Monday, April 12, 2010

How I got hooked

I recently read a bunch of blog and forum posts on how various surfers got hooked to windsurfing. Because I found these stories rather interesting to read, and because I just heard from some surfers that they read and like my blog, I figured I'd tell the story how I got started.

It happened when I was an undergrad at the University of Konstanz. Konstanz is a small city in southern Germany, at the border to Switzerland. The university had a sports department which included watersports - sailing and windsurfing. It was just a 5 minute walk from the university to "Wassersportgelaende" (water sports area) at Lake Constance (Bodensee), the third-largest lake in Europe. Now this was a very attractive place - great for swimming and sun bathing, and frequent visits by gorgeous sports students and the facts that clothing was optional did not hurt, either.

The university offered windsurfing classes for a nominal fee. It looked like a fun thing to do, so I signed up, and learned on original Windsurfers, Windgliders, and HiFly boards. We used 5 m triangle sails with 8 ft wood booms; it took a day just to learn how to stand on the boards and pull the heavy rigg out of the water. Lots of fun, though. After 3 days of classes and a test, you could rent equipment and wet suits for a couple of bucks per hour, and go practice. The wind was usually light in the summer. But every now and then, we'd get a bit more wind before a storm, and start planing until the daggerboard or a sudden turn in wind direction would through us into the water. On the lighter air days, one of the fun things to do was "skinny surfing" across the bay to the isle of Mainau, and show the shocked tourists that you don't even need speedos to windsurf. Ok, that got boring after a couple of times, so a few of us went on to light wind tricks like sailing in the boom, sail 360s, and so on.

I have to say that the recreational sports department at the university was great. In addition to windsurfing, they offered regular sailing lessons on a few small sailboats, rock climbing classes, and ski trips during the winter and spring (all fun). They had a few little races for windsurfers - I remember placing second or third in the "beginner" category in one, after falling during a tack. Better yet, they offered trips to the Lake Como in Italy to teach high-wind lessons. I remember one trip where one of the participants had brought a much-admired brand new board: it had a pin tail (instead of the square tail that all other boards had), and a dagger board that could be tilted back and completely disappeared inside the board - very exciting innovations! Well, back then even the harness was still pretty new. We used chest harnesses with a tiny hook plate, which really constricted your lungs after a while. Spreader bars and seat harnesses came a few years later...

Another fun thing from around that time were the dedicated low-wind boards that were shaped like a sail boat at the bottom - more or less completely round, which made just standing on them a major balancing act. But sailing upwind on these things in 2 Beaufort was kind of magical.

Well, gotta go now. Maybe next time I tell the story how the university helped me build my own windsurf board that I sailed for more than 10 years, and about that great day in Tarifa 28 years ago :)

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