Photo: Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool
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For three years, eight of the best windsurfers in the world waited for a storm fierce enough to test their mettle.
It finally happened this week on a gale-blasted beach of the North Atlantic in County Donegal, Ireland. Storm Gareth, which forecasters described as a 1,000-mile wide “weather bomb,” slammed into the northwest Irish cost, triggering the Red Bull Storm Chase — sort of the Mavericks of windsurfing.
When the competition ended in the most brutal conditions, Australian Jaeger Stone stood atop the podium.
Stone and his fellow contestants braved 81-mph gusts and 26-foot waves in frigid water on Tuesday, the final day and the roughest. The air temperature was 41 degrees F, producing a wind chill temperature as low as 24 degrees.
“It was absolutely insane to compete in these conditions,” Stone said, according to a Red Bull recap of the event. “It was ballistic, massive and freezing. Winning the contest feels unreal, and it still hasn’t sunk in yet – I’m still just trying to warm up my hands!”
The sailboarders were judged on difficulty and amplitude of their aerials, wave-riding and tricks, such as the double push-loop and Air Taka, a jump with a 720-degree rotation that is exceedingly difficult to land.
A safety crew using Jet Ski watercraft and a helicopter were on hand in case any rider ran into trouble in the churning seas.
Red Bull Storm Chase sports director Klaas Voget said this year’s event was the most difficult competition of any Storm Chase to date.
“It was just so cold … today was the windiest day that many of these guys have ever sailed in,” he told Red Bull representatives.
Red Bull worked with meteorologists to nail down the exact time and location of “the perfect storm.”
Just as surfers go on a watch before Mavericks, so are the windsurfers alerted 120 hours ahead of Storm Chase. The rider list is finalized at 72 hours.
The competition began Sunday and finished on “Big Tuesday,” when winds and waves peaked.
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This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Windsurfers-81-mph-gusts-Red-Bull-Storm-Chase-13689049.php.