In this interview, Rou Chater catches up with racer and board builder, James Longmuir, who recently broke 11-year record Swedish participant Anders Bringdal’s record at Weymouth Speed Week!
How long have you been kiting James and when did you first discover speed sailing?
I started back in 1999 when Naish began bringing the first AR3.5s in; I was working at Solent Sail boards at Calshot, which was owned by Jon Popkiss. I started there when I was a student, and a few years later worked for him as the Naish representative.
Later on, I was working for Surf Sales (Slingshot importer) who also did Dakine, and I was asked to go along and check out Weymouth Speed Week, as we were sponsoring it and hand out the prizes. I decided to give it a go and won it overall at my first go, more by chance than anything, but it was good fun, so that’s where it started kite wise!
What is it about ‘speed’ that attracts you so much?
It’s not subjective or style-driven, it’s just a simple you are, or you are not. It’s deeply frustrating, yet the elation and release from a decent run are immense. The problem is that it’s never-ending and the goalposts keep moving.
It’s a very niche discipline requiring specific conditions and dedicated equipment, what’s the easiest way for the average rider to have a crack at a speed run?
Honestly, the easiest thing is to take the toeside fins off your twin tip, find some flat water and turn on the app on your smartwatch and go for a blast! Foil, directional, twin tip, it doesn’t matter just some gear that you are comfortable on and bears off. Last year, we had a first-time entrant at Weymouth that clocked a 30+ knot average on his Axis wave board — putting that in perspective most twin tip rider ride around at 16-22 knots.
Yes, if you want to get into it you need a Locosys GW60 and dedicated asymmetric boards, and a fast foil and a slalom/giant speed board, that’s the nice thing, you do as much or as little as you want. Most medium aspect bridle kites, 9m and down, are all suitable for 35-40 knots of speed so enough to make you focus!
You’ve been building boards for a few years, how did you get into that, was it driven by a lack of production gear out there?
I did a module at university on composites and thought it would be a good idea! I built my first board’s wet lay-up, no vacuum bag and on my dining table in a one-bedroom flat. ( I snapped one of them) The other is still in the garden/garage as a reminder. That was 2010, I think, so there wasn’t anything to buy anyway.
Trial and error, and now I think I have done seven more boards; all vacuum bagged on an improvised rocker table. Full carbon with mini Tuttle fins that I also made, and I think I have a handle on what I now like to ride. My fastest board is a shamble, not a straight line on it, wonky rocker, convex bottom and a twisted rocker line and no flex at all, but it’s fast; 48.47 knots in Oman last year at the World Championships and the 5th fastest time during the competition!
It’s the same board that I won this year’s Weymouth event on, and then two weeks later set a new Portland record. It’s a bit old, but it works nicely.
Tube kites or foil kites, which are fastest?
Factually LEI’s are faster and that’s what Alex has the kite record on. The extreme wind and gusts that you get when it’s blowing over 45mph tend to be handled better on a rigid LEI structure. Having said that the small sizes of the Flysurfer Soul are going very fast, Rob Douglas has over 50 knots on the 10m.
For me, it’s about what I am comfortable on. If its light wind, say under 20 knots, then a foil is excellent on a three-fin slalom board much over that an LEI if it’s getting windy and gusty and that the main thing, you run on so much apparent wind that if you hit a lull at 40 knots you simply fly straight past the kite, and then get killed when you go back into pressure again with the kite sat unsettled in the middle of the window; LEIs simply survive that bit better, for me anyway!
Can you tell us a little bit about the Weymouth Speed Week and why it is so important?
This year, it was the 48th event running. The Weymouth Speed Week is where it all started back in the day by the pioneers of windsurfing like Fred Haywood, Pascal Macca, Jenna De Rosnay etc. Fred was breaking the 30-knot average for the first time then Jacobs ladder (a catamaran with a stack of Flexifoil 10s) came along. Then in more recent times, Paul Larsen from Sail Rocket had his first runs in the prototype that went on to take the overall record out past 65 knots.
Growing up, I was a windsurfer, and my heroes were guys like Dave White (I have told him) and Anders Bringdal. Now, being able to enter a competition and competing with them, and 80 other people is just a brilliant opportunity!
How many times have you competed there?
I think my first comp was in 2010, and I think I missed 2014, 2015 and 2016 but otherwise every year since then, so that’s seven years? I have won it outright twice 2010 and 2019, and have been British Champion 4 times now, it doesn’t mean a lot to 99% of people, but it’s nice to do something I can be proud of!
What preparations did you make before this year’s event, were you doing much training beforehand?
This year was the worst build-up ever! I had an eye operation in November last year, that should have been a three-day recovery, that turned into just over three months. Then when I was back on the water, I crashed a lot and couldn’t maintain speed, and eventually dislocated my shoulder putting me out again.
I stopped for a while and went regular kiting as my head wasn’t in it! I did do a fair amount on my legs with deadlifts, and one-legged squats as your legs take a hammering, and I have busted medial ligaments in both knees so the stronger the rest can be the better. My cardio is shocking, and at 100kg, it’s at the heavy side of things! About a month out, I started to do some more runs, and I felt confident on my big gear, so was all set! It does make me wonder what I could do if I trained properly, though…
Anders Bringdal has held the record on a windsurf for 11 years, how did it feel to smash it?
Unofficially I broke it last year out of the competition on GPS, both Dave Williams and I broke it the same day! Anders record was 38.48 set in 2008 and that day I did 40.95 Dave was at 40.80.
However, until it’s done in competition, no one cares! So, for Dave and me to both improve on it this year was excellent, he has been Speed Sailing for way longer than me and is a real pioneer; bloody fast and a very generous bloke, he has been 3rd at the last two world championships! He actually broke the record first, but I came back later, it was ridiculously close.
It’s always a tussle between the windsurfers and kiters, what’s the vibe like between the two fleets?
Genuinely it’s okay, the top guys from the WS fleet all understand that we are trying the same thing, and all are taking the same risks, so I like to think that any animosity has long gone. We know in some conditions, they will be faster in other, we will be and that genuinely evens out. The only people that do catch it from both sides are sometimes the race officers for where the course is laid. It’s got to be fair for everyone, but I think I had a bit of a strop for the first few days as I knew what we could do, but the course location stifled it.
Are there any fast dinghy’s there or have they given up?
For Speed Week, you get a few months that go well but not much until you get into the F50 and Americas Cup stuff that are going fast in boat terms, but we won’t be getting them showing up, thank god! It’s nice having a mix of people at the event though.
There was quite a tussle between you and Dave Williams; how did that go down?
Yeah, it was! He has always encouraged and helped me, so there is a friendship that has built up, and this year having the right conditions was a real test between us. We both had won on individual days throughout the week, but it was pretty close on most days. The format for WSW is that it’s one run that can win, no cumulative score, no placings just flat out your fastest single run will win the whole thing.
I think he is more consistent certainly when its strong wind and can nail runs over and over and take a beating doing it. I am a little more analytical and look at data for where and what I am doing wrong and so start more cautiously and build up till I get something beyond my normal runs.
It’s a feeling of ‘maximum effort’ and then it drops away. To compete against that approach is probably a pain! Plus, I have discovered quite how stubborn I am and will go over and over till I get it.
He had beaten me on the Thursday and was winning overall, so Friday was a battle! He was ahead all morning; I came back with what I thought was enough in the afternoon and then with 40 mins to go he nailed it, 42.05 knots done, game over, that’s all.
I was gutted, but my 41.55 wasn’t enough, and fair play I was done! We chatted, had a beer, both happy that we had pushed so hard.
There was a twist, though! At the prize-giving, after the times were downloaded and put through start and finish gates, Dave was down to Second, and I was First. Your 500m run has to be between the start gate; if you start too early or not fast enough, you lose speed for your run, that’s the only explanation.
I was genuinely gutted for him to find out the way he did, I was emotionally finished at this point, and it took time to sink in what had happened; I won the event, but I knew he had the GPS record as some consolation. I did want it back though lol!
What’s the worst crash you have ever had at high speed?
If you slide, it’s not too bad! I came off at 46 knots and just had a lot of bruising, but the worst was this year when I had a front line pull through the leash stopper at 30 knots lengthening one side by 12 inches just as I started a run. I crashed, kept crashing and had to release as I was getting dragged and didn’t know why.
My right arm was numb, the board was gone, and kite flagged out in offshore wind, I got some help from two windsurfers that saw the crash (Kev Greenslade), and he brought his kite up to me as my arm was bad.
I was trying to wind up the lines and then realised they were around my waist, so with my arm having some feeling, I grabbed them and lifted them over my head to untangle them. My shoulder then cracked and thumped back into the socket; turned out it was dislocated, and I just put it back in!
A long walk back to the car with bits of kit, getting out of my suit and then driving an hour and a half back to the local hospital, they were less than amused.
I have otherwise broken and displaced ribs, concussions and the usual bumps. Oh, and I snapped my foot in half once too!
What would you say to kiters who might think going fast is easy?
Come and try it? What I learned early on is there is no point comparing with someone sailing in different conditions on different days in different countries; you can’t!
Am I superfast? No! Are there people faster than me? Almost certainly, but until you give it a go no one will know if other people want to give it a shot then great it’s an easy discipline to get into but a deeply hard one to be great at. Maybe it’s why the good guys are that bit older as the experience and time on the water counts. You are never too old or slow to start!
What’s the plan now? Those sponsorship dollars must be rolling in!
The first plan was to get the GPS record back off Dave! Two weeks after Speed Week there was a good forecast, and I managed a 43.4kt average over 500m peaking at 47.37kts, so that one is safely ticked off.
I think Weymouth has a 45-knot run as a possible and if I can get that and hit 50 knots there that will be me done with nothing left to prove. If I can do that and then someone wants to go quicker? More power to them!
As for the cash flowing, erm no! I do a niche thing. Occasionally I compete and sometimes go fast enough to scare myself on boards you can’t buy, on kites used way outside the intended wind ranges, none of that is a sponsor’s dream! Plus, I am going to be 42 this year, so not exactly the young cool image for most of the brands!
I must thank Graeme at Core though, I have been using the kites for five years now, and they have been excellent! He has always helped where he can, and when I was building boards, he kitted them out with pads and straps etc. I bought a brand new, untried XR6 8m three day before the event, and I won on that kite! It’s also what got the GPS Portland record.
Tom at Max Track has also helped out with foils for the light wind stuff and has always been great at getting last-minute deliveries of loan kites to Enrico and me at Temavento for building my Giant Speed boards, on my 7th board from him, race, foil or speed, and they have all been exceptional!
Find out all about Weymouth Speed Week, right here!
Thu 7th Nov, 2019 @ 8:41 pm
By Jen TylerJen Tyler grew up in the chaos of Cairo, Egypt. It was on the beaches of the Red Sea where her love for the ocean, water sports and adventure grew.