Windy spring joy Photos: Mary Bush
The Other Side
74 boards.co.uk – NOVEMBER ’11
Whether you seek flat water, tranquil, crystal-clear lagoons or an outer reef to play on, Marsa Alam has it all. Jem Hall shares his clients’ and his own insights into Marsa’s marvels – and, true to form, manages to inject a little motivational material here and there to get you fired up and focusing on your windsurfing…
Video coaching with plenty of banter My first week’s crew, by Jem Hall
Blasting into the gybatorium
ocated way down south on the west side of the Red Sea, and being that extra 100km closer to the equator, Marsa Alam is warmer and reputedly windier than other well-known Egyptian windsurfing locations. It was these factors – along with a huge thumbs-up from a pathfinder client, Lucy Goodman – that saw me include the spot in my 2011 clinic tour. With the warmer water and air temps Marsa enjoys in March you can sail in a shortie (or even boardies and a neoprene rashvest) very comfortably, and you’re not running for your hoody as soon as dusk descends. This means people can be tempted out to sail more often in both light and strong winds, which is a great boon for progressing. You’re very much off the beaten track here, so you can really switch off and dial into the supreme windsurfing on offer. There are plenty of other attractions, too. For instance, right where you sail there’s a reef upwind that teems with amazing sea life; you just have to break out the snorkels and get in the water to experience it.
Not all of us are lucky enough to be able to get a South African winter warmer break in, so after freezing their fingers off in January and February most UK sailors are gagging for a bit of warmer water sailing. March is a great time to get away and bank some quality sailing in readiness for the year, and fellow windsurfers often tell me that when they know they’ve got a trip sorted for March the winter goes faster and they look after themselves better – plus they get the whole UK season in back home to capitalise on their improvements. (With this in mind I recommend that you prepare not only psychologically but also physically, backing up those winter water sessions with some gym work. Fair play to Brian Darby from Northern Ireland, who lost two stone for this clinic.)
You’re very much off the beaten track here, so you can really switch off and dial into the supreme windsurfing on offer Shams Alam
This is the sister hotel of Shams Alam in Safaga that I used to frequent. It’s not a huge sprawling place, so the feel is relaxed and the next hotels are a long way upwind. I have to say that the food, service and atmosphere are much the better for the presence of Italian tourists and tour operators. Italians love their food and vote with their feet (which is why you see them in Cape Town and Jeri, for example), and they also have that certain Mediterranean joie de vivre [surely gioia vivere ? Ed]. This seems to rub off on the hotel staff, all of whom are very friendly, but in that genuine way which makes you feel at home rather than a guest from far away. Just as importantly they do a good line in banter and have a great sense of humour, which always goes down well. If you’re looking to escape the wind for a bit then there’s a sheltered pool where you can chill out and plough through the books. The beach isn’t excessively windy, either, with the centre and cross-off winds protecting you from the sand-blown exfoliation so often encountered on wind-swept shores. The rooms are excellent, and conveniently close to the Club Mistral windsurfing centre. Just be aware that after they’ve been cleaned you can expect all manner of towel / bottle / clothing / sheet sculptures on your return. But enough of all that food and room chat – let’s move on to the ocean realignment part.
There’s a flat-water gybatorium on the inside, with small chop segueing into rolling swell on the outside. An upwind reef keeps the water smooth as you come in to gybe. Outside there are a couple of reef heads that throw up waves for jumping, and you can sail over them on higher tides. The wind is cross-off in direction from the left, constant and uninterrupted (no hotels blocking it off), and you can plane straight from the beach. The rolling swell outside can assist in firing you out of gybes, as you get a free ride down them to help with those planing exits. It also gets you into coastal sailing with confidence as the rescue boat is never far away. I really loved the sailing here as the reach is varied in water state, so you can jump on the way out and then come flying in for fast gybes, 360s and the like. The wind and water state also challenged my clients enough that their stances and board control all really improved, as they knew they had to raise their game as they moved further out into the open sea. It’s best to be proficient at waterstarting though. You can work on your waterstarts on the inside, but on the outside the swell makes it more of a challenge.
The centre has only been open a few years, and is one of Club Mistral’s smaller setups, so it’s very chilled. There was only my group and a few other NOVEMBER ’11 – boards.co.uk 75
Front foot gybing – what all the group are working on and towards
clients each week, so I’d say the sailing max was 20 or so, giving it a very sociable and friendly feel. The centre is stocked with Fanatic, Mistral and North kit, and windSUPs are on the increase. Main man Serkan really looked after us, as did his Egyptian assistants, and I’m very happy to hear that he’s now area manager and overseeing Marsa from his Safaga base up the coast. The Club Mistral ‘Welcome Drinks’ is a great experience from dusk till sundown – so much so that we received two or three ‘welcomes’ and ensured that we quaffed plenty of rum’n’cokes to celebrate each day’s antics.
There’s a flat-water gybatorium on the inside, with small chop segueing into rolling swell on the outside. Perfect…
The wind in Egypt is often best in the morning or early afternoon, so get out there as soon as you can and hang on for a late (or very quick) light lunch. You can refuel with some fruit and water over your morning hours of full power. Get up to speed quickly on the way out to bank some nice runs out the back – and please, if you’re on 115L or below, even if you’re still working on your turns, learn to jump. For your inside gybes or carving moves get close to the upwind reefs so you bear away fast into the carve and then have space for a sweet, fast and wide carving arc. Use the swell on the outside to gybe – it’s there to help, not hinder. Aim to be on the mid / footchange part of your gybe as you’re going down the swell. If the wind is light take a SUP out for a paddle, go snorkelling or take advantage of the world-class diving on offer from the PADI centre. You can even go local and take a camel or horse ride. The beach is nice to walk along, and I suggest you go upwind in direction. I really enjoyed my early morning / evening runs along it. Take the all-inclusive package for lots of good food, plenty of water and enough alcoholic beverages to satiate whatever sized appetite you have. For the connected amongst you the hotel has wireless in the lobby, and the Club Mistral crew can also help you out should you really need to get online. Most people didn’t and were very much in the here and now. 76 boards.co.uk – NOVEMBER ’11
Front foot gybing dry land drills
Group debriefs and top tip sessions play a big part in Jem’s coaching clinics
CLIENTS’ SIDE Okay, time to hand you over to my clients for their take on the hotel, sailing and the coaching. But first a big thanks to them for making my first two Marsa clinics a huge success (though let’s not drink all the rum in the locality next time, hey?). I’ll certainly be back, and I’m very happy to have Marsa in my schedule. From the looks of my bookings I’ll be seeing a lot of returners there too, which tells you it is a great place indeed.
Thanks to Lucy ‘Pathfinder’ Goodman for sending Jem to Marsa
This was my first clinic, so I was blissfully unaware of the aches, blisters and pain that equal triumph on the water! Our hotel was friendly, clean and relaxed. Our room was great, and on returning to it after a busy day on the water we were greeted by an interesting decorative display of our towels, pens, jewellery and anything else lying about that could be used creatively. The food was cracking – really healthy and fresh – which was much needed whenever windmeister Jem let us take a break. The hotel is right next to the windsurfing centre, which offered a good range of kit, and the centre staff were really helpful and always available. I had virtually sole use of the ‘water taxi’, which promptly arrived out of nowhere, so I always felt safe. As for Jem, I thought ‘Who is this bald bloke from Portsmouth and how come he’s so sure I’m crap?’ Well, I was! He showed me everything I desperately needed to know, even when I didn’t know I needed to know it. Jem was everywhere on the water. Forget the usual shouted instructions that you only half hear, Jem is right there, always, so you feel safe. He’s fun and his hands-on straightforward teaching is reinforced by catchphrases that you remember long after the clinic. Would we go back? Definitely! The only odd moment was the hotel’s evening entertainment, which seemed to be cross-dressers spinning large plates on various body parts. Oh well, when in Egypt! NOVEMBER ’11 – boards.co.uk 77
The excellent Club Mistral centre
It’s hard to summarise Marsa Alam, except to say I loved the place. There’s pretty much no contact with the outside world, which allowed me to focus purely on my windsurfing. The people and staff were amazing and couldn’t do enough for you – especially the guys at the windsurfing centre. A hint would be to tip them on the first day and the last day: you’ll never have to carry your gear to the beach! As for the windsurfing itself, I thought the place was pretty amazing for someone with my skill-set. Lovely wind from the left and the reef that made the inside mirror flat – nice and easy to try for the elusive carve gybe. Yes, it’s still elusive, but it’s coming. The outside was a bit more challenging with that rolling swell – this made me raise my game, which became a benefit in the end. I found it the perfect location, and sailing combined with coaching has made me a much better sailor. When the wind wasn’t there it was pretty cool going for a SUP around the reef. All-in though I think it’s a perfect improver / intermediate location, so roll on March next year when I can rip it up again and get even more out of the spot!
Having done the Red Sea a few times in recent years (mainly Safaga and Hurghada) and having never been disappointed, I was very much looking forward to getting a bit further south to see and sail a new spot. Also, it had been a few years since my first excursion with Mr Hall, so I was ready for some 78 boards.co.uk – NOVEMBER ’11
more intensive coaching to get me back on track. Marsa Alam is quite a way further down the Red Sea so the transfer time is a bit longer, but it’s well worth the bus ride. The hotel isn’t massive, but it has all you could need and a great relaxed feel. In March it’s still pretty quiet; there are very few Brits about and it’s very popular with Italians, which adds to the lively atmosphere. Our party was an interesting mix of Brits, Irish, Dutch and Italian, and we all got on great (fuelled by a mix of ‘Ron Cokes’ and ice-cold beers!). You’re out there for the windsurfing, so amenities may not be high priority, but what you get is very good indeed. Very decent rooms and great food – loads of fish, great salads, very varied and stacks of it. I was really impressed by the soup (sad but true). It’s well worth paying a bit extra to go allinclusive. Plenty of themed nights too, which adds to the variety. Don’t miss the big entertainment night, which gets very lively, with loads of local acts and dancing – you can’t escape the lure of the drums. We were all up there busting out some serious moves, including Jem (who insisted the photos were deleted. Some hope!). On to the business end, and the windsurfing centre is top quality. The guys are very helpful and there are no issues with changing kit, which is top quality with a great range of new boards and sails. It’s fair to say we got a bit unlucky with the wind in mid-March, and there were only a couple of decent days of serious wind. There was no lounging on the sun-beds though. Jem had us on light wind practice, which got a few grumbles at first but was probably the best couple of days of windsurfing I’ve done in
The hotel pool a long time in terms of learning the basics (again). SUPing around the reef in quiet moments was also fantastic. There’s a great shallow area for light wind stuff, and the days it did blow there’s some fantastic swell to have fun on. It’s great out the back amongst the turtles and the flying fish – perfect! If you’re after an early kick-off to your year to blow away the cobwebs, with a week living and breathing windsurfing and learning from a great coach in a great setting, then Marsa Alam with Jem is the trip for you. All-in-all it’s a great week and got me well and truly back into the sport with renewed enthusiasm. The best advice I can give is get as fit as you can and get plenty of sailing in during the winter. It’s tough on the hands and body if you’ve sunk too many mince pies and stayed next to the fire through the winter!
If you’re after an early kickoff to your year to blow away the cobwebs in a great setting, then Marsa Alam is the spot for you
The hotel grounds
One of the non-windsurfing highlights for me was our exposure to Egyptian culture on the Friday night event. After supper we were treated to the sight (amongst other things) of whirling candelabra-wielding dancers! The lead male dancer seemed to be able to spin round and round non-stop for hours. In addition to the candelabra there was an assortment of other items in use on stage. All a bit weird, plus of course some belly dancing. The whole thing was topped off with the strangest dancing pantomime horse. Rumour had it that the previous week our guru had been up on stage demonstrating his prowess. He didn’t get up there for us though – perhaps next year? On the water we had a group with a range of abilities, from very good sailors to the likes of me. I learnt a lot though, both from Jem and also from the group. Things like not bottling out just because it’s windy and there’s some swell and a reef to contend with. In addition I always find I subsequently apply things I didn’t quite nail on the course to my sailing. For me, this year it was accelerating my entry into gybes, sheeting in and getting my weight forward and onto the balls of my feet and carving. Front foot entry and rear foot exit. Key tips like linking toe side pressure in, heel side out to my snowboarding made a lot of sense to me. That and straight front arm and leg, of course, has been my mantra for most of this year. Since Marsa I have subsequently exited far more gybes on the plane while sailing at home. My only problem really is getting past the shock when it happens! I’m sailing faster and for longer and am totally addicted to gybing. Thanks Jem.
John & Maureen O’Malia
The flight may take six hours (although we don’t remember Egypt being as far away as New York), but it goes quickly, as does the transfer (about an hour-ish). The road through the desert is straight, so even if you get a crazy Egyptian driver it’s no big deal. And the drivers are slowly learning that windsurfers usually don’t need smoking stops, so it’s straight to the resort! The hotel has nice, big clean rooms near the sailing area so you can check wind and water from your window. The staff are really friendly and always eager to help. Believe it or not, the food’s great too! Varied, delicious, lots of ‘made to order’ items at all meals. And, most important, no-one got sick. For just a few quid extra per day the all-inclusive option is the way to go. This includes breakfast, lunch, tea cakes, dinner and all the crazy Egyptian beer, booze and wine you can drink (never thought we’d drink Egyptian wine. Interesting…) The windsurfing centre is flexible (they actually let you move your name around the kit board), with organised racks and the staff love to take your kit to and from the beach for you. (Remember to tip them at the end of your stay!) As for the sailing – fantastic! Super-flat on the inside, turns to a bit of bump-and-jump, and then great rolling swell further out for dreamy, fun carve gybing! We were there mid / end March, when it was windy every day (we were using 4.7-5.8m sails throughout the week). As with any windy, sunny place, Marsa attracts its share of Speedo and booty wearing Germans, but they’re harmless and always sail 4km out to sea, so never get in the way. The centre sometimes does drinks after sailing time and the Germans suddenly become friendly and humorous. Must be that Egyptian rum! Marsa Alam is a great spot, especially if you haven’t been able to sail during winter and need a quick ‘rust remover’ before summer. It’s particularly good for learning / practicing any freestyle moves on the inside, like duck gybes, 360s, etc. The water is so flat and the wind holds up perfectly all the way in, so you can come ripping in over and over practicing stuff and feeling like a total rock star! NOVEMBER ’11 – boards.co.uk 79
Flat water inside, chop and then rolling swell outside
JEM’S GEMS Travel
Most flights are out of Gatwick North terminal. It’s a longish flight so ensure you have food booked or that you take something onto the plane. At the other end the Egyptian airport is modern and not very busy, so you’re normally out and on the transfer bus in minutes. Then it’s the usual helter-skelter transfer to the resort, which takes an hour or so. Plenty of booze in resort so not that much need to stock up at the airport off-licence
Take a hoody / jumper and some long trousers as nights can be a bit fresher. If you burn easily a long sleeve t-shirt and hat for the day are good ideas, and if you plan on wearing boardies a lot then bring some Vaseline for essential chafing prevention.
Club Mistral have wetsuits available if you need one, and harnesses too. Shorties were the most popular, but I’d suggest taking a 3/2 summer steamer if you feel the cold and a neoprene rashvest for warmer days. Your own harness, screwdriver and smaller fins for the larger boards are good ideas, plus your own fixed lines (travel ones if you can) to make the sailing really nice.
sportif.travel for all your Marsa travel needs and to book my rapidly selling out clinics. jemhall.com for my clinic action 2xs.co.uk/prosport to get your Prosport 44 suncream 80 boards.co.uk – NOVEMBER ’11
Club Mistral drinks parties – very welcome!
Don’t wear boots! Wash your hands after application of any creams. Go snorkelling and SUPing. Take your own belly-dancing outfit. Take your PADI licence for diving.
Wadi El Gemal National Park, Luxor and Assuan.
Cross-off from left and mainly 5.0 to 7.0m sailing, can get some howling days with full-power action on the outside on the rolling swells. Best in spring and autumn.
RRD boards, Ezzy Sails, Big Salty Weather, Flying Objects, Prosport Sunblock, and Grasshopper Porridge sponsor Jem Hall. Check out jemhall.com for details of coaching weeks, including his spring tune-ups in Marsa Alam and highly acclaimed technique DVDs.