DENISE PARRIS is an avid windsurfer who learned her craft campaigning for the Olympics, but these days, her job and responsibilities leave little time for windsurfing. That is, until this year, when she decided that it was finally time for her sailing husband to learn how to race a boat standing up! She took a few days off her busy schedule and signed them both up to compete at the US Nationals! She called in to reserve Kona charters for the event and hit the road to the southwest corner of Minnesota. A few days later, they both had new friends, sore muscles, a big smile on their face and a van full of gear! Here’s their story:

The experience was just like those fun days as a kid where you would play all day with your best friend and at the end of the day be so tired you would almost fall asleep at dinner!

Denise Parris

Orlando, FL USA

Story: Denise Parris | Photos: Danny Seipp, John Curry, Craig Bergh.

My husband Josh is not a windsurfer. He grew up sailing, raced in college, and ran a charter boat business for Lasers in Europe. But he married a windsurfer who considers sailing a slow-boat sport!

For the first ten years of our marriage we compromised our sailing passions and competed in the Everglades Challenge—an unsupported, expedition-style adventure race for kayaks, canoes, and small boats—in a Hobie TI (Tandem Island). In addition, I taught him to waterski, snowboard, and on the very odd occasion when the wind was coming straight across the lake that we live on in Florida, we would windsurf.

Or, more honestly, I would windsurf, and he would go swimming with a windsurfer! Unlike the mast of a sailing boat that is fixed straight up and down, the windsurfing mast is attached to the board with a tendon joint that allows the mast to move in all directions. You and I know this, but not Josh. This was a huge learning curve for him!

To add to the challenge, he was using an old board that was missing a slot to put on a centerboard. So, going upwind and not sideways took some skill development. Over time, he figured it out and was getting from A to B. He even started to use a harness. But he wasn’t really hooked on windsurfing yet. To get him hooked, I needed to find the ‘right’ opportunity. Signing him up for the 2019 US Nationals in early June and renting one-design Kona gear for the occasion seemed perfect. So, I made my pitch:

  • It would be three days on the water playing hard.
  • By competing he would learn every day and by the end be able to get around the course.
  • I hadn’t seen my friend (and past Olympic teammate) Lisa in years, and we could stay at their house right there on the beach.
  • There would be an awesome music festival with food trucks right on the lake too!

He said, Yes! So, we headed to Worthington, Minnesota.

Someone forgot to schedule the wind for the regatta, so the first day ended up being closer to a family reunion BBQ with many of the sailors sailing in this event for the 10th, 15th, or 20th time. The weather was mild (at least for those of us from Florida), the lake was totally flat, but the company was energized and gregarious. Lunch had the feel of a yard party.

Friday started windy and got windier. We are used to lake sailing being gusty, but the conditions in Minnesota would be best described as consistently inconsistent! Perhaps it would be best to define the winds as variable: one second it’s blowing 15, the next second it’s blowing 25, and the second after that it’s dropped to 10. The conditions were challenging; however, everyone was challenged. The friendly small town feel off the water remained on the water where everyone was smiling, helpful, and the competitors represented a variety of ages, skills, experiences, and sizes. On the water were families, pros and weekend warriors, teenagers to wiser gray hairs, and first-time competitors.

For us, it was the first time on the Kona board and gear. The Kona is really designed to be beginner-friendly but as the rider advances, it’s really fun to sail fast! Neither of us had windsurfed in over a year and as a beginner just starting to learn how to use a harness, my husband made it around the course! I was excited to see his progress and even fell a couple of times from not paying attention to what I was doing. Falling is part of windsurfing, and as you would look across the course, you would generally see someone else in the water too!

We did two races and all sailors headed back in for lunch. In the afternoon, the winds strengthened and due to our exhaustion, we decided it was best to sit out the afternoon races and rest up for tomorrow.

The wind was still on Saturday morning, but it was a bit lighter. Throughout the day the wind speed would gust at 20 and drop to 5-10. You were either hanging on for dear life or begging for just a little breeze to get across the finish line. The banquet Saturday night was full of great people sharing stories. At the banquet, I started conspiring to buy our own Kona gear, which is now sitting in our van! We’ve taken it out already on our lake at home, and Josh even drove to Clearwater to train with the local team there in preparation for this year’s Kona Worlds in Italy. He’s hooked all right!

What my husband and I love about water sports is goofing off on the water, going fast, learning something new, rafting up, and hanging out on the water. The experience at the US Windsurfing Nationals was just like those fun days as a kid where you would play all day with your best friend and at the end of the day be so tired you would almost fall asleep at dinner. It was everything we loved, but more importantly the experience turned my husband into a windsurfer!

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