Red Bull Storm Chase 2014: the best of bad weather

Big waves and big winds, all over the world – that’s what Red Bull Storm Chase is all about.
By Josh Sampiero

Most people avoid bad weather, but the competitors and crew of Red Bull Storm Chase spent more than an entire year looking for it.

Storm Chase's on-site safety director and big-wave expert Finn Mullen shares the challenges of tracking down mega swells and nuclear winds, and finding the right spot for them to come together into a (mostly) windsurf-able wave.

“We really had to be aware of global weather patterns,” he says. “But we knew where to look. The coast of Ireland is one of big-wave riding's hidden gems. Tasmania, they have a well documented big-wave history. You only have to look at a map of the ocean to know what we were going to expect when we got down there. In mid-winter, Cornwall is right in the strike zone of the conveyor belt of Atlantic storms.”

Three precisely planned big-wave strike missions – three big-wave contests scored. In a way, Red Bull Storm Chase has become the most reliable windsurfing competition there is: you don't know when it will happen, but when it's on, it's definitely on.

True, there was a long break between Mission 1 and Mission 2. “The athletes have competition and sponsor commitments but, also, the European storm season winds down, and we're waiting for the southern hemisphere season to wind up,” says Mullen. Ten of the world’s best riders were chosen for Mission 1, with six advancing to Mission 2, and four finalists in Mission 3.

Of course, there's not only the decision about where to chase down the storm – there's also the decisions about which beaches to sail at. That's why the Red Bull Storm Chase crew relied on local sailors such as the Mullen brothers in Brandon Bay, John Potts in Tasmania, and head judge Duncan Coombs in Cornwall. Factors like wind direction and tide – as well as safety – steered their decisions.

“These conditions aren’t the kind of conditions we’d normally free-sail in,” says Mullen. “But we had safety crew, jet-skis, and medical staff on hand. We created an environment in which it was safe to compete.”

One of the hairiest moments didn’t involve one of the riders, but the safety crew, when a jet-ski broke down outside the break at the Bluff in Cornwall. “Luckily, it was the jet-ski of big-wave surfer Tom Butler,” says crew-member Klaas Voget, “and he decided to just surf the ski in on the next set, rather than risk calling someone else out for help.”

While the competitors were able to avoid major injury, their gear did not. “Everybody took a beating,” says Voget. “The single worst wipeout had to go Leon Jamaer, who really hit the water hard. But the king of poundings was Dany Bruch, who caught a series of waves right on the head. It was a lot of swimming.”

But in the end, it was the smallest guy of them all – Thomas Traversa – who tamed the biggest waves. The French free sailor was unstoppable in all three locations, with the biggest jumps and hardest hits.

Enjoy the video above and, of course, trust us on this: leave these conditions for the pros!

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