Windsurfing: Airwaves Nouméa Dream Cup 2014

With a week that started off windless, those of us who love and watch windsurfing here in New Caledonia were a little worried. We’ve known windless days at Anse Vata (Nouméa), and weeks before we’d asked our friends at Aloha Windsurfing what would happen if there were no wind for the Windsurfing World Cup, a return to the island after 19 years’ absence. “That’s not a possibility,” said Gégé, “there will be wind.”

Gégé was right. The wind kicked up last Thursday and by Saturday, at 25 knots, we’d only seen wind that strong on pre-cyclone days. Thank goodness the wind held, the sun shone, and the champions from all over the world got what they’d flown so far for. Amazing! Sunday (23 November) saw just an inkling less wind and the fans were out en masse for the spectacular finals (watch the video above to get a sense of the extraordinary sailing and excitement).

The race in Nouméa was hailed again and again by the competitors as “one of the best spots in the world for the slalom“. As the newly crowned 2014 World Cup Champion, Antoine Albeau, stated, “The conditions were incredible, proof that this course must return to the pro circuit.”

Windsurfing Finals 2014 NC

Photo Julie Harris

Chatting with Sarah Quita-Offringa of Aruba, who placed 3rd in the race, she said this was the best spot for windsurfing she’d been to all year – just incredible sailing out there! The jubilation was all over her face.

Unfortunately, after winning the semi-final with a fabulous finish well ahead of her competitors, Sarah’s wishbone broke during the final race. We’d seen her go down and struggle to keep her sail steady. She says next year she’ll be ready and better organised – instead of thinking her wishbone will hold (it had already been breaking before the final) – she’ll be ready with another one. When she said she hoped to see us next year, we were surprised. She said, “Everyone is so happy with this race. They want it to come back!”

What a success for everyone – the competitors, the local windsurfers, the organisers, and the fans. Congratulations to all the competitors, including Matthieu Blavette, our son’s windsurfing trainer. You were all breathtaking to watch!

I do so hope Nouméa will see this race again in its near future: it’s time to share this site and conditions once again with the world.

To see all of the marvelous pictures and videos from this event, see: http://www.airwaves-noumeadreamcup.nc/en/ and http://www.pwaworldtour.com/index.php?id=2075

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Arson in Nouméa: An Anse Vata icon burned and broken

Photo Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

“The faré (hut) is burning!”

“No! They were just re-roofing it yesterday. It was almost done. It looked great!”

“Why would it be on fire? Is it the sun, with the fresh straw? Did someone use a magnifying glass? Was it just too hot?”

Such went our first 3-way conversation about the burning hut, an icon on Anse Vata here in Nouméa, last Saturday. The roads were closed off, smoke was billowing out of the top of the faré and none of us could understand what was happening.

It is said to have started at approximately 5am Saturday (19 April) morning. It burned all day and took a full team of firefighters to work through the day to put it out. The hut houses a newly opened water sports activity centre (MD Plaisirs) and is just above the yellow taxi boat service to Ile aux Canards and Ilot Maitre. Luckily no one was injured, though the inventory inside the hut was destroyed, along with refrigerators and freezers in the lower level.

When we spoke with locals along Anse Vata on Saturday, they fell on a continuum between disappointed and disgusted. The hut was a symbol, somehow, for many of us. You couldn’t walk along Anse Vata and not know where the faré was. We used it as a meeting spot, we remembered when it was a tourist office, and others take kite-surfing classes there. It was just a part of anyone who spent time running, walking, windsurfing, swimming, doing stand-up paddle or picnicking at Anse Vata. How could it be alight?

Locals told us a group of youth were spotted around the faré early that morning, after the clubs had let out. Police are apparently following up a number of leads, including some camera footage. An employee told me he and his colleagues had smelled gasoline in and around the faré in the few days leading up to the fire, and they had wondered what was up. They don’t know if there was a link, or if the fire had been premeditated. Some say it must have been – it was carried out in the early hours of the morning, the fire was lit from behind the street (on the side overlooking the lagoon), where the perpetrators could not be seen. Apparently they would have had to climb the faré to set it afire, etc. But we all await the police findings.

Photo JH

Photo JH

This wasn’t the first time someone had tried to burn down the faré. It happened in 1999 and 2003. With the end of school holidays and a general rise in vandalism and car theft, I suppose we should not be surprised by this act of disrespect for the community, for the work of the roofers, and for what the faré means to many.

But did the persons who did this think about the longer term consequences? It’s meant that 1 or possibly 2 employees will lose their jobs, with the loss of the stock, less work for them to do, and a significant financial hit (2-3 million francs CFP in inventory)  to the centre. Speaking with 1 such employee, he said, “It would be one thing if I were being let go because I wasn’t good at my job, but this …  This forces me to go and it’s not my fault. I didn’t do anything wrong. I understand if they have to let me go, I really do. But it’s not fair, somehow. Someone had a good time playing a trick, and I have to try to find another job.”

And as for the workers who spent a week re-roofing in the hot sun, their work was for nothing. A local said it cost in the neighbourhood of 3-4 million Pacific francs to restore the faré’s roof that week, between the labour and the materials. Half insured by the town hall and half by the centre, no one knows when it will be repaired.

A number of my friends who now live abroad wrote to say it was sad to see this happen. I agree. It’s sad and disappointing. My question is, as always, what are we going to do about it?

Touques, touques and more touques!

Photo Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

Nouméa saw its biggest Touques Regatta yet yesterday, to the tune of some 10,000 spectators, as estimated by the city. What, you ask, are touques? Well, in New Caledonia, they appear to be handmade, engine-less  water vessels that can be made of next to anything, powered only by wind, cycling, paddling and rowing (and any other power you can find without an engine). Some 34 teams came together yesterday to race their homemade vessels for an hour at Anse Vata and the best part? The fun, the team spirit, the laughter and the smiling crowds!

You have to see it to believe it. How can 786 empty water bottles, collected over a year’s time, and wrapped together by 8 metres of scotch tape support a team of 8 people? And not only carry a team, but carry them into 3rd place? Ingenuity, good ole muscle grease and good  humour seemed to be the not-so-secret secrets of the day.

Photo JH

Photo JH

The winning team (Sports Action – we called them the Seahorse team, because of their mascot) had never entered before and were off with a fantastic lead, thanks to their 2 sails. Hoping just not to come last, Sports Action surprised even themselves. Though the wind (and their sails) played heavily in their favour, the return with the wind against them proved an unexpected  challenge for the 12 youth racing the vessel – combined with a central rudder that was just a bit too long (and got stuck in the sand). They say they’ll work on their concept for next year …

Imagine if you can a team of no more than 12, rowing, cycling (yes a bike was mounted on the winning float), paddling, and even kicking behind (only 2 are allowed to do this per float). Imagine the vessels bumping into each other (it being very hard to steer these things …), getting stuck on each other, victim to human power (or lack thereof), wind and sun. Such a spectacle to watch!

Apparently, it’s a fantastic team-building exercise and spans ages and cultures. Of the 34 teams, the electricity company, the post office, the mayor’s office, the prison administration officials, the military, schools, sports associations, the weather reporters – well, everybody and anybody can create a team and a touque (and they did this year!). The young and the old, the Caledoniens, the “metros”, the Melanesians, everybody was involved. Given that the teams had to work together to finish (many having started months in advance to build their vessels) and confront the odds, they did – and the smiles on their faces, having completed the race were wonderful. I wonder what they’re dreaming up for next year …

Photo Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

Christmas arrives in Nouméa with Santa’s garden

Santa's garden_1We couldn’t believe our eyes. Armed with iPad/GPS, we decided on a whim this evening to go in search of a house I had read about in the local newspaper – a veritable South Pacific homage to Christmas, Santa and yes, Christmas lights. As an American, I grew up with decorated houses and Santas on rooftops. True, one doesn’t see them quite as much (or ever) in Paris (though one does see quite elaborate Christmas windows at the higher end department stores). What, I wondered, could they, would they, do in Nouméa?

Michele MartinAn institution in Nouméa, “Santa’s garden” (Le jardin du pere Noel), celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. It is the work and love of Mr. and Mrs. Claus (otherwise known as Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Martin). Having never heard of this fully lit house and garden, we met and spoke with Mrs. Claus. Mrs. Martin told us this was her 20th year lighting up her neighbourhood and bringing Christmas to Nouméa. “And every year, all the decorations are different!” she informed us. I believed her. But once you saw the plethora of decorations, the question quickly arose, “And where do you keep all the other decorations?” (We must ask her the next time we visit!)

It takes Mr. and Mrs. Claus no less than three months to transform their home and garden into a veritable Christmas paradise. Having done it for the last 20 years (and been supported by the town hall for the last 8), they know what they’re doing. Most of the decorations come from Australia, where the two retirees regularly visit to pick up supplies. But this year, for the 20th anniversary, they went all out with fibre-optic decorations and light fountains from as far away as China.

Santa's garden_3When you see this (and you must), you will ask yourselves, “How in the world do they pay the electricity bill?” Literally several thousand light bulbs and spotlights are lit every night from 7pm to 10:30pm from 1 to 31 December. But Mrs. Claus says it is a pleasure – they do it for the children (and the children come back year after year, some every day in December). They plan their vacations around shopping trips for Santa’s garden and use volunteers to help with crowd control (especially from the 20th, when it is impossible to drive down the street) and security.

Santa's garden_2This year they’ve outdone themselves with trees that light up when you clap and a rapping monkey (among many other delights) …  Santa Claus will be in his garden as well from 22-24 December (Saturday-Monday) from 7pm to 9:30pm. An extra treat for those who don’t mind crowds. And if you have a letter for Santa, there is a special box where you can drop it in – Mr. and Mrs. Claus have thought of everything!

Santa's garden_4So where can you mind this “merveille”? At Anse Vata, behind the Best Western Promende hotel, at 2 rue du Pasteur Bénignus. Note that the street is one way; it is best to come down it from rue du Pasteur Maurice Leenhardt. Best also to park and walk – you will appreciate it best on foot as there’s a whole garden in the back to explore. Will your children love it? Will you? I can tell you that we had never in our lives seen anything like it. Our 6-year-old son wondered about the number of light bulbs and the electricity bill (you’ll see what we mean when you see it) – he was amazed and enchanted as well (as were we)!

What are the dates and times?

Every night in December (from 1-31 December): 7pm to 10:30pm

Enjoy – and say hello to Mr. and Mrs. Claus for us!

Ride the sea, ride the wind!

It was a windy weekend here in Nouméa, and a good thing, too. For we were happy to learn about a great water race at Anse Vata , with nearly 400 competitors, paddling surfboards (“stand up”), windsurfing, sailing optimists (small sailboats) and sport catamarans (Hobie cats and the like), kite-surfing, kayaking and canoeing. What a spectacle, this BlueScope Race!

It has been a longed-for treat, to dash out on a Sunday morning in October, to the beach to see windsurfing, kite-surfing and every imaginable water sport. Our last 5 Octobers, we’ve been in Paris, where it is rainy and cold and autumn-y – all lovely in its own way, but also slightly heavy and saddening. We’d missed the water, sun and warmth inherent to the South Pacific during our Paris days and dreamed of getting back to a world we knew existed just 24 hours away.

So off we went to see the competitors arrive from Phare Amédee (a race of approximately 30 minutes – well, for the fastest times). We walked along the bay, admiring those brave souls who were trying “stand up” for the first time (and free of charge at that!). Stand up is a sport I’d never seen before, but is something we see quite often here. Basically, you see people out on the sea, paddling, while standing on their boards. The first time I saw it I thought the person was in some kind of trouble and doing his/her best to get to shore. But no. It is an actual sport (and here I reveal that I’ve been living in a land-locked city for the last 20 years or so) that originated in the Hawaiian islands in the early 1960s. It doesn’t look particularly easy or fast, but I imagine it burns a fair amount of calories, standing and paddling like that. I learned today, that you can also do it while standing on your head (well, at least one person I saw was doing it!).

In addition to free classes in stand up, there were free classes in windsurfing as well. A great initiative that went on the entire weekend for the young and old, alike, the concept was to open these sports up to everyone – and not limit them to the elite. Spreading the pleasure of riding the sea, in as many forms as possible was the goal – and from what I could see, was heartily achieved.

It turns out we were too early to see the winners come in this morning and had to leave before they arrived. Methinks they must have had a late start – and we were sorry to miss them. But now that we know about this wonderful weekend in October, we’ll be back!