They came, it stormed, they conquered.
For most events, bad weather is a reason to cancel. But Red Bull Storm Chase isn't like other events. It only gets the green light when wind and waves of epic proportions are sure to hit.
This edition of Red Bull Storm Chase was the most ambitious yet. A group of 10 riders, nominated by windsurfing fans worldwide, hoped to chase three mega-storms around the world in the most unique windsurfing competition ever conceived. Reactivity was key – these riders, and the Red Bull Storm Chase event personnel, would have less than 48 hours to chase down the storm, often from the other side of the world.
But this time, the storm came to (most) of them. After a waiting period that spanned more than 14 months, the Red Bull Storm Chase had a final showdown in the surf, when the season's biggest swell slammed into the southwest corner of England. The surf break off Cornwall was a short hop away for French rider Thomas Traversa, as well as Germans Dany Bruch and Leon Jamaer. The fourth finalist, Brazilian Marcilio 'Brawsinho' Browne, came from Hawaii.
Cornwall, while well-known to dedicated surfers of Britain's south coast, is hardly a world-class surfing destination – except for the few times a year an Atlantic mega-storm sends 10m waves directly towards its usually friendly beaches. “This was a big storm,” says Thomas Traversa, overall Red Bull Storm Chase champion.
I was on the edge of control the entire time! Saturday morning, I was on my smallest sail and smallest board!
Action started at the beach known as Gwithian, where the sailors could barely walk their rigs into the 50+ knot winds. In fact, for Traversa, the strategy involved waiting for a lull in the blasting breeze. “The game was to adapt to whatever the conditions were at that very second – we were actually waiting for a lull in the wind to make a controlled jump, instead of just blowing up.” Despite the planned patience, there were still plenty of blow-ups – and broken gear.
“Everybody broke something,” says Traversa. “I snapped a board. Everybody else broke masts. The swell was simply so powerful, it was bound to happen.”
Despite the challenges, the unique format gave them a chance to truly perform. ”It wasn't short heats, like in professional competition,” says Traversa. “We had 20-minute heats – long enough to find the right wave, but not so long that you were totally exhausted on the water.” All in all, he was surprised by the quality of wave that Cornwall offered up. “The big ones were closeouts, but there were enough rideable waves – a big bowl with a lip you could really hit.”
It was the show of the year. “This winter has been one of the most extreme ever in the UK, and it was amazing to welcome the RBSC for the biggest storm to date,” says Editor of UK-based BOARDS windsurfing magazine and the Boardseeker website, Amy Carter. “The conditions were just as hardcore as we had hoped for and it was unbelievable to see how the chasers tamed the elements. It was amazing to not only see the exceptional talent of the sailors, but the whole event; the crew, the riders, the thousands of supporters that came to watch, everyone came together to make it a truly special event.”
Those were the biggest waves we've seen in Storm Chase, ever.
Over the two days of competition at the beaches Gwithian and The Bluff, all four competitors put on quite a show – but the real spectacle was the storm itself. The phrase that Traversa kept repeating, a full day after the event: “Those were the biggest waves we've seen in Storm Chase, ever.”
Stay tuned for a wrap-up of all three of the Red Bull Storm Chase stops. In the meantime, follow Red Bull Adventure on Facebook.