PWA tour media representative Ed Sinclair put together this group interview, taken from 2 articles, about slalom racing reprinted here with permission. All photos by John Carter.
Performing the perfect start can make or break your slalom race, we asked the slalom fleet to share their top tips on how to hit the line on the buzzer. If you come in early you run the risk of being disqualified, if you slow down then you will be at a huge disadvantage. However if you come in late it's hard to make that ground up for the rest of the race. The start in a slalom race is one of the most complicated aspects of the race, although extremely exciting to watch, it requires a huge amount of skill from the sailors. We asked the slalom fleet for their top tips on how to nail it.
Tine Slabe (RRD / Al360) That is the hardest part and maybe the most important. The trick is to stay very concentrated and on the other hand calm. You need to know how far you can go in how much time. And you count the last twenty seconds in your head, that is how I do it at least.
Cyril Moussilmani (Severne / Starboard) No special tricks I just close my eyes and go...
Kurosh Kiani (Simmer / Angulo) Getting a perfect start is all about timing and knowing your speed. Personally my "secret" is staying fairly close to the line at all times. The further you are from the line, the harder it will be to estimate your distance to the mark. Anything other than being fully locked in at 0 seconds and on the line is unacceptable.
Enes Yilmazer (JP / NeilPryde) You have to know a couple of points before to chose your strategy for the start:
-Try to start on favorite side, pin or boat or middle.
-Stay away from top guys or possible riders that can block your wind or your start area.
-Know the start area and how long will it take for a full speed start.
-Try to time yourself so you go full blast for the last 15 seconds.
-Always be aware of possible upwind and downwind changes you might do depending on other races or timing.
-Try to start without doubts; don’t slow down at the last second.
Jesper Orth (F2) Everybody knows that the starts in Slalom are extremely important. To hit the start line with 100% speed on the buzzer is the ultimate goal. How do I get to this stage of consistent good starts? It is quite hard to practice starts when not competing, unless you have 8 other keen sailors and a start boat with a line setup.
So race experience count big time here and that’s why we often see the more experienced “older” guys do more consistent good starts compared to the “young guns.” Best thing is to find your own routine with the starts. The PWA slalom countdown is 4 minutes. Make sure you are next to the boat when they start the countdown of 4 min, so you can hear them. Sail down the first slalom leg to check the wind and angle. Make a plan if you start at the boat or pin mark or in the middle. If you know your competitors well, then you would also know where they prefer to start normally, so this also opens some options for better positions than others.
With 2 min to go you cross the start line backwards and check your watch is spot on. From here on everybody have different routines. Some will sail a long way out, other will be close to the start line, high and low. Stick to your plan where you want to start! And believe in you own timing with the watch. More than often most sailors will be early to the start line and slow down a bit. Do some practice starts before the real start to get your timing right. If you sail places where there are visible marks like jetty’s, buoys, trees or marks on land – then make some check point. Check the time on your watch, from the possible markings in near full speed to the start line and make a mental note, for the real start to check if you are early or late.
The last 10-15 sec takes a lot of experience. Here you really need your timing spot on and work your way up to full speed. Lots can happen here and it is important to put on the “aggressive” face to protect your space and plan. Keep your cool and don’t let the other sailors “push” you forward to much as you will need to slow down not to be over early. If you have excellent timing then coming from the back with free space and wind is the ultimate start. This does however take some practice and confidence.
Every location is different so different tactic can apply. In gusty offshore wind, it is more important to be closer to the line than try to come with full speed from behind. In rolling waves it is important to start on the front of a wave and not behind it, so even if it means a little less speed hitting the start line, - then make sure to be in front of one. Work on your acceleration in your gear. This will improve your chances for good starts and extra boost out of the start line.
Don’t be intimidated by the other sailors with "big names." Sail over the top of them or push them upwind before the start if you need to. They would do the same to you if they needed. There is No Rules – but remember to keep it fair…
We asked the world's fastest sailors to share their knowledge when it came to going faster in a straight line.
Karin Jaggi (Patrik / Severne) When it gets really extreme I often sail with earplugs, the soft ones from the concerts. You might think you loose a bit of balance but I have the opposite experience. It takes away that aggressive sound of the wind away, everything is much quieter and feels like “slow motion”. It creates a completely different world around you. So I can concentrate on my own movements and focus on going fast.
Cyril Moussilmani (Starboard / North) Try to tune your gear well at the start of your session.
Tine Slabe (RRD / AL360) Stay focused on the water a few meters in front of your board and try to read the waves and imagine where is the most flat. Despite this, sail a lot and I mean a lot especially in you have a chance with faster guys than you!
Enez Yilmazer (JP / NeilPryde)
1-Tuned gear: you need to have a good balanced gear that you can hold on to at high end and still get pressure when you need it at low end
2-Downhaul - make sure you have a good amount of downhaul, go out there adjust and try to feel the difference
3-Fin - make sure you choose a good fin - can change your world
4- Power - try to keep your gear balance and push the power of the sail to board through your legs and try to keep the lift.
Kurosh Kiani (Simmer / Angulo) One of the most important things that I have learned over the years is that you need to get to a point where you are able to sheet in fully, push the equipment and be comfortable at the same time. I have always worked on two aspects that I think have helped me out a lot. In high wind, I try to be compact and generally be in control rather than going fast for a while and wiping out. This means longer harness lines and perhaps a waist harness, so that you can really tuck into survival position when the wind gets really strong.
In lighter winds I work on the exact opposite. I try to get further out on the rail of the board and really work on the fin to get it lifting, and I really focus on keeping the rig upright so that I have as much power as possible to keep the lift and I will hopefully be flying down the reach.
If you have a question you would like to ask the professionals just post it on PWA Facebook.
There's more... Kurosh Kiani wrote a 6 part series for Windsurfer, Pro Slalom Secrets; Peter Volwater and Peter De Wit co-wrote 2 articles, Elements of Speed. Find these on the Learners guide page Racing. More speed tips from Albeau, Pritchard, Peterson on the Hodgepodge page.
"Discover the hidden potential of your slalom equipment with 10 easy and practical golden rules! Often this more technical gear does not allow us to feel comfortable and relaxed when surfing. Therefore we are now going to give you the answers to the most common problems. Give priority to modifying the trim of the gear, starting with the first solution given. If this does not work, continue to the second listed advice and so on…" 10 Golden Rules of Slalom
More Pro Tips from Boardseeker with this video about the Slalom Gybe.