Peaking at eighth in Europe and with a world ranking of 24, James Briggs has certainly put Guernsey on the map in the world of windsurfing.
Since 2006 the Sarnian has regularly spent months every year off-island competing in high-level races. He’s recently decided to focus more on the fun side of the sport, so gbg asked him to explain to us his love of wind and water.
The water has always been in James Briggs’ blood. As a boy he sailed, representing Guernsey at the Island Games and National Championships. As an adult, he’s well-known as a local rower, regularly competing in and winning offshore races.
But his achievements in both of those sports are eclipsed by his success as a windsurfer. James says he had often been tempted by the idea of travelling, but also wanted to do something constructive. In 2006 he first decided to combine the two, and spend time competing in the UK. When he finished eighth in that season, he realised there was much more he could achieve.
In 2009 that ambition became reality when James came first at the British Open. It was the start of an exciting period in his life. 2010 saw him spend months travelling around Europe; while 2011 involved a three-month trip to Australia as well as competing on the European circuit.
Travelling alone around the world to compete in an individual sport could
have been a lonely experience, but James explains that the very nature of the sport encourages comradeship.
“Because it’s an individual sport, this actually makes it more friendly; you want to share the experiences you’ve had when you return to the beach. You watch someone having that solitary moment, but you know what, it’s not entirely solitary because those people on the beach can see what’s happening. It’s an individual experience shared by others.”
2013 was the last year James competed at such a high level, and it was his most successful by far. Just missing the podium at the Masters World Championships, he placed eighth in the European Cup Series and attained a world ranking of 24. For him, it was the culmination of many years of hard work.
“I had wanted to get inside the top forty in the world, that was the challenge I set down. I think that the last year was the best in terms of competition because all of the other parts had fallen into place. I had considered all aspects; I had learned more of equipment tuning, strategy and mindset. I had a strong network of peers who were doing it full-time so I could learn from their experience and compare notes, then work on my technique and what I was actually doing.”
It’s just the challenge of you against the elements. There is always something new to learn. At that peak, James decided that he had achieved all he could without allowing for a complete change of life.
“When I looked at the people who were in front of me at events I realised they were doing it full-time, that was their job. And it was at that point that I thought you have to be sensible about this, you can’t really challenge somebody who’s doing something full-time. I’d had such a rapid progression in the four months where I was focusing purely on windsurfing, I
realised I couldn’t expect to compete with somebody who’s doing that all the time.”
Now James has decided to concentrate on simply enjoying the sport, but that doesn’t mean it won’t challenge him.
“It’s just the challenge of you against the elements initially. However you throw in another part of this with the competitive nature, and the camaraderie that does exist between competitors and it becomes a combination of all these things. It’s very involved and surprisingly technical. There’s a surprising amount to learn and I’m still learning now. I’m going to cut back on the amount of racing I’m doing so I can go and do more tricks at the beach – there’s always something new to learn.”
That constant learning includes the reading of weather patterns and what will happen out on the water. James describes professional windsurfers as being weathermen as much as sportsmen.
“Wind is obviously an essential part of the sport. But once you’ve got the basic wind strength then there are other things to think about. So if you’re in a really hot place for example, the wind is not as powerful because it’s warmer, the gas has expanded, and it doesn’t have the same density. Conversely, if you’re somewhere very cold, because the air has greater density that same windspeed provides more force in the sail. Altitude affects this as well. I remember I did an event up in the Swiss mountains on one of the lakes, the wind was travelling very fast but without power. You only really appreciate that with experience.”
Experience is what James now has, and it’s what he can use as he settles back into life in Guernsey and the simple pleasures of just being on the water doing the sports he loves.