Back in the Saddle at the 2014 Kona Worlds!
By Tom Pace
Sixteen years ago, after nearly two decades racing one designs, Olympic classes, and Pro: course, slalom, and wave events, I sailed in my last windsurfing contest, the IFCA Worlds in Tarifa, Spain.
A year later, my friend Nevin and his Wife Stina had their second child, a boy named Rasmus… This first week of November, in my first race back in the sport we all love, my years of dull rust met that kid – the amazing, sharp talent that is Raz Sayre, and it was eye opening: he crushed me and 107 others this week in everything from 5-30 kts, enroute to his first World Title. And I was barely competitive with him in just part of one race. 16 years ago, I missed a World Title by one point to Tim Aagesen, who took second this week. This World Championship, I was never close, but had a few moments dueling again with Tim and Nevin, reminding me what fast feels like, and what the fleet looked like from Raz’s view all regatta!
This event brought out new sailors, former world champs, pros, formula and RSX racers, and everything in between. Multiple countries and ages were well represented, and it was as much a look into windsurfing’s fun competitive past as it was a look at the present and to the future of one design windsurfing. In this class, pumping is restricted to ONE per tack, gybe, or wave to initiate planing, and this is tightly monitored. Sails are determined by the racer’s weight, and the only adjustment allowed on the rig is the outhaul. What results is tight competition, fair racing, and a surprisingly even field from the 6’4, 200 lb sailor to the barely 5′, 100 pounder.
The regatta started in light offshores that quickly built to blasty 20-30 kts, leaving many unable to finish, and scores in need of rescue. Only 32 of the 107 finished that race, and it was abandoned after the 32 had finished – as much for fairness and safety concerns as for marks that moved in the lumpy water and high wind. It was one of my better races this week, but with the 12 more we did complete for scores, we all had plenty of chances!
Any event takes a ton of work to put together well, and something of this size can be daunting. The organizers, race committee, and volunteers put in an exceptional effort, and the five day event went off without any major glitch. It was great competition, fun camaraderie, a chance for me to get my feet wet again, and to rekindle old friendships with the Sayres, Steve and Marty Gottlieb, Steve Callaway, and Beth Winkler. We saw Superlight racer from 20 years ago Billy Mason, Tinho Dornellas, Dasher, and others. Old windsurfers that did not compete stopped by to check it out and see old friends – John Turecki, Hubert Baudoin, Pat LeMehaute, world cupper Andy Morrell, and long time racer and freestyler Greg Winkler. All names very well known in the windsurfing world 20+ years ago. Also there was the first ever Windsurfer World Champion and inventor of the harness, Bruce Matlack.
Kona ONE is growing world wide, with strength in Sweden, Holland, throughout Europe, and thanks to Steve Gottlieb, Mike Fox, and Tinho Dornellas, it’s building in the USA. It is very, very good racing, fair, and accessible to sailors that no longer want to pump and row around the course like a triathlete glued to a sailboard. Further, being a one design, you don’t need a full quiver of sails, booms, and fins to be competitive, nor can you modify any of it: it is a true one design. Kona has a dynamic that makes it possible for today’s best to shine, but also is a class that enables the old guard – in this case Tim Aagesen and Nevin Sayre, 2nd and 3rd overall this week – to show they still can windsurf, and that they have the tactical racing ability to be at the top.
This Kona Worlds has whetted my appetite, and I’ll be back in the saddle for the 2015 Kona North Americans at Calema in Merritt Island next March. I’ll absolutely earn a better spot than my 16th overall this week, and hopefully, I can better mix it up with all the Sayres – Raz, Nevin, and 22-yr old Solvig, who is doing an RSX campaign for the next Olympics.
For now, I’m left with (finally!) callused hands, thoughts of what I did right and wrong on the water, and that happy feeling from seeing old friends and making new ones, just as we did decades ago. I’m also left in wonder with seeing a torch not so much passed, but SHARED between Nevin, Raz, and Solvig – who all earned their spots on the podium, to chants of ‘USA, USA !’ that quickly morphed into a more accurate ‘US SAYRE, US SAYRE!!’. Proud parents indeed, Nevin and Stina.
Sailing windsurfers, especially wrapped to my eyeballs in wind that usually sends the leaners and yachties running for the club bar is just as much fun for me now as ever, and the Kona One Class makes it possible to race in just about any wind strength, and to be competitive with anyone – from a 17-yr old kid to his ancient Dad, who is my age… So, for my first big time race in 16 years, this was as good as it could be, and is shaping up to get better still!
Kona Worlds 2014 Full Results