At 5ft 4inches (163cm) and 58 kilos, Multiple Irish Windsurfing Champion Noelle Doran is not exactly the build of your typical speed-sailor. Yet in 2011, she recorded the fastest GPS speed by any female windsurfer in the World over a 500m distance, and got 3rd in the World GPS Rankings.
As Boardseeker discovered recently, there are plenty more strings to Noelle’s bow, and thought it was high time we caught up with this Waterwoman to find out what makes her tick…
Hi Noelle, lets get a bit of background about you. Firstly, how many years have you been windsurfing?
Since 1986, so lets just say long enough!
You work in Watersports industry?
Yes I have my own business - Professional Coaching Services - where I provide instruction & coaching at all levels of windsurfing, sailing and power-boating. I’m also a Coach tutor, which involves development & implementation of instructor courses for the disciplines mentioned above. And I do a lot of work for the Irish Sailing Association, doing course pre-entry's, instructor revalidations, ISA Centre inspections and that type of thing, as well as being a Commercial skipper, Boat charter, Safety Cover of events.
Wow that’s pretty comprehensive! We hear you are also a Coast Guard?
Yes I have been a volunteer member of the Westport unit of the IRCG since 2005. As a Helm for the Coast Guard, I have been involved in many rescues, but sadly a lot of our callouts are when things have gone horribly wrong, and we end up with body recoveries. It’s not something you get used to, but by giving this service, for me I feel I am helping people grieve and have closure.
Apart from Windsurfing, you also Surf? SUP? Sail boats? Drive Boats? Where did all this start?!
Well I got introduced to watersports during an outdoor pursuits course I attended in college. I instantly developed a passion, love, and sense of wellbeing, and discovered I am calmest when I am on the water. So now I spend as much time on it (or in it) as possible - through my windsurfing, surfing, sailing, yacht racing, power boating, teaching, and in more recent times I have also got hooked on SUP.
Can you remember your first time on a board?
My First time on a board was in Malahide Estuary, on a Dufour Wing with 5.4 BIC soft sail. I really loved that board; rail riding was my one of my favorite moves back then.
And what was it that really got you hooked on windsurfing?
It is as challenging as you make it, fun, and there is always something else to learn. And of course the adrenalin kick you get every time you go out.
3 words you would use to describe yourself?
Determined, focused, and energetic !
3 words your husband would use?
Perfectionist, Driven & Stubborn!
3 words your best friends would use?
Fun, passionate & True friend.
Who are your inspirations?
My Mum and Dad, They had all of the above qualities, and being from a family of nine, you learned to use them to best advantage early in life. It was fun growing up with so many. In Windsurfing it has to be Robby Naish for me, when I started out he was on the frontline, pushing our sport to new levels. Closer to home, Oisín Van Gelderen. He inspired me to enter competition, but has always been a great source of information and support, and for always pushing you beyond your comfort zone. He has been, and still is the man to beat, in any discipline.
A big part of your life is coaching / training. Can you tell us more about what got you into this career?
I got into these industries by default really. Having Dyslexia closed some doors for me in the academic world, but I loved sport from a very young age. I wanted to do PE teaching, but knowing that was not possible, I had to look for alternatives. I found out about the ‘Shackleton Course’, which was an outdoor pursuits course. All the sports were new to me, but I fell in love with these instantly, and have never looked back. !
What is the attraction - what do you get out of this?
Passing on the sport, the skill, the passion, the love, fun. I really get a thrill out of seeing someone learning something new and what it does for the personally- the expression on the faces - the increase in self-belief and self-esteem. The satisfaction they get from doing the sport. I’d say probably my favorite courses to deliver are the instructor courses. There is huge job satisfaction, in bringing someone who is passionate about a sport, (and quite good at it) - and then introducing them to a whole new set of skills, so they can pass on their sport to others.
You live on the West Coast of Ireland, with a choice of awesome wave-sailing locations all around you. Life must be pretty good?
Heaven on earth, it doesn't get any better really. With winter swells and winds queuing up out in the Atlantic to take their turn in battering the west coast of Ireland, there not many days you don't get a sail or a SUP session in. Living in Co.Mayo I am spoilt for choice, with so many great beaches just a stone’s throw away.
What are conditions like at your local beach?
Cross Strand is my closest wave Beach, which is right on the Alantic Ocean with little or no protection from Atlantic Swells and Wind. It gets some great waves for windsurfing and SUPing / Surfding. The Swell direction from SW through to NW work best, with the beach facing WNW, the best wind directions would be SSE through to NE.
It must get pretty windy over there?
You could say! My most used sail is a 2.9m Neilpryde Core, which I will never sell as they don’t make them that small anymore. And occasionally it's even too strong for that!
And what are the biggest waves you have sailed in?
Not sure really, I suppose just over mast high.
You used to compete in waves quite a bit?
Yes, and loved every minute of it. It really improved my wave sailing and pushed me to new limits.
And we hear you are also the first Irish woman to forward loop?
This is a mind over matter move, an all or nothing maneuver, which suited me perfectly. I just needed a little push, and who better than OVG, yet again.
So what’s a 'typical' day at the office for you?
Well being a Mum and a wife, and running my own business - I have usually a bit of juggling to do - to make sure I get my time on the water. I have to say I hated school when I was growing up, but now - I love it! My son Conor's school-time is my playtime, so Conor has learned early in life that school is important and not to be missed… Hmm!
Get Conor up, sort breakfast, check out wind and swell forecast. Then drop Conor to school and head to what ever beach works. Rig, Sail, De-rig - Speed back into town to collect Conor from school, usually leaving it just a bit to late, as Conor sits on the wall swinging his legs as he waits for me to turn up. Normally asking me, "well how were the waves today mam" quite proud really I'm the "Cool mum". Then home sort out homework, fire, dinner, answer some emails, phone calls etc. Then after dinner catch up on office work, And to end the day a glass of wine with my hubby if I am lucky.
You have 11 National titles between Waves, Freestyle and Speed? So we guess you are pretty competitive then?
A good friend of mine Dave Garvey pointed this out to me, even though I denied for years - but yes I love Competition!
Tell us more about the competition side of things?
Competition isn't for everybody, but it is an important part of all sports, it helps develop, showcase, finance, and grow a sport. For those competing, it gives you focus, a goal to aim for, share time with like minded people, develop your skills, and a huge sense of self belief.
You no longer compete in waves? Why is that?
Due to injuries, something I really miss. But I am an all or nothing person, so when I compete; I have to give a 100%, but because of my injury that is not possible.
That leads us onto the next subject. You have suffered a few injuries that would stop most people in their tracks.
Yeah! If I listened to my Physio, or Doctor, I would have taken up knitting beanies at this stage. But I'm not yet ready to stop, so I just manage my injuries as best I can. Sometimes I have to say no, when my injuries flare up. But there are plenty of days I enjoy to the full with no injury problems at all.
First your back & Neck?
Due to the type of work I do really, it's the price I have paid, My Neck injury is due to a parallel ski race down a black slope against my ski instructor, wait for it on My first ever ski holiday, stupid or what, and I said I wasn't competitive. Was doing ok until I hit an icy patch and the rest is history. Damaged two vertebrae in my neck, which cause me a lot of pain since
And also your hip - how did it happen?
Another story, how long do you have? It was typical winter conditions on the West Coast of Ireland. I was sailing on my 50litre JP Custom Board with my trusty 2.9 metre NP Core, and playing on a reef in the inner bay, as there was a 10m swell rolling in off the Atlantic. I gybed onto a face of a wave as you do, had just rotated my sail, switched stance and went to put my back foot in it's strap and missed. It went up the face of the wave while my front foot was locked into it's strap and I couldn't get it out, so heard a clunk and realised something was up. I later find out I had dislocated my hip. To make a long story short, I sailed in on one foot. Didn’t have a choice really!
How does it effect your sailing now?
Due to the injury, there was a lot of soft tissue and nerve damage, so it still affects me while sailing. I now have difficulty water starting; my right leg locks out during gybes etc.
Apart from winning the Irish Championships once again this year, your speed also just got you ranked No.1 in the World (2011) for GPS Speed-sailing over 500metres! Congratulations from Boardseeker!
What were the results of the day?
Well I got a peak of 38.17knots, while OVG was almost 10 knots faster than me at 47.886knots, both of which are new Irish Records for peaks. On GPS-Speedsurfing, my 500m speed of 36.68knots got me the No.1 Ranking for 2011, which I am over the moon about !
Tell us a bit more about the chase for speed - What made you think of trying this out in the first place?
Well I gave it a shot in 2008, when the Speed World Cup came to Dungarvan, and quite liked the buzz I got from it. But it was the week after the world cup that I dislocated my hip. So that halted my need for speed for quite a while. I was force to stop windsurfing for over a year, and at the end of 2010 I decided to give it ago again.
2011 has been a huge learning curve for me regarding the speed discipline, learning to rig and set up the gear correctly, trying to harness the power in the race sails, something I was not used to. Then trying to take on more power than you are comfortable with, and there are the technical aspects of sailing too. This comes with practice, feel and gaining experience & confidence with your kit and your ability to sail the kit. Once again OVG played a huge roll in coaching me. So Thank You!
We notice that at 56 kilos, you are hardly the build of a typical speed-sailor!
Sure! It's not just my weight, but my height also. So physics goes out the window when it comes to me, and it’s replaced by determination, focus, and willpower to get me down a speed course. Oh yeah, and hanging on for dear life also!!
Tell us a bit about what’s its like to be a 'lightweight' in a heavyweights world.
The biggest problem for me is the kit. Even though I sail the best gear in the world, it is designed around your average guy, and not around a midget like me. So the likes of the boom cut outs on the sails are that bit too high, footstrap position can be difficult to get right. I also need a fin, board and a race sail small enough to sail in nuclear conditions.
How long were you trying to get good speeds before this fast day?
This is the first year I dedicated to speed sailing, so I guess 1 year. We had driven to Dungarvan 3 or 4 times already trying to get that perfect day, and eventually it happened. We were rigged and ready before dawn in the dark, as getting the tide right in Dungarvan is everything.
What was the record day like?
Amazing! Just thrilled to have broken my personal bests, as that was my goal all along. I didn't realise the rest until we upload to the GPS-speedsurfing website. Wow!
SW 25-35ish knots Broad. Just perfect.
What size sail were you on?
I started on a 4.2, but was gently ‘forced’ by OVG onto his 4.7m RS Racing (he was on a 5.5). My only regret was I didn't switch earlier, as I only managed 3 runs on the sail, and all three were my fastest. If I had two more I could have improved my 5x10 second average.
Is control an issue?
Once you enter the speed strip and you bear away: NO, but it's to get there - and then to get back up wind - which are the big issues for me.
We hear that you have a local secret spot for speed-sailing... only accessible by your boat? Can you tell us more about that?
Clew Bay is known for its Islands, it is said that there is one for every day of the year. It’s a great playground for boats and Sup Boards, but also if you look hard enough there are great condition for speed sailing, you just need access to a boat, which I am lucky enough to have.
I have had some great days at Inishgort Island, there is a reef that joins this island to another at certain stages of the tide, and is ideal for speed sailing. It’s only 700m long so you can just manage your 500meter runs also. As I said before, we have no shortage of wind, so I’m hoping this course will provide some really quick speeds soon.
We are guessing the 40knot barrier is next... or is it world domination?
Yes, 40 knots is my next goal, will see what that bring with it, but for now that's my focus.
Any wave-sailing goals?
Just to enjoy every day!
What's next in 2012?
I'm happy with what I do, so just more of that please.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Tricky question really, I'm no spring chicken, but I still hope to be enjoying my sport to the full.
Have you any thoughts / advice for younger sailors?
GFI (Go For IT) & PMA (Positive Mental Attitude). There is no better way to have fun, while keeping fit and healthy.
Brilliant discipline, you can compete on the world stage from the comfort of your own home.
"I'm loving it!"
Any other comments you would like to add?
Just Fair winds to all for 2012 !
Thanks Noelle for the chat, and good luck in 2012 with your chase for speed! We have no doubt you will get that 40 knots…. It sounds like it’s not going to be a question of ‘if’…. But ‘when’!
Noelle's speed session: GPS Speedsurfing
For more info on Noelle's coaching: www.professional-coaching-servies.com