Philippe is chief tester of GUNSAILS sail development in Tarifa. Living in Europe's windsurfing mecca and surfing almost every day, what sounds like a dream job is actually hard work. We asked Philippe a few questions to offer you some insights behind the scenes.
Where are you from and when did you start windsurfing? I come from a small village in the Vendée, near the coast. I started windsurfing at the end of the 70s. My parents were windsurfing fanatics and surfed almost every weekend and in the holidays on the Ile de Noirmoutier. At that time, the equipment (windsurfers, Oceanite, Rex...) was not yet suitable for children. My father tailored a sail for me so that I could surf. The equipment was very rudimentary, but we spent our days on the water no matter what the wind conditions were. The beaches were crowded with windsurfers!
How long have you been working for GUNSAILS and how did you get this job? I have been working for GUNSAILS since the early 2000s. It was Jochen Krauth who made a recommendation for me. He wanted to move towards boat racing and after a year of transition I was hired here in Tarifa.
What kind of candidate profile and know-how do you think is required for this job? I don't know if there is a typical profile for this job, but after many years of testing sails with different people I think you need a certain sailing sensibility, a good visual memory and most importantly some time!!!! Understanding how a sail works is not very complicated in itself. The difficulty and challenge lies in knowing where something is wrong with a sail and then knowing how to correct it: seeing the imperfections in a mast bend, changing a batten profile for example. This requires experience, but also good cooperation with the sail designer.
Can you describe a typical working day? We work according to the wind. We always have 2 or 3 sail sizes, masts, accessories with us in the vehicle. When the test is finished, I go back to the loft and we debrief with the sail designer Renato Morlotti. The sail is then reworked and can be taken back out on the water for a second test the same day. Prototypes are sometimes made here in Tarifa (most prototypes come directly from the factory). It can happen that you spend the whole day assembling and sewing a sail. There are actually no typical days, everything is dictated by the stages of sail development, but it's never boring!
How many days a year do you surf? I have never counted the days I surf exactly, but I would say at least 200 days a year. To be exact, I would have to check my test reports.
How do you test sails? At what point do you know that this sail is the best? I test all sails first by feeling, taking into account exact criteria depending on the type of sail tested: range of use, ease of use, lightness, performance, lift, ON/OFF, etc. If we take a sail like the Vector and it gives a good feeling in the first test, then we do a second comparison test with a second tester equipped with last year's Vector, which then serves as a reference sail. We use production masts and thus see the full potential of the new sail (speed, power, acceleration, gybe relaunch) in its entire wind range. Compromises often have to be made as the result is rarely all black or all white. With X-Over sails (wave, freestyle...) the test is only done by feeling. I also regularly test production sails taken from stock to check their quality and conformity. GUNSAILS attaches great importance to the quality control of its products, the requirements speak for themselves!
Do you have a favourite discipline? My favourite discipline is the wave. Tarifa is unfortunately not the best spot, but when the conditions are good, it's not so bad! Sometimes you have to be patient. I've been foiling for just over 2 years now and I'm enjoying it more and more. Maybe a new discipline for me 😉.
Have you ever experienced a dramatic and dangerous situation on the water? Fortunately, I have never experienced a dramatic situation on the water. With Victor Diaz, a former GUNSAILS rider, we rescued a surfer in Caños de Meca who had dislocated his shoulder. He was floating on the sea. We picked him up just before he was washed out to sea by the current. I think he still remembers it!
Earning a living with surfing, a dream for many... How do you motivate yourself after so many years on the water? It's true that I'm very lucky because I do a job that I'm passionate about. Over time, as in any job, you have to engage as much as possible to make it as exciting as possible. I think you get bored quickly when you work as a amateur, even if you think you have the best job.
What do you do in your freetime? Do you go surfing 😉? I relax. I go out on the boat with my family, I spend time with my wife, my kids, my friends.... Sometimes we have wind conditions at the weekend that we actually expected during the week. Then I have to work on the weekend as well.
What advice can you give to someone who is interested in this job? I don't know if I can give good advice, but I think that above all you have to be enduring, curious and physically fit. Endurance, because developing the material requires patience and a lot of dedication! And curiosity and good physical fitness are a must.