Le Defi Wind, L'Extraordinaire!
What is it really like to take part in the iconic Defi Wind? For a lot of windsurfers this epic race is top of the bucket list! An unprecedented challenge, an intense sporting marathon, because it is organised over one of the longest distances in competition: 40Km! Making it the biggest windsurfing event in the world with more than 1,000 windsurfers from around the world gathering to compete against the 'Tramontane'.
The Defi Wind event, or Le Defi as it's more commonly known, is held each year at Gruissan Plage, Narbonne, France. In this blog we hear from Mike George and Marti Jerrard about what it is really like to travel to the event, take part and why tu dois partir! Hopefully this will help you make your mind up that you need to make Le Defi part of your plans for 2024. Mike and Marti sail regularly out of The Official Test Centre and in this intriguing insight they share their real-life experience of Le Defi Wind.
By Emma Nicholson.
How easy is it to get to Le Defi? Logistics and travelling there? Getting your kit to the south of France? Accommodation?
Mike said: "It wasn't particularly difficult to get to Defi. I chose to travel by ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe on an overnight ferry which cost around £90. It's then just a case of following the sat nav through France and my total drive time through France was around 10 hours. I came back a slightly different route, getting a morning ferry from Calais to Dover again for about £90. Travelling with a friend is a good way to halve the travel costs (ferry crossing, diesel, tolls). There is plenty of accommodation in Gruissan and I stayed in a chalet near the beach, sharing with one other Brit (plus Marti Gerrard on the first night). Bear in mind that the Sunday is the end of a long weekend for the French (starting with Ascension Day on the Thu) so be prepared for heavy traffic on the way back through France. I think my drive time up to Dover took 14-15 hours!"
"It doesn’t matter how many times you have done Defi Wind the first race is always the most nerve wracking."
Marti said: "Logistically its an expensive trip if you travel alone, so my advice if you are financially constrained, van share with someone you can spend 14 hrs or more with and be prepared to share your life story and listen to theirs! For me, my van decided it wasn’t going to play (and it sadly still isn’t) therefore I am extremely grateful to Roger Taylor who I met briefly at a UKWA slalom event back in Nov 2022 and who very kindly offered to take me and all my kit.
"On the plus side, we shared the cost of the Tunnel, fuel and toll roads which is the most expensive part of the trip and I bought him copious amounts of coffee and even invited him to our BBQ on day three. I had already paid for accommodation with three other guys so again I was already somewhat committed to going so I would have had to hire a van to get to Gruissan. One thing is for sure, you can fit six boards and a dozen sails and other kit in a LWB transporter!
"When at Gruissan, many stay in their vans which is cheaper (No parking fees) or locally in many of the air B&Bs either at the Plage or close by. Defi Wind coincides with the French Holiday so accommodation is not cheap regardless so it can be a bit off-putting if you’re a human of comforts. The one thing I really don’t like or understand is why they do not take the height restriction barriers off the other carparks which means high top vans or campers have to park on the side of the road which was heavily restricted and monitored this year.
"I shared a four-bedroom apartment on Gruissan Plage which was expensive but outstanding for being both close to the Defi Wind venue and briefing but also we could cook, eat, shower and sleep so much better than those in vans close to the event and the very loud evening entertainment which can go on into the early hours of the next morning. Defi Wind is not a cheap event when you also add in the entry fees, your food for the time you’re there and of course taking time off work."
"The start line is absolutely insane and no amount of regular racing will fully prepare you for over 1,000 other competitors trying to get a good start."
What is it like when you get to the start line with all those other windsurfers? How does that feel to be on the water with so many others? What is the course like on the water?
Mike said: "The start line is absolutely insane and no amount of regular racing will fully prepare you for over 1,000 other competitors trying to get a good start. The "figure of eight" course is very long (in reality it is around 7 km) and you need to be prepared for at least 5 extra knots of wind at the far end. You are likely to feel underpowered at the start, well powered for middle of the course and stacked at the far end."
Mike has a few videos on Facebook which give a taste of the various stages of the races, click on the links below;
Start (windy race) - https://www.facebook.com/michael.george.545/posts/10218591821787088
First mark (windy race) - https://www.facebook.com/michael.george.545/posts/10218596396381450
Second mark (light wind race) - https://www.facebook.com/michael.george.545/posts/10218606501714077
"So if Defi Wind is in your head, put it on your bucket list and set a date and then…. DO IT - even if it’s just the once."
Marti said: "It doesn’t matter how many times you have done Defi Wind the first race is always the most nerve wracking. If you have never experienced a Rabbit start with 1400 other windsurfers/windfoilers again it’s a daunting part of the race… How many of us can actually practice and train for 10 km reaches for 40 kms with a mass start!
"Once that’s under your belt (provide it goes well) the rest seem to just get better unless you break something or get knocked off, twice at the gybe mark which is what happened to me on two separate races which shouldn’t have happed but then again I was really confident in my ability to get around the mark and out again if good order but forgot to anticipate the external forces against me and other windsurfers who don’t look or pick a sensible line and of course the disturbed wind around the Port-la-Nouvelle gybe mark!
"Trying to water start when your surrounded by constant flow of windsurfers all trying to gybe in the same water space is the most frustrating and most difficult part of the whole event. Those two massive mistakes which probably cost me over 150 places each time and at least 10 minutes or more…. (looks like I’ll be going back in 2024!)"
"I always come away with a sense of achievement and some new windsurfing buddies!"
What would you say to other windsurfers or wingers that have never been, but want to tick it off the bucket list, but aren’t sure?
Mike said: "If you are even considering going to Defi then you should go! The races include people who are trying to win, people who are simply trying to finish and everything in between. Once you've decided to go, try to whatever you can to prepare your body for 10-15 minute long reaches. Trying to sail fast for 500 meters is one thing but 10-15 minutes is something else entirely! The winners tend to take about 31-32 minutes per race but the average time is around 50 minutes and a fair few people take 1.5 or even 2 hours."
"It felt amazing to be close to the front albeit that over 500 sailors had already crossed the start line above me."
Marti said: "I would say this about anything in life… If there is something in your head you want to do, put it on your bucket list and then set a realistic date to do it. It really is addictive (well for most) as even after four trips I have still yet to get into the top quarter which remains my main goal. The level and numbers just seem to get better so I always seem to end up in the middle of the pack. When you see the results of Scotty Stallman who was a first timer to Defi Wind it makes you realise just how good some of our UK windsurfers are. Had they not turned up I would have placed higher lol."
"How many of us can actually practice and train for 10 km reaches for 40 kms with a mass start!"
What was your best memory from Le Defi?
Mike said: "It was surprising to see Bjorn Dunkerbeck (42x world champion) just seconds behind me at the first and second marks during the windiest race! He proceeded to pass me with relative ease during the third reach mind you."
Marti said: "For me it was race four and hitting the start line at the same time as seeing the Rabbit boat go past me. I have always been about 2-5 mins behind the main start but this year I finally got it right with the right choice of kit and being in the right place at the right time! It felt amazing to be close to the front albeit that over 500 sailors had already crossed the start line above me.
"Also making your gybes and then blasting full chat on one tack for 10 kms…. On race 4, on leg 3 I not only manged to gybe at the top I planned the whole 10 kms all the way to the bottom mark not being over taken once but overtook loads… It felt absolutely magical and really confidence boosting!"
"The helicopter and drone footage of the rabbit start is one of the most insane sights in windsurfing."
What makes Le Defi so iconic? Is it the sheer amount of windsurfers? The social side of the event?
Mike said: "The number of windsurfers on the water is one thing, but the helicopter and drone footage of the rabbit start is one of the most insane sights in sailing and windsurfing. Having all of the brands displaying kit is cool during the daytime and there is plenty to do in the evenings; bars, restaurants, band tent, etc. There is something for everyone... sailing and social. Thoroughly recommended."
Marti said: "Its everything: Its firstly telling yourself I am going to do it even if you haven’t had much water time. The excitement of getting the email confirming your entry has been accepted, the logistics of our group all getting there and of course for me the extra dilemma of how I to get there with all my gear with no van (Thanks again to Roger Taylor who saved the day!).
"I have met some wonderful people at Defi Wind from across the globe who I only see and chat with at Defi Wind. This was also the first time over 60 entries from the UK although disappointingly trying to get everyone together for a photo proved impossible! It’s also good to meet the Pros so I made a special effort this year to stalk the ones I really wanted to meet and then got my Facebook happy snap to prove it!
"Of course, one key point is you get to chat to the board and sail reps and pro sailors which is also verydangerous for any windsurfer with a credit card! Finally, even if it’s not gone according to the grand plan (it never has to be honest) the one thing I always come away with and that is a sense of achievement and some new windsurfing buddies! So if Defi Wind is in your head, put it on your bucket list and set a date and then…. DO IT - even if it’s just the once."
Get ready for next years Le Defi with some 1:1 windsurfing tuition from us here at The Official Test Centre, call 07817 717904 and be race ready.