Out of nowhere WOJTEK BRZOZOWSKI has come out of Poland and dominated the new Formula Racing Class. His wins seem effortless and often by long distances from the fleet which are now quite populated with PWA racers. WE heard of this Polish wonder-kid for many years At the Pan-Am Formula Race in Puerto Rico in July, a moment was given to discover the gracious, refreshingly confident and outgoing champion.
AMERICAN WINDSURFER: Congratulations to the World Champion Formula Windsurfer on winning another race. How many is this one now?
WOJTEK BRZOZOWSKI: It’s hard to say. I’ve been windsurfing for fifteen years and it’s pretty hard to remember everything. For sure it’s a big thing for me to win a race but it is difficult to keep it all straight in the mind.
AW: The readers in the U.S. don’t know much about Formula.
WB: This is the kind of windsurfing that took over the racing scene after the PWA. So now we have windsurfing in two ways. One is wave/freestyle which is represented by guys like Polokaw, Josh Stone, and Dunkerbeck who did very well in Gran Canaria a few weeks ago. And now there is Formula racing. In racing we see people like Micah Buzianis, Jimmy Diaz, Antoine Albeau from France, Patrice from France, Sam Ireland from Canada, me, and many other guys. All the racers from PWA just do Formula now. So we have two scenes: wave and racing with Formula.
AW: Are you surprised with how well you did against the PWA guys?
WB: I cannot say I am surprised because we trained together in Lake Guarda in spring. We spent a few long weeks there testing and training. I actually know their potential and I know what I can expect from me. I spend long hours training and preparing for not only this event, but for the season. We have a lot of very, very important events in Europe with quite high priced money. Also, next year I am defending a World Champion title so it’s important for me to be fit during the season and of course for the Worlds in Brazil in October. Actually, I expect to be prepared for this race because we just finished the Euro Cup and the Polish Championships afterwards just a few weeks ago so I’m pretty well prepared. Only I could expect that I won’t be fit because of the time change and because of the weather but fortunately everything went okay this time and I was feeling good.
AW: You flew in at about eleven o’clock at night and the next morning you were racing?
WB: Exactly. I flew in half an hour before I went to sleep, just eleven p.m., and the next morning I was already on the beach. I had twenty minutes to rig up and then I was in the first race. So it was pretty tense, pretty close, but I managed.
AW: You did a horizon job on the fleet in the first race.
WB: It was okay. It was not so bad actually. The first races were fortunate for me. I didn’t make many mistakes and I was winning by far. Unfortunately on the second day I was a little bit distracted. I made too many mistakes and I gained three second places so that I was not very happy about. I was not mad but I shouldn’t make those mistakes. The final day was very fortunate for me because I won four races in a row so it was pretty good.
AW: Altogether you had how many firsts?
WB: I had eight first places and three seconds. After three discards, which I could have after eleven races I came in only first place.
AW: What makes you so much better than the PWA racers who are professional, like you, train all the time, know their gear . . .
WB: It’s a little bit like what they call me here. The local speaker who commentates on the beach calls me “Barracuda,” a fish that attacks from a hidden place. I already won the world title in Formula two years in a row. These guys, especially the PWA guys, still didn’t realize that I could be a threat for them. I was quietly, for the past two, three years, working, training a lot and made a lot of effort to become better. That maybe surprised everyone a bit. I gained a lot of confidence, skills, knowledge about windsurfing, tuning equipment, and now it’s paying back because what I feel is that I have some advantage over the other guys. I feel quite confident during the races. If I don’t burn myself mentally, I come to the finish line way ahead.
AW: To them, you had a head start on the equipment. But it’s not all equipment is it.
WB: It’s everything. In every sport, every little detail is important. In running when you don’t have shoes you don’t have a chance to win. It’s the same in windsurfing. You have to have the best equipment you can possibly buy. Besides that, you have to have excellent training, excellent skills, physical skills. I train a lot. Besides spending time on the water windsurfing I workout, run, and stretch a lot. I take care of my body very much. Beside that, you have to have a perfect mind. You have to be set for a victory, winning, a success, and that I work on also. I spend a lot of time with psychologists which I cooperate with the Institute of Sport in Warsaw in the capital of Poland. We work on my brain. We work on my thoughts and that gives me an advantage I can use in the races afterwards. Every little detail counts—the food you eat, the behavior everyday, the training, the equipment, everything. Everything constitutes a winner!
AW: Give me an example of what you do with your thoughts.
WB: I learn not to disturb myself. Everybody is a winner but many people are disturbing themselves with their thoughts, with their mind. My father, he is very funny and he is my coach. He tells me that the best coach is the one that is not disturbing an athlete. He does it perfectly. I don’t feel his presence, but he’s there. He’s very rarely, from time to time, telling me, “Wojtek, you’re sure about this?” That’s about once a week. That’s it. He never tells me what to do. He tells me very rarely what not to do. The same with my brain. I’m trying to be positive, to live not thinking about failure. I’m being motivated by success, not by failure. Not like I’m afraid of losing. I want to win, to be the best, because it’s my adventure. Windsurfing is like an adventure for me. It’s not like my job and I have to win. It’s fun. It’s something I always wanted to do and I enjoy doing it. This is most important. Of course the psychologists tell you what to think, what not to think. They have special programs. They visualize the hidden potential you have. They show you that “you” means much more than you really think. There are training programs but the most important thing is to be yourself, enjoy, to relax, and not to stress, to have fun, do what you really want to do, and not to do what people want you to do.
AW: Who do you think is your most threatening competitor?
WB: I think the most threatening competitor for me is me.
AW: When you see all the PWA racers that are switching over to Formula, do you see anyone that has potential to become a competitor?
WB: Of course. Of course I shouldn’t be thinking about these things. I’m trying to avoid my weaknesses during the race and that’s it.
ALONE AT THE TOP? A misleading moment during a lull in the action, Wojtek is actually quite sociable and approachable. Nevertheless such moment of reflection is always welcomed by the gifted racer from Poland.
AW: What are your weaknesses?
WB: Sometimes I get too sleepy on the start line and not aggressive enough, and not pushing forward enough. I never have a premature start. I never cross the line too early. I sometimes cross the line too late. This is a big mistake that happens repeatedly so this is what I have to work on. I also have to work on some tactics on the upwind and downwind—where to make the tack and the jibe—this is very important because sometimes I over sleep and sometimes I rush and I tack too early. That costs me a lot too. But definitely I have a strong mentality and don’t burn out during the race even in the hardest moments when it looks like I’m the last and there is no chance for me to win. I don’t give up. I fight and I have already learned that even when I’m in a very bad position I still can win and I won many times like this. I really give respect to Antoine Albeau from France—he’s a famous French windsurfer—and he was very good in the PWA. Also Yanna, a very good racer from Finland who used to be a PWA racer and he is putting a lot of effort into Formula windsurfing. He was almost thinking about pulling out from racing but when Formula came into windsurfing he got so motivated. He is one of my best friends, he’s the biggest competition for me. He’s unbelievably talented. There are a few guys in Europe. There is of course Micah Buzianis in the U.S. They are big names but the truth is I don’t want to create a story that is not happening. I don’t think about people. I just think about windsurfing, about my adventure, my racing, my best or not the best races, that’s what I do. I don’t think about people that I compete with.
I’ve been windsurfing my whole life. I hear, “How did you start windsurfing because you are from Poland and many think Poland is a country covered with ice and there are polar bears running around. That’s not true. Poland has many races it has already experienced on this year’s competition. It’s really, really beautiful, really alive, with friendly people. Beautiful women, unbelievably beautiful women. People in Poland get involved, get in contact with other people very quick. We don’t play games. We don’t bullshit. And windsurfing has been there for many years. My father, when I was a little kid, was windsurfing and I always dreamed about it. I liked it a lot. It was something totally different. Everybody was working in offices. Everything very much was like a big city and windsurfing was the most colorful thing I remember from my childhood. When I was a kid I paddled on my father’s board and when I grew up enough he allowed me to windsurf. It was a pleasure from the beginning. Only I was growing up slowly to become a racer. I had success in the Polish windsurfing scene for a while. In the world you need to learn your mind. You have to teach your mind to win. It’s a little bit different. I just grew up to winning these past few years.
AW: You remind me very much of Bjorn. With your size, your build, you look like him. I remember talking with Bjorn and he thought he wouldn’t be competitive with Formula because it is better for light people but you, being the same size, proved him wrong. Do you see any similarity between yourself and Bjorn?
WB: The biggest similarity is that pretty often when I was coming off the water on the beach, little kids ran after me asking for my autograph. I was always saying, “No, no you are mistaken. I am not Bjorn. I am Wojtek. This is a different person.” It was very funny because already last year, this spring in France it was the same. People came running to me for an autograph. I said, “I am not Bjorn.” And they said, “We know. You are Wojtek.” That was something I never expected but it came; it came true. Many years ago in Gran Canaria I was training and of course Bjorn lives there. We met on the beach windsurfing, and he said, “Come on! Go on! Don’t give up.” He motivated me to do it, not to give up, just go for it, to windsurf, to try harder. I keep that in my mind. It’s something that he had in his head. It was like a boost for him like an engine. It’s also an engine for me. I just keep on going. I try hard. I try to be the best. For sure, Bjorn is a bit different. He’s more closed inside and has his own friends, his society. I’m more open. I get along with people much easier. I feel pretty comfortable everywhere I am and I’m a different person but maybe I look pretty similar. He’s a little bit bigger especially since I lost seven kilograms lately. Everybody is accusing me that Formula windsurfing needs a heavier sailor to be a winner. A year ago I was a hundred and seven kilograms [way over two hundred pounds]. Now I am ninety, ninety-one. I think it is better to be lighter. Bjorn could be competitive with his weight but I see that guys weighing eighty are very competitive with me. Lately I think it doesn’t really matter if you are heavy or not. It’s only important to be really fit and have your equipment perfectly set.
AW: What do you think is the most important part—the sail, the board, or the fin?
WB: I think there are five things. The fin is something that cannot disturb you. The best fin is when you don’t feel it, when it is not there. You don’t feel any resistance. The fin I have I’ve used for a year now. I never change it. All conditions and I just forget about the fin. That problem is over. I feel perfect. It’s wonderful. In light wind it is wonderful. In high wind, it is wonderful. On chop, flat water, everywhere. You just have to have a stiff controllable fin that is not giving you problems with lift, spin out, and things like that.
SWEET VICTORY on the race course and at the awards banquet. Wojtek lugged the oversize medal back to Europe on his lap. Even though he thought about leaving the trophy behind, the symbol of his triumph can not be taken for granted. The World Champion lost a day of racing in Germany because of an airport shutdown in Puerto Rico. But he still managed to win that event and the following one convincingly.
I believe it is really important to have a very good fast board. A few boards on the market are not the fastest. The board I am using is excellent and I tested it comparing it to the other boards and know it is the best. It’s really very important because with the board there is not much you can do. You can tune it with some positions of the mast track, but not much. A lot of potential is in the sail. The sail is much more important than everything else. It is really unbelievably important to downhaul the sail enough and put enough outhaul on the sail. If you don’t have enough downhaul the sail will be slow and difficult. It will give you a hard time when overpowered. It’s really slow. It will go very well upwind. Then you are not competitive. If you pull too much downhaul the sail will be really light and nice but it won’t point upwind or perform in the race well. It will have poor acceleration. It will be fun only on the reaches. You have to know exactly how much to downhaul and outhaul. When you find the right balance, you’re almost there.
Then you need to know how to jibe and tack. You need to know approximately how to make a start. And you need to know you have to fight to the end, until you cross the finish line, and never expect too much of yourself. You never make your standards too high so you don’t burn out. So, tune your equipment well and do the best you can. It’s very simple. You don’t have to try too hard. It’s not like wavesailing that you are trying to kill yourself to qualify to the next round. You just have to finish the race. That’s what I’m trying to do—finish the race the best I can. I’m not trying too hard.
AW: Do you know any good Polish jokes?
WB: For sure. I’m a lucky guy. I cooperate with my company which is not only my sponsor, it’s a mobile network company, the biggest private company in Poland. It’s huge. But also the chairman of the board is the funniest guy on the earth. Every time we meet, he has a hundred jokes to tell me. And sometimes rude, sometimes dirty, but they are so unbelievably funny.
Okay: It’s about a German guy. There’s an advertisement in a German travel agency that reads, “Go to Poland for your holidays.” In fine print under that is says, “Your car is already there.”
WB: Here’s a joke that’s true. An American guy, a top pop rock star, is coming to Poland for the first time in his life. He is arriving at the Warsaw Airport in his private jet, landing. Many people at the airport are shouting fans, girls tearing their hair out, and reporters with cameras. Two girls approach, dressed in the customary traditional way. In Poland, it is traditional to welcome people with bread and salt. He’s going down the stairs, happy with such a warm welcome, and sees those two girls coming, one with bread and one with salt. He approaches the girl with salt and he says, “Oh My God, this is Unbelievable! I was never welcomed like this in any country.” And he goes for the salt and “snnff”… snorts it.
AW & WB: [laughing]