It Was 20 Years Ago Today, the Bonaire Kids Taught the World to Play!
That title sounds like a Beatles song, doesn’t it? Bill Keitel, VP Emeritus at US Windsurfing, digs into his archives to tell us about the time he traveled to the Midwinters in Florida and saw the Bonaire Kids in action for the first time. Twenty years went by in a flash, didn’t they?
By Bill Keitel
The year was 2002. Race director Tinho Dornellas was hosting the Calema Midwinters USWA Championships in Merritt Island / Cocoa Beach, Florida. We had traveled down from Minnesota to get a grip on the possibility of hosting the 2003 Nationals for the very first time. The USWA was having its annual board meeting at this event, and we were set up to give a sales pitch at that meeting for a small lake in the south-west corner of Minnesota, in the town of Worthington. A very small lake, and a most unlikely destination to practice the sport of windsurfing, let alone host a national championship.
It didn’t matter to us that no one had heard of Lake Okabena. We knew in our hearts that our lake was the fastest lake in the nation, and we were filled with enthusiasm and wild abandon. In the ensuing years, we have gratefully played host to the USW Nationals four times!
But back to our story: we arrived on the scene with a Worthington Chamber of Commerce representative: windsurfer Hannah Keitel, along with Jeff Hegwer, his girlfriend Katie, and myself, as co-founders of the Worthington Okabena Windsurfers group, and organizers of the UnVarnished Music Festival.
We arrived midday, as Tinho’s event was just beginning. The wind was a perfect 20 kts and dozens and dozens of windsurfers crowded the beach with the latest equipment. The wind was onshore, creating waves that, at 3-ft high, were higher than any of us inland lake sailors had ever seen! Salt air? Unknown to us midwestern sailors. We felt like we had landed on another planet. Or that we had become pirates.
It didn’t take us long to notice a troop of young Caribbean sailors from the A.B.C.’s (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao). The ‘Bonaire Kids’ were the youngest sailors at the event. All elementary, junior high and senior high students, strangers in a strange land, doing a ‘free’ style of windsurfing that left everyone in awe.
After visiting with them and their chaperones, I came to understand that this was their very first time leaving their homelands. The wind was perfect, the waves mounted to 3 or 4-ft swells, and as the wind speed increased, the Bonaire Kids gained in confidence and stole the show. Freestyle windsurfing was in its infancy at the time, and pretty much everybody was unfamiliar with it unless they had been to the ABC’s.
These young junior high sailors didn’t know what couldn’t be done with a board and a sail, and so they went out and really pushed the limits. There were many renowned sailors at the event, but these kids’ skill level was in a different league. And yet they didn’t show off. They were wide-eyed and excited to be out on an adventure on the newfound waters of Cocoa Beach. Everyone at the event took to them and shared in their enthusiasm.
The world of windsurfing changed in an instant. We built on that experience and went on to host a number of very successful USW National Championships, while the Bonaire Kids went on to conquer the world. The special bond we formed with them twenty years ago has endured, and we can’t wait for the next opportunity to sail with our longtime friends.
Kiri, Taty, Tonky, etc. Can you tell who’s who in the pictures in this article?