Friday, May 31, 2019

Ready to spread my wings

   Any objective evaluation of windsurfing would leave someone itching to try it: cruising across a body of water on wind power, leaning to increase speed, carving turns to change direction, getting air, easily launching and returning to the same beach … It was an astounding innovation back in the late 1900s that captured the imagination of a majority of surf and ski bums.

   Windsurfing was my summer passion as an East Coast skier (well, that and rollerblading). I acquired some second-hand gear — all ensnarled in ropes, battens, footstraps and skegs — and, armed with a copy of “Zen and the Art of Windsurfing,” set out to set sail.

"Zen and the Art of Windsurfing"

   Windsuring is tricky to learn, but the payoff is huge. Gliding out and back to the center of lakes, getting faster, learning to carve — it was super addicting. I was rigged up and ready whenever the conditions were right.

   But it takes commitment. You are constantly checking the wind forecast and busting through a pretty lengthy rigging process to get yourself in position to participate. Sometimes you’ve loaded up the car and roof rack with all the requisite gear, and the wind dies on your drive to the beach. Sometimes you’ve unpacked the gear on the beach and are rigging your sail, and it dies. And unlike skiing, where you can always take some runs even if the conditions are not as good as hoped, if the wind dies, there is no windsurfing.

   I was living in Colorado when my windsurf gear and I became separated. The Rocky Mountains are no windsurfing haven, and my interest in the sport had deteriorated to the point where, as I was moving from one home to another, I just left the gear in a crawl space and didn’t even realize it until there was essentially no way to go back and get it.

   When I arrived in Vermont in 2007, I knew Lake Champlain to be a prime windsurfing spot. But I also had become pretty committed to simplicity in my outdoor pursuits. That’s when Stand Up Paddleboarding made its march eastward from the Pacific, and I began plying Vermont and Lake Champlain by SUP.

   The simplicity of Stand Up is one of its biggest draws. Just a board and a paddle, and you are out exploring shoreline, popping over waves and getting ensconced in an extraordinary environment that is so different from the landscape of our daily lives.

   That’s why, when Robby Naish — a Hawaiian windsurfing legend with an authentic, eponymous water sports brand — announced the launch this spring of the new  Naish Wing Sufer, it totally captured my imagination. This is windsurfing, but, as Naish puts it, with “no strings attached” — sweet simplicity.

No strings attached! 

   There are a few great things going on here: One, there are no ropes or rigging, just a few minute pump to inflate the lead edge of the sail. Two, it's super-light. And three, YOU CAN USE IT WITH A STAND UP BOARD!

   This will be easiest way for people to taste the thrill of water-wind sports. Paddleboards are wide and stable and can float almost anyone, whether moving or not. If there’s a breeze, and you add the wing, step back into the sweet spot on the board and lean back, you take off! Using a paddleboard means you can wing surf in light winds, then step it up into bigger winds as you progress.

   Here’s the video Naish put out in May.

   For paddleboarders, this is going to spice things up quite a bit, yet keep us in our comfort zone in a way that windsurfing and kiteboarding can’t. Now, excuse me while I check the wind forecast.