By Xavier Ferlet
The 2014 venue for the US Windsurfing Nationals was Lake Okabena in Minnesota. The town of Worthington by the lake has been very welcoming for windsurfers. There is an annual event called the ‘Windsurfing Regatta and Unvarnished Music Festival’ which has been running for 15 years. It was the third time in 12 years that this event was chosen to be the US Nationals.
I’d never been to Worthington before but I’d heard various stories about the place before going. Most of the stories were telling tales of light winds or nuclear winds. Hence I’d packed quite a few sails from 12.0 to 5.8 for Formula and Slalom.
As soon as we arrived there, it was immediately obvious that the event was a big deal for the town of Worthington. From pictures in the local press to signs in town, windsurfing was everywhere! People were very friendly for windsurfers.
We arrived a few days early. At that time, it wasn’t immediately obvious where we were going to launch but it didn’t take long for the city to close the road next to the beach so that windsurfers could park next to the water. There was a nice patch of grass to rig up and some shade from the trees so the rigging area was perfect!
The first day my kit arrived it was raining and windless so we took the opportunity to go to the Blue Mounds national park to see a herd of bisons. I’d never seen these animals in the flesh before so it was quite an experience to see them close. The Blue Mounds national park is on the edge of the ‘Prairie’ or Great Plain. I felt privileged to see a piece of this important part of America.
This region is indeed windy! Many wind turbines have been erected over the last few years.
The first day of regatta was a bit light but we had three Formula races. Losing some weight over the last few months paid off. I found it relatively easy to pop on the plane with the 12.0. The skills acquired by doing Formula at inland venues in the UK was put to good use! I finished day 1 in the lead.
The opening ceremony in the evening was great! The whole town was behind the event. The music sounded to me typical of the mid West, definitely a cool piece of American culture!
Day 2 started windy so it was decided to run slalom. The wind was really gusty, from 10 to 30 knots in seconds! That’s what makes inland sailing physically demanding. The wind had some big holes near the start line so I decided to take the 8.6 with the 110 Isonic. That combo proved to be a good compromise between the gusts, the lulls, the headers and the lifts. I finished day 2 in the lead for Slalom. Again, we enjoyed great music in the evening. The sunset was spectacular too!
Day 3 started light with great sunshine! We waited for the wind to pick up as per forecast. In the mean time, I went out on a race board. I hadn’t sailed one for about twelve years. It reminded me of some good memories from the UKBSA and UKWA days! The forecast proved accurate. The Race Committee called us out mid afternoon for three Formula races. The gusts were pretty strong, around 18 knots but with the holes, the average was about 12 knots. Again, having sailed a lot of Formula inland in the UK helped me a great deal. There is an art to sail from puff to puff and I used it to stay on top by the end of day 3.
Day 4: after a string of sunny days, day 4 started with torrential rain and thunderstorms. The race crew declared that the rain was no problem, just lightning was the issue. We were placed on an hourly waiting pattern. At 1 pm, the thunderstorm calmed down and a slalom course was promptly laid. The wind had dropped by a long way so I decided to use the 167 Starboard Formula. This was permitted by rules. The Formula board helped me to get on the plane at the start. This area was light as the wind was offshore. We did one full round of slalom. The wind picked up at the end. I had a few ‘moments’ with the 10.0 but all in all the kit choice helped me to stay in the lead at the end of day 4.
Day 5 also started with bad weather but it was quick to clear and the wind stayed up to 18 knots average with gusts in the high 20′s. The race crew decided to do course racing and the buoys were placed in no time. I decided to sail the 8.6 to do fast transitions. Upwind, I was quick but Christophe had better angle downwind on a 10.0. We had some good battles but in the end, I managed to win all the races.
Just over four years after arriving in the US, I finally won the Nationals in Formula and Slalom!
Don’t forget to check out Bill Keitel’s review of the musical portion of the event: On Stage at the 2014 US Windsurfing Nationals!