Unbelievable Re-Re-Re-Reality

Readers Respond to Volume 7: Issue 3/4

I’m not in the habit of writing letters to magazines but your latest issue brings up such an amazing discrepancy that I just had to this time. In it you devote thirty-two (!) pages to the TAWR, a race that never was, an event that became a non-event because of bad weather, bad planning (the RIB’s), and bad luck. Thirty-two pages. Most of that coverage was photos of a bunch of guys sitting in a restaurant or sleeping on a dock. Then in the same issue, with a paltry two paragraphs, you virtually ignore this amazing story of a Frenchwoman who plans well, ignores bad weather, and makes her own luck to successfully cross the Atlantic by herself. I was frantic to find more details of her and her journey, a real story. I know that AW sponsored the TAWR and you were an integral part of it, but that article was something along the lines of what has come to be typical windsurfing reporting: a bunch of cool dudes went somewhere sunny and had a far out time, man. Don’t you wish you were there? (The answer? No. I’d rather read something new and courageous like Raphaela’s story).

So as not to sound like a complete naysayer, I would point out that I do enjoy your magazine by and large. It’s beautifully put together (this comment comes from a designer), and is a great advocate for our sport. I would just suggest you take the noise level way down on all the some-hot-young-windsurfers-went-to-some-exotic-location-and-had-a-very-private-(except-for-all-the-cameras)-session. Focus on real events. Thanks.
Jonathan Cohen
Seattle, Wa.

We love letters like this! Bravo! You’re right about the seeming imbalance of pages. But we do have a bigger story on Raphaela written by Laurie Nadel which we hope to run in an upcoming al-women’s issue. Unfortunately, the timing and the fact that there were very few photos of her actual event and the difficulty of obtaining the commercial images within our deadline and budget were a hindrance. We had to work with what we had. This is windsurfing; the wind doesn’t blow on command. Going to the beach and getting skunked is part of this sport. Writing about failure is the focus of real events and real people. We do, however, want to defend the fact that almost all participants in the TAWR were sailors like you and me (mostly over thirty-five and all have other jobs.) The TAWR was an adventure that hot-young-windsurfers did not flock to. Speaking of hot-young-windsurfers, wait till you see what’s coming up next issue. I’m afraid if you wait long enough, you’ll find things you don’t want to see in AW.

Your message was forwarded to me because it was thought that I would enjoy reading it. I did. I am flattered that you think I am: a) hot, and b) young.

This really makes my day. The truth is, I am forty-five and spend eighty hours a week working at a software company. I guess you didn’t look too hard at my photograph! If you read the article I wrote that is part of the thirty-five pages you mention, I hope you will see that my emphasis was not “what a bunch of cool dudes having a good time”, but rather something which would be of interest to all readers. I hoped to answer the question most people would ask themselves, which was, “What would I do if I were going on this trip?” At the end of the article you will see that I have nothing but admiration for what Raphaela achieved, and I too look forward to reading more about it. I was actually very pleased with the coverage, as it struck a nice balance between telling what happened and conveying that this was a bonafide adventure that was worth trying. I am less than enamored with windsurfing mags that show nothing but photographs of the worlds’ best wave sailors doing quadruple maneuvers with ridiculous names. I praise AW for showing real world pictures of people from all walks of life doing the sport we all love. AW could have plastered his magazine with shots of the team members sailing, but they tried to show all aspects of the would-be adventure. When people died climbing Everest we didn’t say, “Oh there’s a bunch of whackos; they got what they deserved, and we aren’t interested in seeing their exploits”.

I would also personally like to convey to you the magnitude of the effort that we put in to try to make this adventure of a lifetime come off. I don’t see it as a private session at some exotic location. For starters everyone in America was given the opportunity to sign up for this adventure, and the truth was very few people came through with what it takes. The second thing was a lot of what we went through was far from exotic and more like revolting, painful, or terrifying. I hope this clears things up a bit for you.
Guy Miller

Thanks for taking the time to respond to my missive. It’s kind of funny how “emotional” I got over the articles in AW and how “emotionally” you and the editor both responded. I think it comes from a heightened sense of some kind from seeing ourselves in print—maybe something akin to finding ourselves naked in front of a crowd. I am a furniture maker/designer and wrote for some years for fine woodworking magazines. It was amazing how innocuous an article I could write and how much of a vehement response it invariably provoked. It is just possible that a bit of that transpired ‘twixt the three of us. First, I wasn’t intending to point the hot-young-windsurfer, trite–article finger specifically at you all and the TAWR, but at the majority of windsurfing mags (including AW at times), who seem to need to publish them ad nauseam. Second, I suspect that the flap arose at the unfortunate juxtaposition of the rather lengthy TAWR coverage so close to the tantalizingly diminutive report on Raphaela. I know now that it is a result of info available at the time of publishing, however that is not how it appears to the uninitiated reader in the magazine. If I/we could separate things out for a second, I have long admired what John has done with his magazine and I just recently have come to know about and admire what you guys did in the TAWR. That’s where I’d leave it. Regards.
Jonathan Cohen

It’s great to be a windsurfer!

TAWR, a Basic Lie
Your extensive, and quite redundant, recent coverage of the Trans-Atlantic windsurf race (TAWR) made me finally understand a problem I always had with windsurfing. The problem is lack of sailorship, which translates into lack of humility toward the sea and the elements.
Example 1. Recently I “rescued” a windsurfer. His problem was far from being serious and the location and conditions were not life threatening. (San Francisco Bay area off-shore wind around twenty knots). The unlucky guy’s sail outhaul broke, and he was not able to tie the sail to the boom with the surviving piece of rope. The problem was of course, that nobody had taught him how to do so in cold water, chop, and wind, with a tiny piece of rope (nor, I am sure, how he could have tied himself to a rope in case he needed to be rescued in “high seas”).

Example 2. The never ending sequence of the X-treme inspired video-tapes and articles about shredding waves, insane moves, power over nature at a rock and roll pace, and hyper-inflated risk-taking which often gets just ridiculous. Guys, you go so far as to inform us, page 3, that “camera and lens were damaged by the storm.” Wow!

Example 3. The TAWR and your coverage: Besides mentioning the fact that the TAWR is basically a lie (you cannot sail across the ocean on a “standard” windsurfer, unless you elect to sleep in the water), any sailor would tell you that those pitiful RIBs (loaded with equipment or not) are not a safe way to cross the Atlantic (even across a southern route), nor to serve as support ship. They might make it, out of sheer luck, but they will fail when exposed to anything higher than, say, force 8, for an extended period of time. (Really, does anybody think that a sailboard tied to the deck as shown on page 91, will survive even a few small, by ocean standards, breaking waves?)

It is pure luck that nobody died in this affair, and that the Coast Guard could still be called in—just add a hundred miles out and what would have happened?

So, I don’t know, I guess people can elect to risk their lives as they please. But it is sad to see your magazine explicitly and actively supporting a commercial activity which has little to do with sailorship, or even honest recognition of what windsurfing is: just a wonderful play thing which can be enjoyed off of a beach for a few hours.

There is a link between the windsurfer that has not been taught to tie a rope, a wave shredding mentality, and the TAWR. It is the same basic ignorance of what the sea can do to you.
Davide Verotta
San Francisco

You have some interesting observations about windsurfers. I’m curious whether you’ve read the articles. The three articles were really about the very thing that you are talking about – respect for the ocean.


Re—TAWR a Basic Lie
Thank you for your reply. To answer your question, yes I did read the articles and I got, as is often the case, a mixed impression from their content. Indeed some of the writers (and you in particular) express feelings and doubts similar to mine. At the same time there are other negatives in the articles that I did not mention, for example, the stress on the “competition”.

It is hard to consider the TAWR a “competition” when clearly the rules are not well defined and one team (as it transpires from the articles), had more appropriate sailboards and “secret weapons”.

Your voice comes across as considerate (in, e.g., your praise of the Brazilian team), but the net result is that the advertisement from “THE LOFT” claims having won the TAWR (over a field composed of (sigh) two teams).

So, yes I read and for my (and of course I stress my, I am not the editor!) sensibility and priorities the space dedicated to the TAWR should have been a short note—a shorter article than the one dedicated to the woman sailing alone across the Atlantic on a “windsurfer”.

But still it is interesting and at a minimum it serves the purpose of stimulating nice discussions.
Davide Verotta
davide@ariel.ucsf.EDU (Davide Verotta)

We take tremendous delight in provoking reactions. Perhaps it comes down to perspective of a cup half empty or half full. Your points are well taken though; in time sensibilities may change and the cup appears fuller. One thing is for sure—stimulation is a must. Competition? Both teams faced the same challenge: one team had more funding; the other was better prepared. It was competition to the max! Mano a mano.

It’s “Spiritual”
I just came in from the City where on Easter Day there was a twenty mph wind with a flood tide. A Hobie Cat was rigging up on the beach and a kitesurfer was out, jumping. I eat lunch each Monday at the same cafe with a group of men from the SFYC, most of them having been “commodore” or some other official in the club.

It occurred to me that I owe it to those boat sailors who explain a phenomenon of water people. The sailboarding community is something like the farming and ranching community, in that the people who are a part of it are relatively inarticulate—that is to say, they are doers rather than talkers.

I want to explain that sailing a boat is indeed wonderful! It’s exciting historically as well as physically, but windsurfing is different.
Windsurfing is the only thing I know of where the person actually can become an element of nature. That is to say, in its most rarified feeling, it’s almost “spiritual”. For there comes a moment that can last two miles when your weight, the angle of the sail, your stance, and balance in the harness, allow you to virtually release all physical effort and when you do, the sailor actually “becomes the wind”. It’s a sensational feeling.

In no other act I know of, other than the satisfactory sex with someone you care about, can such a metamorphosis take place—nor does it always in windsurfing. But like an extraordinary girl, it’s worth waiting for.
It’s difficult to explain this with words. It can only be experienced and then becomes almost impossible to describe to others.
Bill Abeel
San Francisco, CA

It is impossible to describe the depth of Bill Abeel’s recent loss. The following eulogy was delivered by the publisher to the beauty and essence of Bill Abeel’s “extraordinary girl.”

Ryann Abeel greeted me for the first time in the spring of 1998. As I entered the door she looked at me with laser sharp eyes and a mischievous smirk. Her smile invited the challenge and our eyes locked for a long gaze. There was no apology or impropriety as we stared each other down. It was a mysterious imprinting of two strangers with grins and unblinking openness.

That first hello established a bond that instantly and forever defined our relationship. She was more than a friend or the mother of a friend. She was a rare experience of love and affection. A kindred spirit whose accepting gaze and tight-lipped smile claimed more than a friendship, she stole my heart and guarded it jealously. With pride, she loved me as a son and treated me like a mother would. She made sure I knew that her adoration could not be emptied.

Since that first hello, my cross-country calls to Bill and Ryann became weekly rituals of affirmations. She made me feel so good about myself. She was like a mirror that reflected the beauty of my existence. Her candor and honesty was a breath of fresh air. She was outrageous!

I was in the process of crossing the Atlantic when the news of her passing stirred my emotions. I cried for my loss. I cried for her husband’s loss and I cried for her daughters’ losses. The charm and beauty that I might have taken for granted when she was alive flowed abundantly in my memory. I sat in the boat, gazing at a storm brewing in the distance. She was around. I could feel her when I called to her. The winds blew and the waves grew and I could hear her squeal, “Aaach! Are you crazy? Turn to shore and find safety!” I followed her soundings and in the darkness of an Arabian night, our boats found a desolate Moroccan harbor and escaped the fury of a fatal storm.

Ryann Abeel has moved to a place where we will soon follow. Her goodbye to me was as profound as her hello. When we parted, she said, “I love you.” And as if I didn’t hear it the first time, she repeated, “I love you”. These two declarations, rising from the heart—in the most affirming and resounding tone—are forever etched in my soul. They assure me that such love will always be my companion. They assure me that there is a bridge to a world not seen.

These are the gifts I cherish from an extraordinary woman named Ryann Abeel.
John Chao


In Memory of Ryann Abeel— April 14, 2000

Bend de knees an’ feel…
In your last issue of American Windsurfer Magazine (Vol. 7, Issue 3/4 2000), Dr. Kurt’s interview, John Chao’s forecast of his thoughts on windsurfing, and the making waves article “Heads Keep Rolling From The Top”, indeed show that windsurfing has become an even more intimidating sport to newcomers who just want to learn to “bend de knees an’ feel de breeze.” It shouldn’t be.

I am a windsurf instructor, and have been for the past twenty years, and have seen the choicest of training equipment decline from what it used to be, especially training boards. For example, no more BFT’s, no more AITKEN Superstars, no more Mistral school boards that can survive the rigors of teaching on choppy ocean waters, and no more of the IWSS Starboard.

The choice and selection of new proper instruction boards is narrow; the only choice is the Hi Fly 335 trainer board. I discount the Mistral Windglider because of its extreme limitations to teaching windsurfing at a professional standard— it doesn’t allow one to interchange the rigs, it only works well on flat water. I believe when one teaches, that the student needs to learn on actual equipment to gain appreciation for the technique as well as the fundamental feel of a board and rig. (You don’t learn to drive a car on a bicycle).

It is frustrating for someone like myself who loves this simple part of the sport: teaching beginners the 1,2,3’s of windsurfing, to find that the wide selection of necessary trainer boards are no longer available to take a lot of the frustration out of the sport for beginners.

Where have the good times gone for the simple beach life of windsurfing trainer boards? Winds don’t blow like they used to blow.
Patrick Scales

Eliminated Fun
I’m an ex-boardsailor for all of the reasons you have stated in the Forecast of the last AW issue. In addition, I feel that hi-tech and fun on the water don’t always go together. A stock Windsurfer was always more fun than the complex, twitchy board/sail we have today. A Hobie 14 was always more fun than the Tornado. Not faster, more fun. I’m 64. I sold my last attempt at boardsailing fun when rigging the sail became too much of a pain in the ass. It was a WindWing Synthesis 7.5. The board was an Equipe. I made a point of trying to sail at home and not traveling. I’m still on the water almost every day. It’s not by sailing unfortunately; it’s with a surfski—a shell and a surfboard (using the wave the auto ferry produces). I would still like to sail and I even sent off for a GO board brochure last year. The real problem for me is the type of sails available and the difficulty of getting the mast in the sail, not to mention the extreme downhaul tension. Am I the only one bothered by this? Are there lower-tech sails in the future?

It’s too bad to see the over-caffeinated, videogame generation produce all this tricky gear and eliminate all the fun. Keep up the good work and be well.
Mike McCroskey

There are indeed lower-tech sails and boards in the future. American Windsurfer hope to bring out a Windsurfer Retro next year, to bring the sport back to the lakes and bays around the country.

Knocked Off My Chair
I was knocked off my chair when I heard you say NO to F2, MISTRAL, NORTH, and NAISH in the TEST 2000 video that I bought on my trip to Maui last month.

I believe windsurfing magazines need to be more independent from the sponsors and manufacturers of windsurfing equipment. I would like to make a suggestion: find sponsors not directly related to windsurfing. What about the food industry? Everyone needs to eat. Why not the industry of organic food?

There are two major organic food stores on Maui. Next time you go windsurfing there, check out Mana Food and Down to Earth. They may not place a big ad in your magazine, but their suppliers of organic food may be willing to do so. Check with Eden Food. Good luck and stay away from these arrogant bastards!
Sylvain Pilon
Windsurfer Instructor, Maui, HI

The Firm
After reading your article about the behind-the-scenes dealings of North Sports, I felt beholden to say something about what North Sports is doing on Cape Hatteras during the summer (less windy) season, because something certainly smells foul in the supposedly “protected” waters of this lovely strip of environmentally fragile National Seashore.

Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, is part of the chain of barrier islands between the Atlantic Ocean and the mainland U.S. Windsurfers flock in droves to Hatteras, particularly in fall and spring seasons, when storm front and thermal winds can blow with duration and intensity. Intrepid wave sailors toss themselves and their rigs into the ocean, (and sometimes get tossed back), while learners and non-wave sailors rip back and forth on the Pamlico Sound side, playing and practicing their tricks and maneuvers. For the most part, the Sound is only waist deep, so it provides a friendly environment for novice sailors, in particular, to improve their skills. Similarly, many of the large rental houses bordering the Sound provide space underneath to leave gear fully rigged for the duration of a visitor’s stay. Summer sees fewer advanced windsurfers on the island, but many more beginners both young and old – potential sailors of the future, if their first few experiences on the water are good ones.

Summer also heralds the arrival of many non-windsurfing visitors, who come to Hatteras to enjoy a family vacation on the ocean beaches, where clean air and wildlife yet thrive, and where sunsets over the Sound are often breathtaking. Fishermen, kayakers, bicyclers, birdwatchers, and beachcombers abound. Unfortunately, there are also increasing numbers of PWCs showing up in the waters surrounding the island. PWCs (Personal Water Crafts, also known by brand names such as “Jetski” or “Seadoo”) were banned as of March 21, 2000 from the National Seashore Park areas which encompass most of the island. This ban was largely initiated due to public opinion; letters written to the National Park Service supported a ban against PWC’s by 11 to 1. But this ban has seemingly had little effect upon the waters surrounding the island, due to the fact that visitors can launch their hefty machines from private launches (non-National Seashore property) and from there zip around wherever they please. There are few signs indicating where PWCs are allowed or not; “No Wake Zones” are often not observed (if they are known). The National Park Service is supposedly stretched too thin to patrol the trespassing of PWCs into public territory, and the reality is, as long as the waters are considered public, PWCs may roar wherever they please.

On a more minute level, several business operations on the island rent PWCs in the summer season. One of the larger renters of PWCs this year is the posh, newly renovated store named Windsurfing Hatteras, which is now owned and operated by North Sports. Located at the north end of Avon, PWC users launch from behind Windsurfing Hatteras (a popular windsurfing launch in fall and spring; a greatly used teaching location in all seasons) and go zipping off into the Pamlico Sound. Students taking windsurfing lessons from Windsurfing Hatteras have been reportedly knocked off their boards by the PWC wakes. Although, to North Sport’s credit, they have designated a “no-wake” channel to access a specified area of the Sound where jetskiers may play, there is clearly not enough attention being given to “buffer zones” near shore or sailcraft in these cases. User conflict will only increase with this kind of rental business promoting PWC usage at Cape Hatteras.

Similarly, funds were allocated by Windsurfing Hatteras to build a new nine slot PWC dock, directly behind the store; unfortunately, no monies were found to buy a new windsurfing simulator for land demonstrations (the old simulator is a wreck, and had to be repaired by the instructors); and little if any staff could be supplied to help new windsurfers set up and launch rental gear from the learning area (adjacent to the PWC dock). Likewise, there have already been accidents, one quite serious, involving PWCs rented from Windsurfing Hatteras. Boating safety records indicate that PWCs are the most dangerous craft on the water. As well, oil from the PWC two stroke engines is becoming apparent on the surface of the Sound, and fumes from the exhaust hang in the air when there is no wind to disperse it. (The Bluewater Network, an environmental group, states that one hour of PWC exhaust, which is dumped directly into the water, equals one year of a car’s exhaust.) Visitors come to this island and rent houses by the week. They come to enjoy a little serenity and to escape from the cacophony and stink of the larger cities. Now on Hatteras Island they are being barraged and endangered upon the water with the noise, water and air pollution, created by these PWC users, who seem to have little in mind beyond pursuit of their own personal (short-term) pleasure.
How ironic that North Sports, one of the largest and more popular windsurfing equipment suppliers, sees fit to supplement their income with the rental of PWCs—a “sport” for the most part incompatible with windsurfing (beyond the obvious service as rescue vehicles for windsurfers and kiters). Is this the corporate lack of foresight and creativity that cannot figure out how to market quiet sports, which are non-destructive to the environment, such as kayaking, sailing, paddle-boating, and kites? Is the bottom line so critical that North Sports sees fit to alienate the very people to whom they could potentially be selling gear, i.e. new windsurfers coming into the sport? Or do they care so little about the future of the sport that they prioritize renting PWCs over teaching newcomers to sail? It is already apparent that windsurfing is a sport that “eats its own young”, i.e. satisfies short-term profit at the expense of the long-term future of the sport. Why else would new sails be made with such inadequate materials that they last only a season? Why else are production boards built to last only seventy-five hours (the average sailor’s time spent on the water over the one year warranty duration)? Why else would North Sports, nick-named locally as “The Firm”, be renting PWCs?

PWCs have similarly been seen careening around The Point—the most popular oceanside fishing spot on Hatteras Island, where the cold Labrador current meets the warm Gulf Stream. This is clearly a National Park beach where rare birds and nearly extinct sea turtles attempt to breed and nest when they are not being driven over by four wheel-drive vehicles. What about the waters: are they to be left totally unprotected? Numerous endangered species thrive in and around the Pamlico Sound. Generations of local inhabitants have supplemented their livelihoods with fishing and crabbing in these waters. Likewise from a commercial standpoint, Hatteras would like to be perceived as a family resort, and PWC riding seems to belong to another class of idiocy entirely, with little concern for safety. Is the short-term gratification of a few, namely corporate North Sports and the people to whom they rent PWCs, an excuse to assist in the destruction of the environment in a beautiful location, such as Cape Hatteras?

As long as Cape Hatteras remains a National Park with private property dotted throughout, it will be difficult to come up with practical restrictions that protect the environment and future of Hatteras Island. When asked, most locals and many tourists wish PWCs could be banned entirely from the island, except for use in rescue operations. If this is the case, why are area businesses allowed to rent these obnoxious machines, which exacerbate the problems of water and noise pollution? Where is the line drawn between public and private on the water? If the land can be regulated, may the water be also? And if not, who wants to assist those companies which appear to have no respect for the environment and future welfare of a supposedly “protected” area such as Cape Hatteras?
George Sand
Avon, NC


Last Word
Greetings from Jacksonville, Florida! I am S. Newman Darby’s daughter. Windsurfing, as you can imagine, has been a hot topic in our home for my entire life. (Dad invented it before I was born. Needless to say, at a very young age I was on a board!) I just read your interview with Mr. Jim Drake. It got me thinking . . . I love the sport. Dad loves the sport. Mr. Drake appears to love the sport, too. So, why can’t we all just get along?
I noticed throughout Mr. Drake’s comments, slight digs (intentional or not) toward Dad’s abilities. This saddened me. Dad is one of the gentlest, most intelligent, and oftentimes whimsical, men I know. Mr. Drake, too, seems to be a caring person and a genuine advocate of windsurfing. (That in itself makes him likeable to me.) I believe that if Dad and Mr. Drake met (in completely different circumstances) they would have been fantastic friends. Mr. Drake (if you’re reading) I ask you to reconsider your comments on Newman Darby’s role. I do wish to thank you for acknowledging my father as inventor. We recognize your contributions to the sport. Sail in happiness and safety! Peace.
W. Darby Brown

You can find all the Drake interview and the “Origins of Windsurfing” articles on-line at www.americanwindsurfer.com We thought Mr. Drake was quite gracious towards everyone.

Comment on Liberty
I feel compelled to comment on the fact that the cover story is of the Trans-Atlantic race, the rear cover is an ad for the Liberty jacket, the supposed official Trans-Atlantic vest. Yet not one picture displays a rider actually wearing one . . . not one! What do you think?
Frederick Floyd
Perth, Australia

The Liberty jacket was mandatory in the first TAWR event in 1998 and not in the TAWR2000. There were riders using them as weight belts (which were not allowed in the TAWR98) but had their team jerseys over the jacket. (See back cover.)

Warming Hearts
It warmed my heart to see that Gavin got his van. What a wonderful spirit he has. Thank you for letting my wife and me have a small part in making it possible by accepting contributions from subscribers. You too have a big heart and kind spirit. I have every copy of American Windsurfer and have enjoyed reading them all.
Charles (Sam) & Pam Robinson

It is you and those readers like you who keep the fire burning for AW. Thank you for giving us the pleasure of seeing a young man’s life transformed. We had a lot more letters than we could print in this issue. Hopefully we can display them in the next. Thanks to all. ED