Following a ground-breaking day of hurricane-strength windsurfing, six sailors out of the ten who began - Marcilio Browne, Dany Bruch, Victor Fernandez, Robby Swift, Julien Taboulet and Thomas Traversa - advance to Mission 2 of Red Bull Storm Chase.
With wind speeds peaking at over 70 knots and angry, 20-ft waves, the ten competitors on Mission 1 completed three rounds of competition at two spots in Brandon Bay, Ireland.
To kick-off the first round, Professional Windsurfers’ Association (PWA) World Tour Head Judge Duncan Coombs, Red Bull Storm Chase Sports Director Klaas Voget and local Guest Judge Timo Mullen picked a man-on-man format with a ten-minute heat duration in cross-onshore, port tack conditions at ‘Dumps’ beach.
There were definitely nerves amongst the competitors as they prepared their gear and struggled to drag it to the water’s edge in such extreme conditions. Not many people expected it to be even possible to sail in such strong wind that angrily churned-up the sea.
It pretty soon became clear that they meant business and there was no holding back straight from the starting horn. Germany’s Leon Jamaer, used to gale force conditions on the Baltic Sea, was first to impress by landing some rocket airs and clean backloops and successfully managed to control his rig enough to ride some waves.
The French entrants - Julien Taboulet and Thomas Traversa - also showed little of the nerves they had on the beach beforehand, throwing down elite-level combo jumps such as table-top forward loops. Even just the ‘straight’ jumps were unbelievable to watch as the judges counted the seconds of hang-time. Dany Bruch and Boujmaa Guilloul also pushed the standard of competition with a range of tweaked pushloops, stalled forwards and table-top forwards.
The day was a little more frustrating for Kenneth Danielsen who, due to airline delays, was forced to compete on borrowed equipment - even in a loaned-out wetsuit. Denied of his trusted high-wind tools the Danish Pro struggled to show his usually outstanding level of jumping and riding moves.
Wearing padded ION impact protection vests for extra confidence, the bar was raised far beyond anyone’s expectations when Robby Swift stuck what was, according to Head Judge Duncan Coombs, ‘the sickest, highest, most delayed and controlled pushloop forward I’ve ever seen’.
Swift’s board snapped after the extreme impact of landing but, as the Sea-Doo rescue team had their backs, sailors could fully concentrate on their moves. If anyone would’ve gone out-of-sight, each also wore Weatherdock GPS devices that allowed real-time tracking of their positions.
The level of waveriding was arguably more impressive given the wind. Marcilio ‘Brawzinho’ Browne notched an 8.5 for a frontside ride that included a cleanly-landed goiter, while Thomas Traversa claimed the wave score-of-the-day - a perfect 10 - with a flawlessly executed frontside 360 in the bone-crunching shorebreak.
After two rounds and a session to film the action from GoPro cameras, the judges opted to switch to a nearby reef break known as ‘Hell’s Gate’. This brought a different test with sideshore wind and crazy mast-and-a-half-high set waves exploding onto a rocky bottom. Fluky on the inside under the cliffs, and gusting up to 60 knots on the outside, the second and final round really separated the men from the boys.
Dany Bruch showed great skills at timing his runs out through the impact zone and fearlessly launched into super-delayed forward loops and even managed to complete a backside 360 on the tricky closing-out sections.
Once again Taboulet, Swift and Traversa rose to the challenge while former World Champs Angulo and Victor Fernandez, managed to make solid turns to prove their wave-riding class. Fernandez, who’s also the current Vice World Champ, even scored a clean aerial as well as linking stylish turns for a final round performance that shot him into the top-6.
A crowd of hardy souls braving the weather gathered as Duncan Coombs announced the six sailors to successfully advance to Mission 2 - Marcilio Browne, Dany Bruch, Victor Fernandez, Robby Swift, Julien Taboulet and Thomas Traversa.
It’s hoped that the second Mission can be completed before the end of the first contest holding period on March 22nd. Four sailors will advance from Mission 2 to a final held sometime between July 22nd and September 10th.