For those who don’t know Martin van Meurs, lets start with some background information. Martin was the first windsurfer to break the 50 knots GPS peak speed barrier.
He is also the initiator and one of the co-founders of www.gps-speedsurfing.com. He has been into speedsurfing from the beginning onward, and got really hooked when Pascal Maka broke the legendary Crossbow record at Sotavento – Fuerteventura. Years of waiting for the wind at so called perfect speed strips took their toll, and he quit windsurfing. He then discovered the potential of GPS devices in windsurfing and got hooked again.
In the last five years, the GPS scene has seen a big growth worldwide. Especially in the Netherlands, GPS surfing really became a major discipline. The website www.gps-speedsurfing.com is worldwide the standard for posting GPS results. Entering the competition is easy: You join up on the website, buy a GPS-device (approx €150) and upload your results as much as you want. This competition is much cheaper then video timing, and doesn’t need any organization, no speed strip, no contest. You just seek out your own spot on a day and time of your own choice, and go for it.
In the past the 40 knots club was very exclusive, nowadays almost 175 surfers on GPS-speedsurfing reached that limit on their main 5×10 seconds ranking. With 10 Dutchies in the top 25, and 32 in the top 100, they play a major role in speedsurfing. GPS windsurfing is a very good development for our sport and really added a new discipline to the standard disciplines: wave riding, slalom, freestyle and formula. Speedsurfing used to be a discipline for the happy few who could afford a trip to a fast spot and high-tech material. But GPS measurements prove that even freeriding equipment is competitive nowadays and a freerace board with a sail with two cambers will bring you at least to the 35 knots if you’ve got the guts and the skills to go there.
Martin van Meurs joined forces with Ron van den Berg, brother of Olympic champion Stefan van den Berg, and successful shaper in the past for Bic and many World Cup riders. Ron and Martin Together set up the plan to start up their own Dutch Design Team mXr, which focuses on creating windsurfing products. Simmer recognized their skills, hired them as their flatwater design team and started out by ordering a freerace/freeride range which will hit the market in 2012.
How did the GPS speedsurfing frenzy start?
When I started windsurfing again in 2000, after a break of a couple of years I asked Ron van den Berg, whom I considered as one of the best shapers in the World, to build me a board. I explained I wanted to start windsurfing again and check my speeds with GPS, so I would be able to speedsail at my homespot. He told me there were waterproof solutions by Garmin. Almost immediately I went to an outdoor shop and bought such a device. From that moment onward I could speed sail whenever I wanted, and more importantly when I had the time. Roger van Tongeren saw me doing speed runs at strand Horst (the spot where I learned to windsurf). In those days everyone was just going back and forth so he wondered what I was doing, Roger van Tongeren saw me doing kamikaze runs at Strand Horst (the spot where I learned to windsurf), going deep downwind between others who were cruising back and forth. He came up to me and informed me about the GPS. He then asked if I knew I could download and check results. My mouth fell open, he raced home to get his laptop and showed me what was possible. Within five minutes I was dancing around the computer shouting we would set up a GPS racing format with people from all over the World participating. I saw nation flags and a big buzz with thousands of participants. He just laughed… yet here we are! Roger is the International Time Keeper and chairman of the WGPSSR, our own record ratifying committee. Together with Dylan de Jong, who manages the tech aspects of the site, we are in charge of www.gps-speedsurfing.com.
I assume the success didn’t come in one shot?
Nope, we had to overcome many problems and literally invested thousands of hours with some other crazy fools like Peter Heida and Onno Pierik, but the investment was worth it all. We now have participants in over 40 countries and a giant group of followers. We fought with the WSSRC and official bodies to get accepted. People were afraid, said GPS devices weren’t accurate enough. Some even think so nowadays, but with the help of many windsurfing friends from over the world we managed to set a very high standard. The Navi firmware was developed by Tom Chalko from Poland. Manfred Fuchs from Germany did magnificent work in the background. Manfred Fuchs from Germany did magnificent work on a specified program to download and analyze the files as well as Yann Mathet from France. Andrew Daff, an Aussie Sandy Point local contributed, Craig Bergh (America), Rob Munro (S.Africa), Chris Lockwood (Australia), Mal Wright (Australia), Kean Rogers-America …. too many people helped out to fight the institutes and gain acceptance for GPS. Sorry for those whom I forget to credit for all of their work. Not too long ago we also teamed up with www.gps-teamchallenge.com.au , who set up a super nice family kind of racing format which experiences a growing popularity as well.
You mentioned you fought with formal entities. Does this imply people didn’t accept GPS?
Indeed it does. People were challenging accuracy levels and the WSSRC didn’t accept the format we used for records, even when we came up with live GPS devices. It’s understandable they defend their format but it left us with assumptions GPs devices weren’t accurate enough. With the support of some of the friends I mentioned we set up a www.gps-speedsurfing.com tech group and we knew accuracy levels were extremely high. After too many talks Andrew and I got the idea to install the WGPSSRC, our own record committee and claim our own records. I feel the moment we did that, acceptance was growing. We needed to become more formal. We are still in the early stages, but the battles are over and now we can look forward, which is refreshing.
And your finest hour?
Undoubtedly the moment when Dutchman Dirk Jan Knol beat all World Cup riders participating in the Karpathos Speed world cup, by setting the fastest runs. He even beat Finian and Antoine. A ‘nobody’, with no racing experience, showed GPS speedsurfing and the results set at our website were for real. Many doubted the speeds set before, but afterwards I got open confessions from some PWA riders who didn’t dare to go there out of fear they would be beaten by GPS nobodies. I thought that was brilliant, and I admired the guys for admitting it.
You mention Dirk Jan and not your own record run at Southend?
Yeah, that was special as well. But knowing what I had been doing in the background I was more proud of that fact. I was sort of a trainer for the first shift of Dutch Speedsurfers (at least that’s how I see it). I communicated on the forum, sharing all knowledge I had on the sport, holding nothing back for myself. I like to think it paid out, but in the end they started beating me. I didn’t expect that haha…no seriously, I feel that’s brilliant. As I grow older I notice I enjoy the fun side more and more again. I had a bit of bad luck with a broken leg and an extremely painful dislocated shoulder which forced me to take it a little easier. But it’s great to watch others going for it and I still sometimes feel the magic, but the urge to go for the record slowly fades and gets replaced by another urge which has lived deep inside me for a long time: make windsurfing easier. I am not such a good windsurfer…
No really. I am mediocre, but I know one thing well: going fast and I have always had a great interest in gear development. As a kid I drew sails and boards in school class and obviously stared out of the window when windy. I guess just like any other windsurfing addict. It was only when I started GPS speedsurfing and started participating on International Forums when I found out I might have a deeper insight on the sport and gear development than most. Now it’s time to combine those skills and not only sail actively, but also take an active role in designing windsurf gear.
Does this urge come from your childhood drawings only, or to put it in other words, how come you waited for so long to take this step?
That’s an interesting one. Shortly after setting up www-gps-speedsurfing.com my speeds got known over the World, and my participation on forums was supported by the speeds I set. I had quite some ideas on tech aspects and many took my thoughts and advice seriously. I was hired by major brands and they promised I could develop specialized GPS gear. In the end it turned out you not only have to deal with the big bosses, but also with the development teams which are –understandably- defending their territory. So development stayed in my head. I went from sailing with Ron’s shapes to production shapes and I lost interest in the designing route. In the end I noticed I also lost part of the fun by doing so. Basically it felt as if I gave away part of the soul of the sport by doing so. Designing and thinking about designs is an integral part of the fun I derive from the sport, so it turned out.
Do you feel you lost time?
Not really. I got to know interesting people on the way and it was a great learning experience. When I set my 50 knot record at Southend, I was a little disappointed my cries for specialized gear weren’t heard, but then one night I was driving home I got someone on the phone. He said: “Hey Martin, Robby here”. I said, Robby who? He replied: “Robby Naish”. I literally nearly drove into a ditch next to the road. He didn’t hear from his team what I had achieved and excused himself for not replying any earlier. I had just signed a deal with Maui sails out of frustration. I thought it was brilliant. We talked for over an hour and I really appreciated his effort to keep me in the Naish team, but I gave my word.
I also had extremely nice conversations with one of my other heroes in the sport: Barry Spanier. A man I admire a lot for his skills, but even more for his personality and deep insights in human nature. A long lasting friendship with Boogie, the well-known C3 fins designer is also memorable. It’s contacts like this that I cherish. Not always do the friendships last, but the days were great and respect remains. I think I’m trying to say, you learn from every experience. Sometimes you would act differently with the knowledge you’ve got at a given point in time, but I believe opportunities will arise if you keep your eyes and mind wide open.
So here you are, mXr is your latest project and it seems you’re starting up a long lived dream.
Yep, so it seems. Ron and I teamed up again, after we both acknowledged the energy surrounding the shapes we made from 2000 onward was interesting and promising enough to be followed up by a new try. We both felt a bit let down by others I guess, and thought it was time to fight for our own chances. We took a trip to Tomas Persson, chief designer of Simmer Style. We had a really good chat on our designs, and when he looked at our step hull speed-board, he told us he was interested to set-up a flat water line with us.
Yeah, what’s this concept all about?
I basically had a vision of a skimboard, powerboat and trimaran in my head. A board exists of different sections. The skimboard section in the front is meant to start planning and glide through the lulls. The powerboat section eats the chop, and the trimaran back section keeps the board at a right angle. Ron understood where I was heading in my head, and brilliantly translated the thoughts into working boards.
I noticed the bottom shape is pretty different from what»s available on the market up till now. Could you explain a little?
Sure, the overall advantages are trim support, super smooth gybing and increased control the stronger it howls and the choppier it gets. Also going upwind is a blast and fins can be sailed extremely short, so the concept is also great for shallow water venues. I guess my current peak speed on the Monster (which is one hundred liters and 66 wide) says enough. I set a one second peak speed of nearly 44 knots on that given board. It handles any size from 5.5 to 8.5 with a sweet spot that is unmatched by normal boards.
My buddy John Overmeer, who is 68 years old and one of the oldest and lightest active GPS speedsailors and also the fastest sailor in his weight and age class, tested the board in conditions in which he would normally never think about using such a big board. I pleaded to him to give it a try, and he reluctantly put his 5.5 on. He hooked out as he was afraid he would start flying, but ended up going 6km (over 3 knots) faster on a board of this size than he ever went before and had superior control. He also finished high up in the day ranking, and came back to the shore with a grin on his face and a surprised look I’ll never forget. The board simply locks itself onto the back step as you go faster. The day after he used a big sail and was the first and only to plane all the time.
Are there no downsides? I can imagine the steps add some drag?
Sure there are but I wouldn’t tell you haha… No seriously, obviously a completely flat board is the fastest in theory. If you want an outright racing machine you should walk the PWA route and we will come up with such a line for sure, but first the new Simmer freerace/freeride line, which starts out with three boards will hit the market.
When designing a concept you should always ask yourself whom you are designing for. Windsurfing is a very technical sport and not all have the skills of PWA riders. Don’t forget, the main stay is the human body, and the human body is also the rudder and trimming rope. There are so many variables influencing the trim of a board, that a little added drag mostly compensates for the shortcomings in sailing technique. Moreover, most freerace/freeride concepts now on the market are pretty much downgraded racing machines, at least that’s how I look at it. They just loose the edge and with that loss you also throw away some important aspects of outright PWA racing machines.
The new Simmer/mXr boards are pure racing machines designed around the sailing characteristics of less skilled riders who want to have fun in various conditions. Then there is the aspect of the needed fin-length with normal wide-tail boards, and the need for big sails to cope with the forces on modern day racing machines – which again is related to the trim of the boards. The point is that the emphasis of our design isn’t on high end speed or raw power for the super strong, but on perfect control and ease of use in a wide range of conditions. The boards are fun to sail, point as high and plane at least as early as pure racing machines, but handle better with better exit speed after the gybes. They also have better passive planning characteristics. As a result of the design choices we made, speeds can be high, also for the very skilled. I really like to tell more but then I have to get into detail and that takes time. I’d gladly show all models and explain the ins and outs, up- and downsides of the step hull configuration, rockerlines and outlines, so people know what to expect. Be sure the boards are great and will get better and better the rougher it gets.
OK, to come back to GPS then. Do you think the World Record should take GPS results into consideration? As currently the cost and logistics of achieving a “WSSRC” World Record is much higher than using GPS results which are easily attainable by so many more people. What are your thoughts on this?
I guess you’re referring to the traditional WSSRC record. The WSSRC record is great for historical reasons and the non plus ultra to compare speeds with sailors, but actually we already use GPS devices for World Records. By the way, the WSSRC is already accepting GPS for records and also open courses, but the devices in use by sailors aren’t there just yet for windsurfers. They are asking for the use of ten herz devices, and they only come too big to carry for windsurfers up till now. This hasn’t got anything to do with accuracy, but is completely related to the distance, versus time method we use.
On a side-note, part of our struggle has been to get our thoughts accepted. First the 5×10 rule which I “invented” in the five minutes after Roger showed me the possibilities to download. It has become the standard, and rightfully so, as long perfect speed-strips are hard to find. You also need stamina and skill to get the needed five runs in. Then there is the fact GPS devices are most accurate when measuring time, not distance. We just follow the technique available. We really had to fight to prove this and the fight sometimes has been tough, but that’s all behind us. The people are voting with their feet.
So needless to say, our own WGPSSRC records are just as important to me as the WSSRC records. The outright WSSRC record is based on a fixed 500 meter course. Our high speed records are based on free course 10 second runs. The threshold of our records is way lower due to the costs and flexibility to race whenever and wherever you like. By the way it’s great a professional like Anders started positing on our site, thanks for that! The way I see it the one record format supports the other.
A WGPSSRC record contender needs to be more accurate in his or her approach than a normal user for obvious reasons. A contender needs to use two GPS devices with the right firmware, make sure to have witnesses and or film footage. It’s all explained in our rules. We also have got National records on National water to make it more affordable for all. I feel our rankings are a better reflection of the true potential of current windsurf-gear, riders and spots than the WSSRC records, but I can understand the myth surrounding the WSSRC record.
Again, I could say/might need to explain a lot more about this and it might be interesting for the readers, but then I would need a lot more room to explain. I’d also like to introduce the people behind the site, the work they are doing, and with their help perhaps show non-tech guys (like me)… how easy it is to read GPS files and post them on our site.
That would be interesting thank you, we look forward to it in a future issue.
Some last comment if you allow me. GPS speed isn’t just about outright records and the perfect speed-spots. The moment the industry realizes that, the sport might experience another boost in the flat water market. A GPS helps a rider to check his or her own progress. Ideally windsurfing schools put GPS devices around the arms of people learning to windsurf. They’ll experience the steep learning curve even better. I predict National water records over time will be the ones which are mostly followed. People need to be able to relate to the speeds being set to make it fun and worthwhile to do. By setting up National Records on National waters we want to lower the threshold to participate. In a country like Poland going 60 might be just as good a performance as going 80 in Holland. Holland is the best example with a vast and skilled community. Levels are rising at an extreme pace and so is the fun and competition. It doesn’t matter if the wind is howling or there is a moderate breeze, people are having a blast all year around.
If International riders and brands are supportive and creative, they could help grow the sport. Personal growth is what sport is about to me, and I am happy I can say with the help of many friends I contributed to the growth of a thrilling new aspect of our fun sport, and hope to be able to do so in future. On behalf of Roger and Dylan I’d like to thank those who support us already and hope they will keep on doing so in future.
From Boardseeker a big thanks to Martin and all the people behind the development of GPS Speedsurfing! Their passion and effort has no doubt had a massive influence on the way we enjoy our sport.
Look out for future issues of Boardseeker as Martin explains in depth the concepts and details of his unique board shapes, and also brings us a guide to how to get the most from your gps session and using the gps-speedsurfing.com website.