Jimmy Diaz VI-11

Has Come of Age…

JIMMY DIAZ: When I was a little kid the big thing for me was the Olympics. I remember every four years watching the Olympics and thinking, “One of these days I’m going to be an Olympic athlete.” You kind of dream about that and when you see it in newspapers, magazines, on television, it makes the dream more of a reality. It is something you can conceptualize. In that respect, I think it is important for magazines to cover competition whether it is freestyle, waves, or racing. I honestly think it helps kids get up there and strive towards being professional windsurfers. In terms of product, it helps the image to cover the event and it is not just a sport done recreationally. It has a professional side to it. When you are starting, you strive for that. When I started windsurfing I looked forward to competing against guys I read about in the magazines all the time. That’s really important for the growth of the sport. Everybody has that competitive side and you need to feed that.

AMERICAN WINDSURFER:  What do you think of Formula? Do you think it will catch in the U.S.?

JD: I hope so. One of the biggest complaints about PWA racing is a lot of guys couldn’t afford to compete against people like Bjorn, for example, who had shapers and sail makers working for him. Bjorn could make as many boards as he needed to get the right one. That is pretty tough to compete against. A lot of people can’t, especially if they are starting out. So you have to be incredibly lucky getting support very early on or you have to have a wealthy family who can support that kind of technical funding. Formula eliminates all that and you can go to your local shop, buy the board, three sails, and fins. You can be as competitive as the next guy. That’s the mass appeal to Formula and it seems to be injecting a bit of life back into racing which is awesome to see. I’m pretty excited about the whole concept and it seems to be getting quite a few people excited about racing again.

AW: Coming from the PWA and switching over to Formula Racing are you surprised that a guy like Wojtek is at a level ahead of everyone else?

JD: To a certain extent it is a little bit surprising but there are quite a few factors that have brought that about. In PWA everybody had custom equipment—all different. It’s taking a little bit of time getting adapted to that. For example, the biggest sail I used in PWA racing was a 9.0 and now with Formula racing they are using 12 meter, 11 meter sails. A standard PWA fin, it might be safe to say, is 54 centimeters and now we are talking 77 meter fins. It’s a whole different ball game. All the PWA racers who are starting to do Formula, were caught by surprise. It will take time for everybody to catch up.

Wojtek has been doing this for quite a few years now. He’s more adapted to the whole situation. He’s a great sailor who got a bit of a jump. That’s what we are seeing now. It’s going to be real interesting to see what happens six months from now, a year from now, when the PWA sailors start putting their energy more towards Formula racing.

AW: Is that what you are doing?

JD:  Yes. It looks like that’s what’s happening. I’ve been concentrating on the racing aspect of the sport. That’s definitely what I want to do.

AW: Tell me a little about Jimmy Diaz?

JD: I was born in Spain and we moved to St. Croix when I was seven years old. My dad dragged my brother and me into a windsurfing lesson and from that day on, we’ve both done it. It was something we did every weekend since I was twelve. It snowballed from there and the interest never died.

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AW: I remember you were a pro sailor for a while. Then you went back to school?

JD: When I was in high school I got a bit of a sponsorship from a company and it was pretty cool. I was getting a little bit of a salary and then I graduated from high school and though college was something I was going to do, I decided to not go immediately into college. I had an opportunity to race as a professional windsurfer and did that for a couple of years. It came to me that windsurfing wasn’t going to pan out. There weren’t that many guys who seemed to be making it. My perspective might have been skewed because it was happening but not so much in the states. I had a limited perspective in that respect. I went to university and got a degree in electrical engineering and towards the end of that time I realized I still had a big competitive desire inside me. I needed to do it so I went back to windsurfing. The day after I graduated I started trying to become a professional windsurfer again which was kind of weird. I hadn’t raced in four or five years. I bought a truck and drove out to the Gorge and started doing the summer series there. My very first race I came in thirty-fifth. It was a relatively small national race if you could even call it that. I thought, “Oh my God. I just spent five years in college. I thought I could be a professional windsurfer and got my ass handed to me. What the hell am I doing?” The next weekend we had another race and I got seventeenth. The next weekend I got seventh, and the next I got fourth. Then I thought, “Okay. This is more like it.” It took me about three years from the time I graduated to the time I could do my first PWA event. It’s definitely a financial thing. I didn’t have a whole lot of money and it sucked to start from nothing basically and get the funding to do a PWA tour so that was a real tough part of it. It took me quite a while to get it going to a point where it was a productive enterprise financially. That’s a big challenge in windsurfing. Not a whole lot of guys are making money in this sport.

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AW: What do you want windsurfing to be for you?

JD: To me windsurfing is more than anything.

AW: Is it a competitive platform for you?

JD: Yes. I’ve always been a very competitive person and I really need that. I’m not the kind of person that just likes to go out and sail around. Its always been a competitive thing. That’s the most I get out of windsurfing. One thing keeps reoccurring. I’ll be out there in Gran Canaria, Greece, Germany, or Taiwan and I’m sailing, in sequence for my start, and all of a sudden I look around, and see what I’m doing for a living and all the places I’ve been to and think, “This is really cool.” Then I zone in on the start. I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction.

AW: Where does windsurfing fit into the grand scheme of things?

JD: I don’t know. I have a background in terms of what I studied and that’s something I want to pursue when I am done with windsurfing. For me windsurfing has been feeding my competitive side and I think that will spread out to other aspects in terms of a professional life later on. Personally, in terms of windsurfing, I’d like to see it grow a lot more in the U.S. It’s incredibly encouraging to go to Europe and see how popular it is over there. It would be awesome to see that in the United States. Everyone wants to be world champion. I’d love to achieve that.

AW: You are certainly one of the few remaining U.S. sailors that has a chance.

JD: It is so popular in Europe but for the last three, four, five years the best sailors have been Americans—Micah, Kevin, Matt, Robby, and Josh Stone. The Americans have been right up there in all aspects of this sport and yet its been the biggest in Europe. Obviously Bjorn has been the big champion but this year Kevin took it. Micah has been number two, number three in racing for quite a few years. The Americans are right in there plugging along pretty strong.

AW: You and Micah Buzianis are tight. At the same time you are on competing teams. You guys are so cooperative and so together. How has this happened?

JD: I met Micah when I started testing for North Sails. The previous session I tested with Ken Winner. In Ken I saw a very professional attitude in terms of testing and the minute I started working with Micah and Larry of North Sails there was that same really high level of professionalism. On a personal level we hit it off and became really good friends. I worked with him for two or three years. It grew into a genuine friendship and I hope that is something that will remain for life. Since then I moved onto Neil Pryde. That doesn’t alter the friendship whatsoever. It has changed how we work out on the water. We can no longer go sailing everyday. I’m doing product development for Neil Pryde and he’s doing it for North Sails. So we don’t intermingle that way. We can’t. We’ve done a lot of training together. We train in the gym and bike together. It’s great. A genuine friendship. It doesn’t come by so easily or should be taken for granted. It’s nice to have that with Micah.

AW: Tell me something about Micah that the readers don’t know. People see him as a windsurfer but don’t realize the human side of him.

JD: I once heard somebody describing the differences between the people from the North and South, talking about a specific country. They said the people from the south are very gregarious, open, happy-go-lucky, and approachable. The people from the North are more reserved, not so approachable, and closed at times. The big difference was that when you finally do break through the ice the people in the North, if they become friends, they are friends for life. Micah is a bit quiet, reserved, but once you get to know him he’s a great guy and somebody to admire and respect for life.

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AW: I take it you’re from the South.

JD: No. It was something that really struck me in a conversation I had with someone who was describing the differences. In a lot of countries the people are that way. It’s true. A lot of times people are misunderstood because they are reserved or shy at first. It’s usually those people that you slowly develop relations with that become really true friends.

AW: Tell me about your Spanish blood. That obviously helps you relate to the Latin culture in the South American groups.

JD: The language certainly helps. I’ve always felt that the Latin culture is the “land of the heart”. Latin people in general are more passionate about life. I’ve been pretty fortunate with my background to be able to blend in really well in almost any culture. My father is from Colombia. My mother is from Aruba. I was born in Spain. I’m an American citizen and that has exposed me to a lot of different cultures. No one has ever been able to categorize me. That gives me a certain accessibility which I think is somewhat unique.

AW: Do you think you are not getting much coverage in magazines because you are not a stereotype?

JD: No. It doesn’t have anything to do with that. It lets me do a lot of self-marketing. You get what you merit. I’d like to think that if I win a big event or the world championship then I would get coverage and that the magazines would come to me. I’m not much of a believer in self-promoting.

AW:  Should magazines cover just the winner or should they cover more?

JD: I always thought that magazines shouldn’t just cover the winners. They should cover the people within the stories who have something to say. As you can see, it took a long time to show stories of very well known people. It’s nice that in time, when a magazine does a story about you that it’s not because of an achievement but because of you.

AW:  How does recognition get started?

JD: It’s a bit of a Catch 22 for athletes. For example, when I graduated from college I didn’t have any sponsorships. I didn’t have any money either. I thought about it and said to myself, “What do I need to get a good sponsorship?” I need results. Okay, I’ll go to races and get results.” The next step was to get better sponsorships. For that I needed better results and more coverage. I had to spend a fair amount of money to get the equipment and the results to get the money. So I kind of went around in circles to get the break to make it.

AW:  If you were a young windsurfer right now, how would you hope that somebody would plant the seeds so you could develop your profession?

JD: First and foremost you need to be in a place where you can practice every day. Windsurfing is not like tennis, soccer, football, or baseball. You can’t just say, “At three o’clock I’m going to practice.” At three o’clock there may be no wind. All the guys who have done really well in this sport like Robby and Bjorn from a very early age had a tremendous amount of support whether from their parents or the industry and they were provided with all the equipment they needed. That’s definitely the next step. First of all to have a place where you can sail every day, second, to have the equipment you need to practice this sport.

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AW: What can the magazines do?

JD: In the formative years magazines can’t do a whole lot. It’s a matter of just putting your head down and grinding away. Hopefully there is a lot of enjoyment. That is how it has to be. In the formative years you have to enjoy the hell out of it. And let everything come naturally. If things don’t come naturally, you’ll never be good at it. It’s not something that can be forced. All the good athletes in every sport have a deep, deep passion for their sport. That has to be there and it needs to be developed for it to evolve into greatness you have to have all these other things. I don’t think the magazines can do anything when you’re first starting off. The best example right now is Ricardo Compello in Margarita who is fifteen or sixteen years old and doing the PWA tour now. He lives in a place where you can sail everyday, there is good access to equipment and where a lot of professionals sail. Here is someone with a deep passion for the sport and a lot of guys like Kevin Pritchard and Josh Stone come to Margarita and show him the potential of the sport and their love for it. He sees these guys and pushes himself to become as good. In his first year in the PWA tour he has managed to beat everybody, already, in World Cup competition. So what do you need? A platform, a forum, where you can be with other sailors who are better than you, to push and inspire you. Above being in a place where you can sail every day with good equipment and inspiration, you need passion for the sport. If you don’t have it, it will never come. All those guys like Robby, Bjorn, and Kevin who have won the PWA tour have fun, absolutely love windsurfing, being on the water. That’s essentially what it takes.

AW: It goes without saying that you do too.

JD: Yes. It will be blowing thirty, thirty-five knots, and in those moments before starting a race I kind of go out and take into perspective what’s happening. It’s important to realize that and to stop and smell the flowers. There is no sport like windsurfing—the exhilaration I get out of it isn’t equal to anything else. When I’m on the race course feeling that, there is no better feeling. I love doing this and feel very fortunate to be able to.

article and photos by John Chao

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

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