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Farrel O’Shea was windsurfing when the 20 knot barrier was broken, let alone the 50 knot! In 1983, whilst building a name for himself on the wave tour, Farrel and his mates decided to enter the Sotavento speed event in Fuerteventura. He got hooked and remained in the world’s top 20 for several years. He stopped competing in the early 90’s to concentrate on his surfboard and clothing business. Fast forward 10 years and Farrel is back in style, taking the UK speed record with a speed of 44.34 knots.
Give us the history to your speed career.
Farrel: I started sometime in the early 80’s, (83/84) with a few bits at Weymouth and then ’86 in Sotavento. I was in the Canaries anyway, we knew the speed event was on down south so we thought we would give it a go even though we were primarily wave sailors. I was actually ok back then; in the world’s top10 for quite a well. (I was on an M&M Gaastra to begin with). I stopped because the whole circus that got involved in ‘89 annoyed me. I then kept pro wave sailing till '93/94 and then a few appearances at the Tiree Wave Classic before I gave up competition completely.
So why did you get back into it again?
Farrel: It was fully down to Dave White that I got involved again. He called my bluff! I thought, I’m going to have to have a go to shut Dave up!
Did you focus on getting the British record?
Farrel: No, not at all. I just thought I’d see if the people and the whole scene was better as well as the equipment. Also the GPS thing has been so good. You can see your improvement on a windy day and don’t have to travel all over the world to do this. I really enjoyed this.
The Canal: How do you get invited?
Farrel: I’ve done quite a few of the speed events by now to see what parity is going on than just sitting on your own at West Kirby . In summer 2006 I went with Bob Cunningham back to Sotavento, 20 yrs since I left. My performance was pretty poor I have to say but we went for a good time and got it! I quickly realised I was on the wrong kit and I addressed some of the problems and from my GPS training I could see my speeds increasing. I perceived at the time the Canal was the only option. I talked to Finian (Maynard) and he said you should come. This was before Dave White got the Driven by Wind thing going and in hindsight I think I would have just ended up going to Southend instead of France , but I had already committed.
The Record Run
Farrel: We got the nod pretty last minute for the March trip. Theoretically you get 72 hrs notice but in practise it tends to be less. I first went in November '07 but it was on port tack and that doesn’t feel right for me. The speed thing and port tack is just not happening for me at all but I still enjoyed it.
March 5th (record day) we had very little notice and flew out there from East Midlands airport to a place only 40 mins drive from the Canal. It wasn’t obvious in the morning that it would be a record breaking day. I used a 5.0m sail in the 45/50knots of wind (Antoine was on a 4.8m). Most people go out in 35knots and think it’s a Force10 so you can imagine this was real windy.
But I was ok on that sail.
First run I took it easy, but then the wind picked up and the second run of the day, when I broke Whitey’s record, it was about 55 knots and getting so choppy it bounced me out of the harness about 60m before the end. It wasn’t a smooth run! I was using a 37 Patrik Diethelm F2 custom board (default Canal board) seat harness, pretty long lines, nothing too wacky in speed terms.
About 12 o’clock, three hours after my run, we had stopped for a re-group and we were watching the Canal. Antoine (Albeau) must have caught a golden moment. We were quite surprised, not that Antoine had done it, he was the man to bet your house on it, but there were runs either side of his that were no way near. I think the wind switched angle and he was on the gust, on the angle and he made it. After that it went over 60 knots and the speed runs were well down.
50knot barrier: possible?
Farrel: Yes, totally. I think in the present state of play, it can be broken but I think there is only about six people who can do it at this present time, Antoine at the top.
Farrel: He is super in tune with his equipment. Plus he’s strong physically and mentally. Some of the other players can challenge him but he is the man to beat.
On Bjorn: Where’s he been this winter?
Farrel: No idea. I though he might appear at Southend (Driven by Wind) but no. However, never count Bjorn out.
Did you attempt to gain weight as part of your speed training?
Farrel: Yes, but I’m a little bit lazy! In November I was in pretty good shape; it’s not just the bulk, you’ve got to be pretty fit and strong.
In what area do you think speed equipment needs to improve?
Farrel: That’s a tricky one. The main development going on is through slalom, rather than specifically speed and that doesn’t help. However, the fins have got a lot better. Hydrofoil boards maybe the way forward. But the practicality of putting the development into it, you need some pretty clever blokes! Asymmetric sails and fins – that’s the way it should go. Small changes will nudge it up a little bit and that’s what we must continue to do.
Will windsurfers break the record?
Farrel: We have got major challenges from the kiters. They seem to be able to breeze up to speeds, like 42 knots, which is a massive barrier in the windsurfing speed world. Windy, shallow locations, small kites and a number of them are cruising up to 47 knots speeds. They are simple more consistent at it. But the major threat is the French/Swiss boat. The technology in that boat is far beyond what we have seen so far in windsurfing. But the windsurfers have got a chance.
The top boys were doing 44/45knots a decade ago. Why aren’t we going much faster now?
Farrel: Conditions, because the equipment has definitely moved on. I have been around for so long that I have seen all the ‘barriers’ broken down. I was windsurfing when the 20 knot barrier was broken. I certainly remember the 30 knots with Fred Haywood, the 40 knot with Eric Beale, now we looking at 50 knots which was almost unthinkable back then. The curve is slowing down but that’s what it is like in every sport now, look at the 100m sprint they are breaking the record by a 1000th of a second. The kit has jumped on, even Finian’s equipment he used in '05 looks dated.
But yes, I agree some of the speeds being put down 10 years ago are still good speeds today. Look at Roddy Lewis in 1995 put 44 knots down in Fuerte which is one of the outstanding achievements in speed sailing. Never, ever been done to this day down there. But he had pretty special conditions.
Sailors are consistently getting up to decent speeds even in average conditions when the angle is tight and we know that’s super hard. Everything loads up super early – it’s a proper he-man struggle. The big guys are very good when it’s tight. When the wind is broad the more sensitive, technical sailors get it better, like Cyril Moussilmani and Cedric Bordes. But they haven’t got he body weight to challenge when it’s tight but certainly the ability to challenge when it’s broad.
The world of speed sailing underestimates some of the great sailors on the World Cup at the moment – they’re all quick.
Where do you go from here? Have you had enough or are you fired up to do more?
Farrel: A difficult question. I am going to do fewer events this year as some of them have annoyed me. I’ll be more choosy. If I get the opportunity I’ll work towards the Canal. I’ll try and hone down my kit a bit more. I’ve got no record in mind, that’s not my objective; I’ve got to enjoy it. When I haven’t enjoyed it, I cut those dead weeds out. I’ll continue to sail, but I will try more specialised kit if I get invited back!
Finally, are the dreads fast or slow?
Farrel: Definitely faster. It’s the only advantage I’ve got so I’m trying to hang onto them.
"I remember the 30knots with Fred Haywood, the 40knot with Eric Beale, now we are looking at 50knots which was almost unthinkable back then."
For a Podcast link to the interview, right click the following link and select Save Target As.