Makin’ Mates

Thirty-seven thousand miles and thirty-eight countries later

WINDSURFING AROUND THE WORLD is a lonely life (I can hear this magazine’s staff and readers gushing pity for me with this remark). But it is because, with rare exception, I sail alone.

Though not by choice. I sail alone because windsurfing amongst cruising sailors suffered the same fate it had with other I’d-like-to-give-that-sport-a-go windsurfers—the gear grew too complex, too expensive, too purpose-built for too perfect conditions, as if every windsurfer lived on Maui or in the Gorge.

When my wife and I sailed away from the States aboard our cruising sailboat ten years ago, sailboards were a common feature adorning the decks of yachts. Whether they were used much or not, they warranted space on board, lashed to the lifelines, sails rolled around the mast, lying in the scuppers. Today, that same space generally harbors sea kayaks. (This particular sport’s promoters recognized early in the game the need to support beginners.)

Thirty-seven thousand miles and thirty-eight countries later, I can count the number of cruising sailor/windsurfers I’ve shared wave sailing sessions with on one hand.

So . . . I sail alone.

Therein lies a problem:  without a benchmark, without comparable ability sailors with which to gauge my progress, I didn’t know if I sailed fast or slow, jumped high or low, whether I threw smooth or clunky jibes, whether I stood upright or stuck my ass out.

We made landfall in Australia recently where I met some new mates who can sail the rails off a board, and I finally found out what I didn’t want to know:  I’m slow, low, clunky and my ass hangs out. Thanks, mates.

Though Australians casually call everyone “mate,” it’s just a figure of speech, like hailing a stranger as “pal” or “buddy” or even “yo!” Not until a friendship develops do they slap each other on the back and consider each other “mates”. I’ve been bashing around with a few local boardheads lately, guys like Big Luke and Jumpin’ Mark Jordan. Mates, I hope you don’t call me buddy behind my back.

As is usual, I stumbled across my new mates by accident. We had been sailing south from Surfers Paradise, seeking stronger sea breezes near Sydney, when adverse weather dictated we shelter near the small tourist town of Port Macquarie, straddling the Hastings River. Unfamiliar with the area, we motored upstream a few miles, anchoring in a wide bend, opposite what appeared to be a humble boat rental outfit called Jordan’s Boating. Rental catamarans were perched on the bank, fishing skiffs bumped against the wharf, a few specialized barbeque boats were moored out front. (Aussies are so obsessed with barbecuing that they buzz around on floating barbecues, twenty-foot box shaped aluminum—that’s Al-u-Min-E-um in Australian— structures sporting sun awnings, swim ladders, and spatulas.) And, hidden beneath a scraggly gum tree, a rack of old, little used long boards lay rotting under a tin roof.

I landed our dinghy at their dock because I needed to make a phone call. In short order, being Yanks and yachties and thus a curio in a town that caters to vacationing Sydney-siders, my wife and I were invited to a barbecue. Where I got to chinwaggin’ with the unassuming, laid back proprietor of the place, Mark Jordan, who happens to be an Australian Masters windsurfing champion, and one of the most talented boardsailors I’ve met.

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A brisk nor’easter sprang up the next morning and Mark introduced me to some sailing mates. Surprising me, most weren’t thirty-somethings like myself who grew up uphauling baggy Dacron. They were members of that missed generation, twenty-somethings, that Mark saved from a fate worse than death:  becoming jetskiers. And the rotting hulks of polyethylene that I saw stacked under the shed were just disguises. Adorning the walls of his tidy shop were the latest boards and hottest sails. I decided to hang around for a while and sail with some mates.

And open my eyes! I’d been beating around on old gear for years because I hadn’t known any better. I hadn’t sailed one of the newer, lighter, get-up-on-a-plane-faster wide-style boards. I always thought they looked fat and ugly in the magazines. I should have flown to one of those clinics, like the one on Maui that American Windsurfer throws, to test sail some fat boards because sub-planing on a skinny board sucks—and FAT was fast and fun!

Sure, I’m hanging on to my skinny little 75 liter wave board, for those perfect side-shore days when I’m overpowered on a 4.0. But for every other day, I’ll be shredding “along wit me mates” on nearly one hundred and twenty liters of Wide-Fat-Fun, still controlling all that volume when it’s gusting thirty, still smiling when it drops to ten, because a few new mates offered me a ride on their new gear.

Windsurfing with good mates, tossing back a few stubbies after a good session, that’s what it’s all about, ain’t it? G’day, mates.


While presently Down Under, Travel Editor Dan Welch is trying to become accustomed to the idea that the days are headed into winter.

by Dan Welch

While presently Down Under, Travel Editor Dan Welch is trying to become accustomed to the idea that the days are headed into winter.

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