By Jerome Samson
The city of Clearwater loves windsurfing — and windsurfing loves it back!
This weekend (Oct 28–29, 2017), the city with the sugary white sand hosted the Kona Gulf Coast Championships at the Clearwater Community Sailing Center, one of the most vibrant windsurfing clubs in the country. And for bonus points, the 2017 edition doubled up as the North American Championships for the class!
The Gulf Coast Championships have only been on the early Fall racing calendar for the past three years, but the combination of Florida weather, Halloween, and the all-around laid-back vibe of the place is simply irresistible: the first edition in 2015 catered to 25 mostly local competitors, but 50 intrepid racers showed up this year, driving all the way down from Maryland, Indiana and Canada, or flying in from Texas and California. Even Sweden! Besides the racers, fifty more windsurfing enthusiasts came to chill with everyone at the club, and we had ourselves a party!
The Kona class is a grassroots class, and while the competition at the top is nothing to sneeze at (there are always Olympic-caliber competitors in the fleet), the whole point of having these events is to bring people together — professionals and amateurs, wily veterans and young guns, long-timers and those who have never set foot on a Kona board before. Try and show up at any other continental-level sailing championship with zero time-on-the-water in the class, and see how far that takes you!
The camaraderie in the class was on full display in Clearwater, and while the conditions were tough, the constant banter, cheers, and playful needling on and off the water kept the fun going well into the nights! The ridiculous Halloween costumes had something to do with setting the mood, and the bottomless supply of beer from local brewery 3 Daughters Brewing probably helped a bit too! While we’re talking about sponsors, let’s thank them all right here and now, because nothing happens without their support, and they don’t deserve to be a footnote at the bottom of an event report: besides 3 Daughters, we enjoyed support from Heritage Insurance (this year’s principal sponsor), the Sheraton Sand Key Resort, The Getaway, North Beach Windsurfing and Sandy Point Progressive Sports, which supplied charters boards for nearly half of the fleet. Thanks, guys!
So, a storm, you say? A fast-moving cold front, in fact, that was strong enough to keep late-season tropical storm Philippe away from the region, but dropped temperatures 15 degrees and blew through the area with sustained 30–35 kt winds pretty much all day Sunday. Offshore. A few hardy competitors went out for a couple of outrageous slalom heats, and the organizers sent out as many safety boats as there were people on the water that day! But there was no way to send the full fleet out for more course racing in those conditions, so the final standings came out of two high-stakes ‘snakes and ladders’ races that took place on Saturday in a balmy 8–12 kt easterly breeze. No room for mistakes!
I was fortunate to have good speed, nice starts and be on the right side of the shifts in those two races, so I’m humbled to take the crown this year as the 2017 Kona North American champ. My daughter Margot finished 2nd overall, and Noah Lyons finished in 3rd. Noah, only 16, was on the podium last year at the Kona World Championships and was an early favorite for this event. He’s leading a hard-charging pack of young rippers in Clearwater, and they’re definitely the ones to watch in the future! Margot and I were pretty pleased with ourselves for being the first father-daughter 1–2 finishers at a Kona North American Championships, until (Kona CEO) Joachim Larsson called in to congratulate us — and to remind us that he and his daughter Kajsa had done the same thing at the 2012 North Americans in Minnesota! Man…
You’ll find all the podium and overall standings at the end of this article, but before then, here are a few testimonials to give you a taste of the event and convince you all to join next year, because the 2018 edition will be pretty special too: it’ll be the World Championships for the class! I told you Kona loves Clearwater! Big thanks to event director Justin Ahearn, race officer Donna Sue Marks and the many, many volunteers who made this event possible.
“It was great to go out and compete with tons of other people! I enjoyed hanging out with all of my friends on the youth team, racing and just having lots of fun. You meet new people, share experiences, get advice, and race! I can’t wait for next year!” Adrian Winkelman (Palm Harbor, FL)
“Thanks for putting on a terrific event! The race committee and all the volunteers who helped with the event were great. I had a fantastic time this weekend, sailing Kona for the first time — and competing!” Mark Sarrasin (Frederick, MD)
“We Canadians decided to drive down to Clearwater for the weekend. In Canadian miles that really is a short trip — driving through Ontario takes longer! The real reason we went to the Kona North Americans was to become familiar with the area, the people and the conditions in preparation for the Kona Worlds in 2018! We want to have a big group from our club (Toronto Windsurfing Club) attend the Kona Worlds next year!” Andree Gauthier (Toronto, ON)
“First day was rough, super light wind, snakes and ladders type of conditions. One missed shift, one bad start and that was the end! I had a blast, and was amazed at the size of the fleet!” Noah Lyons (Clearwater, FL)
“Kona racers showed in this major regatta that they can govern themselves to a high Corinthian level! In the very beginnings of the class, ten years ago, I insisted that it be a no-pumping class, and it was incredibly rewarding this weekend to witness great discipline on the course in the light conditions. It was so refreshing also to see the number of youngsters racing and the good manners they exhibited. It reflects very well on the constituents and parents of a great community sailing club, who are making it fun as it should be!” Bruce Matlack (San Diego, CA)
“I’ve always enjoyed longboard racing, but there isn’t a lot of Kona racing on the west coast, so I saw this as a good opportunity! I was very impressed by the local organization and by the enthusiasm for Kona racing in Clearwater, especially among the younger sailors. Participating in the event is motivating me to promote interest in Kona racing at my local sailing club in Sacramento, the Lake Washington Sailing Club!” John Mathias (Sacramento, CA)
OVERALL: 1/Jerome Samson; 2/Margot Samson; 3/Noah Lyons
WOMEN: 1/Margot Samson; 2/Taylor Duch; 3/Beth Winkler
MEN: 1/Jerome Samson; 2/Noah Lyons; 3/Alex Temko
JUNIORS: 1/Noah Lyons; 2/Alex Temko; 3/Adrian Winkelman
OVER 65: 1/Bruce Matlack; 2/Beth Winkler; 3/Steve Bogan
Full results: on regatta network