Ready, Steady, Storm!
A new windsurfing competition has set sails to achieve the impossible: Red Bull Storm Chase wants to hunt down three of this year’s biggest storms and find the champion in storm windsurfing in fierce duels man vs. man vs. nature. A task that demands extra-smart logistics.
Windsurfing a force-10 storm is one thing. Getting the world’s best wavesailors and an event crew to the storm just in time is another. And managing to achieve this three times within four months is an experiment that now has a name: Red Bull Storm Chase.
This matchless competition poses a challenge to participants and team alike. The plan is to catch three severe 10 Beaufort storms at destinations worldwide within the holding period from August 1 to November 30, 2012. The plan is to show the most radical windsurfing ever. The plan is to be as flexible and mobile as possible.
This is the theory. But how will it be put into practice? Find out about the logistical challenge behind the toughest windsurfing contest of all time.
The logistical challenge is to bring the windsurfers and the 30-people event crew, who will be spread all over the world, to the right location within 48 hours, just before the storm hits the shores.
@foto_Gebbert/Red Bull Storm Chase
Separating the men from the boys
Very high waves with overhanging crests, and large amounts of airborne spray reducing
visibility: these are some of the characteristics of a 10 Beaufort storm. 10 Beaufort means wind
speeds of at least 54 knots (100 km/h, or 62 mph). “Sailing in storm surf separates the men
from the boys!”, windsurfing legend Robby Naish once said. This is exactly why the world’s best
windsurfers applied for participation. In an online voting, the international windsurfing
community chose ten of them. Now, they will get the chance to battle for the crown of the
ultimate storm windsurfer.
As soon as the meteorological crew predicts a force-10 storm, the waiting windsurfers will be
called to the first of seven potential high-wind destinations, including Brittany/France,
Galicia/Spain, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Tasmania, and Cape Hatteras/USA. After the first
mission, only six riders will advance to the second round. Only the four best riders will
accomplish the final mission.
Getting on-site in time: A real challenge
The most important thing is to be at place before the storm hits the shores. It may happen that
the whole crew will have entered their planes from Germany, Denmark, Great Britain and the
Netherlands, and on board they hear that the storm has changed the direction. Or they will
arrive at Tasmania after flying around half the world only to see that the storm came a day
earlier, or during the night. Then, the crew could spin on their heels and fly back without having
To avoid this, the event crew is well prepared. “For the weather forecasts, we have three
meteorologists and their teams of wind experts. As soon as a storm is predicted in one of our
regions, they will deliver detailed and ‘hand-made’ forecasts at short intervals”, Klaas Voget(GER), pro windsurfer and sports director of the Red Bull Storm Chase, explaines. “Together
with our local event managers, we will then decide if we give it a go, about 60 hours before the
storm strikes. Our last chance to cancel the mission is 48 hours before ‘D-Day’.” This would be
the moment when riders and event crew enter the plane.
Potential competition grounds include spots at the Atlantic and the Pacific
The choice of the suitable spots was one key element to guarantee the execution of the
complete competition with all three missions. The expert crew, including Voget, Robbie Naish,
Professional Windsurfers Association (PWA) head judge Duncan Coombs, and windsurf
photographer John Carter, chose from 148 destinations that were suggested by the
international windsurfing community on the event website. Then, they selected the regions that
empirically offer a great chance to get force-10 storms in the intended event period. Another
important point was if the spot could be reached from anywhere in the world within 48 hours.
This automatically excluded spots that are a 12-hour boat or car trip away from an international
airport. Further criteria were if the spots had strong currents, and if there was a place to drop a
personal watercraft in the water.
Communicating intensely with local riders and weather experts, and profiting from their
personal experience, the expert panel found out that Omaezaki at the southeast coast of
Japan, Cape Hatteras at the US east coast, the southwest coast of Iceland, and the northwest
coast of Tasmania (AUS) could be appropriate spots for August. On the other hand,
windsurfing at Iceland will become nearly impossible from October, due to winter coldness and
the lack of daylight. “Ireland is good for September and October, and Galicia and Brittany are
potential spots for October and November”, Klaas Voget specifies.
Some of the destinations will not only be hit by extreme wind, but also by powerful waves. “At
some spots, you would normally not windsurf at storm conditions”, Klaas Voget points out.
“Especially Tasmania is graced by some of the highest waves in the world.” Another element
the riders will have to fight with is the fact that wind develops more power in colder
temperatures than in warm weather. “The wind has more pressure, as the cold air is denser”,
Voget explaines. “For the participants who are used to the warmer temperatures at home, this
might become an additional challenge. The riders will be stretched to their limits, I’m sure.”
Red Bull Storm Chase: A logistical adventure
During the 4-month holding period of the event, the staff won’t differentiate between day and
night time any more. “We will only think in event time”, Voget outlines. As soon as the event
crew sits on the plane, the back office in Germany and Austria will continue to push the
organization of the mission and stay in touch with the riders who fly to the competition site from
all over the world. The riders have to call the office during stopovers, and report if everything is
okay with their luggage.
It may be a problem though to even get a flight ticket in time. Reigning PWA world wave
champion Philip Köster (GER) has planned a trip to Fiji during the holding period and will have
to react quickly when the call comes. Ricardo Campello from Venezuela will book all his flights
on his own as he said it would be impossible for the German head office to check flights for
him. Boujmaa Guilloul, who is from Morocco, will need visa for several countries, which he had
to apply for in advance.
During the holding period, riders will always have to carry their storm windsurf equipment with
them everywhere they go, including their smallest sails and a special board. All those who
found it impossible to do so, have already stored their stuff at the organizers’ office, who will fly
it to the event site. This riders’ equipment alone will be 600 kg. The event gear will weigh
another 600 kg, including camera equipment and a special event tent. The latter has only 26 kg
though and is strong enough to withstand storms of 170 km/h. The tent is inflatable and can be
erected without using poles. Its pegs though are too heavy to carry on the plane and will be
provided by the local event manager.
In order to provide the best possible safety for the participants, special safety vests that are
equipped with GPS tracking devices have been developed. If the riders are in danger, they can
set off an alarm and call the rescue team. Thanks to the GPS, which even works in heavy rain,
the rescuers will always be able to track the rider if he has problems with his equipment or the
conditions. “We will bring a very skilled high-wind Sea-Doo watercraft rider from Germany to all
the events”, Klaas Voget says. A second specialist will wait on the shore as a back-up.
Depending on the conditions, the head judge will decide if the riders additionally have to carry a
Despite half a year of planning, the Red Bull Storm Chase is still a logistical challenge with a lot
of variables. And it’s possible that a rider won’t make it to the competition ground on time. Then
he would be replaced by the next best ranked rider. But for sure, this won’t be an option for the
ten chosen riders. They will show full commitment to the competition. Finally, nobody wants to
miss the ride of his life.