Growing the sport one student at a time on Cochiti Lake, NM!

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Windsurfing in the desert! (credit: Ron Kern)

by Ron Kern

Gene Scanlon in Albuquerque, NM, is a force of nature in a near waterless desert teaching windsurfing to those who forgot it even existed!

In the early 80’s Gene took a windsurfing class for one credit hour at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. It inspired him to learn to teach and he became an instructor as well as a participant. He moved to Hawaii for a couple years, windsurfed there and then moved back to the desert, married, raised kids and kind of forgot windsurfing for nearly 20 years.

A few years ago as his kids had grown, he passed on the sport to them and reawakened the joy he got seeing the grin on people the first time they windsurfed. He decided he wanted to see the over 100 sails on Cochiti Lake like there had been in the 80’s. He started teaching again and really enjoyed sharing the stoke he has rekindled in himself 20 years later.

Reading the reviews from his students you can understand why. That was 3 years ago. Today, he has taught about 1,200 people to windsurf or paddle board. Now, there are about 30 active windsurfers on Cochiti Lake, about 25% of what he hopes to accomplish in the coming years. Setting up his teaching hasn’t been without hurdles, but just like his students, Gene has persisted. It took two years to finally get the attention of the recreation services department at the University of New Mexico who had forgotten they used to offer a class!

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Sharing the stoke on the UNM campus! (credit: Ron Kern)

The sign I saw on campus is how I found Gene. I was hoping to go for a sail on my road trip and had no idea Cochiti Lake even existed. During a friendly phone call with Gene, he told me where the lake was and a bit about his program. The main way he’s promoting is his Facebook page, Sol Boardsports. Getting the permit to teach at the lake was not without issue and has some quirks that both he and his students must deal with, but after all, windsurfers are a determined bunch and there were plenty of students in front of Gene when I stopped back by the lake on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Gene was on a special high as his daughter had just received a marriage proposal aboard a standup paddle board!

I was witness to Gene’s enthusiasm and hope that others will follow his example and join the ranks of teaching and learning the sport!

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SUP’ing before the breeze kicks in on Cochiti Lake! (credit: Sol Boardsports)

7 thoughts on “Growing the sport one student at a time on Cochiti Lake, NM!”

  1. I will be 88 in October and intend to windsurf at Mission Bay, SanDiego again, soon. I started windsurfing about 1970 when a hangliding customer showed up with a windsurfer, which we took out on Lake Michigan and I tried to learn the art then. Steve Skilkin did his best instructing but the lake was choppy and he wasn’t skilled at it. Diane Sweitser sent invitations out to all Hangling business operators to Join Windsurfing International as dealers. I accepted and went to a Windsurfer instruction clinic in Petosky Michigan. Please tell me when WS is scheduled in the Rio Olympics

    1. Hi Tom,
      Thanks for reaching out. And what a great story! Would you mind sending us more details about your experience over the years? We’re always interested in publishing personal accounts, especially those going back all these years! Enjoy you next session at Mission Bay, and tell us all about it at info@uswindsurfing.org.

      PS – the windsurfing competition has wrapped up in Rio already! We published this story ahead of it: http://uswindsurfing.org/2016/07/next-stop-rio/, and our friends at the RS:X Class wrote this recap a couple of days ago: http://www.rsxclass.com/2016-rio-de-janeiro-the-olympic-champions-and-the-grand-finale/. We also covered it day by day on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/uswindsurfing. I hope you got a chance to follow some of the action!

  2. I was in the cohort of instructors which put the 80+ wndsrfrs on Cochiti Lake on a summer weekend day back in the 80′s. I was an instructor for the University of New Mexico P.E. department and have MANY fond memories of teaching and sailing at that lake. Gene was the guy at all the regattas who would start a fireside party [read drinking] song that ended with “what would the sailor say?” and we would all yell “take a drink, matey!” Those were the days… I, too, have moved on but I have continued wndsrfing at least 30 days a year seeing how I live in Houston and sail on Galveston Bay or at Corpus Christi. Gene Scanlon deserves all the kudo’s he gets windsurfing in New Mexico. Fair Winds!

  3. OMG! I learned my basic windsurfing on Cochiti ages ago on a friend’s “Rocket 99.” Since those ancient times, I’ve had the opportunities to sail many places. Never , ever imagined at that time that I would end up living on Maui because of windsurfing! Living the dream that started at Cochiti!

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