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Going fast, Stopping fast

Published on December 2nd, 2019

The Lüderitz Speed Challenge is annually held in Namibia, attracting kite and windsurf speed sailors with hopes of going faster than ever before. The venue is a shallow canal, strategically angled to the predominant wind direction, and with winds gusting to 65 knots, speed happens.

During the 2019 edition on October 21 to December 1, Belgium Vincent Valkenaers’ speed of 53.25 knots came closest to eclipsing the windsurfer world record held by Antoine Albeau (FRA), averaging just two hundredths short of the 53.27 knot pace set in 2015. No cigars this year.

While going fast is the theme of the event, critical to each run is the ability to stop. Miriam Rasmussen describes the popular techniques used.

For rookies the far scariest aspect of trying on the channel is how to stop. Imagine going 54 knots on your windsurfing kit, when you realize that you have five seconds to brake down to 0, unless you want your precious carbon fin to be working as a plough at the end of the pit. Having a plan is a good idea, but the first time will always be a little exciting when you cross the finish line.

There are three main categories of strategies you can use at the end of your run:

1 – The S: It looks good, and works well, you enter a long, deep laydown jibe at top speed, take 2/3s of the speed out, then raise the sail, steer the board the other way, and smoothly step off the board exactly when it stops 3 meters from the pick-up car, for the crew to take your gear off your hands. Easy.
In strong winds however, raising the sail can be a bit risky, so method #2 applies here:

2- The 360: Enter laydown at full speed, and keep pushing the sail down until you stop. Both easier and safer, only catch is that you stop far from the pick-up car.

If you fail at any of the above, method #3 will apply:

3- The Crash: Everyone has done it, some do it every time. Mark Grinnell, aka Rocket Man, the fastest man in South Africa, the African continent, the Commonwealth, Southern Hemisphere and the moon, with 51.83 kts, still wakes up at night, gasping for breath, shouting “HOW DO I STOP THE BLOODY THING!” In the earlier years, the stopping pit was considerably shorter, so Mark’s nightmares were justified.

Not everybody use Mark’s ‘All balls, No brains’ approach to the channel, but crashing at the end of the run is still clearly what causes most damage to both crew and vessel, with this year we saw bruised ankles, jaws, toes, noses, and the occasional kick in the groin, poke in the eye, and chop to the neck, along with broken boards, sails, and damaged fins.

Most of the clips in this video were taken in relatively strong winds with methods #1 and #2 displayed. What method would you choose the first time you tried the channel?


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