|Two (wind)girls rip Margaret´s|
Just a little bit of Western Australian summer for your livingroom: Fiona van Ammers and Anne-Marie Reichman unveil the secret, why Western Australia is just the perfect spot for "wrong tack" sailing.
Anne-Marie: For my first windsurfing experience in Margaret River, I have to dig into my 'memory-base', for this ozzy summer is my 5th already! (I can't believe time has gone so fast!) Travelling with Scott Mc Kercher, (we had been together for about a month then) who has been exploring the West Coast for many years, was and is great, for he knows the spots, the weather forecast, etc. (besides that, we both enjoy our travels, adventures, and waves together) Many kilometers were driven to make it for those special 1 or 2 days at one spot at the time. Margaret River was supposed to be 'on', and we were there. Since Scott already had jumped on his gear and was gone, I had to ask other 'locals' how the spot was working. They were pointing out all those reefs that I was supposed to see and gave me the 'do' and 'don't' tips.
Fiona: Right, so you go through the keyhole, but bear down wind, past the 'Niger's Head' and then through the channel." I quickly look around to see if I am the only one who heard the N-word. It doesn't seem like anyone is flinching, but I feel slightly uncomfortable. It's not because I am about to head out into logo-high waves on the WRONG TACK, but because these Ozzies are using the N-word. All I can think to myself is, "Dorothy, we're not in Kansas anymore." No we're not in Kansas and I am not in my comfy cubbyhole of Maui. I am in the Wild West of Australia, where drive through liquor stores provide not only cold beers, but a range of liquor including, CobraXS - a special blend of bourbon and cola in a soda can. These bottle shops, as they are known, make beer runs after an evening session that much easier; you don't even have to get out of the car, much less turn it off. I can't say this is the only reason, but one of the reasons, I choose WA as my go-to for WRONG TACK sailing. I knew those drive through bottle shops would come in handy after a frustrating day of port-tack sailing.
Anne-Marie: On land it seemed more complicated that it felt on the water. After figuring out where to line up with, and who to give a wave to (respect the locals!) I was enjoying myself. Still, even though I was catching every wave I wanted, there is a huge difference in HOW to make the most of that wave, for Margs is a special wave. She is pretty short and thick, has one, sometimes 2 sections to hit, and after that there is hardly any shoulder left. But very challenging and addictive! She takes a lot of time to get used to/ get comfortable at/ enjoy her the most. Watching 'the boys' (Scotty Mc Kercher, Chris Partington, Pat Redman, Jamie Scott, Feran and Peter), it all looks so easy; lining up deep, fanging down the line with lots of speed, and then either gauche underneath the lip (powerful cutback with lots of spray and rail-use), or stick it up there, for a projecting turn out the lip, or the old fashion 'hanger' (aireal), as well as 360's and goiters. It is great to watch, and feeds me with inspiration.
Fiona: We had arrived in time for an evening session at Main-break. Margaret River was no longer going to be a legend of shallow reefs that form "keyholes" and "the surgeon's table"; it was going to be a reality for me. Even though this spot had been sailed over and over by many people before me, I felt like Christopher Columbus discovering the new world. The anticipation was overwhelming. Emotions were taking their turns running through me. One moment was thrill and the other was fear. Part of me wanted to rig slowly and carefully to delay any possible drama, but another part of me was hurrying along because a good port-tack wave day was just as possible as complete carnage. After two hours of sailing, I was stoked. I cannot say that I had even one decent wave, but being out there, sailing a new direction, a new place, and being apart of legend of Margaret River was enough to pin a smile on my face for the rest of the night.
Anne-Marie: It is funny how one wave can be SO different every day. You would think wave riding is just waveriding? No way! The 'south wester' makes it more onshore, the wave is more bumpy, and the way to keep your speed, is a very different approach towards the lip than when it is side (off) shore. You have to maintain speed before even going into the bottom turn. By keeping opening the clue and keep on driving with your board, you will make it up to the wave face whilst you try to maintain that speed to be able to set your rail for the cutback, or hit the lip (without speed, you are no where, all there is left is that 'gut-less' turn or 'lip-hit' that is not powerful enough to land in front of the wave most of the time).
Fiona: I have to admit that the keyhole was not as bad as others had made it out to be, and once you got through the keyhole, the massive channel easily got you to the break. The most daunting part of the sailing session, was walking down those 3-teir stairs, which somehow are at the most difficult angle to carry your rig without catching the clew and having your sail ripped right out of your hands - talk about kook. The locals seem to make it look natural and the wanabies stick out by gingerly carrying their sail and boards up and down to the beach separately. Sailing Margaret River is not hard, but sailing it well is. The wave is slow but strong. It walls up, holds, holds, holds, and then throws a heavy lip. Then it crumbles, with lots of white-water and a small shoulder. There is not much room for error. Your timing has to be near perfect to hit the peak; otherwise, you are thrown onto a shallow reef, the surgeon's table, or stuck riding a weak shoulder. Since, I had hardly any port-tack wave riding experience, I found it difficult to perfect a decent bottom turn. The stoke that I initially felt from just being out there, was being washed away with frustration. After three weeks, my confidence was weakening. It was almost time to pack my bags and head up North, to where the waves were longer and weaker.
Anne-Marie: Very different if you compare it with the 'south easter' that cleans up the waves, and is blowing lovely cross off shore. Getting out through the keyhole is a bit harder, and on the inside it doesn't seem that windy. Sometimes you have to swim your gear out, and that doesn't make it attractive for many people. Still, on the wave itself, there is enough wind, and these are actually the joy sessions! Even though the approach is a little different, 'speed' is still the key ingredient. You can set yourself up on top of the wave, and in this case as deep as you can, so when you want to go down the line, you gain speed from the height of the wave, as well as the bottom turn (using your rail) and wind in your sail. This is the classic lay-down bottom turn most of the time, and the off shore winds make it easier coming up the wave for the turn or lip smacker.
Fiona: Defeat hadn't quite got me yet, but I was starting to miss the high that windsurfing usually brought me. There are only a few other sports or drugs that give me the high that windsurfing does. I so longed to reach it again. Then came a nasty ear infection, which kept me out of play for nearly four days. My time out of the water, gave me lots of time to spoo over my lack of progress at Margaret's and on port tack. I hadn't had any waves to write home about.. it was just bounce-bounce and run-run. The short break with the ear infection was enough to reenergize me for the next windy day at main break.
Anne-Marie: And then there is the size of the waves! On bigger days I seem to be a bit more cautious, while I seem to hit it easier on smaller days. But then again, the big surf, gives you such a special energy, and a big adrenaline rush when you are riding that 'ocean mountain'. It already took me some time to read, and understand the wave in Margs, and I am stoked that I am already at the right time in the right place. But then I also want to go towards my next step (I actually already want to be there right away!), and I can get a little impatient while being in that process. Hitting the lip in bigger surf and going for the 'hangers' is my desire now. There are some days that I go for it, some smacks are going alright, and with some, I go down and get worked. And while I am getting worked, I figure out that it is not that bad at all, but at the same time, the ocean is powerful and I have loads of respect for her. More the fears of 'what if' are worse than when you go for it and figure it out for yourself.
Fiona: The anger and frustration was stronger then I could comprehend and it exploded into an awesome sailing session. In the do it or die mode, I took my first wave. Sitting upwind, I felt the swell rise under me and pick me up. I feathered the wave, staying up high, waiting and waiting for it to build. It roared and I went. Taking after my hero, Keith Taboul, I lead with my head and speed down the line. My focus is on the lip, and so with great speed I drive the board back up the wave. Not looking away, I watch the lip turn from dark blue to green. At almost 5PM, the sun is shining through the lip and making it glow like a neon sign. It wants to throw, and I don't dare look away. I will get there just at the right time. I hit it with all my strength and gouge it as if scooping ice cream. The spray from the board flies and the white water falls behind me. I jibed out with a shiver running up me. I try hiding my smile to be modest, because for all I know, that wave was only in my head. Although, I have to admit, even if it didn't look the way it felt, it didn't really matter. I had had THE sensation, the one you get on your first plane, your first jump or your first jibe: I am in heaven. I am a god. I am everywhere and I am alive. It pumped through me like all the times before, and it would continue to haunt me, calling me back to the water until the next time I got a hit of it. I wobbled back out stoked. The only thing to make it better was to hear Chris Party cheer, "That was a REALLY good wave." Ahhhh, it was true, not just me. Chris, the local shaper for Delta Boards, had topped it off. If he said I had done it, I had. This day could make my trip.
Anne-Marie: Then, there are also days, that there is that slight hesitation, and I am holding back, am not going for it the way I would like to and that is way more frustrated. Agreeing with the words I heard from Scott many times: who hesitates is lost. It might be easier said than 'felt', but it is good to realise where you are at already, and what you have learned so far, than looking at the things you haven't learned yet. Coming from a little country-village with only lakes, and moving to the North Sea by the age of 20, I feel pretty at home now in the Ocean, and enjoying her presents of waves, whales and dolphins. The down side of that is, that flat water sailing isn't that appealing to me anymore, but I love the trade! I think that the art and joy of learning is to have a goal, being passionate about reaching it, AND to enjoy every step of the process towards it.
Fiona: The session continued on this level. My body had memorized the motions and I killed at least 20 more waves in a similar or I'd like to think a better way. The evening was topped off, in WA style, by watching the sunset with a cold beer and friends on the mezzanine. Man oh man, what is better then this.
photos: Reichman, Ammers © windgirls 2004