Catching the Breeze with Top Windsurfers in Enoshima

The Windsurfing World Championships, also known as the RS: X World Championship, is an international sailing competition organized by World Sailing, which is the governing body for the sport of sailing. World Sailing is responsible for promoting the sport internationally, and developing the Racing Rules of Sailing. World Sailing is officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee.

Stack Jones recently interviewed Norway’s Sjur Funnemark and Arthur Ulrichsen as they prepared for the event. Sjur and Arthur make up half of the Norwegian team competing in the world championship.

Sjur-Funnemark-Arthur-Ulrichsen
Photo by Stack Jones

The trio met in Chigasaki, at Pacific Ocean Blue, a shop owned and operated by Mamoru Kitamura. Kitamura has been involved in ocean sports for more than 40 years and was delighted to meet these talented young athletes.

At Pacific Ocean Blue the group checked out the week’s weather forecast on Windy. They discussed the swell direction, the forecast, and Typhoon 18, which was fast approaching. They decided to head to the shore to see if the storm swells generated by the typhoon had begun to roll in.

Sjur is a 20-year-old competitor from Jar, Norway. Arthur, his teammate, is 21 years old, and from Oslo. Both are contenders for a position on Norway’s 2020 Olympic windsurfing team.

Stack: What do you do to stay in shape, and prepare for a championship like the one you will be in next week?

Sjur: I train super hard physically in the beginning of the winter season in Norway (October-December) before moving to warmer regions to windsurf, and train toward the upcoming events and competitions. I truly love the Olympic windsurfing lifestyle, which includes physically demanding training and racing, alongside the best athletes from all over the world!

Stack: Has the sport created much travel opportunities for you?

Sjur: This season we traveled a lot, from Brazil to Spain and France, and we finished this season with the World Championship here in Enoshima, Japan.

Sjur-Funnemark-Arthur-Ulrichsen
Photo by Stack Jones

Stack: What are your plans beyond windsurfing? Are there any plans for more schooling in the future?

Sjur: Yes, I am going to law school.

Stack: That’s fantastic, I have a law degree, and it will always come in handy, no matter what you do in life. What other sports are you involved in?

Sjur: Alongside the windsurfing career we bring surfboards, trying to catch nice waves wherever we travel. The great thing about travel, is I get to experience a variety of cultures. The racing aspect itself is just pure genius; tactical, technical and conditions that are super inconsistent, since we are racing in winds from 4-30 knots. I have to be super fit to pump the sail to generate speed in light winds, and strong and technical to control the standard 9.5 square meter sail in the stronger winds.

Stack: Tell me a bit about yourself Arthur?

Arthur: Although I’m from Norway, I was born in Stamford Ct. My family moved to Norway when I was one year old. I’ve lived in Oslo ever since. I started skiing in the winter, and windsurfing in the summer at the age of 10. As I grew older I enjoyed windsurfing more and more. By the age of 15, I made the decision to stop ski racing, and focus entirely on windsurfing. I now windsurf in the men’s Olympic Class RS:X. My goal is to represent Norway in the 2020 Summer Olympic games in Tokyo.

Sjur-Funnemark-Arthur-Ulrichsen
Sjur and Arthur with two Enoshima locals

Stack: I want to get into the RS:X equipment in a bit. Right now, tell me more about yourself.

Arthur: We, Sjur and I, represent the youth part of the Norwegian senior sailing team. I train in Oslo and like Sjur, I sail for The Royal Norwegian Youth Club. I made the national team this year, which was truly an honor. The national team is sponsored by Helly Hansen, SAP and Mercedes Benz. I won the Norwegian Youth Championship twice, the RS:X, at 16, and the Youth World Sailing event in 2014 and 2015. I’m currently ranked in the RS:X men’s fleet in Norway, and hope to place top 40 in the World Championship here in Enoshima, Japan.

Stack: What is RS:X?

Arthur: The RS:X came about so that every competitor in windsurfing used the same equipment. This system was first used in the 2008 Olympic Games in China.

Stack: So everyone uses the same equipment? There are no variations?

Sjur: There are two sizes of sails available for competitors. Men use a 9.5m sail; women and youths use an 8.5m sail. The sail, rig and board were designed to ensure a high level of design synergy.

Stack: I discovered on the RS:X website that the RS:X is the most affordable yachting class eligible for competition in the Olympic Games. It’s also easy to transport, as it can be carried on commercial aircraft as excess baggage, thus allowing sailors to compete internationally at minimal cost. The RS:X allows for many regattas that can be attended by a large number of sailors from all over the world. For example, the inaugural RS:X World Championships were held at Lake Garda, in Italy, with 244 competitors. Other World Championship Regattas include an event in Cascais, Portugal in 2007, in Auckland, New Zealand in 2008, and the events continue to attract a large amount of sailors. Is the RS:X the best windsurfing board?

Sjur: No, they are not the fastest, or the most technical. But, what makes them a great choice for competition is that everyone has the same equipment. In the past, those who received a lot of money from sponsors would always win merely because they had better gear. By having everyone use the same equipment, the best performer wins.

Stack: Are there any major concerns when actually racing?

Sjur: Trash in the ocean. Plastic can wrap around a fin, and the only way to remove it is to stop racing, get in the water and take it off. Ocean debris has the ability to affect the outcome of a race; it’s really quite profound actually.

As Stack, Sjur, and Arthur strolled along the beach in Chigasaki, a woman rode up on a bike. It turned out to be Fanny Baumann, a sensational athlete, who is also a talented singer and musician. Fanny is in Japan to represent her country of Sweden, in the woman’s division of the windsurfing championship. It turns out Sjur, Arthur, Fanny, and other competitors are sharing living arrangements while in Japan.

Sjur-Arthur-Fanny
Sjur, Arthur, and Fanny Baumann (Photo by Stack Jones)

Fanny was on her way for a bike ride to Enoshima. This, after training twice earlier in the day, and having already gone for a run. Stack posed a question to her before taking photos of the trio.

Stack: How do you feel about being in a competition where men and women compete separately, and where you know you could beat many of the men in the competition?

Fanny: Actually, the men and women competitions are quite different. For the women, it’s about technique, and for the men, there’s a lot of brute strength involved.

Sjur: That’s true. In the beginning of a race, the men literally battle it out for line position. There’s a lot of that, because where you are positioned at the beginning of a race has the ability to affect the outcome.

Stack: That brings up a question about team racing. When you’re on the water do you work as a team?

Sjur: No, we are competitors. However, sometimes a team member can sacrifice a race for the benefit of the team. However, if not done properly, it can result in disqualification.

Stack: (To Fanny) Tell me more about yourself.

Fanny: I’m from Sandhamn, a town in Stockholm. I’ve been windsurfing ten years, and RS:X sailing for five. My sponsors are the Royal Swedish Yacht Club, Ocean Sunglasses and Mystic Boarding Sweden.

Stack: What other sports are you involved in?

Fanny: I love kitesurfing, tennis, running, skiing, and long-distance ice skating.

Fanny reminded the guys that there was dinner at 8:00, as they were all going to a restaurant in Chigasaki to eat Japanese wagyu. Stack took a few more photos, and Fanny rode toward Enoshima.

Stack, Sjur, and Arthur headed into the city, where the guys drank fruit juice, and searched for a place to rent surfboards for the next day, their day of rest. Stack took the guys to Kaldi, and Sjur was surprised to be handed a complimentary cup of coffee. Stack told the guys that when they returned home they had to bring a gift for their mother. He suggested Baumkuchen cake, which turns out to be European in origin.

Sjur thought about surfing during his day of rest.

Sjur: Surfing counts as resting doesn’t it?

Stack reflected that only a true ocean sportsman would consider surfing large typhoon swells a day of rest.

For more information about the RS:X Windsurfing event in Enoshima, which is going on until September 23, visit http://www.rsxclass.org/worlds2017/

windsurfing
The RS:X Class / Robert Hajduk
windsurfing
The RS:X Class / Robert Hajduk
windsurfing
The RS:X Class / Robert Hajduk
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The RS:X Class / Robert Hajduk

Main Image: Fanny Baumann on the water, photo by Malcolm Hanes

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