A French Downwinder

The Open de France Downwind Foil event went down recently and here's the experience from Jonathan Mann's perspective.

Photos: Loic Olivier

Between the 19th and the 22nd of October almost 60 foilers from all over the world converged on the picturesque town of Morgat, in Brittany, France for the Open de France Downind Foil. To give context to the amazing growth of the sport, this event was run in 2021 with 16 French foilers. As one of the participants I was astounded how many riders were in attendance with 12 countries present including the Netherlands (very stoked to have been there with my buddy Sibren and Chucho Nonnet), Spain, Guadeloupe, Tahiti, Hawaii and even unlikely downwind destinations such as Switzerland.

The event opened on the evening of the 19th with an opening ceremony where athletes from each participating country and each region of France came on stage and spoke about what they expected of the event and what they were most excited for. The common theme was evident; stoke, camaraderie and foiling (fast)! It was set to be a good weekend!

The format of the competition was simple. Race three consecutive days on the course best suited to the condition with each day’s time being added for a total time and overall ranking. Friday 20th of October, Day 1. The course for day 1, and subsequently day 2, was in the bay of Brest. The reason for this protected bay run was due to a giant swell that peaked on Saturday at over 5m with poor visibility making it unsafe to run the safety boats and maintain line of sight with riders. The wind on Day 1 was light, meaning a lot of the field opted for bigger foils (I went for the AXIS ART Pro 1201 combined with my 7’7” Appletree Skipper) and the late arrival of the wind meant that the race director chose a slightly shorter course (16km). After a short paddle out from the town of Lanveoc into the windline we lined up for the start. Looking around me I couldn’t believe how many of us there were, with the bumps looking better than expected we were ready to go! The run was tough with a lot of pumping in the small bumps, but that didn’t stop it from being fun, sharing bumps with so many new faces. From the get go the contenders made themselves known, sprinting off the start with a close race eventually taken by the “dark horse” Etienne Fleur from Tahiti followed by Oskar Johansson and Matteo Ell.

Saturday 21st of October, Day 2. A solid wind forecast had us all excited to size down foils and go faster. With the good forecast the race director also decided to extend the run further up the bay to make the run around 20 km. This put the start close to shore paddling out at Roscanvel, with a short fetch and almost flat start. A lot of the field found the start a challenge, maybe regretting the smaller foil size (I chose the AXIS ART Pro 1121). Nonetheless all the riders got going, again with the main contenders sprinting off with no worries. 2km into the run the bumps got bigger, and with the current against you it felt like riding in Hood River and the bigger bumps were a sigh of relief after 2k of pumping smaller foils in small bumps. The remaining 18k was extremely fun with decent and steep bumps thanks to the current and I myself forgot about racing. Competitors opted for two different lines. Down the middle where the bumps were bigger and a bit faster, or down the right where the bumps were smaller and easier to ‘up and over’. Upon converging I think there wasn’t much in it, but it also really came down to foil size and selection. Strung out weeds added a challenge and proved crucial for the top 5 ranking with a number of guys having to stop for weed including the eventually first placed Oskar who was closely followed by Etienne and once again Matteo in 3rd. Etienne managed to keep the gap behind Oskar small enough that he preserved his overall lead going into the final day as overall leader.

Sunday 22nd October, Day 3. With a light forecast, and a small 2m swell left over from the previous days the race director opted for an ocean run to add a technical element to the racing. The wind was anywhere between 10-15 knots with the swell in the mix. Checking the bumps up from the ‘Cap de la Chèvre’ the field was split. Some opting for fast foils to keep up with the faster ocean swells and some choosing for the bigger foils in order to ensure getting onto foil as the priority. (I opted for the AXIS ART Pro 1201 being less experienced in Ocean runs). To get to the start of this run, we piled into 10 boats with all our gear and drove about 14km upwind out to sea, taking in the scenery, chatting with new friends and enjoying the last day of racing. Unlike the previous days which had been rainy, the icing on the cake was blue skies and sunshine so everyone was in good spirits as we got to the start line. As before the contenders got away at the drop of the flag, but much to my relief, a lot of the field struggled at the start. Once I got going the field was so spread out that I didn’t even feel like I was in a race, moving between the ocean swell and the wind bumps. I just soaked in the surroundings on what was the end of a fantastic week in Brittany with 3 days of awesome racing.

Overall the event was a resounding success. The organisers did a fantastic job to put on a great event that not only ensured rider safety but posed a good challenge for the riders of the 3 day period. The race format using total time was great as it made every minute count and the community aspect of the event was fantastic. Many of the riders like myself arrived earlier in the week (encouraged by the organisers, who had accommodation available the week prior) and scored a range of sessions from light wind bay runs to nuking ocean runs and it was awesome to be able to spend meeting new people and grow the community. From a personal perspective a huge thanks goes to Appletree and AXIS, I couldn’t asked for better gear for my first race event. From an organisational perspective, a huge thank you has to go to Amaury from the Ocean Paddle Camp without whom this event would not have happened and a massive shoutout also has to go to the main event sponsors (AXIS, Appletree, Surf Pistols and C skins wetsuits), the Crozon waterman club and the media and support crew without whose support this event wouldn’t have run as well or as smoothly as it did. As we speak I’m already looking forward to next years event and look forward to reconnecting with new and familiar faces alike.

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