A Dance with the Dangler

Face to face with one of the most controversial windsurfers on the water

Misbehaved or Misunderstood?

We went to find this reported evil-doer, to get the story firsthand. What we found is a mild-mannered, jovial, and soft spoken 40-something ex-hippie—not the grotesque cartoon character we were expecting— off the water anyway. Where did we find him? Well, working in our warehouse, hired before we knew a thing about his “reputation.” Here is his side of the story, which admittedly flies in the face of everything we’ve heard about him. Is he unjustly maligned, or a true malefactor? You decide.

American Windsurfer: Why are you the most hated guy in the Gorge?
Mark Collins: I’m not hated. Who hates me? [Laughing] Nobody hates me…
AW: It seems like there’s a lot of controversy surrounding you, your sailing style and all the women that are terrified of you – that’s what we hear on the street here.
MC: Oh women, women terrified of me [laughing]. That could be good, I don’t know… No, you know I’ve given it some thought, and I realized that the reason some people, some women, yeah, I guess it is only women that I’ve ever really, I’ve had guys mad at me too, but uh, on the water I don’t treat ‘em any different—guy or girl– I only treat ‘em as… are they a rookie, you know you kind of identify people—there’s all different levels. You’ve got to be aware of what’s going on out there. I don’t really look at it as “this is a girl or this is a guy,” I look at it as “this is the captain of a vessel out there,” the captain of their craft.
AW: Well why is it that there’s so much controversy surrounding you?
MC: Well I think I windsurf different than some people, I don’t know, or maybe it is my style—I’m just out there to surf on swells. I jump on a swell, I’m aware of what’s going on around me, I look, but jump on a swell, and I’m going down the swell, and there’re people going back and forth, you might go by eight or 10 people on that swell. But if you’re going slow and you’re with the swell, you’re in control, you’re not endangering anybody, just having fun. People want to jump, they can jump on the swell I’m on, the only thing you have to do is try not to run into anybody out there.

 

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AW: But you seem to scare the shit out of people by coming close to them.
MC: [Laughing] Yeah I had a guy ask me once ‘cause I was all mad at him ‘cause he came close to me. And he asked me, “So what, are you a hypocrite?” I thought about it, and it doesn’t bother me if I come close to somebody because I’m in control and I know what I’m doing, but if somebody comes close to me it scares me, so I guess I am a hypocrite.
AW: Wait, he asked you if you were a hypocrite because you get scared when somebody gets close to you?
MC: Well he came close to me, and I was giving him a hard time about it, but he was like all, “you come close to me, I’ll come close to you,” kind of thing, I guess. I thought about that and said, “yeah, I guess I could scare people if I sail close to them,” so I don’t go close to people on purpose, but, on occasion, it’s unavoidable. You have a lot of people, maybe you have three or four people coming at you, depending on what tack you are on, and sometimes you gotta kinda squeeze between, or you know. But no, I don’t intentionally try to scare people or go close to them, I’m just out there to have fun.
AW: It seems like the controversy around you, there’s even talk of a website that…
MC: No, there’s no website. I think there’s this; it all started with this little core group of people. I don’t know who they are, but they started sitting on the rocks and talking about people out sailing, you know. I think sometimes they see me out sailing, and I’m sailing with my friends. And we kinda intentionally go close to each other. But if you’re on the water and you’re messing around with your buddy or something, somebody on the rocks says, “oh, the Dangler out there almost run into that guy!”
AW: How did you get the nickname Dangler ?
MC: Oh wait a minute! Who brought that up? I guess I did [laughing]. No, I don’t know, that came about a year ago. I’ve had a lot of other nicknames, but that one kind of stuck.
AW: What were some of the other nicknames?
MC: Oh, people call me “the Rastaman.” I like that nickname—Rastaman! That’s ‘cause of my dog (Rasta) I suppose.
AW: So tell me how did that nickname come about? Is it your style? Do you look like you’re dangling out there?
MC: I can’t tell you the X-rated response to that…
AW: Try…
MC: [Laughing] Well, some girl came up to me and asked me, “Why do they call you the Dangler?” and I had a real good response for her, but it’s not suitable for publication. But uh, it’s because I trail my hand in the water. You used to race, you know the old racing days, you indicate which way you’re going—you’re supposed to point. I guess I got it from sailing–you make eye contact with somebody, I point which way I’m going. There’s no question that way, right? If I’m not pointing, I have my hand free, I trail it in the water. Dangling my hand in the water. It’s not something I was really aware of.
AW: You have a different sailing style: you have both hands with an underhanded grip. Tell me about how you’ve come to have this unique style.
MC: I don’t know. People have asked me about it, I’m not aware of stuff. I’m kind of in a Zen state when I’m out there.
AW: You think people pick on you because you are different? That your style is so different, and that’s why this whole thing has escalated?
MC: People don’t pick on me. I get nothing but good vibes out there at the Hatchery, or when I’m sailing (other places). But there’s like a rumor thing kind of happens and it turns into almost an urban legend. So people that don’t know me, that I’ve never talked to, don’t recognize or have never seen, might have heard some weird thing about me. I don’t know what they’ve heard or, you know, I’ve heard weird stuff, I’ve heard people talking about the Dangler in Mexico, you know, weird places. Walking by a bar—Dangler, it’s such a weird word, you just can’t miss it, right? But it’s not a real negative thing either, I don’t see it as a negative thing. I think it’s kind of funny really.
AW: You’re saying your notoriety has gotten as far as Mexico?
MC: Yeah, I guess it did, all of a sudden kind of – ‘cause people would recognize me before, but they didn’t have a name to attach to that recognition so, I don’t know, maybe “Dangler” has a life of its own.

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AW: So, when people hear the word “Dangler” there’s fear and trepidation in their eyes?
MC: [Laughing] There isn’t. The one thing that kind of cracked me up that I heard down in Mexico, we’re sitting in a restaurant having dinner, and they’re talking about whatever they’re talking about, and this one girl says, “So what’s up with the Dangler? He seems like such a nice guy on the beach, but on the water he’s just crazy!” And so I started asking her about it, what’s he do? What’s crazy? And she didn’t know who I was, so she’s kind of telling me…
AW: What did she tell you?
MC: Oh just, I don’t know, it’s just the wacky way I sail or something. I do some weird stuff.
AW: Well, you do look like you have fun out there when you sail.
MC: Oh yeah, it’s all about having fun. I’m not out there to make money, I’m not out there to get noticed, I’m no fun to watch sail, really, ‘cause the fun’s all in my head.
AW: So when you are reaching, and somebody’s coming right at you, what do you do?
MC: When somebody is coming right at me, I do everything possible not to run into somebody. Whatever is necessary. I mean there are certain rules, certain ways that are designed to avoid collisions. But 90% of the time, that stuff doesn’t apply in a windsurfing situation. The rules of the road for sailing are for boats. The thing is, be in control, don’t run into anybody, and have a good time.
AW: When you go out there do you shout at a lot of people? Tell them to get out of the way?
MC: No, but shouting is good. Making noise is good. The only time you’re going to get run into or hurt is when you are unaware of that person or if you get run into blind. So I’ve had people yell, and thank god they yelled, ‘cause I wouldn’t have known they were there. That’s one way to avoid a collision. It’s usually whoopin’ and hollerin’, you know, you’re downwind of them, you can just shout, “Downwind!”
AW: Could it be that when you are sailing out there that you are so much in the Zen that you don’t see people, and that’s what got you in trouble?
MC: Ah, no, I don’t’ think that’s it. You know, one of the things is, I sail a lot. I know for years, I was such a boardhead, I probably sailed more than anybody in the Gorge. And there’re a couple other people I know, that I see them all the time, they’re always out. And I’ve never had a problem with them. I’ve never had a problem with 99.9% of anybody out there, but just like anybody else, you lose your temper, they lose their temper, but because I’m on the water so much, I see everybody. You’re out there long enough sooner or later you’re going to run into somebody. Well, I haven’t run into anybody, and I’ve been out there a lot.
AW: And, now that you’re getting into kite sailing as well, do you think that the danger is even greater?
MC: Kiting definitely takes it up a whole notch in the risk factor. But I don’t know that it’s more dangerous. Maybe more danger to other people. But to yourself, I don’t think it’s any more dangerous than windsurfing.
AW: So what do you say when people say that you are an accident about to happen?
MC: Who says that?
AW: If somebody says that.
MC: You just said that.
AW: I just said that [both laughing]. Now everybody’s going to say that.
MC: Well I guess you could say that about anybody, though. I’ve sailed with you and you know, you’re tearing around out there on this huge board and this huge sail. You’re just screaming around, man you can be scary out there. But you’re in control, you know what you’re doing. I know that one time maybe you were playing around, but you splashed me really good [both laugh]. Actually, the only person I’ve ever run in to was a really good buddy of mine, we were the only two guys out on the water. Sailing at Avery Boat Ramp one day, and I was kind of tagging along behind him, and he turned on a swell, and I kind of figured it was my fault. A lot of people don’t realize when you are behind somebody, you have to totally give right of way to the person ahead of you. You can say, “Oh, I’m downwind, somebody jibed into me.” Well, if somebody jibed into you, you’re coming from behind ‘em. There’s no other way around it. If they jibe into you when you’re alongside them, that’s the only time you have a right of way, that’s called mast to beam. Yeah anyway, he ran into me, that’s my one collision when we were the only two guys for miles around.
AW: So what would you say should be the rules or the etiquette for sailing in a crowded area?
MC: It is a matter of etiquette. Courtesy. Have a smile on your face and always have fun. There’s always going to be people boosting 30-foot airs over your head, and gear flying around, you’ve got to be aware of what’s going on out there, a place like the Hatchery, or something. But there’s plenty of room on the river: go upwind, go downwind. I try to sail the less crowded places. The only reason to sail in the crowded areas is if you’re waiting for the photo-op.
AW: I heard stories that people were going to slash your tires, or chase you down and beat you up.
MC: Well, a big gang of girls all chase me down and beat me up, that’s one of my biggest fantasies.
AW: I heard you had to paint your truck a different color or something?
MC: Oh, that’s all getting into the urban legend thing again.
AW: Tell me about some of these legends.
MC: I don’t know any. People have all sorts of stories about me, but they don’t tell ME.
AW: What about the one you told me about this guy chasing you down?
MC: Yeah, he thought I sailed too close to his girlfriend, so he tried to drown me at the Hatchery. I was sitting on my board, wondering why this guy was yelling at me, swearing at me, and he sailed over, sailed into me, knocked me into the water, held me under for three or four minutes and uh, finally I broke loose. But he apologized later and explained why he lost his head, all these different experiences he’s had, who knows why people do some crazy things like that. Some tourists called the cops, they thought the guy was trying to kill me. He was, he was trying to kill me, the guy’s a maniac. But that’s him, he is a wild-man. He’s a legitimate wild-man.

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AW: But was it precipitated by, I mean, it seems like the main problem is you sailing very close to people. And somehow they feel like you’ve endangered them. Does that make any sense to you? Maybe that’s a cause?
MC: Well, it goes back to the deal, if I jump on a swell, I’m not in the footstraps, and I’m basically holding the sail with one hand, de-powered. I’m surfing the swell, I’m on the swell pretty much going where the swell is going. I don’t have a–it’s not that I don’t have control–but I can’t change direction real suddenly. I don’t have power in the sail, all I can do is surf this way or surf that way. So I’m surfing the swell, and people are going back and forth, as windsurfers tend to do. And so I’m looking at people this way, looking at people that way, I can do a cutback, I can keep going, but people see you on a swell, upwind, coming at ‘em, it freaks them out. They think you’re powered up and screaming at them, and you’re going to kill ‘em. But you know, if worse comes to worse, I just jump off the board. Just ditch. You’re going slow because you’re on a swell, you’re not going fast. If I was Josh Stone, ripping up swells like they do on Maui, you know big waves or something, it could be dangerous. But I don’t consider myself dangerous. Theoretically, I am not under power, I’m just surfing. Like I said, I’ve probably logged more hours than anybody else out there, never been hurt, and I’ve never hurt anybody. So I’m not an accident waiting to happen, I’m just the opposite. I’m a careful, cautious guy.
AW: And if you believe that…
MC: I am! I’ve logged a lot of hours in helicopters, logged a lot of hours in very dangerous situations.
AW: Tell me about your background, where do you come from?
MC: I was born in Seattle, kinda moved all over, military family, I was a Navy brat. So, we lived all over.
AW: You were in Vietnam?
MC: Yeah, briefly, just at the end. I was in the military for three years.
AW: Doing what?
MC: I was on a ship—we did underway reparations on a task force in the Mediterranean. Big supply ship, we’d sling-load stuff over to carriers…
AW: Why do you think you like windsurfing so much?
MC: I don’t know. It’s an incredible feeling. It’s the closest thing to flying and freedom and it’s just incredible. Just thinking about it, you can get high off the thought of windsurfing. Driving there, you just get all amped up, it’s just going to be a killer day. It’s just a great feeling.
AW: What are some of the things you would like people to know about you, that you never tell?
MC: I don’t want anybody to know anything about me [laughing]. I don’t even know if I want to do this whole deal [interview]. I just want to be anonymous. I don’t want to be “The Dangler” [laughing].
AW: So you don’t want to be famous?
MC: No, no. I don’t want to be famous. Fame would be the last thing I want.
AW: You don’t want women to shudder when they hear the name “Dangler.”
MC: Shudder? That might be good…[laughing] No, I don’t want them to fear the Dangler. No need for anybody to fear the Dangler.

article and photos by John Chao

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

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