Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Olympic Incubator · Godspeed Sarah Hebert · WISSA · R ~ R

The Banana River Resort  in Cocoa Beach, FL is the first property north of Patrick Air Force Base on the river (west) side of A1A; it's situated on the narrowest part of Brevard County's 45 mile long barrier island. It's just a little under 350 yards ( a short par 4) wide, from the river to the ocean. The BRR, started in 1992, is still a laboratory for learning windsurfing. After 20 years of operation it still houses and nurtures aspiring Olympic hopefuls. Beth Winkler, aka Surf Mama, campaigned and trained almost continually from 1992 to 2005, long enough that all the effort of that lofty goal became her lifestyle and infused itself into the very DNA of the BRR. But time and tide wait for no one. She never reached her goal, but in her wake, others she touched have.

There's a sign at the BRR, Where men flip and women rip. A lot happens and has happened there: youth racing clinics, Olympic training from the IMCO to RS:X, private lessons, mega tons of recreational sailing, parties and weddings, windsurfing vacations and WindSurfing Mag board testing. At its very core, the Resort is all about empowering women to compete in windsurfing. The house specialty is the Olympics. Lanee Butler Beashal, 4 time Olympic ('92 - '04) windsurfing legend, trained there. And Ft. Pierce, FL local Mike Gebhart, twice Olympic medalist, has been there too, many times. Possibly the most famous Olympian, Nikos Kaklamanakis, who won the 1996 Gold Medal in windsurfing at Savannah, GA (sailing venue of the Atlanta Games) did a lot of training there. He spent months out of each of the preceding 3 years before Savannah preparing with a host of different Olympians from Europe. Cocoa loco Nancy Rios benefitted from Beth's tutelage and learning environment, taking it all the way to Beijing, China (Qingdao, the sailing venue) for the 2008 Olympics. Regular OCR events in Miami have added to the consistent flow of visitors for pre-event training; 6 BRR visitors that competed in the 2008 Olympics are: Ben Barger (USA), Demita Vega De Lille (Mexico), Diana Detre (Hungary), Sedef Koktenturk (Turkey), Nikola Girke (Canada) and Zac Plavsic (Canada). Farrah Hall, current U.S.Olympic Team member for the RS:X Class, has spent lots of time there too; and yes, fellow O-Team mate, Bob Willis, headed for this year's Olympics, was there in 2007.

French Canadian Dominique Vallée has made the BRR her winter home and training facility since 2000, attracting a crowd of friends and family for a snow free holiday every season. This influx of vacationers and the clinic participants always takes the resort back to its former glory of total windsurfing and water sports immersion. Dominique is an expert instructor who specializes in the RS:X gear and the Olympics. Campaigning for 3 consecutive quadrenniums, living the nomadic life of competition and travel for over a decade, easily defines her as driven. Almost an Olympian in 2004 for the Athens Games, she is totally immersed in windsurfing, arguably one of sport's more hidden corners. There is no doubt about her resolve. The quest for the Olympics brought the unusual opportunity of a part time job as a TV personality. Gotta pay the bills. Somehow there's also been time to write a book which is now in the hands of a publisher. She inspires by doing and her life exemplifies that the journey is just as important as the destination.

I got a call one February day 2 years ago alerting me that there was going to be a special guest at the BRR whose visit was a secret...The secret guest was going to get an introduction to the RS:X gear. There were people in her country, including her Mom, who thought she could represnt her country in the Olympics. But first, the trip to Florida had to settle the question: is the gear a good fit? Dominique would have the honor of introducing the RS:X gear and late that first afternoon, by the time they got ready to hit the water, what was left of a potentially nice day had turned into a cool overcast drizzle with no sunshine; the weather sucked. The rain and mid 60's temp were no problem for the drill sergeant instructor who insisted the weather was nothing because you have to race in every condition. If body language tells anything about your inner feelings, the guest from the tropics is feeling that the spring suit is inadequate for the conditions.

Right before leaving home to come to Florida, the secret guest had tried the Bic Techno 293 and didn't like it. It wasn't a good fit. Was that trial of a larger race board a foreshadowing of what's to come? I've been watching this very first launch and wonder if this is the birth of an Olympic Champion? For the first few moments, she looked like many of us the first time we tried a new board, kind of awkward, but this quickly passed. For the next hour she sailed neck and neck with Dominique and looked good when compared to the more experienced RS:X veteran. They both had speed. After that first session with the Olympic Class Windsurfer everyone was smiling.

Dominique has introduced many Formula sailors to the RS:X and reflected that no one can compare to how quickly the guest understood how to make the board go fast. The rookie had reservations about the gear from the get go and the next day, with a little more wind, impressions changed: everything with the RS:X seemed too big: too much fin, too much much sail and the board didn't trim well. After 2 days of testing, it's a mixed review.

My wife and I spent 2 afternoons out of the 3 days she was here watching, hanging out and talking. My impressions of her: unassuming, soft spoken with a voice that is melodic and easy to listen to. I'm moved by her maturity and kindness. The one word description is sweet. Most impressive skill: functional in 6 languages. Early life: As a young competitive swimmer she remembers her 50 meter prowess of sub-30 second times. She played tennis and her natural ability in windsurfing surprised her parents. Good grades in school allowed the pursuit of her passion for windsurfing. Mom and Dad were surprised by her choice.

When she left to go back home we didn't know what was decided about the Olympics. WindSurfing Editor, Josh Sampiero, did a video interview with her but not a word was said about the the RS:X gear audition. So who was the secret guest? Keep reading and watch the interview.

How does a country get selected for the Olympics? They must qualify at a regatta. For the 2012 Olympics 75% of the field qualified at the 2011 RS:X Worlds in Perth, Australia. The remaining 25% of the countries will qualify at the 2012 RS:X Worlds in Cadiz, Spain, March 20 -29. Farrah Hall will try to qualify the U.S. for one of the 7 remaining country slots and even though insiders may consider this a shoe in, anything can happen at any regatta.To make it to the Big Show takes years of training and luck. To get your country to the Olympics is a pressure packed one regatta performance. You can qualify your country for the Olympics but not get to go yourself. PWA standout, Steve Allen, qualified Australia for the 2008 Olympics but did not make their Olympic Team.

Canada, the country, is already qualified in the RS:X Class, both men and women, for the 2012 Olympics. And just like the country qualifier and the actual Olympics, making Canada's O-Team is another pressure packed one regatta performance. After years of preparation, regardless of any previous good or bad record, the best performing Canadians, one man and one woman, at the 2012 RS:X Worlds will earn a trip to the Summer Games of the XXX Olympiad.

The secret guest was Sarah Quita Offringa. So why the big secret? Back in early 2010 she had just lost her Neil Pryde sponsorship even though she was the reigning 2009 PWA World Freestyle Champion. Afraid that the idea of an Olympic campaign might spook her sponsors, she just wanted some private time to figure out what the gear was like. I thought this was possibly history in the making. Sarah said no to the Olympics but...if you follow her career you know she's a pretty good racer now.

Hanging out with 18 year old Sarah Quita was fun. Remember this was back in early 2010. Even as the reigning PWA World Freestyle Champion, funding for her pro career was barely enough to keep her moving forward. She was certainly not putting anything into her retirement fund. To put it into perspective, Mom and Dad still helped out some so she could tour. Prize money just coverered travel expenses if she won. Mostly what she got from her sponsors was gear, but no real salary. What was a big surprise on the tour for her? How vocal some of the competitors were on the race course. They yell a lot out there. Seems loud voices can distract a racer in close quarters. Anything to win. Last year (2009) she got hit on the racecourse and then in the next race she hit someone. Sarah started windsurfing at the age of 9. She did her first vulcan at 11; her first spock at 13. She was relearning how to do a forward which she plannned to add to her competition moves. She rode an 88 liter Starboard Flare for all freestyle competitions. She wasn't real chatty about how to learn freestyle. However she did say learn the basics first: heli-tack, body drag and duck-jibe. Then learn the vulcan and everthing else will follow. She had no idea why Neil Pryde dropped her at the end of 2009.  New sponsor Gaastra provided slalom sails and Vandal sails for freestyle.

After 2 new PWA World Titles in 2011, Freestyle and Slalom, hopefully, funding for her pro career has improved. Sarah Quita represents the best of windsurfing.

Sarah Hebert will start her transatlantic journey very soon. Tentative start date is Feb 21 with a 48 hour notice before departure. Hebert has been the focus of much European media attention, including a 4 page spread in Paris Match and numerous TV interviews. Via her latest GPS coordinates, you can Follow Sarah Live.  Or play an interactive game pitting your decision skills against Sarah's actual course navigation to see who gets to Guadaloupe first; win prizes: Live Skipper. Background and reporting are found on the Sarah Hebert Website. This FB page, Windsurf Transatlantic 2012,  posted photos on Feb 18 from Sarah and the team on Neptune's Car in Dakar. Sarah's Twitter page will be used in reporting. French language  Windsurf Journal has been on top of this story from the very beginning in 2010 and should be a good source of news about the crossing.

I'm not sure if there will be daily reporting or just GPS coordinates. The French to English robotic translators are a challenge...

TheTransatlantic quiver: 4 Naish Grand Prix Boards: 135, 128, 110, 95 - 5 Naish Indy Sails: 8.4, 7.1, 6.4, 5.8, 5.2 - Sonntag Fins

WISSA · The World Ice and Snow Sailing Association is getting ready to start the 2012 World Championship but not where you might think. The competition will not be held in a Scandinavian country, but right here in the U.S. The event is set to run in St. Ignace, Michigan from February 20 - 26. The 2012 Championship will be the 32nd annual celebration of this exciting contest. The last time a WISSA Championship was held in the U.S. was 1995 in Madison, Wisconsin. Organizers claim that this year's event will be televised in over 86 million households on numerous sports networks. They will use a zamboni for smoothing 11 acres of ice for slalom racing. Competition is in 3 basic classes. One is powered by traditonal windsurfing gear above the board; one uses kiting gear; and one a hybrid class using a kitewing. Check their Facebook Page for the latest and the website for all the basics.

Last year's Championship from Finland:

Rail to Rail · The Movie - Enjoy in HD; 40 minutes of action captured around the world with some of the best windsurfers in the world. Visit Jaws, Ho'okipa, Cape Town, Spain, Mauritius, Brazil and Egypt with angles and on-board views of maneuvers that will blow your mind. Hit "Play" now to take the ultimate ride with 2010 Wave and Freestyle World Champions Victor Fernandez and Jose 'Gollito' Estredo plus many more international team riders!

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