See what it’s like to race with 1,200 windsurfers

With 1,200 windsurfers on one start line, the Defi Wind is the biggest, baddest race on the planet.
By Josh Sampiero

To call the Defi Wind a simple windsurf race is a massive understatement. Over the last decade and a half, it’s grown to be the biggest event in windsurfing. How big? Over 1,200 windsurfers will hit the start line – all at the (almost) exact same time. Joining this year’s race in the south of France are legendary windsurfers Jason Polakow and Bjorn Dunkerbeck – plus new-schoolers Philip Köster and Lena Erdil.

Race against 1,200 windsurfers in France

“It’s madness.” Those words are from Jason Polakow, one of the most accomplished windsurfers on the planet. “There’s so much happening at the start – howling wind, choppy water, and trying to time your start – it’s not easy!”

While a normal start is hard enough, the start at Le Defi (as the French refer to it) is something all its own. Rather than a normal start flag or gun, competitors must wait for the 'rabbit' boat to pass them to cross the 1km-long start line. See how it works in the video above.

A whole lot of windsurfers on the water

The world's biggest windsurf race
That's a lot of windsurfers © Jean Souville/Defi Wind

So what’s the start line strategy? Be fast – and be in front. “The water is really choppy, and you have a lot of dirty air from other sailors,” says Lena Erdil, a professional racer from Turkey. “You want to be going full speed when you hit the start line, and preferably in front of everyone else – it’s easier to stay in front than to fight back from behind!”

Action at the turn

The world's biggest windsurf race
Action at the jibe mark © JM Cornu/Defi Wind

And once you're clear, things don't get any easier. The course is long – four legs of approximately 10km each for a total of 40km is the normal race course – and the Tramontana wind is famously fierce. This year's race saw average wind speeds well into the 30-knot range, extending up to 50 – 60 knots.

High winds in France

Polakow hopped in the race on some freeride kit to have some fun. The best part? "Sailing back against the fleet was insane – you had so many sailors coming right at you, and everyone is going so fast!”

Polakow's mid-race selfie

Veterans of the race's 15-year history have stated it was the windiest conditions they'd ever seen at the event – in fact, on one afternoon, gusts up to 70 knots (more than 100kph) were measured at the far end of the course.

The world's biggest windsurf race
Each leg is 5km – the start line is 1km © JM Cornu/Defi Wind

And who finished first? French pro windsurfer Pierre Mortefon, who took first place in three out of four races. Grabbing a spot on the podium for the girls was Lena Erdil, who finished third for the women in tough conditions - behind first place finisher Marion Mortefon (and yes, she's the sister of the men's winner, Pierre.)

So, how can you race against 1,200 other windsurfers? Well, it's possible, but like the race itself, it's not easy – the registration for the Defi Wind fills up every year. So you've got to get on it early to guarantee your spot on the start line. But, if you make it, it's guaranteed to be the experience of a lifetime – and for once, you'll be happy you followed the crowd.

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