Since Bruce Brown chronicled the search for the perfect wave in his epic film Endless Summer, surfers and windsurfers have been slipping south in search of the adrenaline fix that sustains them. Some are long-haired dropouts taking odd jobs and riding around in smoke-filled vans, and some, like Fowlkes, are professionals trying to protect that something inside them that makes them feel different from their co-workers. Today, the windsurfing trip is alive and well in the form of a high-gloss Caribbean event called the HIHO.
HIHO participants are billeted on 38 to 50-foot bareboats that sail from island to island, serving as mobile bed and breakfasts for the fleet. This year cruising catamarans were the boats of choice. These mother ships not only support the competitors, but also are populated by the family and friends of the racers as well as recreational windsurfers who engage in non-racing activities during race days. And there are even some folks who just think a weeklong cruise through the British Virgin Islands with some hell-raising boardsailors might be a good vacation. Make no mistake, the racing is keen, but the emphasis is on fun. There are HIHO veterans who don't even windsurf; they just enjoy cruising in the carnival-like atmosphere of this event.
Day One of the HIHO 2000 featured two around-the-buoys races just off the reef near the Bitter End Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda. Professional windsurfing instructor Andy Brandt showed the fleet some speed right out of the gate, leading wire-to-wire to take the first race.
Again in Race Two it was Brandt who took the victory, but the big story was the breakdown by past winner Eli Fuller of Antigua. Fuller, a pro and the clear pre-event favorite, broke his booms in the first race and was forced to withdraw. A loud bang on the first upwind leg of Race Two left him swimming again as his second set of booms gave way. With Fuller out of the running, a surprising caste formed at the front of the pack. Fowlkes had a great day, posting a third and a second. And 16-year-old St. Martin sailor Antoine Questel staged a coming-out party in the 15-knot easterly, recording a fourth and a second overall to take a huge lead in the Junior Division.
In the Women's Division, US Olympic Trials runner-up Mariel Devesa was the early favorite, but a freak accident at a mark on Day One left her hobbled and her future at the event in question. Devesa caught her skeg on the mark's anchor line and drove the nose of her board into a coral head that lay treacherously close to the surface. The tip of the board was crushed, but it was Devesa's knee and ankle, which ended up badly swollen from a collision with a drum-tight section of her sail, that would hamper her performance.
After long days of racing, competitors can look forward to the legendary HIHO parties that grace each evening of the event. Reggae music, a limbo-dance contest, and rum-based painkillers combined to fuel the first evening. It was the organizers' way of saying 'live it up now; tomorrow you're going to get tested again.'
Distance racing on boards is a unique discipline. In these events, tactics take a back seat to speed and fitness. Sailors hook into their harnesses and groove on the speed as the waves beneath them change size and shape. The breeze strengthens and weakens as the fleet passes the wind shadow of the nearby islands. The best sailors are those who make subtle alterations to sailshape, trim, and sailing technique to account for these changes.
There were other races as the HIHO fleet worked its way around the scenic British Virgin Islands, but the biggest challenge came on the final day in a shifty, puffy breeze that made tactical choices difficult. Huge lulls alternately mired even the fastest sailors while the rest of the fleet sprinted away in elusive puffs. The two races scrambled the standings a bit, but not enough to topple Brandt. Though Fuller came on strong to win the last three races, there was only one throw-out and he had to settle for tenth overall. Antoine Questel edged out Greg Fowkles for second place overall and first in Juniors, and Mariel Devesa overcame her injury to defeat Julie Rosenberg of Florida for the Women's title. Among the more mature sailors, Jean-Mark Peyronet of St. Martin took the Masters Division and Tom Suits won the Grand Masters.
Sailors from 21 nations, islands, and protectorates made their way to the HIHO this year. Despite diverse backgrounds, the shared love of a cult sport, the abundant food and killer parties, and the island lifestyle seemed to forge a bond among the competitors and cruisers alike. The crew of each of the charter cats developed an esprit de corps that united disparate personalities and nourished inside jokes. At the awards ceremony, new friends traded e-mail addresses and made plans to sail together in "real life." But the sailing and the parties took a toll. There were actually sailors who were so tired that they were looking forward to their quiet lives back home. Who knows, maybe more training next year might help.
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