Bjorn Again

…to really know Bjorn Dunkerbeck is to get to know Bjorn Again.

For eight years thereafter, I was among the ranks of thousands of sailors who crossed paths with Bjorn Dunkerbeck every year, perceiving the champion not as a person but as “The Terminator.”

His dominant image in the sport has become almost detrimental, we thought. His excellence was just too mechanical. His victories were much too one sided or one dimensional to those of us chasing after him.

But eight years worth of preconceptions started to unravel after a chance meeting on the flight to Maui. “If someone really wants to get to know me, they have to spend some time with me.“ was one of the comments that struck me in our first conversation. “So, Well, Ok!” I thought. “I’ll spend some extra time to get to know Bjorn Dunkerbeck. After all, it is my job, right?” Plus, an additional week in Maui didn’t sound too bad either.

It didn’t take a week. Not even a day. Within 10 minutes of his comment about spending time with him, it was apparent that what I knew of Bjorn Dunkerbeck’s persona was all wrong!

Bjorn Dunkerbeck pops his head into the restaurant of his parents windsurf center on the Canary Islands the morning after I arrive from New York. “I thought you might be here.” he says as we shake hands in a fashion that has quickly become a traditional greeting between us since Maui. It’s a regular palm shake which twists into an arm wrestler’s grip, graduating into a battle to see who can press down other’s arm. It is clearly an unconscious ritual, yet the battle is equally scored between our wins and losses. Considering our age gap and muscular disparity, it is recognized as a subtle human gesture of friendship.

The wind is not blowing this morning and because the champion’s wings have been temporarily clipped by the accident, it was a good time to visit Bjorn on his home island where he has windsurfed since the age of nine. We talk about the race he missed at Almanarre, France and I ask about his shoulder, his chances of returning to the top. Without a shred of doubt, Dunkerbeck rattles off a chain of descriptions of his condition and a few points which I can’t recall but can easily summarize by his comment “NO PROBLEMA!”

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No one single athlete with the exception of a raquetball player, has dominated a sport like Bjorn Dunkerbeck has dominated windsurfing. After eight years at the top of the podium, all it took was a brief fall in the austrian alps for the windsurfing world to realize that Bjorn Dunkerbeck is made of flesh and bones after all. Before the fall, it require spending time with Dunkerbeck for anyone to walk away knowing the kinder gentler side of this racer. But here, in a post fall interview, one gets an unmistakable sense that Bjorn is back again and I walked away understanding Bjorn but totally mystified by myself and what we are made of.

For you see, once you know Bjorn Dunkerbeck you become aware of the reactive tendencies we as a human race try to bring people of higher excellence down to our own level. We celebrate the dirt and misfortunes of celebrities because it makes us feel better to bringing them bellow us.

Those of us who can’t beat Dunkerbeck on the race course because he’s too good, we try to beat him in the P.R. department by pointing out that he is arrogant, intensely private and “a wrong type of hero.” After all, shouldn’t our hero conform to our expectations
and placate to our needs to be heros? I mean, isn’t that what’s life’s all about? So if you ask me what I’ve learned about Bjorn Dunkerbeck? Well, to know Bjorn Dunkerbeck is to know excellence but to really know Bjorn Dunkerbeck is to get to know Bjorn Again.

AW: So you’ve been out of commission for seven weeks?

BD: Yeah.

AW: And now you’re ready to go back.

BD: I suppose…

AW: You were snowboarding? I heard something about how you were stopping, or slowing down, you weren’t doing any tricks, you just…

BD: Actually, it was at the end of the hill, in the runout on the flats. I wasn’t really paying attention anymore, I was just looking back at
where the other guys were, and at the same moment my rail caught, my backside rail, and I went from speed to non-speed in like a sec. I didn’t even have time to put my hands down before I fell over, so I just landed on my shoulder, and that was it.
AW: What did you feel? Was it a sharp pain?

bjorn dunkerbeck windsurfing competition tags
Bjorn’s competition badges and IDs

BD: Mostly I was dizzy, because my head hit the ground as well. I didn’t think anything was broken or anything like that. I noticed that when I went to stand up again, when I leaned on both hands, I just went ouch! Yeah, I guess something is wrong. So, put my hand underneath my jacket, and I could feel the bone wasn’t in the right place. It was kind of sticking out. Got my snowboard off, put my hands in the jacket, and walked down to the end of the run. I was lucky I was there because Innsbruck is one of the best places in Europe for shoulders, knees… any joint is good to break there. I got operated on the same afternoon, before the inflammation even started. That’s very good for the rest of the wound, because if you wait for the flame to start, you have to wait a couple days to get it down again because you cannot operate as long as it is inflamed. So, I spent two and a half days in the hospital.

AW: How did you get back into shape?

BD: Well, basically for the first couple of weeks, I couldn’t do anything at all, except for taking care of it and making sure that I stayed as quiet as possible. I had two ligaments broken in half, and this muscle that I did not snap completely but was torn about all the way through. It was sewn together as well. And they had to cure. It is better if you leave it alone, to better cure it, the faster it goes. After two weeks, I started to jog, started going to the gym, and at least put on my legs, sitting on a stand bike, looking at the ocean and doing miles.

AW: So what went through you’re mind at that time?

BD: The first week was the toughest because I couldn’t do anything at all, and I was so used to doing so many things in one day. I got to spend a lot of time with my family and a lot of time with my friends except when they went surfing and windsurfing. Other than that, a lot of resting, a lot of thinking about things, why and because, and colors, and blacks and whites…

AW: It was a growing experience for you, huh?

BD: Well, it was the first time I have been obliged to stay out of action for longer than a couple days at a time. Before that, maybe a week, for some show or some promotion, for an injury, maybe three
or four days. A twisted ankle, or a torn something, but nothing that was really worrying.

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MAKING A WINDSURFING DYNASTY: Early family photographs reflect the origins of Dunkerbeck’s passion for windsurfing.

BD: Well, I discovered that you’ve gotta’ appreciate every moment that you have, and appreciate every day that you have because it could be your last one. I knew that before [the accident] as well, but it showed me that it really was that way, because just a little trick like that could put you out of action for quite a while. And I saw so many weird things in the hospital when I was there that really put shock into life. I mean, young people missing a hand, missing a foot, sitting in a chair paralyzed for nothing; just for falling down the stairs. And you start thinking about those things, and you don’t worry anything about a little collarbone out of place for six to eight weeks. It’s really nothing, and that’s the way I started looking at it. It’s just a little scratch, a little mandatory holiday, and that’s how I took it.

Starting with mother Ulla, and father Eugene (left), the Dunkerbecks built a new life with the sport, yet surprisingly never pushed Bjorn and sister Britt into windsurfing or competition
Starting with mother Ulla, and father Eugene (left), the Dunkerbecks built a new life with the sport, yet surprisingly never pushed Bjorn and sister Britt into windsurfing or competition

I went to visit Rome for a weekend, I spent two weeks in a rehabilitation center in Austria, one week before I got my screws out, because I had two screws in my shoulder, and one week after, just making sure everything cured properly, making sure I wouldn’t have any secondary effects after it grows back together. So far this thing has turned out very well.

When I went to Almanarre to have a look at the race, the biggest question was “Aren’t you missing being out there?” I said, “Well, under the circumstances I wouldn’t want to be out there because I couldn’t do anything good anyways!” It’s good to see a race from a different perspective. I’d never seen a race from that angle, the spectator. I do hope it’s the last one, for sure, but it was pretty interesting after all. And it was also (good) teaching-wise, learningwise.

AW: Have you ever thought that maybe your career was jeopardized
by this accident?

BD: No, I don’t think so at all. I mean it’s been a couple of weeks without slaloming, without wave sailing, without surfing, but I haven’t worried about it at all. I mean it’s not going to make a big change for my season at all. I’m going to have two months to get myself in shape for Aruba, I might be lucky that there’s no big Hawaii event in the spring. [So] at this moment it works to my advantage.

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AW: So tell me the qualities of being a champion.

BD: Well, you just have to not worry about the little injuries when all you’re going to miss is the first race, and it’s one race out of the year. Last year, first race, I had no equipment. I was on Robert’s board and Fenton’s sail, and I still got second. But second is really like a no show for me. If you want to win, you’ve got to be up there winning the races. And now

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ACTIVE LIFESTYLE: Even in recuperation Dunkerbeck pursues perpetual motion: surfing in the morning and biking in the afternoon, friends in between, and never far from water. (enlarge)

I’m starting from zero instead of second, which is okay, I don’t mind. At least I was having fun when I did it.

AW: You were what?

BD: At least I was was having fun doing a sport when I was injuring myself. If I would have stepped out of my bed in the morning and fallen over a chair and then broken something, that would have
been terrible. But I was doing sports and having fun. I guess if it happens, it’s because it is supposed to happen.

AW: Do you have a philosophy about that? Did it happen for a reason?

BD: Yeah. I was going way to quickly, in all my thoughts, and not giving myself any time to rest at all, which is really the way it has been for ten years. I’ve been doing one thing full-on, and doing another thing full-on, I mean it’s not bad, you just gotta’ give yourself a little time to rest once in a while. It lets your body recuperate and I haven’t done that.

Now I realize that I must do this once in a while. If you go full-on for five or six hours in sports, it doesn’t matter if you’re surfing, windsurfing, or a doing a combination, and then mountain biking, it’s fine. But at least you’ve got to get yourself a little bit of sleep in between, you know. A little bit of resting time, a little bit of thinking time. And I think I should do this in the future.

AW: What do you think sets you apart from everybody else? You are obviously a cut above everybody.

BD: Well, I was lucky my parents moved to the Canaries at the right time. I was eight years old when we moved there. So I had a windsurfer before I even knew I had one. I also had a great variation of conditions, and the tour wasn’t really there at that time, there was this Windsurfer class, then Mistral class came along, and then eventually Funboard came along, and Open Class.

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©Dunkerbeck Archive

I started racing when I was twelve, so I had hundreds of competitions before I even started racing World Cup, and that really helped me a lot towards racing. I love the sport. I love the sport more than anything and I couldn’t imagine a life without windsurfing, competition-wise, freesailing-wise, just lifestyle-wise.

I think that is a very big advantage over many other sailors, that do it because they want to race only. I do it because I live it. I couldn’t imagine just going freesailing all year long, and I couldn’t imagine just going racing all year long. I need the right combination.

AW: Did your parents get you into windsurfing?

BD: Well, they moved from Denmark to the Canaries because of windsurfing.

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AW: So they were windsurfers themselves, first, and then they got you into it?

BD: Yes. Eventually I just started. They learned in Denmark in ‘77, then they went to vacation in the Canaries in ‘77-’78, and in ‘78, in the summer, we were living in the Canaries. They sold everything they had and decided that the climate… the standard of living was getting to expensive and they had too little free time, too much work, so they just radically changed their lifestyles. And that’s how I got into windsurfing. They opened a windsurf school down here just about the time we got here. At first they had one, then they had three, they had four, now they’re back to one station and it’s a F2-Neil Pryde school. So, that’s how I got into windsurfing. My father used to race, my mother used to race.

AW: Do you remember what your impressions were back when you first got into windsurfing?

BD: It was fun. It was a good sport, refreshing. I just started sailing after school, on holidays, and on the weekends. In the beginning it wasn’t as much. I think the time when I sailed the most hours probably came between (age) 15 and maybe 20, because I had the most time, and didn’t travel as much, I was home a lot. And, I just went to the beach. My life was at the beach.

AW: Tell me what drives you, what keeps you in the sport today? BD: The adventure, the action, the unlimited factor, and my progress is still going up every year, every day. The challenge of being the best in the world, the one, the best in competition. Those five I would say are the most important.

AW: But going back a little bit on the challenge; what is the challenge today? Is it to stay on top, or are you constantly pushing the envelope?

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(enlarge)

BD: Self improvement is definitely the challenge. More than winning or anything. Because winning… I can be worse than the level I am right now and I can still win. But it is trying to beat myself all the time, that’s what is important to me.

AW: It seems to me, as soon as you entered into competition you were on the top. Was this the case from the very beginning?

BD: I first raced World Cup in ‘83, in Fuerteventura. I was 14 years old. I was about 1 meter and 20 centimeters high. Maybe a little bit more than that, but not much. That was the first World Cup ever organized- in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands. The following year I was…
AW: How’d you do in that race?

BD: I didn’t do… okay, I was not last, but far from being on top. AW: Is that the the race where there’s a picture of you and Robby (Naish), and Robby just signed an autograph for you or something like that? I guess he was your idol at that time?

BD: Yeah, for sure. I mean anybody was sailing good at that time was my idol. And, I really enjoyed watching those guys sail. It gave me the inspiration to see what would happen to us then. That day, I didn’t even think of being able to race against them, because I was so young. I was just sailing and cruising around, I had gone to a couple small races, where I had no real intention of wanting to go to the World Cup. It just happened before I even knew it.

In ‘84 I qualified, with my father, to go to the European Production Championships. In that race, there were really typical conditions for the Canaries, strong winds, big waves, and I got second in the amateur European Championships. The top three were invited to the following World Cup in Schevengen in ‘84. There again we had really typical conditions. For the Canaries and for the European Sea it is kind of similar. I managed to get fifth in that wave riding event. I
didn’t do well in slalom, I didn’t do well in course racing, but I got fifth in the waves division.

AW: And you were fifteen then?

BD: Yes. And from there on F2 told me, “Okay you seem like you have some potential, and we want to pay your travel expenses for the following year,” which was ‘86. I did the whole tour from then on. I got seventh overall, I think I got fourth in waves, and seventh in slalom, and fifteenth in course racing. Something like that, you can look that up, because it’s written down. The year after that was ‘87. I won my first World Cup ever in San Francisco. I won the contest in Guadeloupe, I won both slalom courses there, and I turned up second just after Robby in ‘87. That’s when I knew I really had the potential to be able to do something with myself in the sport. So I started to concentrate more on practicing and I started to work more on my equipment. That really showed a big difference the following year. I won quite a few competitions, and in the end I was World Champion in …

AW: ‘88?

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SPONSORING A STAR: Dunkerbeck doesn’t keep too many sponsors, Martin Brandner of F2 (top center w/glasses), and Neil Pryde (left center) are two companies in the inner circle who spotted him early and share the spotlight of Dunkerbeck’s reign. (above) Sail designers for Neil Pryde, Barry Spanier and Geoff Bourne of Maui Sails, consider Dunkerbeck the consummate professional. The development efforts made by these companies can be clearly associated to the bright and precise star. (enlarge)

BD: Yes, ‘88. I was 18, and it was the first time I won the Tour. AW: Now what were you thinking? Here’s your idol Robby, and you are starting to beat him. What was going through your mind at that time?

BD: We went from idol, whatever idol is… I was never really into that idol thing when I was small, when I was young. I really liked the guys who windsurfed in the sport, but… it was fun, I mean as soon as I started competing, I tried to follow them in the beginning, because I wasn’t even close to being good enough. And after a while I managed to get closer and closer to them, and eventually I managed to beat them in a couple of races. It was funny, but a very satisfying feeling. I don’t know, maybe that’s because my father and my mother are really cool about it, and don’t really say, “yeah it was great,” or something. “It was good that you sailed, and good that you did what you could,” but there they were not saying that it was fantastic or unbelievable, they really kept me down on the Earth and didn’t make a big deal out of it.

That’s typical Scandanavian actually, you don’t talk about things you do, you don’t make a big scene out of it. You just do it, if you do good, everybody knows it but you don’t tell anybody about it, because that’s the way it is. And, it has continued on, I have been improving my skills ever since, and gotten more and more confident. It topped the stories in my head anyways.

If you go to the beach thinking that you can’t win, then you definitely won’t. If you go to the beach and you know you can win, and you know you want to win, and you know you have won many times before, and you know that the others know that they can’t beat you, then you win one time after the other. So it’s really all in the mind. If you start off nervous, then the race really starts to go down the hill. You have days when you know you don’t feel so strong inside, and these are the days when you don’t win, and when I feel 100%, I go out there, I know I’m going, and I’m going for first position. And half the time it works. It doesn’t work all the time, but, it’s definitely worked quite a few times.

AW: I would imagine you’re quite a marketable commodity in
Europe.

BD: Yes, for sure. And I am definitely not using it as much as I could. Because I don’t like being in big cities in Europe, talking to big companies. I’ve got a few sponsors, I’m running good enough to do the tour and earning quite a bit as well. I figure, I’ve got enough money to do what I want to do, and that’s okay. I’m not going out searching for more, but if I bump into one, that’s good, if I don’t, it’s alright too.

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SHAKING HIS SHAPERS: Board shaper Peter Thommen (center) has been a vital link in Dunkerbeck’s successes. (enlarge)

AW: Do you think that your reputation about being sort of a Terminator or Iceman comes from the fact that you’re so demanding of yourself, and very rigid in that sense?
BD: Well, when I do something, I want to do it properly. I’m not going to race just going 50-50. I’ll try to win for sure. That Terminator kind of image is more an image that some magazines have given me, and it’s because they don’t know me at all. It’s because they haven’t spent the time and tried to find out who, or what, I really am. More and more, this image is going away. The more you talk to me, the more you know that image is totally wrong. The more other people talk to me, they’ll say, okay he’s not really like that anyway.

In the beginning, a lot of people didn’t like to see me beating Robby, because Robby was a champion, and he was their favorite guy to see winning. So, I think there was a lot of bad vibrations seeing someone else winning. And jealousy. People didn’t really want to see me win, they wanted to see Robby win. So, that kind of gave me that Terminator image or whatever it gave me. It’s gone, pretty much lost in the last three or four years, I would say. People have gotten more used to seeing me win and are getting to know me a lot better as well. I laugh about it when I see it, because I know that some people know who I am, and other people just don’t have the time or the interest to find out.

AW: Has all the travelling sort of curtailed your personal life? Relationships? Has it been a hindrance?

BD: Nah, well… I mean, of course you don’t have a girlfriend at home sitting waiting for you all the time. Or I don’t anyway, but lots of people on the tour are married, lots of people have their girlfriends with them, and whatever your needs are, it’s what you take. But I don’t feel like I’ve been missing anything.

AW: So you are an available bachelor?

BD: I’ve got cute girlfriends, but not close to getting married.

AW: Do you think that it will ever become a focus for you?

BD: If the girls are around, that’s fine, if they’re not, that’s fine too. So far, I haven’t met that woman that really knocks me down in a hole, yet…

AW: Are you looking?

BD: As I said, if they’re around, that’s good, if they’re not around, it’s good too. I’ve never had a problem. I always had girls as good friends, girlfriends, boy friends, all amigos.

AW: Compadres.

BD: Compadres. I’m definitely not looking now, but that doesn’t mean that if I meet the right girl… eventually I think it would be good.

AW: What do you think is the type of woman you like?

BD: Well, so far, I’ve found something wrong with all of them. So far. After being around them for a while. I would say I am pretty picky to the very end. But, I guess that’s…

AW: Are you a perfectionist?

BD: What do you think?

AW: [laughing] So, you look at women like you look at your fins. They have to be perfect, right?

BD: Yes. And that ain’t easy! [both laugh] There’s love out there, but then they want to own you after a while, and then they want to rule your life, and that doesn’t work. I’m married to the ocean, the wind, the challenge. When I meet the woman of my life, I will just take her with me. There’s no worries about that, but so far I haven’t met her. I’ve had a couple of girlfriends with me, once in a while. But…

AW: Do you think that it would be a distraction to your competitive edge?

BD: No, I don’t think that would be. The right woman would probably support you, make you go better, even. I’ve seen that in many different people. Robby’s a very good example, Flessner for example, Seager, Strader. Patrice is married and has a kid right now, and he’s a lot more confident and a lot more relaxed. I think the right woman would definitely improve your skills.

AW: Do you get to meet many women on the tour? It seems like it’s mostly guys…

BD: Yeah, guys racing, but there’s plenty of women around the racing.

AW: It’s kind of hard to meet on a higher level than just a casual level?

BD: Well, first of all, I don’t go to races to meet women. I go to a race to win the race.

AW: Really? Gee, that’s news to me.

BD: That’s the way it is.

AW: Do you find yourself that you have a vulnerable side in you?

BD: A vulnerable side? Everybody’s got a vulnerable side.

AW: And what is yours?

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AT HOME ON MAUI: Contemplating the future of the sport and his role as one of its ambassadors.

BD: If I had one, I wouldn’t tell ya’. [laughing]

AW: Tell me about your philosophy in life. What would you want to pass on to your kids someday?

BD: Well, the day has got twenty-four hours, the year has 365 days, and you don’t know how many more it’s going to be after the one
you’ve had today, so I’d make the most out of it, try to enjoy as well as you can, try to show other people that you are enjoying it so that they can follow after you and motivate other people, motivate yourself, and keep a positive feeling towards everything else, even if you lose. Be angry inside if you want to, but don’t show it to everybody else that you are a bad loser if you are one. Be positive towards everything, don’t be jealous.
Jealous is the worst thing you possibly can be, it’s going to kill your self and everybody around you as well. If there was no jealousy in this world, there would be no wars, and no problems, and no
hunger. It is a problem that’s never going to be solved, but the less jealous you are yourself, the fewer problems you are going to have
in the very end.

AW: Is this a philosophy that you came to, or is it something that your parents passed on to you? How did you come to this
conclusion?

BD: I think that this is a philosophy I came up with myself. I’ve seen it in my parents, I’ve seen it in friends, and I just feel the same way myself. When I feel good, it’s because I am positive, it’s because I am having a good time. I’m with positive people, I’m with active people, and if you see jealousy around you, you say “what is the point in that?” If you want something, you should do something so you get it. If I’m in first and you’re in second, you should work hard and you’ll prove yourself and you’ll kick my ass eventually. But don’t be jealous.

I was never jealous of Robby, for example. I was never jealous of the people in front of me. I admired them, I respected them. I still respect and I still admire them. But, if you’ve got great sunglasses, I don’t say I’m jealous because you have great sunglasses. I say, if I want them I will work, and I will get a pair of them eventually. With my mother, my father, my sister, jealousy has never existed in my life.

I grew up in the Canaries and I had basically nothing. My parents had nothing. They lost everything they had a couple of times. So I am used to really having nothing. And everything I have now is because of windsurfing, because I worked hard at it and now I really appreciate what I have. I really started from zero to get to where I am right now, and that was a very healthy way for me to start, not having everything given to me easily. That’s why an easy victory is like one that never happened, and that’s why I don’t really like going to small races.

For example, the worst race I did this year was in England. It was a small race, I had to go because of promotion and I didn’t really want to be there. I was there, but I wasn’t concentrating, and I made a couple of mistakes. But it was good because then I just realized that I had to sharpen myself for the last race, and concentrate again I like challenge. I like to win when it’s this close. I don’t like to win on a big margin because Robby is not on or he’s not there, if Patrice is not there, and if Robert, Anders or any of the top guys are not there, then there is no interest for me to go there either because I know that if I hook in and more or less go out on the course first, I am going to win by a mile, and I have no interest in that. You have to really want to go on the edge and work hard for it. Then you come back to the beach and say “that was great.”

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AW: Tell me what you go through, say for the start and a slalom race. Go through step by step with me your strategy on how you approach the course, how you set your clocks, the whole works.

BD: Well, the basic thing is to set your watch at four minutes and then you want to hit the line at full speed at the green flag, or zero. That’s the whole idea.

AW: Do you have any tricks behind it?

BD: Well, depending on the wind and wave situations, you stay a bit further away from the line or bit closer to the line. What most people do is cross the line at one minute going the wrong direction, at about thirty seconds they turn around again and you’ve got more
of the same time to get back to the line. But, if the wind holds, you’ve got to calculate for that. If there’s a lot of swells pushing you, you’re going to get there quicker.

It just takes practice and starting experience. You can go and practice alone, for sure, but, when there’s seven other people that want to achieve the same thing, either being at the pin, or being at the boat, or being at the middle depending where the good place is, and staying in one place is impossible, you’ve got to make your choices. Do yo want to start with the pack? Do you want to start alone? The main thing is to be at the line at zero, with speed. I’m usually not the one that goes in the pack with the other ones. It is better to get second to the first mark than to hit someone and wipe out at the start.

AW: If you’re in the lead you can basically control the pack, right? BD: If you’re in the lead, you’re going to control the pack. You’ve got free wind, you’ve got free water, and the other ones have got to
get clear of you in the first jibe. So, ideally, you hit the line at zero at full speed, you get to the buoy in first place, jibe around it, and then you usually go on to win, if you don’t fall in the water on the next jibe.

AW: If you’ve got someone right next to you, what tactics do you do
to shake ‘em?

BD: If it happens in a race that someone is next to you, it depends on the situation. You have just got to gain more racing experience. There’s no rule, no set rule for what’s best to do.

AW: Can you push them upwind or downwind?

BD: Well you can’t push anybody up or downwind. Downwind you hit him and then you get protested. If you’re a ways ahead of him, you can always aim up a little bit, so he gets your bad wave, and then your bad wind. Then you have to look for the other one that’s below you so that he doesn’t slip by. You’ve got to control all seven of them, so the best thing is usually just to go, think about your race, go full on, and keep an eye on the others if you have a chance. The main thing is to keep looking in front of you. If you want to go fast and good, then you will go through a race without being too nervous and you will have the biggest chance of winning. If you keep looking back, you keep getting more and more nervous because the pack is close to you, and that’s usually when the one that’s not so good will fall in the water and throw everything away.

AW: When you retire from racing will you stay and help promote the sport?

BD: I’m not planning on quitting racing for a long time. When the moment comes, there’s nothing solid about what I’m going to do. Britt (sister) chose to try to put the San Francisco competition back together again. I’m happy that somebody is finally putting a stick in their hand and doing something in the U.S. about competition because they’ve been slack in the last couple of years. It’s not like there’s no money around, in the U.S. especially. It’s just that nobody there is talking to the companies or trying to make the companies put (money) into windsurfing. Anywhere in the world it’s the same, you can have three Grand Prix in the Canaries, and nobody is going to tell you you can’t have one in the U.S., it just takes a person to put some dedication into it. We talked, well not we, but I talked to a lot of people about this issue many times and they always say yes, yes, yes, but then they go back and they don’t do anything.

AW: And you are now a board member of the PWA?

BD: Yeah, for the first time. In the beginning I was definitely not mature enough to step into the board at all. Years have gone by and I’ve grown up, gotten older…

AW: Seven weeks of thinking time?

BD: Well, that’s one thing, but everybody has put something into it for sure. The last couple of years haven’t really been so rosy, as we all know, and that’s why we have made the changes which we have
in the last year. I’m standing behind Phil McGain’s decision 100%. The best thing for me is to step into the committee and to really have a say on where the sport should go, because I believe that if the sport goes where it is supposed to, where it deserves to be, it could be so much more than it really is right now.

What it takes, is for all of us to go in one boat and to do things together as racers, manufacturers, organizers, mags, and the news.
If we all think positive, if we all think that we can achieve more than we have in the past, and if we all work together a little bit or a lot more than we have done in the past, then I think that windsurfing should be up there in no time. If you really want that, you’ve got to at least take a stand, and that’s what I did, by going to the committee. I think I’m mature enough by now to be able to make the right decisions for the sport because I have no other interest than in seeing the sport where it should be.

AW: How do you think the PWA can get more people into the sport? BD: First, you’ve got to structure yourself strongly, as we are doing now; we have to get our races organized, and then start thinking about the ladder to get from where we are to the people that don’t know anything about windsurfing. We have to show them the guiding way, motivate them to try it, and once hooked they’re off our book, because then they will go their own way.

Any windsurfer can tell you the same thing. If you do it, it’s not
because you have to, it’s because you like it, love it, or feel better after you do it, or feel better while you’re out there. So, the main thing is really just to get the person on the board and get him through the first couple of hours. Some take four, some take eight, some take ten and some only one hour, but to hook him, you’ve just got to give him the chance. It’s not like it’s easy, if it were easy it would be boring. Anybody can hit a soccer ball with a foot, getting it in the right direction is another thing. But, windsurfing or surfing or any free sport basically, is more of an adventure, it’s more of a lifestyle, it’s more of a feeling thing.

I think most people that start it and do it for a while, they change their way of thinking and they change their way of living. Of course, because it’s a thinking way, it doesn’t matter if you are a dentist, a student or a doctor, or a professional athlete, it’s just involvement, the closeness to nature, the closeness to so many uncontrollable things at once, that makes the fascination of windsurfing what it is. Most people in this world who do it know this, but unfortunately not as many people know it as could be knowing it. I think our message and our teamwork will be to give the message to the world, and to show windsurfing the way it really is, instead of just showing a little action with some music behind it.

AW: Do you think the way the sport is being marketed right now, is like trying to catch minnows with a big hook?

BD: I think you’ve gotta look at it in a different way. The hook, or a hook of windsurfing professionally, is going to be the action, it’s action. The best windsurfers in the best places with good winds and good waves. There’s only going to be a few people able to do that in the world, and that’s one of the fascinations of the radical attitude of windsurfing.

The good thing about windsurfing is that any person, at any level, gets that adrenaline rush, has that free feeling. It doesn’t matter if you just get uphauled and get going for the first twenty meters before you fall again, or if you’re seven steps further ahead, and you get planing, and do your first little chop hop, or you make your first jibe. Just getting planing in fifteen or twenty knots, for us, when we started, was a great feeling then. For people starting at this very moment it is a great feeling. You can go as far as you want, not everybody has to go into racing, but that’s why it’s great. You can do it at any level, just for fun, just to relax, just for exercise, and you could probably combine the whole thing: having fun, exercising, freedom, and clearing your mind all at once. In general, if you feel like sitting in front of the TV all your life, then windsurfing is probably not the sport for you, but then, any sport is not the sport for you.

AW: You do quite a few other sports. What makes windsurfing special for you?

BD: Because it has so much variation. You can go out in eight knots with a 7.8 (size sail), cruise between islands, somewhere in the most beautiful place in the world, be yourself, be alone. You can push it to the limits and go sailing in 40 knots on open ocean. You can go ten miles off the coast and you know if you wipe out out there and you break something, you’ve got to paddle for your life. So it’s dangerous, you can go in big waves, you can drown. And you know when you go out at Ho’okipa at 15 feet, there’s only so many other people who are actually willing, or let’s say, not even willing, but capable of getting out there and performing in it, and you’re one of them- it’s a great feeling. Just going in big waves, enjoying that, just makes life worth working for.

AW: Do you have any hairy experiences you can tell us?

BD: Heavy? I almost drowned in Ho’okipa twice. That’s probably the heaviest.

AW: What happened?

BD: Well, I just wiped out in a big wave, and got pushed on the bottom on the reef. When you come up, the next wave is already there waiting for you, and you have to dive off again, and eventually you think you have no more breath, but you still have a little bit. When you come back to the beach, you’re shaking like a little dog, but that’s part of the game. And breakdowns far off the coast. I have broken down in Hawaii as well. Out far. I had to paddle in and, I started off in Ho’okipa and ended up in Sprecklesville. From paddling in you can get pretty exhausted as well. In the Canaries I haven’t really had any really radical ones, but I have paddled for an hour or two there as well. If you don’t panic, it’s no big deal. You know you’re going to get in eventually. You just have to throw your rig away, throw your harness away and then start paddling with the wind and with the swell, and you get in.

You need to know where your limits are. You shouldn’t push them twice as far, keep a little common sense and then you’ll get back to the beach. A good rule for a normal windsurfer is, don’t do any killer things when you are alone. Go with a friend, go with two friends. If you’re going to go off the coast, then one guy can stay with you and the other guy can go for help.

That’s definitely the smarter way to do it. Don’t go wave sailing in big waves without telling anybody that you’re going there. If you can, take a friend with you, or a couple guys. One can stay on the beach and watch the situation and call the 911 line if it’s necessary. A little common sense is always good when it’s too radical.

AW: Tell me about the risk factor. Describe that risk aspect a little more.

BD: When one you’re on the tail going thirty-five knots, in choppy waters, there’s a highly big risk of you wiping out. But if you don’t do it, then you won’t win. With funboards, it is a lot easier to go fast, and a lot more people go fast because they’re not scared to wipe out, and they can actually control the board in the water. The risk factor of a wipeout is always there. The rougher it gets, the bigger the risk gets. Wave sailing as well. The higher the jump, the harder you’re going to fall. The bigger the wave, the harder you’re going to have to swim against the current.

AW: Do you think the risk-taking attitude rubs off on your daily life as well?

BD: Everything becomes that way. You want to do as much as you can as hard as you can in any aspect of life. It doesn’t matter if I go mountain biking, as I said before, or surfing, it’s all the same- you want to have this adrenaline rush, and you want to challenge yourself in each aspect. You want to enjoy 24 hours of the day, if it’s possible. It’s only possible for two days in a row, then you get tired after a while. You need sleep. In my eyes sleeping is a waste of time, but you’ve got to do it, you know?

AW: Because you feel like life is going to pass you by?

BD: Well, there are only so many things you can do, so when you sleep, it’s relaxing and nice, but it’s not very active.

AW: If you all of a sudden discover that you can’t windsurf anymore, do you have something you know now that you’ll sink your discipline and talents into?

BD: I said that I am a positive thinker and not a negative thinker.

AW: Right, you did say that! I don’t know what I was thinking…


 

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https://www.americanwindsurfer.com

by John Chao

Publisher/Editor of American Windsurfer is a former photojournalist for GEO, National Geographic and Time-Life Magazines.

photos by Thorsten Indra, Patrick McFeeley & John Chao,

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