SARA WENNEKES CONTINUES DEFI WIND WINNING STREAK

A whole new event was added to the windsurfing world this week – the Defi Wind “Les Ailes de St. Tropez” aka LAST. And Severne rider Sara Wennekes snagged herself yet another victory.

This unique competition took place at the Central Bay of Saint Tropez, a renowned location in the sailing world, adding to the excitement.

However, what made this event truly exceptional was the integration of kitesurfing, wing foiling, and windsurfing on the same starting line, attracting top professionals from across the globe in these different disciplines. 

We caught up with Sara Wennekes to get her insights into the event, and to shoot a little interview.

A MULTISPORT SPECTACLE

The Defi Wind “LAST” Super Star edition brought together athletes from three different water sports – kitesurfing, wing foiling, and windsurfing – and placed them on the same starting line. The kiters were an exception, utilizing a separate part of the starting line for safety reasons.

 

This convergence of various water sports on a single starting line was not only thrilling but also presented new challenges. Avoiding tangled lines and fellow racers were among a few of those challenges. With professionals from the top echelons of these disciplines, the event promised an unparalleled showdown.

Unpredictable Conditions

The event spanned four days, with the action commencing on October 29, and continuing on 30, 31, and November 1. The unpredictability of the weather added an extra layer of excitement. Two days provided excellent wind conditions, one day saw a complete lack of wind, and another teetered on the edge, forcing the cancellation of the race on that day.

One of the days surprised everyone with a large swell entering the bay, creating some nerve-wracking racing conditions. The unexpected variation in conditions, from big swells to choppy waters, kept the participants on their toes, as they had to adapt to different elements.

Innovative Course Design

One feature of the Defi Wind “LAST” Super Star edition was the use of large, permanent navigation marks to define the course. Unlike traditional inflatable marks, these massive markers were permanent fixtures in the sea. This approach to course design added an exciting element to the competition, as racers navigated around these significant markers that you couldn’t just “bump” into. The resulting “spider web” course added complexity to the races and tested everyone’s navigation skills.

Exceptional Organization

In the usual “Defi Wind” style, this edition of the Defi Wind “LAST” did not disappoint. The organisers went above and beyond to make the event a memorable one. Morning coffee and croissants in typical French style and evening happy hours to cap off the days in a social setting are standard practice at the Defi Wind. Not to forget the exceptional race management on the water.

Sara Wennekes about Defi Wind “LAST”

DID YOU EVER SAIL IN THE BAY OF SAINT TROPEZ BEFORE?

“So I’ve never sailed in the Bay of Saint Tropez. Before I was actually on a holiday once with a friend, just to hop to some bars and, you know, see if everything is actually as expensive as, as they say. But I remember looking at the water and yeah, it was really wondering how it would be to windsurf there. So the first day that I arrived, I also went straight on the water, because, yeah, it’s a beautiful place with a lot of mountains. And, so it’s really cool to sail here actually.”

DO YOU LIKE THE DEFI WIND FORMAT?

“I think the format is incredible, it is very, very cool to be racing with wingers and Kiters. It’s actually a completely different experience. But in a way, also very similar. There’s a lot of really good athletes in there as well. So, yeah, you’re not only racing against other windsurfers but actually against other sports. And I think that’s, that’s a super cool concept, especially that it brings together so many people who just love the water. Yeah, and also, it was actually really cool to see all the other pro riders who are not windsurfers that I follow on the socials too. So yeah, I think that was it’s a really cool thing about this format.

Oh, yeah, and also, I think what is really cool is, while in Gruissan in a way, it’s easier because it’s with a lot of people and you just reach along the coast. And now there are a lot more elements coming into place. So there’s actually a course that you need to follow, check where the marks are in advance. There are also the elements from the shore that we are using, like the big firewater marks for the ships. So you’re actually yeah, way more cruising around the whole bay. And I think that gives an extra dimension to this race.”

WHAT SET YOU APART FROM THE COMPETITION?

“It was really cool to see that I was battling with Marion Mortefon and really close that on the second day, I was really pushing how to make still small improvements, since the course was not only back and forward, but there were multiple angles that we had to sail, a little bit of upwind, downwind reaching, so I had been fine-tuning to be super comfortable and steady, fast all over the course and every race and I think that’s also what in the end worked to set the gear up in a way that it’s just consistently fast, and not just have a high peak speed, let’s say, which usually is what you’re kind of looking for in the races, just high peak speeds that you can keep for a short time, but now you need to give like a really high average speed. So yeah, that was just super important.”

WHAT SIZES OF THE HYPERGLIDE 6 DID YOU USE?

“I used actually almost all the HG6 sizes. So I used 5.0 / 6.0 / 7.0 / 8.0. With the 8.0 I was actually a bit overpowered in the beginning when the wind was harder and stronger. But yeah, it was really fun actually to see to see how the different sizes, how I could use them in this competition. And maybe a nice note is that I realized that the small sizes are actually really fast also in the lighter breeze so at one point we had like 20 knots and I was on a 5.0 which was actually still super fast, and before I would still be on the 6.0, so I kind of improved my knowledge there on the gear as well which was really cool.”

ONE OF THE DAYS LOOKED VERY WINDY – WAS IT JUST PURE SURVIVAL?

“Yeah, we had one race that was pure survival. I felt like we were having up to 40 knots. Going into a downwind was super super hard. So yeah, downwind upwind, I think we did a 50-minute course, and yeah, some crashing in there as well. I actually had a lot of muscle pain the next day. I think the key in those moments is to really tune everything that you can just hold on to. All the boys were on 5.0 0r 4.0 even. Myself and the other girls were all on 5.0 because the foiling sails are just not smaller yet. So that is pure pure survival mode for the ladies out there.”

HOW LONG WERE THE COURSES?

“We had a lot of different courses. They even changed the course during the day when they saw the conditions change, also based on our feedback. So the first day we had races that were about 30 minutes and on the second day, we had races between 30 and 50 minutes. So that’s a big range and a lot of different courses. So you kind of get to train your mind as well.

And maybe a nice note to add. I think the hardest part of this race was that when there were 1000 people, such as on the Defi Wind Gruissan, when you are all the time fighting with somebody, you’re never alone. But, also, because you’re going back and forward, you can see people all the time, but in this race, the distances get bigger. Boys are a lot in front, but there are not so many people in between. And then sometimes you’re just sailing by yourself for two kilometers with nobody around. You would feel kind of lonely sometimes on the water, and that is the hardest part to focus on. So I was singing a lot of songs while windsurfing, which helped me to kind of keep myself in the moment and not get distracted in my thoughts. So I thought that was maybe it’s just a funny, funny thing to add, about how I was trying to keep focused in such a long, long race. In the end, it was a super cool event overall, and I really hope to go back there.”

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