ALL THE INGREDIENTS were there for a great festival. There was wind, water, sun and a happy island. What was billed as the first major international festival had a sputtering start that had to struggle over some demanding glitches. Though the government of Aruba came through gallantly to make the event happen, the 1997 Aruba Hi-Winds and Windsurfing Festival did fall short of its self-imposed expectations.
Early in the game, two major setbacks set the stage that would have buried any other organization. First O’Neill, the backbone sponsor, decided they were hurting for cash and pulled out, leaving rumors that the Hi-Winds was cancelled. Second, American Airlines, the sponsor of the event, did not provide the discount fare star code until two weeks before the event. By that time, many interested travelers abandoned the idea, as it became clearly too late for most people to make travel plans. Speculation was made that the airline held up the special fares until the last minute in an attempt to sell as many normal fare seats as possible. The sad reality was that most of the planes flying to Aruba during that time were flying half full.
LINING UP: On the water for the start and on the stage for the scandalous bikini contest. All Caribbean nations were represented with lots to look at on the water and on the beach as the Antiqua boys will attest. Future Arubian heartbreakers get ready to set sail with Matt and Shawneen Schweitzer. The week’s events culminated with the awards night celebration. Local videographer, Dasher, captured for posterity the spirit of Hi-Winds.
Events don’t grow on trees and they seem to die off easier than they are sustained. But for eleven years, Aruba has kept the Hi-Winds alive. Each time, the behind-the-scenes, super human effort made by a few, continues to stoke the flame of competitive windsurfing. The new twist of the festival, to celebrate windsurfing and provide a platform for recreational windsurfers to participate, has proven that it can work. The tactical move by the organizers to fly Matt Schweitzer, the freestyle champion and the retrofitted cover boy of the old Windsurfer days, in from Hawaii proved to be a major hit. It was clear that the crowd on the beach could relate to Schweitzer on this antiquated equipment easier than the sophistication of the modern day racer. It was another wake up call that hinted to the life force formula for future events.
This year’s Hi-Winds gave the organizers and event sponsors a new taste of what is possible. It clearly revealed what the demands of the public are and how intoxicatingly fun it is to provide it. Consequentially, the experience of the 1997 Aruba Hi-Winds has left the organizers and all those associated with the event, wanting more. Don’t miss it next year!