Interview: Windsurfing UK
Pics: Pete Lyons, Dahab Stars Club, Club Vass
In the first of a new series, where we look at grass roots, real world sailors, we check in with the North East’s Pete Lyons. A late convert to the sport, but no less enthusiastic, Pete’s story may resonate with many, proving that you don’t need to be all about the latest move to get the most out of windsurfing. A great story of sheer stoke and enthusiasm – hook in and just blast!
When did you first discover windsurfing and what made you decide to get involved?
I think it was about 2007. I was fast approaching 40 and stuck in a bit of a vicious cycle of work and weekend partying and rapidly growing tired of it all. Well, I was getting on a bit so I needed a distraction to help get my sanity back. A friend of mine, Martin Dillon, had been sailing for years and was regularly offering to give me a taster lesson so I took him up on it.
Where was this?
My introduction to this strange world was up in Northumberland at Ladyburn Lake. After an hour of driving we arrived and I was apprehensive to say the least! The wind was poor, the water freezing and thick with reeds. Regular swan attacks made it interesting as well. That, a thick ill-fitting rubber suit and fear of water made for a very entertaining day. Needless to say I wasn’t entirely convinced windsurfing was for me at that point but there was enough to grab my interest. At Martin’s recommendation I headed off overseas, to somewhere warmer and consistent, and the adventure began…
Windsurfing can be tricky to progress with – how long did it take to get from zero to hero?
It all really started with my first trip to Vasiliki in 2008. Two weeks of learning on the roughest boards known to man! Knees were ripped to shreds from climbing back on for yet another uphaul. Great fun but still not convinced it was for me. Non the less I returned for another go the following year. It took a day or two to remember last year’s skills before I was back in the groove. Each holiday takes a while to get back to where I was previously. It’s surprising how much I actually remember given the time between each trip. Overall I think I’ve had 22 or 23 week’s worth of windsurfing holidays with a decent hit rate of 85% sailing days. So not quite ‘hero’ yet but I’m having one hell of a laugh getting there! The trick is to fly out with a target. If I get anywhere near my target then I’m happy.
You’re known as a destination windsurfer – where do you head for and how many times a year?
I try to get away twice a year. My preferred destination is without a doubt Dahab, Egypt. I sail out of Dahab Stars Club (formally Club Dahab). Ahmed, Muss and the boys are always very welcoming and it’s a great spot just to laze around, chill and enjoy a Sakara or two post sail. The variation there is perfect for all levels. From the safe haven of the lagoon, the flat water of Baby Bay, the mammoth runs in Speedy and Kamikaze (which I have not dared to sail yet). There’s something very special about the place. Sailing over crystal clear waters whilst occasionally slowing to admire the coral reefs. All with a backdrop of red mountains. It is truly awe inspiring.
We all know the problems Egypt is having but having travelled there several times during the Foreign Office Warning alert I can safely say I will not hesitate to head back there when Sharm el Sheikh flights resume. Dahab is definitely open for business.
With the flights to Sharm cancelled this year I turned my attention to Soma Bay in March. Cracking place with the sailing area split into two. Kiters one side and windsurfers the other. I expected mayhem but the separation was well observed by both sides which resulted in everyone having a cracking time.
Club Vass returned to my calendar this year after missing for a while. I have to say it has improved every time I’ve been. Excellent kit choice and great setup. Not the cheapest windsurfing holiday you’ll ever had but probably one of the best. Speed week was busy but Eric turned up and we all went blasting. Tremendous!
Is this enough time on the water or could you do with more?
I could always do with more time on the water providing it’s boardshorts weather. That pretty much rules out the UK for sailing – especially in the NE! Given the overall time I’ve spent on the water over the years I’m pretty happy with my progress although it can be a little frustrating when you’ve almost cracked that move only for the holiday to draw to a close. But overall I think I’m doing pretty well given my sailing time.
What about windsurfing back home in the UK – do you dabble or is it warm water/weather only?
I’ve been out a handful of times in the UK. It just does not have the same appeal when the water is so cold my hands turn white. That said I’ve just returned from a trip feeling more confident in my windsurfing and I’m more determined to get that neoprene on and get out there. I think a lot of it is a confidence thing. One of my strengths is upwind sailing so this year could be the year I sail my hometown beach of South Shields. Now that would make me very happy!
In terms of coaching what are the three biggest areas that you need to work on currently?
In short…everything! I’d class myself as the ultimate lazy windsurfer. I concentrate on getting into harness and straps as soon as possible and blast. Eventually I’ll turn my attention to carve gybes but at the minute I love just blasting along until I fall off (and why not – ed).
What tips have worked in the past and who’s helped you progress the most?
On my second windsurfing holiday a certain Mr Tez Plavenieks gave me probably the best advice I’ve had when I still wasn’t sure about it all. ‘Pete. I know you like speed and you’ll never know if windsurfing is for you until you get planing and blasting along. Forget about turning. You can always fall off, switch your kit about and come back.’ The next holiday I understood exactly what he meant. Off I went. Hanging on for dear life. That was it. I was in. Literally, hooked!
Progression as you would appreciate is difficult when I only sail on holiday. But special thanks must go to Luke Baillie. An excellent teacher and all round great bloke. Luke has taken me from barely in the straps when I first turned up in Dahab to blasting across baby bay in 30+ knots. Now that was memorable! Thanks Luke.
How do you rate windsurfing kit these days (ease of use, expense and faff)?
Being a ‘destination windsurfer’ I’ve not really had that much experience of older kit as most clubs tend to stock new(er) gear. The most I do is screw the fin in, adjust my straps and harness lines, boom height then I’m off out. No faff at all! Probably why I enjoy it all the more.
What’s your fave bit of kit you’ve used over the years and why is this?
Fanatic Hawk 111. Love it. My early days of learning tended to be on Fanatic Sharks. Stepping onto the Hawk was like lighting the touch paper. Boom! The speed difference seemed huge. This year at V I found my perfect combination. RRD Firemove 112L and Severne Gator 5.7m. It just felt so comfortable and it was so responsive. Absolutely flew up wind!
Tell us about your windsurfing goals moving forwards and how you plan to achieve them.
My goal is simple really. Just get out there and enjoy it. Every session offers something different. I’m more aware of the basic mistakes my lazy style has suffered from and the little things that can make a big difference such as hand position. I’ve had enough offs and injuries to appreciate that I need to focus a bit more. Do that and I know I’ll get so much more out of windsurfing.
Have any specific location lined up to nail the above?
Well my calendar has a placeholder for March next year. Luke Baillie is running a number wave sailing clinic’s with Colin (whippy) Dixon in El Medano, Tenerife, that may tempt me. I suspect that my tendons might not cope! But Egypt is the probable destination (again). Followed by Greece in July! The toughest thing about being a ‘destination windsurfer’ is finding the cash to do it. So hard graft during winter to pay for those next adventures is what it takes.
How would you go about convincing others to take up the sport?
It’s never been easier to learn how to windsurf. Just get out there on a big board and small sail and enjoy it. Sure you’ll fall off but you’ll just want to hop back on and do it again. Then take a look at the pros doing their stuff. How did they get that good? By starting out on a big board and small sail and having plenty practice! You can be as good as you want or as bad as you want. It doesn’t really matter as long as you enjoy yourself. And I guarantee you will enjoy it! But I’d have to say it’s not just about windsurfing. It’s about what comes with it. The number of friends I’ve made on my travels always makes me smile. I’ve met some fantastic people and been to some amazing places. Everyone is supportive – from beginners right through to the pros. Everyone one wants each other to succeed. So what are you waiting for?
We know you’ve had a bash at kiting – how does that compare to windsurfing?
Well I have to admit that my kiting experience is limited having first tried it in Soma Bay in March this year and have since bought some kit. My initial experience is that it’s a lot easier to get planing with a decent bit of speed. Nowhere near as technical as windsurfing. Remember the old Peter Powell Kites you had when you were a kid? It’s like flying one of those with a baking tray strapped to your feet. Weird. I can see why people take it up. The gear is compact and easy to transport and you can be up sailing (or is it kiting?) in a matter of hours to a half decent standard. But…windsurfing is most definitely more rewarding.
Any plans to take that further?
The kiting thing came about as I was getting too many injuries through my ‘lazy sailing’. Too many rib to boom incidents! I view the kiting as the softer option. I’m not sure where I’ll go with it but the two probably complement each other in terms of if and when I start sailing at home. I can literally walk down the street with my kite gear and there it is, the freezing cold North Sea! A lot easier than packing the car. And there is the attraction
What about other watersports in general – does SUP float your boat for instance?
When the wind dies out comes the SUP. Cruise over the coral and clear waters. Very relaxing and great for stretching out sore tendons after my windsurfing. But that’s about it as far a SUPing goes. I’d like to own a stand up paddle board for those calm UK summer days but cash is limited and most of my cash is earmarked for that next trip.
Give us your final thoughts on windsurfing in general.
I’m usually not stuck for words but what to say? Windsurfing. It’s taken me on one big adventure. I’m not great at it but I’m not rubbish either. It’s cost me a small fortune but has given me so much in return. Broken bones, shot tendons, massive adrenaline rushes and sheer fun. But most importantly I’ve met some fantastic people and some have become great friends. Windsurfing to me is not just the sailing but also everything that comes with it. Let the adventure continue.