Meet PETE BOLAND! Pete learned to windsurf in the cold, choppy waters of the English channel in the early 1980s. He raced (“enthusiastically but mostly unsuccessfully,” as he humbly puts it) in European Division 2 regattas, with highest place being 6th at UK Nationals. He dropped the sport and switched to racing sailboats, but returned to windsurfing this year thanks to the Kona One class. We met with him at the Kona North American Championships in Clearwater, Florida, and asked him about his ‘newcomer’ impressions.
I left the water tired but utterly exhilarated. I can’t wait for the next one!Pete Boland
Story: Pete Boland | Photos: Magi Foster.
The sport of windsurfing is back! That might be a bit of wishful thinking but that was my conclusion after experiencing the exciting 2017 Kona One North American Championships in Clearwater Beach in October.
Windsurfing was the sport of the 1980s, especially in Europe where every mile of coastline or lake seemed to be dotted by multicolored triangular sails, whatever the weather. And then, in what I think was a crassly stupid, self-destructive move, the sport forgot about new entrants and threw itself into catering only for high wind, expert enthusiasts. Resulting in a near-total global collapse in participation and, of course, sales of boards and rigs.
Kona One is changing all that! Take last weekend’s racing: with 50-odd Kona One sailors of all ages crossing the start line pretty much together, it was the biggest fleet I’ve seen since the 1980s Division II events. And the most young boardsailors I’ve seen since, all of them seeming to sail with that similar, enviable dexterity and deftness of skill that I remembered from the best of the old school. Except today’s Kona fleet has way more smiles and laughter, forgiveness of errors, and sheer enjoyment. As well as much better boards, and a sail system that enables a single start for all weights.
For a sport that I’ve always thought of as dying, this is quite a turn-around!
Being a newbie to the Kona One class, I must admit I was pretty intimidated by the mass of Kona boards and sails splayed out on the grass at the Clearwater Community Sailing Center. Everyone seemed to know each other and all seemed to have found their own space to rig up. Within minutes though, sailors had introduced themselves to me, made some space for me, and I was starting to feel at home. That evening we had a few practice races in which I seemed to spend most of my time in the water at the windward mark having failed to master a decent gybe. Not a good sign of things to come I thought.
Saturday’s racing consisted of two windward-leeward races in shifty conditions. With a few years of sailboat racing on San Francisco Bay under my belt, I wasn’t too worried about race tactics. I was more concerned about getting around the bloody windward mark. My starts were not bad I thought; I crossed the line with speed but still five seconds later than desired, which meant clear air was at a premium. Each leg from then on was an education as the top end of the fleet effortlessly sailed away. Though I managed to get in a good ‘groove’ upwind, I found it harder to detect wind shifts than in my J/80 racing sailboat. This led to me failing to tack on headers when I should have and, eventually, a windward mark rounding about three quarters of the way down the fleet. Despite not falling off at the mark I kept making more errors downwind where, unsteady on the dead downwind, I sailed deeper angles thinking a deep reach would be more stable and possibly faster. Mistakenly, that was more J/80 thinking that didn’t translate to Konas!
However, it was still enormous fun. Even though I was way down the fleet, I felt still in touch with the majority. And the competition at my end of the race was still real. Again and again I battled across the same sailors at each mark, most grinning ear-to-ear as we luffed and tacked together. And generally they slid ahead of me!
After two races I had achieved a 39th and a 42nd place which was certainly nothing to boast about. I left the water tired but utterly exhilarated. Now I need to sail every week on the Gulf at Seaside, just practicing upwind and downwind legs until I can focus on tactics and not basic board-handling.
And I can’t wait for the next one!