Mauritius' addiction for windsurfers and kitesurfers is instant and obvious: gentle, constant trade winds and water so clear you see the ocean floor in startling clarity as you rush across it. These assets are what bring riders back to the Mauritius Attitude Freeride Challenge year after year. The Mauritius Attitude Freeride Challenge takes place in August every year, attracting teams from the neighbouring islands of Reunion, Madagascar and Seychelles, as well as Australia, the UK and, of course, South Africa. The South African team that participated in this year's event consisted of former SA Champ Mitch Wagstaff, regular club racers Jaco Wolmerans and Paolo Campenella, as well as myself, last year's Windsurfing South Africa runner-up.
Such is the popularity of this event, the Freeride has become the de facto Indian Ocean championships. However, the best part is that it's also about having fun. Instead of short course racing, the norm for international slalom competitions, the Freeride consists of a series of events staged at various beaches, depending on wind and tide conditions, with mostly epic but easy crossings between islands or high-speed downwind runs next to reef lines. It is therefore suited to both entry level and professional sailors, and regularly sees in excess of 70 participants taking part.
There has to be something said about being part of an event where you are kiting and windsurfing with some of the best sailors from around the world. This year, top windsurfers Pierre Mortefon (PWA ranked second) and Nicholas Warembourg (PWA top 15) from France competed, as well as the Junior Foil Champion Axel Mazella from France.
The 2015 competition was held mainly at two locations: Pointe d'Esny in the south and Ainse La Raie in the north. As usual organiser, Christo Tyack, did an outstanding job of involving local sponsors and the event organisation was brilliant.
Personally, I am not a huge fan of competitions, yet there is something special about this event. The Mauritian August winds are usually a constant 15 to 20 knots and the water conditions are typically Mauritian, with its notorious crystal-clear, coral-floored ocean.
All events take place within the coral reef, so it is extremely safe and there are always safety boats available. Most kiters and windsurfers reach speeds in excess of 50 km/h, and flying across the one-metre-deep water, boasting massive coral mushrooms looming just beneath is incredible.
With adrenaline coursing through my body, my fin glided over the coral banks beneath the water that was constantly changing from crystal clear to turquoise blue and then darkening as I foiled over a coral growth. Although rushing over what seems just millimeters above coral heads is disconcerting at first, the feeling quickly passes to one of absolute peace, as you chase after the pack dressed in nothing but baggies and competition vest. This was, strangely enough, the place where I felt as one with the universe. And when the competition was over, my overriding memory of sailing here is of blasting over the coral at silly speeds, aiming at a turn point anchored off the next island, turning around and doing it all over again.
Mortefon won the event on the back of his win in the Defi Wind event in France, and has since gone on to win the next round of the PWA in Turkey.
Logistics made easy
All the competitors stayed in a local hotel, which was fantastic. Transport to the event sites was included and it was not necessary to hire a vehicles as everything was catered for. With the event taking place from 4 to 11 August, and only four of those days dedicated to racing, there was plenty time for some incredible sightseeing.
Encouraging growth through partnership
There is a reciprocal agreement in place to encourage South Africans sailors to take part in the Mauritius Attitude Freeride Challenge and Mauritian sailors to participate in the Kite Windsurf Cup, the official African Championships held in Cape Town Langebaan every January. This agreement combines the two events and is helping to encourage the growth of kiting and windsurfing as sailors attend events in both countries.