Behind the Scenes at the 2015 Sandy Hook Fun Fest!

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Instructor (and event chair) Marah Shiels in action at the Sandy Hook Fun Fest

The New Jersey Windsurfing & Watersports Association (NJWWA) held its 6th annual Fun Fest at Sandy Hook last month, and 50+ enthusiasts joined the party! The day was jam-packed with instruction and fun activities - look for all the details in an upcoming issue of Windsurfing Now magazine! 

We asked local organizer Marah Shiels to give us a peek of what happened behind the scenes, in hopes that we could all draw lessons from her experience for our next beach party!

“Notes to Self” – by Marah Shiels

For the all-volunteer run NJ Windsurfing & Watersports Association (NJWWA), each event staged at launches throughout NJ brings its own set of logistics. The Sandy Hook Fun Fest has been slated as the “end of summer” event, this its sixth year, held on Sunday, September 20, 2015. It’s become our largest event due to its central location and park amenities. The ambitious schedule includes beginner windsurfing lessons; stand up paddle boarding (SUP) lessons; SUP yoga; a SUP fun race; windsurfing fun races; with the potential of a light wind free style competition (oh…by the way, who’s going to judge that?!). Gulp. Deeeeep breath. We’ve got this.

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Introducing newcomers to the joys of windsurfing! (credit: Tom Latham)

Fact #1: Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential” - Winston Churchill

Pulling off an all-volunteer event is a bit of a crap shoot… Who can volunteer that day?… Will anyone come?… Will we have decent weather?… Will we have any wind?… Will we have too much wind?… Will people enjoy it? These are our variables. Thankfully there are a few constants we can control. There are a few major items that are relatively easy to lock down with, oh… perhaps 20-30 emails within the planning group, the windsurfing and paddleboard sponsors, and the National Park Service (NPS):

  • NPS Permit: Check – a $100 certified check and proof of insurance coverage buys us a special use permit for a whole day at Sandy Hook bayside at Lot C.
  • Windsurfing sponsor: Check – Thanks to the year-after-year commitment of central-NJ-based H2 Windsurfing, owned and operated by Ken and Eileen Hoff. We can count on them to provide both their teaching expertise and equipment for our event.
  • Stand-Up-Paddleboard sponsor: CheckAqua Vida SUP, serving both NJ and Philadelphia, owned and operated by Jana Mars, joined the NJWWA for the second year as our Stand Up Paddle (SUP) sponsor, providing paddleboards and both SUP instruction and the ever-popular SUP Yoga.
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H2 Windsurfing’s Ken Hoff selecting the best tools for the job

Fact #2: “If you build it, they will come” – The Field of Dreams

Another dozen emails amongst the planning group produces a flyer for the event and launches a web campaign. How on earth did we get so lucky as to have not one, but two, windsurfing techies that can actually build the registration page on the NJWWA website, linked with PayPal??? It’s all a mystery to me, but thankfully it’s a walk in the park for them. Listing the event in several local online calendars is sure to seal the deal for an action packed day. Promotion is full throttle now.

Minor panic (ok, maybe just a deep sweat) begins to set in on the Thursday prior to the event… The call is made to shut down registration for beginner instruction… Can we handle the 28 who have registered in the 2-3 hour timeframe allotted to this segment??? This prompts my 5th email to Coach, aka Ned Crossley, with a plea for teaching assistance. We have several instructors committed to be on hand, but know we need more. Luckily for us, he and his wife, Jennie, acquiesce and join us for the day, making the trek from NY. Over the past several years, the all-volunteer based NJWWA has encouraged their volunteer instructors to become US Sailing Level I Certified Windsurfing Instructors; several have completed the four day training.  Ned is the instructors’ instructor and his presence is always welcome.

Note to self: big hug to Ned and Jennie!

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US Windsurfing’s Ned Crossley in action (credit: Tom Latham)

Fact #3: “I love it when a plan comes together” – The A-Team

Intro to windsurfing is slated to kick off at 10 AM and we have gray skies and 15 knots from the North. Not ideal for the beginner, but we’re “a go.” Students (28 in all) were moved through a series of land stations, until they were paired in groups with an instructor on the water. From experience, we now use tethers to ensure we don’t have any escapees on the water. That lesson we learned the hard way a few years ago in an off-shore wind!

Note to self: See Fact #7, assign staggered start times to avoid a glut of people wanting to be on the water at the same time; rotate groups more regularly.

Fact #4: Einstein was right. “You cannot be in two places at one time.”

Sure, seems obvious. If only I had remembered this while, as event chair, attempting to delegate the day’s responsibilities to everyone else, except myself. I double-booked myself, to both facilitate the day’s festivities… and provide on-the-water instruction.  What was I thinking?!

Note to self: see Fact #7, next year, do one or the other.

Fact #5: “Excitement breeds excitement” – Unknown, yet true!

Best to plan on it. Order way more pizza in advance! The pizza lunch order was placed the night before, padded to allow for some extra. We didn’t count on the walk up registrants… which we love… just wish the pizza shop opened in time to tell them we needed more. But then again, it was difficult for me to call from the water while I was instructing. Luckily we had enough, but was still sweating it. The walk-ups are opened with welcome arms, yet we are bound by NPS regulations and funds cannot be exchanged in the park. Thanks to smart phone, we can direct folks to our website to register online while standing in our parking lot. As you can imagine, this adds a whole other element of technological confusion while we’re trying to get lessons underway!

Note to self: see Fact #4 and Fact #7.

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Everyone getting ready for SUP action in the afternoon!

Fact #6: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry” – Robert Burns

The afternoon windsurfing fun races morphed into a kids SUP race as the wind departed as quickly as it came up, leaving behind a stunningly beautiful, yet placid day. Perfect for SUP yoga and a bit of playful light wind freestyle (non-competition style). Our day had been turned upside down, but one must latch on to the words of Steve Winwood… “just roll with it baby.”

Note to self: see Fact #1 and lighten up!

Fact #7: “A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.” – Henrik Ibsen

In order to run a successful event of this nature, so many facets must come together with the help of many different people. And this group of volunteers is simply the best… ushering 28 people through intro to windsurfing; with an overall attendance of 54 people joining in the fun. The highlight of an event like this is not just the excitement of the new crowd, but the welcoming faces of the ones who are already “salty” from their time on the water, looking to share the “stoke.” Maybe we’ll see you there next year… just please register in advance! ;)

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The love for water sports starts early!

The New Jersey Windsurfing & Watersports Association (NJWWA) is a member-based organization that ensures the growth of recreational and competitive windsurfing, kitesurfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and other non-motorized watersports in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The mission is accomplished via the provision of products, services and marketing activities that are designed to meet the needs of all its members. While accomplishing our mission we affirm the US SAILING principles of good sportsmanship, safety, fair play, equal opportunity and fun in sailing by people of all ages and abilities. For more information: www.windsurfnj.org.

Sandy Hook is a part of the Gateway National Recreation Area of the National Park Service. The event was held bayside at parking lot C. For more information: www.nps.gov/gate/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm.

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