My road trip to the Kona Worlds!

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Celebrating with friends at the 2016 Kona Worlds! (photo: John T. Bambace)

By Elena Marotti

Elena and Joe Marotti windsurf year-round in Galveston Bay (near Houston, TX) as members of the Seabrook Sailing Club. They race on Wednesday nights to spend time with friends and tune up their Kona skills, so when the US venue for the 2016 Kona Worlds was confirmed earlier this year, they started to make plans! Islamorada (FL) isn’t particularly close to Houston, and thus the Marottis’ plan was to fly in. But there’s something about best-laid plans…

Our trip started with a quick scramble to cancel air reservations after the cat and house sitter had to leave town unexpectedly! Time to implement plan B: plan out a driving route; select cat friendly hotels; and re-pack (Yeah! we can take more STUFF!). All right kitties, you are going on a road trip!

The drive was nice and pleasant until one of the cats got carsick. Poor kitty but, yuck!!! Think foaming at the mouth, not wanting to be wiped, and hissing at her sister. This led to an emergency pit stop to clean up, calm the kitties and find a pet-friendly hotel for the night. I had to convince hubby to go on with the trip and not turn back. He was seriously considering turning back at that point. SERIOUSLY??? Miss Kona Worlds? No way!! Thankfully, Google search gave us over-the-counter solutions for dealing with our carsick kitty. Excellent: after a quick trip to the drug store for supplies, the trip would go on!

We made it to Clearwater, Florida, with no further incidents. The first priority after checking in to our hotel was to find a Cuban restaurant. So much food to choose from, so little stomach room!

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Fuel for the soul! (photos: Elena Marotti)

We arrived at the Clearwater Community Sailing Center the next day and “Wow!” That place is nice! They have a great launching area, storage for sailboats and windsurfers, and a fantastic clubhouse. Oh, did I mention the clear blue water? We were there for two days of racing at the 2016 Gulf Coast Championships, a warmup event a week before the big show in the Keys, and a cool and well-attended event in and of itself. The Clearwater “kids fleet” kicked our butts! They are so good and so enthusiastic about the sport. We are jealous of the Sailing Center’s success in getting the kids and young adults interested in the sport!

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Elena racing in Clearwater the week before Worlds! (photo: Pat Winkelman)

After Clearwater, we took off for Miami to visit family and, of course, eat more Cuban food! Hubby surprised me with one additional stop in the Miami area: the Zoological Wildlife Foundation. I got to hold and play with a baby tiger, a leopard, and a serval cat! Oh My!!!

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Cats and tigers, oh my! (photos: Elena Marotti)

We arrived in Islamorada during a downpour. The weather forecast for the races was daunting, but the location was beautiful, we would get to reconnect with old friends, and there are two Cuban restaurants nearby! Armed with a boost of courage (i.e., Cuban coffee), we got ready for the big event!

What an experience it turned out to be! I have been windsurfing for about twelve years and learned the sport at the ripe age of… nope, not going there. Let’s just say I am a grandmother of a 17 year old. The weather predictions (high winds and rain) were daunting for me and for my skill level. When I saw the predictions, I figured I would be sitting on the beach a LOT.

On the first day, I got to meet people from all over the world. That, in itself, is really exciting… all the languages… but there is one thing that binds us together: the love of windsurfing! The wind was blowing hard. People were taking out the gear for a practice session (and just for fun too). Two things came to mind: boy, these guys are AWESOME windsurfers; and, there is no way I can actually do a race in that much wind! However, several of the people (men and women) kept encouraging me to “go for it.” Through their encouragements, I tried it, and got my confidence up enough to actually do the races when the competition kicked off the following day. And guess what? It was FUN!!!

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Elena (orange sail) on the start line at the Worlds! (credit: Susan Sorensen)

It was awesome to be on the water with these world-class athletes. I am impressed by their skills but also by how down-to-earth they are, often giving rigging advice and being so encouraging to newbies. I vividly remember struggling upwind on a very windy race and Huig-Jan Tak (the eventual overall champion) zoomed by me on a full plane and shouted “Way to go!”

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With overall World Champion Huig-Jan Tak! (credit: Elena Marotti)

Two more observations about the people at these races come to mind. The “youngsters” who are competing at these events are kicking butt! And the “more mature” folks are an inspiration. After a grueling day of sailing all day in high winds and squalls, Beth Winkler took up a short board and went out to free-sail. This 70-yr-old tiny lady is landing all these beautiful tricks! My heroine.

Bottom line: The great thing about windsurfing for me is not only the fun and exhilaration of the sport, but also the camaraderie. The experience gave me all the energy I needed for the road trip back home. Well, after we stopped for a quick café-con-leche, obviously!

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My heroines! (credit: Jack Thompson)

2 thoughts on “My road trip to the Kona Worlds!”

  1. And Elena didn’t mention that she won 2nd place in the Women’s Silver Fleet! Great to meet you and sail with you – I’ve got a lot to learn to keep up with you and Susan Simmons.

  2. I met Elena and Joe at Kona at the Gulf Coast Championship at Clearwater Community Sailing Center (CCSC) and later at Kona Worlds – Islamorada. Great people and instant friends! Thanks for your kind words towards CCSC. We are proud to have a VERY active windsurf program that involves adults but LOTS of youth…something that we need more and more. Looking forward to seeing you all at future events…and dont worry, Im picking up your hats at the back of the fleet for now at least. :)

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