by Sean O'Brien
It’s August and it’s time for the 2013 Mauritius Freeride Paradise Challenge! Four days of slalom racing across four venues, showcasing the best beaches that Mauritius has to offer.
Antoine Questel (FRA-99) at Le Morne
Sean O’Brien and Luke Baillie made the epic pilgrimage down to the tiny and glamorous French/African island to score a full week of perfect windsurfing conditions and contest one of the most challenging, yet super fun, windsurfing competitions around the globe!
This Pro-Am contest is a teams event like no other. two-man teams compete in four separate disciplines; downwind slalom, speed, figure-8 marathon slalom and the final event, a 40km marathon race across the south-coast of the Mauritius island, finishing at the famous Preskil Beach Resort in Mahebourg. Competitors from all parts of the Indian Ocean, including South Africa, Australia, Mauritius, Seychelles and Reunion, as well as a contingent from mainland France, competed for the title, with the best scores from each team counting for the overall result at the end of the week.
The event kicked off at the famous wavesailing break on the south-western coast, Le Morne for the Malibu Classic. A radical break boasting some of best wavesailing the southern hemisphere has to offer, with huge swells breaking over razor reef surrounding a flat-water bay – perfect for slalom racing! The short downwind course started with a ‘Le Morne style’ beach start; competitors running 15m down the coral cluttered beach with gear in hand before entering the water for a four-gybe course finishing only metres from the beach right in front of the eager spectators. Antoine Questel from France, finished the day on top winning the last final, despite Julien Maurel and Fabrice Leclezio, the Mauritian hotshots giving Questel a run for his money and beating him in the first final. Sean O’Brien was fourth overall with a fifth and a fourth in the two finals with Luke Baillie in 11th overall.
Two rest days gave the sailors a chance to tune up sailing from the event sponsor’s backyard, the famous Preskil Beach Resort where the competitors could rig and launch from the front doors to their hotel rooms in perfect flatwater conditions. Racing resumed again with the Oxygen Cup and Ekip Speed Challenge – two days of downwind slalom and speed launching from Point D’Esny, inside the outer reefs – a perfect flatwater speed blasting location.
Antoine Questel cemented his dominance in these events winning five of the seven races in the Oxygen Cup ahead of Sean O’Brien who posted six second’s and Fabrice Leclezio. Questel punished the two speed races of the Ekip Speed Challenge ahead of Leclezio and Peter-John Lumley of South Africa.
The final and most challenging event of the Paradise Challenge was the Pheonix Crossing, a 40km slalom race with an upwind component, starting at Point D’Esny, gybing at Le Touressne Golf Course before returning back to Point D’Esny, pitching the best of the windsurfers against the best of the kitesurfers. A rabbit boat-start got the fleet away with Questel leading from the start ahead of O’Brien and Leclezio before O’Brien broke his universal joint and crawled back to 10th place by the first gybe…
The upwind runs on the return home changed the places with Maurel and Leclezio opting to take their big boards and 8.6m sails despite the 18-25 knot forecast, giving them much better upwind angle and the ability to pass Questel and finish first, second respectively. Christopher Tyack and Jean Francois Ulcoq, the next Mauritian team were fourth and fifth across the line ahead of Luke Baillie and O’Brien in sixth and seventh. With the results needing BOTH team riders to cross the line it was Mauritius teams first and second overall in front of the Australians, team South Africa (Mitch Wagstaff and Peter-John Lumley) and team France (Questel and Delphine Cousins).
The results over the four separate events for the teams meant the Mauritian favourites, Leclezio and Maurel were able to win the Mauritius Freeride Paradise Challenge for 2013 ahead of team France and team Australia.
A radical week of sailing completed at one of the most beautiful, scenic and windy locations the southern hemisphere has to offer, with strong winds for the entire seven days competitors were at the beach to complete the four-day competition.
O’Brien and Baillie, not new to reef sailing after finishing up at the Australian Slalom Championships the month before on the Great Barrier Reef on Australia’s north eastern coast finishing first and seventh respectively, have already confirmed their entry for the 2014 event – a perfect way to spend the southern hemisphere winter, racing at one of the world’s best kept windsurfing secrets! Pro-am is back!