Match of the Week: Westward Ho! hosts British kitesurfing finals
WHEN Sir Richard Branson became the oldest person to kitesurf the English Channel he had help in abundance.
It included six fellow riders, three sponsors, seven supporting companies, a project manager, a ten-strong PR and photography team, air and sea back-up and even a lawyer.
The planning had begun some 30 months earlier.
The crossing was covered by ITN, the BBC and the Daily Mail.
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When Ralph Crathorne set the record that Branson broke, he made the crossing on a whim with a compass glued to his board the wrong way round. He had just two fellow riders, both his daughters.
Their crossing was covered by South East News and the Kentish Gazette.
"It was Richard Branson's third attempt and he had a support crew of 85 people, whereas we just had my mum and a friend in a boat," said Polly Crathorne of the day when she, her sister Lucy and their dad crossed from Dungeness to Boulogne.
"We decided to do it only three days before. We kitesurf along that coast and people would always joke, 'Do you ever get blown across to France?' So we thought, 'Why not?'
"We checked the tides and it was the only day my dad and sister could get off work. It was a bit last minute and we just hoped it would be windy.
"Dad glued a compass onto his board and, when we got to the water's edge, we realised he had it on the wrong way round. The arrow was pointing 180 degrees back to London. We just followed the boat in the end and we did it."
While Ralph's record, set in 2010, lasted only until July this year – he was 51, Branson 61 – the one set by his daughters can never be beaten.
They were the first women to kitesurf the Channel. Polly was just 16, Lucy 21, and they took three hours and 40 minutes.
Branson took five minutes longer. It was his second attempt in 24 hours, having turned back the day before, just as he had in his first effort in 2010.
His France-based support numbered 12, his English-based crew 18.
"Our support was just my mum in a dinghy and our friend who was driving it," said Polly.
"The Branson team had a professional coach to keep an eye on them and far more boats.
"We could have done with another boat because at some points we were a mile apart from each other.
"We were going at different speeds and we had to wait to let the ferries go past."
Polly, now 18, from Canterbury, Kent, was recounting her story at Northam Burrows during the last round of the British Kitesurfing Championships, where she clinched the professional ladies' freestyle class.
She was one of the lucky ones, her competition being held on a day of good, strong winds.
Leading overall after the first five rounds, staged in Clacton, Hunstanton, Troon and Redcar (two rounds), victory in the second of the two rounds at Westward Ho! gave her a 325-point advantage over runner-up Holly Kennedy, from Scotland.
Victories in both rounds at Westward Ho! saw Dan Sweeney, from Worthing, Sussex, to the men's professional freestyle title by almost 1,000 points.
For the top North Devon rider in the series, Rosanna Jury, luck was out.
Her hopes of winning the British amateur ladies' freestyle title were dashed by a windless day and she had to settle for third place based on the season's results.
While she had won in Clacton and Troon, Rosanna, 20, from Abbotsham, was unable to pick up points at Hunstanton or Redcar because she was sitting exams at the University of Southampton, where she is studying medicine.
She needed at least two rounds to be staged on her home training beach if she was to stand a chance of overall victory but none could take place as the weather was still on the day they were scheduled. So the title went to Hunstanton's Chloe Durrant.
Rosanna said: "I am not too fussed. I will wait until next year, when I enter the pros, and win that one."
The plan is to take a year out from university to concentrate on kitesurfing and, as well as the British series, compete in Kitesurf Tour Europe.
Rosanna, a former competitive sailor, made kitesurfing her main sport three years ago when she started at university.
With her father, Paul, she had finished third in the Spitfire catamaran national championships but, having learned the fundamentals of kitesurfing in 2006, arriving at university opened up a new pathway.
"The uni kitesurfing club was so much fun," said Rosanna. "I met some really good kitesurfers who were also competing. There is a really good club there so it is easy to find people to train with."
As a freestyle competitor, performing tricks rather than racing on flat water, Rosanna is not in the class that was chosen to replace windsurfing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
"When I started kitesurfing, and first came to British Kitesurfing Association competitions three years ago, it was racing that I wanted to do because it had a bigger link with sailing," she said.
"That was before we knew it was going to be in the Olympics.
"I was not really interested in freestyle and I did a couple of racing competitions, but when I got to university everybody was doing freestyle.
"If I had the opportunity to race again I would, but that is not going to happen at the moment because I don't have the kit.
"A lot of windsurfers have started kitesurfing. When I went to the European Championships in France, the GB team was 70 per cent made up of ex-windsurfers."
For Polly, being a professional brings only minimal prize money. No athlete accommodation at the big events either.
"I'm in a camper van here with my parents and younger sister," she said.
"I fund it from money I have made from gymnastics coaching. I used to compete in gymnastics to regional level in floor and vault."
Next year, Polly plans to take part in Kite Tour Asia. "I have been saving for that for a while but you need to go to events to get the exposure so the bigger sponsors will sponsor you further."
One for Sir Richard Branson perhaps? Maybe he and Polly could get together and discuss it on a Channel crossing.
Results: page 76.