Micah Buzianis US-34

This was something new. It wasn’t a finish he expected.

AMERICAN WINDSURFER: Congratulations on winning the MVP award of windsurfing!

MICAH BUZIANIS: That was a shock actually I mean I’m really stoked to win something like this. For everybody to recognize me not just as a competitor but someone who has also helped the sport. . . Definitely a big honor. Whenever you win anything like that, it means more to me than winning any Formula Class race.

AW: Great! Congratulations for the well deserved recognition.

MB: Thanks a big surprise.

AW:  You know you did exhibit great outward sportsmanship when the helicopter we were in knocked you off at that crucial race in Puerto Rico. It must have been tough to be blown out of the water while leading the race.

MB: The chopper was sitting in a pretty good position. It was windward and off to the right of the course and far enough. It wasn’t really affecting us. I went around the windward mark in first place. At that point the helicopter took off. As soon as a helicopter takes off it immediately does a downdraft. It comes down in fingers. It’s not a huge area. But I got one of the fingers from the helicopter. It lifted me up. My board felt like it was about six feet off the water. I tried everything I could do to pull it off. I got the board back down on the water but at that point I was so out of position I just got thrown into the water. I got up fairly quickly but by that time four or five guys passed me. The race was over.

The first day of racing I was racing against Wojtek and Jimmy. It looked pretty clear that it would be among Wojtek, Jimmy, and me—one, two, three. On the second day I won a couple races and had some better finishes. I thought maybe I have a chance. I had a glimmer of hope. Coming into this race, the very first race of the day I had a good start. I was close to first around the windward mark and passed the French guy from Martinique. That’s when I got blown off. That was frustrating. It didn’t help my score or my mental outlook on the event.

AW: There’s a lot of mental play here, isn’t there?

MB: The first day of racing dictates who is going to do well. I was going to go out there, do my stuff, take my place. But then my hopes started getting bigger that I could maybe get second, even first. I managed to go out there and try to win the races after the helicopter incident but it was kind of a bummer.

AW: How long have you been racing?

MB: I’ve been doing the World Cup about nine or ten years, full time.

AW: You became the president of the Professional Windsurfer’s Association, PWA but just recently resigned. What’s going on?

MB: The World Cup is as strong as it has been. The big thing that is happening is that racing is definitely dying out for World Cup. There are so many angles to try to explain this whole thing. I’ll start with the racing first.

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Racing in World Cup is dying, due to the way it has been promoted through SSM who has been the marketing agent for PWA. The last two or three years they haven’t really pushed it. They talked bad about it. This company that is supposedly promoting PWA is, on the side, promoting Formula windsurfing as well, which is in direct competition with the World Cup. That had a lot to do with it. And the industry didn’t really back a lot of racers and racing events. They started to get focused on freestyle, putting more energy and money into that.

Formula basically killed the World Cup. It is the same thing and both are competing for the same marketing dollars. A lot of people who would do a World Cup event are now doing Formula events. Cost is the main reason behind that. The organizers don’t care. Most of them would rather have World Cup because they get a lot of big names. With Formula they’ll get a few big names and probably will get more overall competitors at a cheaper price.

Formula has hurt the World Cup but I think the direction Formula is going, it will kill itself. It’s going in the same direction that the World Cup has in the past. It’s already becoming semi-elitist. The top guys are getting catered to and have access to all the good stuff. Whoever is sponsored by a certain board company can get the lightest board out of the factory and before it is totally finished they can look at the shape and make sure all the numbers are exactly what they are supposed to be. So there is still somewhat of an advantage for the top guys.

Formula’s playing field was supposed to be equal so everybody can get the same equipment. If they are not doing as well as someone else then they are not as good a sailor. That’s not what Formula is right now.

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AW: But still you are competing in Formula races quite enthusiastically.

MB: There is no other racing to do so I’m forced into doing Formula. Also, I wanted to do Formula because I saw it in its original plan and state and thought it was going to bring more people into the sport and equal out the playing field. After doing five or six big Formula events this year, it is like the World Cup only you travel with a little less gear. It’s just as expensive because the equipment is getting so big. But I’m doing it to promote it as it was originally supposed to be—easily accessible for everyone to get into—not such a favorable thing for the top guys.

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AW: That’s pretty refreshing coming from a top guy. How can that be changed? How can the industry reverse this trend?

MB: We need to set the restrictions and hold to them for at least two to four years so the average guy doesn’t have to buy a new board every six or twelve months. Then it can be more accessible to everybody.

AW: Was it surprising to you that so many World Cup guys when they got into Formula racing met a guy like Wojtek Brzozowski who didn’t come from the World Cup and found out how good he is?

MB: Wojtek did do some World Cup racing. You probably don’t know that because he didn’t do very well. While he did the World Cup, Formula was just taking off. So he got into it very early and longer than anybody. I’m not taking anything from his sailing ability because he is good sailor, obviously. He is winning. He’s had a huge advantage over everybody else out there, having been on the equipment as long as he has. There were other sailors who tried the World Cup and weren’t very good so they went over to Formula and had a head start.

AW: Why did you resign from the PWA?

MB: There were a lot of reasons. One of the biggest reasons was the time and the mental constraints it was having on me. When I took on the job in November I worked really hard for a good three or four months. A lot of things didn’t go the way I thought they should. There were a lot of politics between the manufacturers and sailors. Everybody has his own personal agenda. We couldn’t all agree on one thing that we thought was best for the sport and put our energy into that. I had solid ideas and directions to go into and was fully prepared to do what it takes to get those up and running.

AW: Like what?

MB: There was a guy in San Francisco who restructures businesses and turns struggling businesses into successful ones. He is a windsurfer and willing to do it. He wasn’t cheap. But PWA needed to do something drastic and make some good investments. Not everyone on the management board could agree to this. They had other ideas. Unfortunately I’m not interested putting energy into something I don’t believe in. That’s the main reason why I stepped down.

AW:  What do you think the PWA’s future is?

MB: I’d be surprised if racing is still integrated into it. The Euro Cup has captured a lot of organizers from Europe who were potentially going to do World Cup events.

AW: What is Euro Cup?

MB: It’s a Formula windsurfing tour put on by a couple of guys from a company called Choppy Water. They still have a lot of growing to do but it’s the only group pushing an organized racing circuit which is what we really need, not only for the sport but also for racers. If we don’t have an organized circuit to go to we can’t get sponsors. If we can’t get sponsors, we can’t do the races, become famous and allow the industry to promote people.

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AW: People know you as a racer but they don’t realize how much R & D you do for North and Drops.

MB: I’ve been sponsored by North Sails for probably twelve years and with Drops five or six years.

AW: You seem to stay loyal to your sponsors.

MB: That’s my personality. If somebody helps me out I feel loyal and continue to work to promote their product. North Sails has treated me very well. There are only a couple of people that have been there longer than I have. I’ve always gotten along with everyone who works there. I like the way they structure and run a company. The same with Drops.

When I started riding for Drops it  was going to be my last year racing. I hadn’t had many good results. I was getting frustrated and wasn’t making any money. I was barely getting by. My parents were pressuring me to do something with my life and I was feeling the same way. I thought, “Okay I’ll just have fun this year and whatever happens, happens. Next year I’ll be in school.” The first event I went to France I got second place. Drops took notice and contacted me right there at that event. A week later I went to Italy, talked with them, finalized the contract in about two or three weeks, went to the Indoor event and raced on their boards. We’ve done a lot together since. They’ve definitely helped me a lot getting into races, promoting me, and my other sponsors as well. The R & D and testing we did on Maui really helped their image as a legitimate board company. Once we joined forces, everything started growing: their company, my image, marketability, and race results. It is a really good partnership. We both have benefited.

AW: You’re constantly tweaking your equipment aren’t you. That’s the whole game isn’t it?

MB: Yeah, especially with Formula when you can only change so many things.  You are playing around with battens and mast and fins and those are the only things you can really change.

AW: Describe the process of going  from the testing grounds to the production side that involves you.

MB: Well for the boards for example that is why I spent a lot of time in Italy this year testing with Drops.  Basically we would go into the shaping room and shape a board based on what we know from the MB14 and what we wanted to improve and what we wanted to try and change.  We would shape it and then take the board out and test it.   Either at Lake Garda or a lake really close to the Drops factory in Italy.  We would try different fins and hopefully get a couple different sail sizes on one board and then we would write test reports or give verbal feed back and then we would go back into the shaping room and shape another board. If perfect we would stop there.  Generally while I was over there, we would go through about eight or nine prototypes in about two months.

AW: For a board to be registered as an official production board what does it have to be?

MB: It has to be a certain size and then I think as far as production restrictions you have to produce and ship 150 boards.  By shipping it means just to distributors around the world. Used to be it had to be in eight different countries but I think that they have changed. But it has to come from a mold and you send in your measurements and weight, your foot strap and fin box locations, and whatever.  Then every board has to be within 10% tolerance either side of what the measurement and numbers are that you sent in. If some choose to protest a board at an event then you have to measure the board. If the board wasn’t within 10% of what it was registered, it’s disqualified.

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AW: What do you see as the difference between today’s production board and a custom board?

MB: I think that the biggest thing is just the weight, and that is not such a big issue anymore.  Most of the production boards are so close to custom boards it is hard to tell, if you just looked at one on the beach I don’t think you could even tell anymore.  You can tell by riding them, a custom board feels just a little bit crisper on the water. A production board feels a little bit soggier but the difference is really minimal. But the production boards generally are a little bit more durable.  The big custom boards today, to make them light enough and perform better than a production board you have to make them so that they only last you for maximum half a season if that.

AW:  How much play does a fin come into this whole equation?

MB: Fins are pretty big, especially since they have limited it to 70 centimeters which is a big fin, but considering  how big a board we are riding it is not really that big. So there is a lot of tweaking going on with fins.  It’s so crucial for the whole package with the sail and the board to get a fin that works right.  The fins can be custom fins so you can  play a lot with them.  I know that I do a lot of stuff with different fins.

AW:  Do you find that you want the fins to be stiffer or less stiff?

MB: Well I think the main thing with fins has been the G10. With the fins getting so long they are becoming a little bit soft. But I do not think that you would want a fin that is extremely stiff. We have tried fins out of 100% carbon, and they were just too stiff.  So I think the big thing that we need to try to do with these long fins is to control the flex and the twist in them.  I think the kind of molding and hand laminating fins are what you’re going to need to do with these long fins.  You are putting so much force on them, they are bending and twisting in all different ways. G10 is probably not structurally sound enough to really deal with all of those different forces.

AW:  So you need to go to composite fins.

MB: Yeah I think that G10 is still good material, it is to hard to put any carbon in the base, and leave the top flex or put a little bit of carbon in a certain area in the tip.  It is basically impossible to do that with a G10 panel.

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AW: Last year I was talking with Barry Spanier (Gaastra sail designer) and he said that they didn’t consider Bjorn Dunkerbeck as a threat but said that you were the real threat. Were you disappointed with your year end results?

MB: I was really disappointed. I started well in Gran Canaria and felt I was racing really strong and had a good chance to win that event. It came down to the last couple of races and I lost it there. It was frustrating. I felt prepared and was sailing really well. Then to lose it when I led the whole event . . . The rest of the year I was second behind Kevin. I’ve been second before and my goal has always been to be racing World Champion. It was definitely frustrating especially after doing so much work. Then this year there is basically not a  single World Cup event. A lot of work needs to be re-focused which is kind of tough.

AW: When you look towards the future, what goes through your mind when you see no real racing in PWA anymore?

MB: Its been kind of a confusing year. I’ve been thinking of other options. A lot of companies have been cutting back on sponsorships. A lot of good sailors are having a hard time finding sponsors. I’m fortunate with North and Drops to be so involved in their R & D programs. I love racing and the competition. If that is not involved, it would be less motivating to sail every day and train. I could stay in Maui and test but I don’t think I’m quite ready to settle down in one spot and stop racing.

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AW: As a racer do you feel helpless with all this, like you have no control over your destiny?

MB: A little bit. I was in a position to control the destiny as the chairman of the PWA but that’s seven people on one board trying to make one decision so that was just as helpless a proposition as trying to change the way racing is in the sport.

AW: What do you see happening for the future of racing?

MB: There are five, six, or seven events in Europe organized by a German guy and a Polish guy—Wojtek’s brother. The German guy has a company called Choppy Water. They are charging for each of those events an entrance fee to be a part of the Euro Cup then provide an overall Euro Cup Formula ranking at the end of the year. Their web site provides just about all the marketing and advertising. They handle entrees and press releases for the Euro Cup events. Something like that could easily be put together starting with existing events in the U.S. I’m sure we could do an event at the Gorge and in San Fransciso at St. Francis definitely. We can tie in Corpus Christi, and the Black Dog can come up with some more prize money. Then a few events could be held in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. I’m sure Margarita would want to be a part of it. The structure could copy what the Euro Cup is doing. There wouldn’t be exorbitant amounts of prize money, but as much as possible. We could make U.S., North American, or Caribbean, ranking at the end of it. That could be really easy to do and a lot more racers could get into it because it would be easy to travel to all those events.

AW: That surprisingly is something the magazine is trying to put together. It will mean a lot for the future of windsurfing if it comes together.

MB: That would be awesome!

AW: So how did you get into windsurfing?

MB: All the skiers windsurfed in the summer and Utah has some pretty good places for windsurfing. The first experience I had with windsurfing was with some friends of mine, the Carlyle family, who lived in Stansbury Park. My sister was really good friends with them. She got a little bit into windsurfing. Then she got my dad into it. They got me into it.

AW: How old were you?

MB: I was eleven or twelve.

AW: Was it love at first sail?

MB: Not really. It clicked with everything else we were doing. My dad was into challenges and new sports and at that time it was a new sport. He was a big skier and a farmer so we worked on the farm and played tennis in the summer. If it was windy it wasn’t good for playing tennis or for farming so we’d go windsurfing. It worked out. It fit into the lifestyle we had.

AW: Do you still go back to Utah?

MB: Yes. I go back a couple of times a year—once in the winter for the holidays and for snowboarding. I like to go back at least one other time of the year to see my brother. He’s got a two year old daughter. I like to see her and play with them.

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AW: Your parents moved to Maui?

MB: I moved to Maui because of my dad. After the first couple years of windsurfing he started getting hooked and we learned Maui was the center of it all. We decided to get into shortboard sailing and racing. He went to Maui in ’84 for a vacation and ended up staying for three months. He came back to Utah and less than a year later moved over there. He was in love with it—the lifestyle, the beauty, and the windsurfing was a huge bonus. He moved and I came over about six months after.

AW: So when and how did you start racing?

MB: The first race I ever did was the Pro Am in the Gorge. I raced Juniors that year and it was maybe ’85 or ’86. I just did that one race. More serious racing came when I moved to Maui and did the Maui summer series. At first it was Maui team slalom then became individual.

AW: Were you a part of Scott Sanchez’s program?

MB: Yes. I was part of the very first Gorge Junior Team in ’89. I’d met Scott and Rhonda in Utah through windsurfing. They windsurfed on our small, local pond there. I chased them around on big slalom gear occasionally. He kind of coached me when sailing he’d whistle and we’d jibe. When I graduated from high school on Maui he was putting together the Junior Team and told me to join. I thought it was something fun to do after graduating from high school—take the summer off and go windsurfing. So I didn’t do it with the intention of getting into professional windsurfing. I just did it to have the summer off before college.

AW: Was that a major break that led you to become a windsurfer?

MB: The major break was when Ian Boyd contacted me about being sponsored by North Sails on Maui because I was one of the young kids. He contacted Jason Prior at the same time. Jason was going to be the wave guy and I was going to be the racing guy because I was definitely more into racing back then and Jason was strictly a wave sailor. Ian said, “North is looking for a couple of young guys in Maui.” I was really interested. I was on Freedom sails before that. Everything worked out. They were just going to sponsor me with racing stuff. I’d have to buy all my wave gear and that was the same time that Pierre Jean Gerard was in charge of doing all the testing for North Sails and they needed someone to test with him. They hired Tom Pace to do it short term. Then I got in there a bit but he didn’t know who I was or how good a sailor. He brought me in and along slowly. That was my break in professional windsurfing. If it weren’t for Pierre I wouldn’t be professional. He’s the one that pushed North Sails telling them, “This kid is a good sailor. He’s got potential to be a good racer.” He helped me. He lent me money to get to events and helped me with getting tuned up. With so many connections in the industry he got me good boards and equipment. I owe my windsurfing career to him.

article and photos by John Chao

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

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