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

Overcoming shark fear in Happy New Caledonia

Juggling Cat in the HatHow do you spend your Saturday mornings? Cleaning? Sleeping in? Shopping for the week’s groceries? Or walk-dancing, happy-dancing (see below), speed-walking or windsurfing?

Of late, we’ve been spending our Saturday mornings watching our 7-year-old son windsurf with a great windsurfing school (Aloha Wind Surfing, who I’ve mentioned before). Pablo is the youngest and the smallest, and recently, perhaps the most concerned about sharks. Shark concern is not uncommon in children his age (or in adults of any age), but it has been exacerbated by an attack that occurred in Nouméa about 10 days ago, which left a 42-year-old kitesurfer with a 25 centimetre gash in his calf, alive, not kicking.

Unfortunately, the attack took place not too far away from where Pablo windsurfs at Anse Vata. His first time out after the attack, he was deeply concerned and did not feel comfortable windsurfing into deeper, darker waters (where he couldn’t see what was underneath his board). He came back crying, unable to continue. Though the instructor could see he was afraid, he wasn’t able to help him overcome his fear and frustration mounted on both sides.

This week, Pablo did not want to go back – and was adamant. His fear and trepidation was bigger than his capacity of manage “the worst that can happen – I’ll be attacked by a shark, but he’ll spit me out because I’m little and not very tasty”. Talking him down from the edge was no easy task.

When we got to his lesson, we explained to the staff at Aloha that Pablo was deeply afraid of sharks, which they had understood. As children are sensitive to raised voices and frustration, we suggested that maybe it would be best to avoid yelling. To the team’s immense credit, they suggested that maybe Pablo would like to go out in the boat today, and help the instructor. This suggestion brought a huge smile to Pablo’s face! They got him an oar, jokingly, so that he could swat any enemies, and got him laughing.

Photo by Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

Photo by Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

Suffice it to say, Pablo had a great time flying around in the boat, as he called it, rushing off at top speed with the “maitre” (instructor) to help other windsurfing students. He also went out with the maitre on a 2-metre sail and came back beaming. He did it! He’d gone out and there were no sharks. He’d had so much fun – and will be so much more likely to windsurf his next class. He then helped unscrew the bits on the boards and to clean up – involved in the behind-the-scenes work involved in windsurfing. Helping his other classmates, bringing their boards in, Pablo learned more than just windsurfing that day.

Photo by Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

So, hats off to Aloha and hats off to New Caledonia, where even we can join the masses and be “Happy” along with Pharrell Williams, sharks and all!

Learn how to windsurf as young as 7 in Nouméa

Photo JH

Photo JH

New Caledonia has been on school holidays for the last 2 weeks. Schoolchildren are on a schedule of 7 weeks in school, 2 weeks off, a new schedule this year. I’m predicting challenges for teachers and students alike with such long breaks every 7 weeks (increased pressure to get through the curriculum in a shorter period of time, as the primary problem I’m seeing), but I have enjoyed having our son home – and occupying him with sports, reading, piano lessons and all around fun.

Children in Nouméa have a number of options during school holidays, from water sports to art activities to circus school to week-long camps at the local zoo. We’re spoiled for choice!

This holiday, we signed Pablo up for a week of windsurfing the first week, and boy was it fun! From 8.30 to 11.30 Monday through Friday, Pablo was with 11 other children his age and older. He was by far the youngest (having just turned the required 7 years old the day before) and the smallest, but the instructors assured me that he would be fine.

Photo JH

Photo JH

They spent the first morning learning how to put the boards and sails together, what the general safety precautions were, and how to basically get up on the board and windsurf. How fun is that? (Pablo tells us that his father’s recent foray into windsurfing was neither well-organised nor well-instructed, as he didn’t need to put his board together, wasn’t really told how to get on the board, etc.)

They spent the next 3 days practicing what they learned on the first day, falling less and less, advancing further and further into the lagoon.

On the 5th day, they sailed out to an island 900 metres away. The oldest (preteens and teens) kids did great – and got out to the island, despite the windier day (you would think wind is a good thing – and it is when you are experienced, challenging when you are not). Anyone who knows Nouméa knows that wind on Anse Vata can be really something! The younger kids windsurfed as much as they could, and then were picked up or ferried along by a small boat. They all had a celebratory snack on the island together and many windsurfed back.

We were very pleased with the week and plan on doing another week in October.

Windsurfing is challenging for little ones (because a certain amount of weight is required, to balance the board, and muscles are necessary to lift the sail out of the water every time it falls over), but they are also advantaged. They are not afraid of falling in the water (“That’s the funnest part!” claimed our little guy), they can get back up on the boards quite quickly and they are naturally fearless, flexible and energetic.

While out on the Wednesday, 2 students saw sea turtles and weeks before we had a couple of dolphins in the lagoon. Imagine what it feels like to windsurf with some of nature’s most beautiful animals. At 7. Or 47!

Photo JH

Photo JH

With regard to the company we went with, they are Aloha Windsurfing. Though there was only 1 instructor for the 12 students (I would increase this, to make it easier to give individual instruction to the varying levels), everyone did great. Security was number one – the children wore life jackets all morning and water shoes as of the second day (after a couple of people had stepped on urchins and bees). They taught and encouraged the children to prepare, clean and put away the boards and sails and it was great to see everyone working as a team, with the older ones helping out the younger ones. The instructor was kind, encouraging and warm as well as competent and professional.

So if you’re looking for windsurfing lessons for children 7 or over in Nouméa, head on down to the orange trucks on Anse Vata. We’ll be there again once it warms up in October!

Photo JH

Photo JH

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!