Chasing Records At Lüderitz Speed Challenge

21 Jan 2022

Namibia offers a wide range of activities for sports-loving residents and travellers - from fishing, mountaineering, hiking, marathons, mountain biking to golfing and sailing, gliding or surfing. All in nature with spectacular landscapes.

An example: In December 2021, the international and unique "Desert Dash" for mountain bikers took place. Departing Windhoek in the evening, the night route led as usual through the Khomas Highlands and the Namib, arriving in Swakopmund at dawn.

But something very special is an insider tip for everyone who loves breakneck top speeds at the coast - the "Speed Challenge" near Lüderitzbucht for windsurfers and kite surfers.

Amateurs and international professionals sail away in a stiff breeze at over 50 knots (almost 100 km/h) on their boards in a specially created channel to chase records. Cameras are there live; the results are immediately uploaded to the official website. Thanks to modern technology, the well-connected windsurfers follow the action from all corners of the world via live stream and on social media platforms.

Many a world record has been broken here, in the middle of nothing, just sand, sun, desert and wind, almost seven kilometers outside of the small port town of Lüderitzbucht in a hidden bay.

"The Lüderitz speed challenge in Namibia is without a doubt the most spectacular speed event in the world of windsurfing," wrote the renowned German magazine 'Windsurfers' in 2019 - "since the first event in 2007, all the well-known names in speed windsurfing have had their officials there set national and international records.”

A windsurfer in action at the Lüderitz speed challenge. Photo by LSC

The list is impressive: Gunnar Asmussen from Flensburg, who reached over 100 km/h there, the Frenchman Antoine Albeau achieved a world record of 53.27 knots in 2015, which is an average of 98.66 km/h over a distance of 500km meters. Björn Dunkerbeck has already been to Lüderitzbucht, as has Andy Laufer and the two-time speed world champion Twan Verseput from the Netherlands.

The French kiteboarder Alex Caizergues set the world record in Lüderitzbucht with 57.97 knots (107.36 km/h).

Karin Jaggi, who has broken her Swiss record seven times, became the world windsurfing record holder for women in 2015 with 46.31 knots. Only two years later, the British athlete Zara Davis broke the record with 46.49 knots, which is 86.10km/h.

Born in Denmark, Björn Dunkerbeck reached the dream speed of 103.68 km/h (55.98 knots) in November 2021. He also broke Pep Bonet's Spanish national record. The 52-year-old Dunkerbeck now has a Spanish passport and takes part in sporting events under the Spanish flag.

Björn Dunkerbeck sailed over 100km/h. Photo by: LSC

Dutchman Hans Kreisel achieved 52.68 knots and became the Dutch record holder.

First beginnings 25 years ago

The first speed challenge on the edge of the Namib Desert near Lüderitzbucht took place in 2007 and immediately took second place in the world speed rankings. At the Lüderitz speed challenge 2008, kite surfers officially became the fastest speed sailors in the world.

The World Sailing Speed Record Council (WSSRC) and the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) oversee the annual sporting event. Therefore, the records from Lüderitz are recognized. A representative of the WSSRC is always present and measures the (record) time.

The event takes place at the southern end of the large lagoon southwest of Lüderitzbucht.

The Lüderitz speed challenge is the only sporting event in Namibia to be mentioned in various Guinness books of world record.

Zara Davis at speed world record attempt. Luderitz, Namibia. Photo: Walnut1340, Wikipedia

The first organisers were the French Sébastien Cattelan and Sophie Routaboul. In the meantime, Raffaello Gardelli and Mark Grinnell from Cape Town have since taken over. The two windsurfers have a company specialising in the sale of windsurfing equipment and the management of sporting events.

The warm desert winds at Lüderitzbucht accelerate through the surrounding hills and when they reach the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, thermal pressure is created that produces amazingly high wind speeds.

The best time for this is between October and November.

How enthusiastic do you have to be to have an 800-meter-long channel dredged on the desert beach so surfers can sail away from the wind? No infrastructure, just two containers to stow equipment, no kiosk where you can quickly get an ice-cold drink in the stinging sun or buy a coffee in a paper cup in cold fog and a strong south-west wind.

The famous Namibian "cool box" replaces the kiosk; everyone brings their sandwiches and other consumption for the day as well as thermos flasks for hot drinks.

There are hardly any spectators either, except for seagulls and maybe a few cormorants. The record hunters are among themselves. From time to time, a “Buchter” (inhabitant of Lüderitzbucht) drives there on the sand track through the mountains to see what the windsurfers are up to.

Artificial channel offers the best conditions

The first organisers of the Lüderitz speed challenge, Sébastien Cattelan and Sophie Routaboul, had the idea of creating an artificial channel on the beach. This was done with the approval and support of the city administration of Lüderitzbucht and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

The water channel outside Lüderitz. Photo: Surf-Magazin

In the early years, the dredged channel on the beach, which is almost 800 meters long, was repeatedly improved. The experimenting was worth it. The shallow water canal now offers ideal conditions. It is also independent of the tides and surfers can use it until late in the evening if required. A particular challenge is the curve, where even professional windsurfers sometimes fall into the water during test runs.

After the rapid ride across the channel on the thin board, a "bakkie" (small truck) and equipment will pick you up at the finish line and take you back to the start to try again.

Anyone can try it

The hunt for the speed record for windsurfers and kite surfers is contested at most sporting events by larger teams, with big sponsors in tow. Lüderitz is different. In the six weeks with the best wind conditions, the athletes from abroad can fly in for a few days as it suits them and try their records. Even those on a tight budget can participate here.

Tourism in Lüderitzbucht also benefits from the surfing season. In 2020, the Speed Challenge had to be cancelled due to the Corona virus pandemic, so everyone was happy that it took place again at the end of 2021.

Author: Brigitte Weidlich

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