almost 50% longboard skills and 50% formula skills,' he explained, 'so I´m actually quite excited about that as we watch people trying to develop their technique to make the board´s go faster… When they first get on the board and they come from a Formula background or a longboard background they´re expected to act towards those extremes - those boards are almost polar opposites and this board is literary smack in the middle.'

GEBHARDT thinks of the new board as the next step forward for windsurfing, and sees a rosy future ahead, 'I think the future of the sport has been stimulated to move in a different direction than it has been. There may have been some resistance in the windsurfing community as a whole, but I think now that´s changed and now it´s more a mentality of let´s embace this, let´s run with it.'

With the new board, GEBHARDT believes the sport now has the capability to appeal to a greater number of athletes, with both lighter and heavier sailors having success in the regattas to date. 'I think seriously someone between 65-90 kg can be competitive depending on the wind conditions,' he stated. 'From watching the regatta in San Francisco which had a 90 kilo guy doing very well in very marginal planing conditions, which was exciting to see and at the same time in the windiest race we had a 70 kilo guy rounding the top mark in fourth. So although it was a small fleet with not much experience it really shows it rewards the tuning and the technical aspect of figuring how to sail and that´s exciting.'

He can already see the interest the new board is creating in all parts of the world, 'If a country like Brazil, whose last Olympic trials had two IMCO sailors for the guys and four for the women and they´ve already got 60 boards ordered down there. Those numbers are stimulating.'

One sailor who was quickly into action on the new board was New Zealand's Jean-Paul TOBIN, one of the few sailors in Cadiz to have already raced the board competitively having competed in Rizhao at the recent Neil Pryde RS:X China International Invitation Tournament. TOBIN, who at one time led the ISAF World Sailing Rankings in the previous Olympic board the Mistral, mirrored GEBHARDT's view that the board´s adaptability is a massive part of its appeal, 'It´s quite radical in what you can do in the different wind conditions,' he commented. 'There´s a changeover period between when you have your mast track forward and centreboard down and into wind you´re sailing in more of a formula style of windsurfing, so it´s quite interesting to see what people are doing. The class is very different and people are doing very different things.'

After his first competition and the initial practice in Cadiz, TOBIN has already formed a high opinion of the RS:X, 'I personally think the board is great. It´s good fun to race in light winds, very tactical and in the breeze it´s fast, so it´s doing it´s job, it´s doing what it´s supposed to do.'

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© Mara Escassi
All this is music to Rich JEFFRIES's (USA) ears after he stepped down as Chair of the ISAF Windsurfing Committee to help establish the new RS:X class, as head of the RS:X Management team. The team, which includes GEBHARDT and Alessandra SENSINI (ITA) as the women sailors' representative, will act as class administrators with JEFFRIES as class director to around 2007, when they will hand over the reins to whoever is elected to run the Class Association by the sailors. JEFFRIES acknowledged that their had been some teething difficulties with the new board, but the overall response as shown by the turnout in Cadiz, has seen the sailors react in an extremely positive fashion, 'What we have to remember with the RS:X is it´s the first time ISAF has chosen a new Olympic class that was not in production at the time it was chosen,' he explained. 'Every other product was in production, even the 49er was in limited production. We had to get it going, finish the R&D on it, get it into production, go through the production problems - the first few problems you have with anything new - and get it into the field. We still have little issues we need to fix, but I´m very, very excited and the sailors are real happy.'

During the weekend in Cadiz a class meeting will gather together members of the RS:X Management team along with the sailors and coaches in Cadiz to look at the future of the class association. As JEFFRIES explains, 'We want to let the class know where we are going. We want to have feedback from the coaches, what they´re saying… and then we want to get feedback from the sailors and to talk to them. It´s a very upbeat thing. Isn´t this great, we´ve got a new class, everyone´s got a new board - to have 120 sailors here is just outstanding.' ISAF Vice-President Fiona BARRON (GBR), who has the specific remit for windsurfing, is also in Cadiz for the weekend.

Six races are set to be sailed, with three each on Saturday and Sunday, weather conditions permitting. The weather in Cadiz this week have been great for the windsurfers who arrived early, with competitors in the marina describing the 15-20 knots as 'perfect conditions'. Yesterday the wind dropped, with today expected to be the same before current forecast predict the Levante to sweep in from the east on Saturday with 20-25 knot winds the perfect stage for the opening day of racing.

The wind is then set to drop slightly on Sunday, when the (currently) 95 male competitors are due to be split into gold and silver fleets before the final race. A Neil Pryde Party will follow the final race on Sunday evening, drawing the weekend to a close, as many of the competitors will then begin their preparations again for the opening day of racing at the Raceboard World Championship on Tuesday.

ISAF, Image: Practice Race © Mara Escassi
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