Irish Champion windsurfer Oisin Van Gelderen has smashed his own national speed record, briefly topping 50 knots as he raced in a gale force wind in Namibia late last month.
Dubliner Van Gelderen – who hails from Loughshinny in the north county – is a 27 time Irish national champion across various windsurfing disciplines, but has long had his eye on the elusive 50 knot mark.
A unique Namibian course, which opens specifically for the purpose of speed racing in the town of Luderitz annually, offered the perfect opportunity.
Sticking to the task at the World Speed Sailing Championships for three weeks, Van Gelderen’s best run saw him tackle 90 kmph winds, setting a national record for average speed over 500 metres of 47.97 knots (88.85kph), and peaking at a speed of 50.8knots (94kph).
The speed contest takes place in a specially dug sand channel on the Luderitz coast, where competitors can take advantage of a rare combination of flat water and extremely high winds to push the boundaries of speed. Van Gelderen describes the month-long contest as “all about PBs.”
“It’s in the middle of nowhere, a town about the size of Dun Laoghaire seven hours from the next town,” Van Gelderen explains.
“I was already the Irish record holder, I went 42 knots in France a few years ago, but I’d been saving for three years to do this.
“It cost about €10,000 to come out here for three weeks and go for the record. It was really a personal challenge, but there are very few events when you can do this. I was very happy to get in this year.”
“The wind always comes from the same direction here and there’s a very flat course dug out of the sand.
“You get the smallest board and biggest sail you can. I’m quite light for a speed windsurfer, most are 100kg plus and I’m 82kg, so I carry 16kgs on lead weights to help me hold the sail!
“We all go down this channel that’s about 4.5 or 5 metres wide, down the flatter side at 90 or 95 kmph. It’s a risk.
People do hit the sand banks at high speed.
“One guy broke four ribs hitting the side and another left a big imprint in the sand. It takes years of practise to be able to cope with these kind of conditions.
“In Ireland, we chase storms on the west coast,”
Van Gelderen adds. “People think we’re crazy but it’s very considered and we know what we’re doing. We can do big wave sailing all over the west coast.
“There are some places, like a sandbank off Dungarvan, where you can get conditions for high speeds but you have to be lucky.
“We’re definitely thrill seekers. I guess you could call us adrenaline junkies,” he laughs.
“Windsurfing feels a bit like riding go karts as you’re so close to the ground. Because you’re holding the sail up, you feel every aspect, and you have to constantly adjust to keep control.
“When you’re planing across the water, it just feels really fast.
“The next thing will be foils. I’ve only tried it in low wind so far.
“It’s very difficult to control, but really efficient. You can go 25 knots in 7 or 8 knot wind.
“It’s not really safe yet, but it’s going to revolutionise windsurfing.”
“I hope to go out to Namibia again. I was helped a lot by ProClima, my sponsor, and I don’t know if I can ask for that kind of money a second time.
“But I spent the last few days working on my acceleration at the start, so maybe there’s more to come.”