A day with windsurfer Allison Shreevee

alison1web

When Aussie Allison Shreeve chose windsurfing as a school sport, the coach, Mike Jordan, saw her potential, gave her extra lessons for free and lent her his gear. Seven months later, she was at her first Junior Worlds, at the age of 15.

On November 17 2005, Allison - now 23 - broke the Class A windsurfing World Record at Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, in France.

BYM’s Aldous Grenville- Crowther went to her training camp, at FunBoards, in Hyères, to see her in action and talk to her about her achievements and aims.

Last year, Alison turned pro; a decision taken after being left out of the 2004 Olympic trials, despite being ranked fourth in the world! As she said “Instead of sort of kicking the bucket and going back to Uni, or just continuing on in Olympic Class, I decided to try my hand at professional windsurfing. I bought a Neil Pryde set up - a new board and some fins and stuff - went to my first event, which was the Europeans in LakeGardia and, though I’d only had a few days on the equipment, I led it for five days and everybody was asking ’Who’s this Allison chick?’ I lost, in the end, because the wind picked up and I didn’t have the right fins, but that was the start of my professional career and, last year, I came second in the Formula Worlds and won the PWA World Tour, so I missed out on the Olympics, but got my first world title!”

I asked Allison whether she thought luck had played a part? “Not really,” she replied “it’s all about tactics, skill and speed. If somebody fast goes the same way as somebody slow the fast person is going to win. OK, you can get this freak windshift on your side and be lucky and make up a lot, but that isn’t going to happen often.”.

“You need to have a good sense of feel, because you are holding the boom and feel the wind on the sail. If it is too powerful, you can change the sail settings to make it more comfortable and get the maximum performance. It’s very important to be in tune with your equipment, but I wouldn’t say it is the most important; perhaps fitness is? Sometimes we have four or five races in a day, maybe 45 minutes long, and, if it is really windy, you are holding a lot of power for a long time. Sometimes you don’t even get back to the beach so it can be very taxing and you must stay mentally awake as well. You do have to be really fit, but you also have to be properly rigged and know the wind. You also need to know your competitors as well and be tactical.”

“I think what makes the top guys stand out is, firstly, experience and confidence, which comes because they’ve been there, done that, maybe got a few world titles. It’s much easier for them to stay calm out there and not make small mistakes. The other thing is guts, when you are going to overtake the person next to you, you’ve got to shoot on and go for it with everything you’ve got. You can’t be scared of crashing into a wave and getting turned over.”

alison2web

“What do you do to get fit?”

“When I’m doing speed stuff I need to be heavy and strong, then I have to lose muscle when I go back to Olympic Class. So, right now, I’m just eating a bit more and doing a lot of running. For speed, you want to be as heavy as possible, because when it is so windy that the sail just wants to fly away, if you have that extra weight pulling you down, when a gust hits you during the run it is not going to pull you over, so you can keep the power in the sail and keep the board on the water that much better. If you look at Finian Maynard, the current world speed record holder, I think he was 120 kilo when he did the speed run and he can still race on the Formula circuit and still do really well in over 15 knots, though he struggles in light winds, against the small guys.”

“I run across mud, carrying the board and wearing a weight jacket; after a couple of hours you just can’t walk anymore. I’m also doing injury prevention exercises, because I don’t want to put on much more muscle at the moment. I need to make sure that the muscles I use most, don’t get too big compared to those on the other side of my body.”

“Olympic Class is another story: I was always 15 kilos heavier than the other girls and that meant I was about as heavy as many guys, so I had to be as strong as them. Basically, it’s all power to weight ratio and, because I was taller and I guess bigger boned than the other girls, I had to become stronger.”

alison3
alison4web

was 20 year old technology and there was much faster and better equipment out there, so they took top athletes from around the world, including myself, and we tested the different brands of equipment at selection events. We basically tested all the hybrid boards against each other. A hybrid cross board is something between the Formula windsurfing board, which is the fasted race board out there at the moment, and the old long board Olympic racing board.”

“Basically, what they wanted was a board that performs like a Formula board, but has a centre board so it can also work in next to no wind, which is likely to be the conditions in China. We ended up choosing the Neil Pryde RSX Olympic board, as we found this was the best in all conditions and worked well in light winds; maybe not as well as the long board, but it was much better when winds were stronger.”

“This board is actually going to be much better suited to me, so I am really excited about it. It’s bigger, heavier, so you have to be stronger and heavier to be able hold it down when it’s really windy and I think my size will be pretty close to perfect for the new class. The other girls will have to put on weight and I’ll be able to eat what I want for a change!”  

“What about the equipment?” was my next question. “Do you get one board dominating sometimes?”

“Yes and it’s not just the board, it’s the sail and the fin brand too, even so you’ll find the top riders will always be up there, no matter what equipment they’re on; maybe they might not win, maybe get second or third, but they will always be thereabouts, even if they are on a brand that is not performing so well.”

“I chose the F2 board, because I thought they were the fastest. They are a little bit more flighty than some other boards and a lot of people find them hard to control, when it is really windy, but if you have the right fins you can tailor the board to suit you and make it work. I really enjoyed being with F2 and now with Neil Pryde and I actually won every event but one, this year, so proving that they are the fastest.”

“You mentioned not having the right fins earlier. Just how important are they?”

“Very! Basically, if your fin doesn’t suit you, you will be out of control; underpowered or whatever. You have to find a fin that fits your size and strength and the board and sail combination, then you’ll be the fastest out there. If you don’t have a fin that suits you it doesn’t matter what other gear you have, you wont make it go to its maximum ability.”

“I think Deboichet fins are the best racing fins in the world; they have some really great technology and all the top guys in racing are on them.” 

“What I found, after much testing, was that the softer fins give me more control. A soft fin is giving in waves and bends more, so you don’t have to push quite so hard with the legs, because it is working with the waves a little bit more and helping you lift the board “on the rail”; that’s on its edge which is where you want it.”

“Some people, with really strong legs, prefer a hard fin because they can handle the pressure and if they have an easier board maybe this fin is better suited to them and they won’t spin out as much. In Olympic class everybody has to use the same fin and the same board and sail so basically it is more testing the ability of the sailor than it is testing the actual equipment.”

“I assume there is also an Olympic board that everyone has to use?”

“Yes, last year, the ISAF decided to choose a new Olympic board as they felt that the Mistral One design was outdated. It

alison5web

“Of course, the Olympic Class is now something of a lottery. A lot of people wont want to train for four years, on a board that is probably a bit more difficult to handle than their usual professional stuff, just to get to the Olympics and have a lottery to see if they get equipment that is actually going to suit them. They are so used to having equipment that is especially designed for them. It just depends on what you want to do and what you can handle. I think it really tests the sailor if he can adapt to all the different equipment quickly and then you really find the best person.”

alison6web

“Why is an Australian going for world records in Europe?”

“For a start you need the proper timing facilities to get the record verified. Then the key things you need are strong winds, but flat water, so a man made situation - like the canal at Les Saintes Maries - where there is just a strip of mud either side is ideal. Even so, there are maybe only 4 or 5 times a year when they get the right conditions. It is a waiting game and it costs a lot of money to do it.”

alison8web

asking my parents for any money. That said, although I got some free accommodation from event organisers, because I was world champion, I often have to sleep in my van. World champions in other sports are millionaires, have nice houses and all those sort of things, but I’m not there yet. At some events I might get ahead, € 500 or maybe a €1000 others I lose out, because it costs so much to get there.”

“Sometimes you can get a grant, but the problem is you have to spend the money you don’t have, then you receive the grant money after you have handed in the receipts. Now athletes get taxed on grants and scholarships, so it is not like you ever come out ahead.”

“So you really need a big sponsor?”

“Yes, but I only want to align myself with companies with integrity and promote products I believe in. I grew up in a Christian family

alison1Oweb

“Lets talk about the record you’ve just taken.”

“Last week I broke the A Class record, which is between 10 and 13.9 square metres of sail area, we had enough wind, but  it wasn’t easy because the wind was very square to the canal, so not the perfect angle.”

“I struggled with the board wanting to flip over, but managed to hold it for the required 500 metres. My main goal is to get the outright world record of 41.25 knots.”

“I’ve only had one other day, when it was windy enough to actually go on the canal, and that was only 25 knots of wind and I did 38.3 knots and, when Karin (Jaggi) broke the record, I think she has 35 to 40 knots. So just give me that wind!!”

alison7web

“So where do you get the money from?”

“It’s a problem. When you are training all the time you don’t have time to work and when I’m not on my board I’m on my PC, organising the next event, insurance, flights, accommodation. This year, thanks to my sponsors, F2 and Neil Pryde and small prize money we get, I have been able to survive the Tour, without

alison9web

and I don’t want to promote cigarettes, or alcohol, or any sort of thing that I don’t believe in, so having the right sponsor is very important to me. The problem is that I don’t have time to look for sponsors and keep up my training; it’s a vicious circle and, if I did not have God in my life I’m not sure I would have been able to achieve so much.”

“So what’s the next goal?”

“Ideally, to break the women’s world speed record and the Australian allcomers  record, which is 43 knots, so to be the fastest person in Australia, but that wont happen without the right wind.”

“So, realistically, my next goal is to be the Formula World Champion and, because the World Championships start, in Melbourne, on December 11, I have to go back to Australia. Actually, I’m looking forward to that, because I’m missing my family. I’ve two sisters and a little brother of 7 and my laptop is full of photos. Maybe Ben will have grown a foot taller.”

“After the Worlds, my primary goal is to go to the 2008 Beijing Olympics and win.”

“Well, we at BYM wish you all the best!”

Thinking about my day with Allison, on the 300 km drive back, one question kept coming to mind “How come the marketing guys have missed out on Allison?” I’d have thought that finding an attractive World Champion and Record holder, in a sport that millions of people enjoy, who not only has the will to win, but a heart in the right place, was a sponsor’s dream?

Aldous Grenville-Crowther

Photos A G-C

More pictures can be viewed in the Alison Shreeve album, in the BYM Photo Gallery.

© 2005 Marian Martin (Publishers) Ltd