Where the Wild Things Are!
By Frank Messina / Photos by Andy Craig (Heckscher session – June 15, 2019)
So, I’m in my office, and two of my colleagues are complaining about the lack of sunny days this Spring. As I walk by, one of them says “Hey, nice tan. Did you go away?” Me: “No, I’ve just been sailing.” Him, with a disbelieving tone, “Really? Hasn’t it been all rainy and windy? I mean, when are we gonna have some nice weather?” I just nod and smile.
I gave up trying to explain windsurfing a long time ago. You either get it or you don’t. You either know from that very first moment you ever saw it – “I want to do that!” – or you don’t. I have photos of myself windsurfing on my office walls. It’s not just vanity. I put them there as conversation starters. Unfortunately the conversation is usually the same. “So that’s windsurfing? Where was that taken? That’s not here. That’s not really you.” I find it amazing how little most Long Islanders know about their own backyard.
OK. Let me start over. I live on Long Island. By choice. Not the rich ‘vacationland’ you see on TV. The one where you get up and go to work each day. Like everyone else does. And yes, we live on an island. A big one, surrounded by water. And we love to play in that water.
I’ve been windsurfing since the late 1970s. Yeah, you’d think I would be a better sailor than I am! But I don’t care. I love it. I love the learning curve. And that’s important. In order to love windsurfing you have to love failing. That’s the great thing about windsurfing: you never really master it and get bored. There is always something new about it. There is no ‘free-throw line.’ Every session is new, a different wave, swell, breeze, tide. There is no ‘right way.’ Your next mistake could become the next great move. You can get totally worked, break gear, do the walk of shame, and still end your session with a great big smile.
It is the only sport I know where everyone is welcoming to newcomers. “You want to be one of us? Welcome to the tribe my friend.” Throw your trash-talking aside. Be prepared to be complimented. “Wow, I saw that great jibe you did on that wave face! Damn, you looked great out there today!” Be prepared to be happy about any session on the water.
We are not thrill-seekers. We are not hard-core. We are young and old. Sail brand new as well as hand-me-down gear. We are none of your labels. We simply love to windsurf. So we do it as often as we can. If you want to give it a try? We are happy to share our stoke.
The folks I windsurf with are my family. Many of us have been sailing together for 30+ years. Many joined much more recently. We travel together. Support each other in times of need. And if the wind comes up, we do our best to drop everything and go sailing.
Last session started out like any other day. I got out of bed, had my cup of joe, and checked the forecast. It looked hopeful, not certain. But if you sail on Long Island, you have a secret weapon: the Long Island Windsurfer Yahoo Group. Started by Ely about twenty years ago, it has become (when it’s working!) our go-to method of sharing information with each other. Around noon that day, guys started to post on-site reports: “Wind’s picking up. It just went SSW. Al’s rigging a 5.0. On my way, ETA 2:00.” Time to drop everything and head to Joe’s Beach – Heckscher State Park Field 7!
Heckscher sticks out into the middle of the Great South Bay. As such, it is a magnet for anything blowing East through South and West. It is just lucky enough for us that if we get any kind of afternoon thermal, it will be at Heckscher. Heckscher Field 7 is a designated windsurfing & catamaran launch. So there is no need to worry about the summer beach crowds.
When I arrived, folks were rigging down. I did a quick check with the guys on shore. Rich was on a 4.5, Jill a 4.7, ‘Mustang’ Steve a 3.7. I couldn’t tell what ‘Upwind Mike’ was on, but he and Bruce were lit! That’s it! I went into a rigging frenzy. I was so amped I tried to stuff a 460 mast up my 4.7. Oops! Got the correct mast, jumped into my wetsuit, tossed in the 90 liter and I was wet.
After two or three runs I realized I was having trouble getting on a plane even though my 4.7 was big enough. Weeds! Already? Rushed back to the van for a quick pit stop. Grabbed a 17cm weed fin and 10cm thrusters. Switched them out, rehydrated, and sailed ’til my forearms were so blown-out that I started blowing all my jibes. Just another Heckscher day!
I dedicate this story to the Heckscher brothers we lost too early: ‘Hurricane’ Phil, Joe ‘The Mayor’ and Marty of the ‘The two Arty’s.’ Sail every session as if it might be your last.