26th of November 2010, Brazil, Fortaleza Grand Prix

Sean O´Brian reports from Brazil

The Australian windsurfer Sean O´Brian, is international teamrider of Point 7 and as well working for the company. He is in charge of their website, movies, pictures… he is the creative new media guy. But besides working, he finds enough time to compete at the PWA Slalom tour and at selected Formula windsurfing events. Sean finished in 47th position on the PWA tour. Despite he is Australian citizen he could manage to stay a long period in Europe and even travel to Brazil. Read the very interesting report of Sean about his last weeks, driving through Europe and jumping over the Atlantic ocean to Brazil!

This autumn I finally got the chance to travel to Brasil, a place I have been wanting to visit for many years. Each year, around November, the team at WindBrasil organise the Formula Windsurfing Fortaleza Grand-Prix raced at the Hotel Marina in central Fortaleza; this was the venue for the 2007 FW World Championships. Coming from a tropical southern hemisphere country myself, I figured the blistering hot temperatures and wavy conditions would suit me well, the problem was just how to get there.

We don’t like anyone visiting Australia it seems, so we make it hard for all of you to get visas. Brasil, in retaliation, makes it hard for Aussies and after 6 weeks of waiting and phone calls to the embassy, I finally got my visa approved (I actually got denied a visa in 2007 to compete at the Worlds, but that’s another story). During that 6 weeks I was travelling all through Europe without my passport and on the drive up to Sylt for the PWA event I was stopped at a roadblock by German police and it took some ‘Aussie charm’ to persuade them, why I had no documents, a car registered in someone else’s name (I can’t register a car without being a European resident) and then insured in someone else’s name again and that I needed to be in Sylt by tomorrow at the latest! Luckily they let me through! My first experiences in Brasil during the few days I arrived early leading up to the event were both eye-opening and intriguing. There’s a real disparity between rich and poor in Brasil. I guess this wasn’t the first time I’ve seen this in any country however in Brasil it’s so intermixed – there is no “poor area” and “rich area”, there are really just beautiful hotels and houses on streets that you are afraid to walk down at night because of the homeless streetkids, who wander around begging for change and robbing unsuspecting foreigners. I arrived 3 days before the Brasilian elections so as you can imagine it was an interesting time as there were many supporters of each candidate running up and down the streets with flags, beeping horns in cars and yelling and carrying on all hours of the night. I remember the first time I walked in to the supermarket next to my hotel and watched as some bank security men replaced the cash in an ATM (cash machine). In Australia they have an armoured car to transport the money, same as Brasil, they also have a small handgun each, same as Brasil. What they don’t have, is the biggest shotgun I’ve ever seen. The handle was up to the guys shoulder as he held it angling downwards with the 2.5cm wide barrel touching the floor. His fingers were on the trigger. That money was safe!

My time out on the water during the racing was fantastic. It’s been a while since I’ve surfed in shorts all week and had to remember to put ‘sunscreen’ on! The conditions in Fortaleza are very interesting for racing. The wind can sometimes be very strong, up to 30 knots. But what is most apparent racing at the Marina is how shifty and gusty the winds are. A bit like trying to do course-racing on Fuerteventura during late summer. There a decent sized swells on the course rolling at a 45 degree angle to the wind which means you travel across the swells on one tack and straight in to them on the other.
I decided to just bring one sail with me to this event. One sail, one board, one fin, one boom. I have been racing with just one sail the past 2 summers in Australia and for 90% of conditions the 11m is perfect. It only starts to become a problem in the lighter winds of Europe with big fleets or if everyone you are racing with has a 12m. The latter was the case in Brasil!
I think there is a general misconception around in the sport of Formula windsurfing. I see and hear from a lot of guys wanting to know which of the latest gear is going fastest and what fins to buy. Nine of the Top 12 finishers at the Fortaleza GP were using boards from 2-5 years ago and sails from 2-4 years ago. Many are on fins just as old. Sure, there will always be teamriders, who do development for brands and who are on new equipment; I myself was in this role using the 2010 race sail from Point-7, however I was on a board developed nearly 3 years ago and using one fin for all conditions – 5-30knots. The days of the arms-race are well and truly over.

My good friend and long time sparring partner Kurosh Kiani from Denmark made the trip down to Brasil this time also, and has had about as much time as me on a Formula board this year, which was a couple of days at most! The Brasilians have been training hard all of their summer, with the Youth & Masters Worlds finishing the week before in Rio de Janeiro and the Brasilian Nationals the weekend before the Grand Prix (GP), so they were all looking very tuned in.
Steve Allen and Wojtek Brzozowski made a last minute arrival unannounced for the GP and it was great to have some more international competitors. The event copped a little bit of flack on the international scene as there were really only 13 competitors, who were seriously doing the races and only 4 from outside of Brasil. For us, the competitors, this just made it all the more interesting…
When you have big fleets in Europe, it’s hard to match race someone, who you see as your same level, because if you start at the opposite end of the line, you can sometimes never see them in the procession of sailors coming around a top mark. When there’s only 13 on a startline, there is enough room for everyone to get a great start, which means you really have to fight and battle every second before the start to get the right positioning – there are no kooks you make a space for you on the line you can slot in to at the last minute.

The racing was intense! A lot of times you would come to the mark in a pack of 6-7 guys. We were rounding the top mark the opposite way so you would approach on port, which meant you had to give way to the guys cutting in front of you – there were some nasty crashes, a couple of protests, some broken fins and plenty of destroyed boards! Put a stack of money in front of 13 guys at an event and they will kick to the teeth.

I finished 11th overall at this event, which I was happy with considering the lack of preparation I had this year doing the PWA slalom tour and with no major FW events in Europe. Gabriel Browne, the youth world champion has his home spot in Fortaleza and he really put on a show this week, winning a stack of races in a variety of conditions.

After the event finished I still had 5 days to go in my trip as Kurosh and I had planned to see a little more of Brasil and spend some time filming some videos.

The 5 days which followed the event were some of the wildest I can remember. I went to 2 of the wildest parties of my life with some of the Brasilian windsurfers. The kind were you arrive in a small 2-bedroom apartment and there’s a 5-piece live band with drumkit, 2 guitars, bass and a keyboard in the living room and a full-service bar complete with beer taps and soda-dispenser built in to the wall at the other end of the living room with about 80 people jammed in somewhere amongst the fold. The events that took place there I can’t really describe on a public forum, but anyone who’s been to Brasil and has rolled with the Fortaleza boys, will know what I am talking about. They say it’s not safe to walk around town late at night but it was fine for us to walk back to the hotel after the party as it was 10am and sunny by that stage!
The next few days we spent visiting the many beaches in and around Fortaleza. There’s even a great surf beach there were we spent an afternoon checking out new shapes at the local surfboard shop and enjoying the smell of fresh surfboard wax (made me homesick!!). It’s hard to know whether the stories of violence and criminality are really as true as they say here. On a drive to Cumbuco, an amazing beach just 30km north of Fortaleza, where we shot most of our videos, we drove through one of the most poor and crime-riddled ‘favelas’ in Fortaleza. This was only walking distance from the Marina, where we sailed each day during the event ironically. I felt safe, as we were usually driving in a bullet-proof, armoured car with tinted windows, but the sheer necessity of needing an armoured car to get around each day just blew my mind. I never saw any crime actually take place while I was here, however a lot of times we would see street kids walking past the cars stopped at a traffic light and looking in the windows; if they like what they see, I am told they will usually pull a gun out and stick it in your face and rob you… There’s a reason, why the police drive around wearing Kevlar and army boots, armed with automatic machine guns; I guess it sends a clear message.

On the way to the airport as we flew out last Friday night I was thinking about this event and why not so many of my friends came down here to compete in this beautiful country.

2010 was an interesting year for Formula Windsurfing. The Worlds took place at the beginning of the year, where many were ill-prepared and a few major events in Europe that had been running for many years were cancelled due to the financial crisis with sponsors pulling out. When you spend most of your time competing in Pro Events only, it’s easy to think that the sport might be dying when you see less events leads to less top guys competing at the remaining events – as they usually go and fill their time doing other disciplines of windsurfing.
I was having problems with my emails the whole time in Europe and as I touched down in Italy my inbox was jammed with about 100 emails that I hadn’t received while I was in Brasil. The emails were from people all over the world interested to hear about what gear was going well and some news about the 2011 sails and who has the edge and would you come to our Nationals next year in x place! Suddenly I remembered that although the equipment development is driven by the pros competing on the pro circuits, the sport is really about everyone else who is racing or just cruising their home spot. I hadn’t written an article in the last 4 months on my windsurfing technical blog – www.carbonsugar.com, but I see I am still getting a lot of traffic and a lot of emails coming through the site, so it shows me the class is still really thriving and people are just as hungry for information as always. Also it shows me I need to write some more things on my blog!

Next year is going to be a real comeback year for formula. Already some new events are starting to take shape, including a Grand-Prix Formula event in Sydney, Australia which I am helping organise with a great team back home. I hear of many other events being confirmed in Europe also which will put the sport back on the map.
My first impressions of Brasil were really fantastic and I’m hoping next year to be able to stay for much longer and do some more travelling throughout the country, to the south. I recommend everyone should visit this vibrant country at least once and if you stick to the local guides’ advice, you should make it out without being robbed or shot. Hopefully!
In the meantime, enjoy a video I shot whilst in Brasil or check out my websites www.carbonsugar.com or www.aus120.com

© Photos by Kurosh, myself and WindBrasil 2010

Join the discussion

pol555 | 26th November 2010 (20:44:37)

great article Sean. whats the date of this Australian GP that youre working on?

SeanAUS120 | 27th November 2010 (13:01:45)

2 - 5th February 2011. With a warmup event at the same beach on 30-31st January 2011.

There will be a news post about the event VERY shortly here ;)

gre-969 | 27th November 2010 (21:03:30)

I really enjoy it reading your articles, you are our embassador of promoting our sport we love and live for, thanks a lot Sean.

pol555 | 28th November 2010 (16:33:31)

any idea how to get to that GP venue from Europe not paying a fortune?

Fatal error: Call to a member function close() on a non-object in /home/formula/domains/formulawindsurfing.org/public_html/formula/elements/comments-old.php on line 15