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The weekend of the 11/12 October saw the return of the Virgin Armada to the shores of Hayling Island on England’s south coast… It was very much last chance saloon for the event as the clock ticked through the penultimate day of the 6 day waiting period, and the water, trees and clouds all remained devoid of any signs of the movement of air. At all. An annoyingly typical afternoon on one of the least windy periods in recent years.
On the beach, however, amongst the 350+ kiters, meteorology was for losers: it was all about keeping the faith. There were naysayers aplenty (of which I was one) and there were plenty of would-be record breakers deciding that they might as well hedge their bets and get a couple of pints in as there’d be no kiting today… And then there were the few who had no faith and stayed at home.
As the afternoon ticked on things became more desperate, even Lewis’s optimism began to slip as he found himself commentating on a slightly-worse-than-average SUPer meandering along the beach, and as ‘the cloud’ refused to shift… Mutterings increased. The faith was leaving… And then suddenly, in the distance, the yachtspersons who had been enjoying a quiet G&T in the lee of the Isle of Wight suddenly found their ice cubes clinking as they began to crawl along at slightly-quicker-than-snail’s pace. And excitement levels on the beach reached fever pitch.
Guy Bridge was chosen as the sacrificial foil-boarder and was cheered onto the water by the great and the good of the UK kiteboarding community – probably more in hope than expectation. But no sooner had he executed his first flawless foiling tack and the wind arrived. It genuinely arrived. In solid 12-14 knot form. What then ensued was a very-British frantic race to get on the water. Lots of ‘yes, I think it probably is my turn old chap’ to the efficient launching team, and plenty of tense take offs from the beach. You didn’t want to be that kiter who stuffed their kite into the water straight off the bat…
Over the course of the next 90 minutes there was a constant stream of kites filling the one mile course – some taking the most direct route, some taking the opportunity to engage in a little showboating and some (18) failing to complete the course. One of those may have been me (number 303?). I was taken out twice as I casually made my way down the course, at one point had a line ensnared underneath a ‘rescue’ RIB, and I limped into the beach with an inverted but airborne kite. And who said these down winders weren’t extreme?
Having returned to the main site on the bus – the shortest bus trip I ever expect to make in my life – there was much frantic grabbing of kit as rumours seeped out that we were a few shy of the magic 353 mark. Rumour had it that the man who came to clean the portaloos was given a 3 minute briefing before being dispatched downwind on a raceboard and 13m Vegas [This was never proven].
The outcome: 344 kites completed the course, the cursed 18 riders who failed to make it round the course were hounded off the island, and the evening festivities kicked off…
Regardless of the numbers though, it was a great day at the beach. And have no doubt: 2015 will see the record broken… And there will be no ‘I’m not bothering mate as it’ll never breeze up’… O, no…