Last week the British Kite Surfing Association held the annual Wavemasters event. Steeped in history this event sees the best wave riders in the UK gather in a location usually famed for getting solid swells. This year saw the crew head to Brandon Bay in Ireland on the stunning Dingle Peninsula. If you’ve never been to this stunning spot then put it on your bucket list, with numerous wave breaks all along the bay and even a couple of world-class reef breaks the spot can handle a multitude of swell and wind directions.
Ryan Coote is the local hero who’s been living here for years and he welcomed the travelling riders with open arms, relishing in the fact he got to share some epic conditions with the UK crew. Andy Gratwick had gathered a team from Easy Riders and the BKSA to help run the event and the whole show is quite a spectacle once it gets on the road. With trucks, vans, flags, heat boards, judge’s, beach marshals and a photo team the set up was looking perfect, all we needed now was the wind and wave gods to deliver.
Meeting in the pub on Sunday for the briefing the forecast was looking about as good as it can get for an event. We were seeing 40-50mph winds and 6m swells on the charts and the excitement and trepidation were palpable. The decision was made to run the Men’s Pro fleet at Kilcummin on Monday morning with a first possible start of 11 am. The judging team for the day of Rou Chater, Peter Stephens and Nick Healey discussed with the competitors what they were looking for.
These events are judged the same as a surfing competition, 2 waves score, with each wave scored out of ten, bigger waves obviously score higher than smaller ones and the judges wanted to see vertical turns with the riders getting above the lip of the wave in the critical section to score the most points. True to Wavemasters event-form there was no scoring for strapless freestyle tricks, that would come later in the week in a separate event.
The line up on Monday looked unreal, cross offshore winds, double overhead waves on the sets and perfect 7m weather all bathed in some glorious sunshine. With a gaggle of vans parked on the beach, the heats got underway with a surprising scalp right from the off. Reigning champion Lee Harvey coming last in his first heat, failing to put a score together, he looked out of sorts and possibly put off by a rogue windsurfer who took it upon himself to drop in and ride in the competition zone.
Early on Andy Gratwick was looking at home with the conditions and newcomers Logan Jezzard and Graham Halliday were putting on a good show too. It was great to see Mike Dawson back at the event who was riding well and Tim Harley too who first joined the Wavemasters a couple of years ago. Neil Harper from Cornwall was riding well, he won the Masters event last year and stepped up into the pro fleet and bagged some big waves in his early heats. Mark Shinn regularly travels from Poland to test gear here and as the trip coincided with the event he joined in too. He was looking formidable in the waves, the double World Champion still has a mean cutback and was one of the only riders to approach the waves both frontside and backside early on, showing his versatility.
Manera and F-One rep Dom Yule had made the long journey over from Folkestone, possibly the biggest drive out of anyone but he was looking solid early on, his recent trip to Mauritius no doubt making him feel at home, this was about as close to One Eye in Europe as we may ever get in terms of the set up. It was just a bit colder! Cornish Hellman Dom Moore wasn’t looking phased by the huge waves, he’s well known for dropping into some absolute bombs back home and he was looking good here. Neal Gent is no stranger to these parts and he was looking in fine form too, he bagged some of the best waves early on and his frontside game was looking tough to beat.
Ryan Coote knows this place better than anyone and he looked like a surefire bet for the final. However as Lee Harvey was in last place in his first heat the two riders, arguably the most talented on the beach met early on. Ryan had Lee on the ropes but Lee retaliated with one of the waves of the event towards the end of the heat and the showdown we had hoped to see in the finals ended early on with Lee Harvey taking the win. The rest of the quarter-finals saw Andy Gratwick take down Logan Jezzard, Neal Gent beat Mike Dawson and Mark Shinn knock out Neil Harper.
This left us with a semi-final of Lee Harvey vs Andy Gratwick and Neal Gent vs his good friend Mark Shinn. The swell had been building all day and the event crew had planned for the final heats to take place when the waves were peaking. The wind was still pumping and the stage was set for an incredible last battle. In the end, Lee’s clinical backhand hacks on big waves saw him advance and Neal’s impressive frontside cutbacks in the critical sections saw them both advance to the two-man final. This left Andy Gratwick and Mark Shinn to battle it out for third place.
Andy rode well against the might of Mark Shinn, but in the end, Mark really stepped up his game unleashing a barrage of powerful attacks on the waves. With Andy taking 4th and Mark taking 3rd it was down to Lee and Neal to tussle it out for the glory. The final was exceedingly close, the two traded wave after wave, Neal getting some lovely wave choices with right-handers that ran well. Lee seemingly a little unluckier with the swell and a few hacks before a closeout. For much of the final, it looked like Neal had it in the bag but Lee snagged a stunning wave in the dying moments of the heat. The judges took their time and it was a split decision in the judging truck with two judges giving it to Lee and one to Neal. Lee had done enough to retain his crown for an incredible 7th time. What a show for the crowd on the beach!
With the men’s pro event finished everyone took to the water to get some waves, keenest of all were Rou Chater, Peter Stephens and Nick Healey who’d been couped up keeping score for most of the day! The forecast for Tuesday looked even bigger, with a slight change in the wind angle but building swells throughout the day. The Masters, Pro Ladies and Amateur fleet were all tee’d up and ready to go with a briefing at Kilcummin early doors to try and get the competition finished in one day.
There was a fantastic display of courage and control demonstrated on Tuesday amongst the amateurs and especially the Ladies fleets in huge howling conditions at Kilcummin. The wind was incredibly gusty and the riders were all on 5m kites, but really you needed a 3m one minute and a 10m the next. Rou Chater and David West Watson headed out for the first heat of the Masters and the conditions were about as gnarly as they could get. In the end, the heat was black-flagged for safety reasons, despite both riders getting some good waves. Rou commented it was the right decision on the beach, the gusty winds made it barely rideable out there.
The competitors waited around on the beach with the promise of the wind dying a little later on, it didn’t happen and in the end, it was called for the day and the riders headed off to find more favourable conditions elsewhere. A small crew scored it pretty well at Smerwick Harbour and some others headed to Mossies for a pretty incredible session there. Tall tales of waves the size of houses filled the bar at Spillane’s that evening, while the riders filled themselves with Guinness.
Wednesday saw the competition move to the north of the Bay and continue in excellent cross onshore winds at the lower end of Mossies reef known locally as ’S*******s’. The wind was bang onshore to start with which made conditions challenging, however it did swing a little as the heats progressed and became a little easier. It was up and down again and early on the riders were using 9m kites before it swung and filled in for solid 7m weather. The swell was wrapping around the reef nicely and there were some solid set waves coming through too.
The amateur fleets battled it out in challenging and occasionally squally conditions. Local Bracklesham rivals Jim Roberston and James Fitch from BBR progressed into the final with new competitor Jacob Marshal who took the win overall. Jim beat James for second place too to settle their local rankings;-)
The Pro Women’s fleet was small but highly competitive between Katie Evans, and previous amateur wave champion, Gemma Soloman. Katie took the first round, but suffered kite issues and couldn’t quite pip Gemma’s wave selection in the second two rounds giving her the overall win.
The Masters Fleet saw a great competition between Andrew Kenyon, David West Watson, Pete Stephens and IKSURFMAG’s Rou Chater.
The final saw some great wave selection and clinical cutbacks from Rou to take the win from Pete. David bagged one of the waves of the competition in his heat riding up the sand whooping, showing everyone you can still rip at 70 years of age.
The biggest wave of the competition went to Ozone’s Tom Beaton for a huge monster at Kilcummin on the Tuesday just before the comp was put on hold.
Best wipeout went to Tim Harley for a triple effort bouncing down the Mossies reef and then taking two huge hits in the men’s pro strapless freestyle expression session.
Local legend Ryan Coote took the IKSURFMAG sponsored strapless freestyle crown from Logan Jezard, who was showing some amazing moves in both the freestyle and the waves. Andy Gratwick was looking promising in the strapless session until he, unfortunately, crashed out breaking his ribs.
All in all, it has been great fun, positive, successful competition in some of the best conditions we have ever seen in British competition.
Event organiser BKSA MD Andy Gratwick says: The Wavemasters finally delivered here in the kingdom of Kerry, everyone has had a fantastic week of kiting, waveriding and craic. Thank you to everyone involved for making it such a great event.
If you have never been to one of these events and you fancy coming along, make sure you do, the whole vibe of the Wavemasters is one of fun and inclusivity, if you like riding waves, make sure you make it in 2020. Ireland was the perfect backdrop, from the ice-cold Guinness at Spillane’s Bar to the incredible conditions we enjoyed all week. The event was probably one of the best I have ever been to and ran like clockwork, a testament to the event crew who did an incredible job. I don’t think you’ll find anyone who won’t agree with that statement. Hats off to all involved, the organisers, event crew and the competitors. We’ll be back next year for more of the same.
1st Lee “Pasty” Harvey
2nd Neal Gent
3rd Mark Shinn
1st Gemma Soloman
2nd Katie Evans
1st Jacob Marshall
2nd Jim Robertson
3rd James Fitch
1st Rou Chater
2nd Peter Stephens
3rd David West Watson
1st Ryan Coote
2nd Logan Jezzard
By Jen TylerItalian/Egyptian Jen Tyler grew up on the sandy beaches of the Red Sea and has been on the IKSURFMAG & Tonic Mag team since 2017.
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