The Great Travel Contest

GRAND PRIZE: Brett Nichols
2ND PRIZE: Don Ezernack
3RD PRIZE: Gregg Richardson

GRAND PRIZE:  Round-trip tickets for two to Bonaire including hotel, car rental and windsurfing gear goes to: BRETT NICHOLS


Yin and Yang Go Windsurfing

“Three more days!” Mark and I have been together six months and we’re about to embark on a trip to the tropics. It is winter where we live and windy where we’re going. Mark is so excited he practices windsurfing in our spare bedroom where he keeps all his gear. I take a fan in there and turn it on high. Mark reacts to this the way I would if he’d bought me a dozen roses and taken the time to write a romantic note.   

“Touch it, feel it, be it,” Mark says, caressing his new windsurf board. The pressure to windsurf has been non-stop since we met. “Ménage a trois?” Mark suggests, his arm around me and a piece of windsurfing equipment.

“Ménage a deux,” I say, wanting nothing to do with windsurfing. It looks like something I would enjoy, but I am a terrible beginner, and there is nothing worse than learning something new in front of the person you least want to see you fail.

“You promised to windsurf, Trish,” he whines. Our guest bedroom is packed to the light fixtures with his sporting goods. I wanted fluffy pillows that matched the valance; I had them picked out. He picks up another piece of windsurfing equipment and waltzes over to me with it. “Care to dance?” he says, pretending it can talk.

“No!”

american_windsurfer_9.34_contest_spread2-s
(enlarge)

“Are you sure, I’m 100% carbon.” I put my hands on my hips. Suddenly I am my mother, tossing a wet blanket over every hair-brained moment of enthusiasm from my dad.

“Honey, going on a windsurfing trip is like robbing a bank. You have to roll around on the cash in a cheap hotel room,” he says, throwing himself on a pile of windsurfing sails. I leave him to writhe, stomping from the room.

I did promise to learn to windsurf. Sort of. Shortly after we met I said that I wanted to learn, somewhere warm, thinking it would never happen. It was fall and it bought me months, but now we’re taking this stupid trip and instead of a romantic week of beach walks and spooning to sunsets in a hammock, I’ll be making an uncoordinated idiot of myself as everyone watches. Everyone but Mark, who will have taken a break from yelling at me to windsurf better so he can fantasize that he’s dating the 90-pound windsurfing woman zooming by us.

Mark is gone for long periods of time, windsurfing. Every four minutes or so he will roar toward the beach. He turns at the last second when it seems he is about to sail onto dry sand, and whips back out to sea in a blizzard of spraying salt water and hoots of joy like I’ve never heard from him before.

I should be happier. I’m lying on a beach in the tropics, on vacation with my man. But it isn’t that warm. It’s kind of cloudy, cold and an annoying wind storm is driving sand into my skin like someone has given a BB gun to an eight-year-old boy. Windsurfing looks fun until a woman drifts by in the water getting manipulated by awkward gear while the boyfriend yells at her to stop pretending she doesn’t know how to windsurf.

I’ve been depressed and surly for the last two weeks, knowing my turn to windsurf will eventually come. My last boyfriend taught me to snowboard. I fell on my tailbone the required 30 times, and learned, but in the interim, I was miserable to be around. Guys will wait patiently to see you at your absolute worst, and then decide whether or not you’re a good long-term prospect. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but neither does a woman’s modus operandi of staying in a terrible situation for security and a few good days a year.    

“Your turn, sweetie,” Mark says. The smiles and terms of endearment are sweetening for the tacit, bitter agreement we have that our relationship requires me learning to windsurf this week. Mark’s heart is set on tearing across the water with his girlfriend.

Mark carries the gear down to the water for me, which is sort of nice. “After you,” I say.

“Ha ha,” he laughs, though nothing’s funny. “That’s the idea,” he says, pointing to a woman who is struggling near us. The water is deep even though she’s 10 feet from the dry sand. With her head tilted back, her mouth and nose just take in air.

“Waterstarting is pretty much the best place to start,” Mark says, “since it gets you out of the water, haha.”

“I’m going to need comic rescue more than comic relief,” I say. I am going to drown while making a fool of myself. The beach, lined with bloodthirsty spectators, is starting to resemble the Coliseum.

I walk dragging the gear. The water is less than warm. I jump to keep the water off the dry part of my torso. I’m shivering and weak from nervous tension. It feels like the time I had to jump off the diving board as a four-year-old or disappoint my dad. He yells for me to jump into the pool and I can’t. I’m scared my legs won’t walk me to the end, he’s yelling and I realize it’s Mark and he wants me to move into deeper water and windsurf. A tan muscular woman sails up, does something fancy that results in her pointing the other direction. Mark watches her as she sails off.

I move away from the beach. The water is chest deep now. “Spin the board around,” Mark yells. I can’t understand him over the wind. He could be shouting a shark warning for all I’m able to decipher. I am out of my comfort zone and terrified. His unintelligible yelling is disconcerting. Mark makes arms gestures like he’s directing traffic. I grab the unwieldy gear and maneuver it into the position about which Mark is shrieking.

The wind catches the sail and pulls it instantly out of my hands. It’s downwind of me, and I have to pull it all the way around to that one mystical spot where it becomes useful. Waves break over my head for another five minutes as I pull the sail through the water. Finally, it is once more out of the water, above my head. Something goes wrong and the sail lifts me with tremendous force. “Hold on!” I hear. I do and I am hurled with the wind toward the board. My shins hit the side of the board as the rest of me is flung on top of the sail. I kneel there, thankful to be out of the water. I look to Mark for direction, and he is furiously directing me not to kneel on the sail.

After more haranguing I am off the sail and tip-toeing in five feet of water and pulling the impossibly awkward gear into the spot where it works, which has only been described to me vaguely, in a language of words I’ve never heard before.

The sail moves like a grand piano, and a millennium later I am ready to expose the sail and my pride to the wind raging above my head. It boosts me up like before, only, this time, I let go, to not be thrown onto the sail, a no-no. I surface and the sail swings down and hits me in the head. I scream. White pain sears my skull. I grab my head where it hurts, which only pushes the pain deeper. Mark is yelling, the wind is howling and the waves are washing into my mouth as I try to breathe. I’m trying not to cry and feeling four again. I struggle out of the water. It gets shallow abruptly and I splat to all fours. I get up and walk back to my towel, holding my head. I want to tell the 200 people watching to mind their own business.   

Mark says, “Why’d you quit, you were doing great?”

“I got hit in the head.” At this point, I start to cry. It is horribly embarrassing but trying not to makes me cry harder. I am forced to let it run its course. I want to hide.

“You did? Where? Let me see.” I put his finger on my bump the size of a mosquito bite. “Seems ok. Want to go back out?” he asks. I need validation of my feelings first to be amenable to windsurfing encouragement, but we are in a gender-induced state of impaired communication.

american_windsurfer_9.34_contest_spread3-s
(enlarge)

“I don’t ever want to windsurf again!” I say. The whole thing is humiliating, and I’m having the tantrum I most feared. Did I mention to Mark that I’m an ugly beginner? He is well aware of it now. Fear, frustration, crying and quitting aren’t in his repertoire; we miss each other by miles at times like these.

After a minute he says, “I’m going back out for a little while–“

“You do that!” I snap, “Indulge yourself. Have fun.” My biting sarcasm must be scalding him because he is hustling to get into the water.    

He sails off into his comfort zone. He’ll battle mother nature to exhaustion but can’t get past the first sentence with me when we need sorting out.

Back on dry land, I lie in the lee of our duffel bags like Robinson Crusoe, collapsing from emotional and physical exhaustion. The event has been a fantastic energy drain.

Mark isn’t talking at dinner. I want to be mad. I want to make our breakup angrily official, rather than a chasm that widens with the speed of a glacier. “Are you going to not talk to me the rest of the trip?”

“What are you talking about? I’m not not talking.”

“You’re disappointed. You want a girlfriend that windsurfs. Admit it.”

“I don’t want a girlfriend that windsurfs. When have I ever said that?”

“You’re going to dump me because you want a windsurfing wench and after today you realize I’ll never be one.”

“I don’t care if you windsurf.”

“You do. You’re disappointed and you’re giving me the silent treatment because you don’t want to break up half way through a vacation.”

“I am not. I…I was having a windsurfing fantasy. That’s all.”

“You’re fantasizing about windsurfing, with someone who windsurfs.”

“No, you were there.”

“How can you daydream about windsurfing at a time like this, anyway?”

“A time like what?”

“I practically drown and you’re cheating on me in a windsurfing fantasy.” Mark won’t admit I let him down and I am crushed under the weight of having let him down from the one thing that’s important to him.

We say little on the way back to the hotel. I want to go for a walk, or cuddle on the hammock on the lawn, or get sloshed in the hot tub; anything to get us communicating again, but I instigate none of these things. We go inside and clean our teeth in silence, and get into bed.

We lie still, together yet alone, and fight a quiet little battle. I keep to myself, feeling like I’ve sent many an envoy across the silent battlefield. It’s his turn to respond. He makes a form of communication, but spoken in a physical language he’s better at. I feel to answer would be a form of surrender, but I am also desperate not to fight anymore. I am so happy to be communicating at all, even in this way, that I listen and respond.

We do banter beautifully this way, Mark and I. What makes him hugely empathetic to my needs at times like these and not others, I have no idea.

Because more windsurfing is out of the question, the next two days go well. I’m not tied in knots over it. I sponge up the sun’s rays, even getting so relaxed I sleep on the beach at times. Mark is pleased with the wind. He plays in the water like a kid in a pool. He talks to people as if they’re old friends, even though he’s just met them.

We do some pleasant kayaking and snorkeling in the mornings before it is windy, then Mark windsurfs. I pretend I’m not jealous, and mad about being defeated by a sport. Windsurfing nags me, and by the third day, I’m thinking about trying it again.

“Windsurfer, are you?” someone asks me on the beach.

“I guess,” I say to a guy with an Australian accent. He could be in his fifties but has the style, tan, and build of the younger men on the beach.

“I’m waiting for my boyfriend,” I say. I always feel tacky when I slap a friendly conversationalist with that information, unsolicited, but it wasn’t like I winked and hand gestured him over, to accost me.   

“I know. Why else would you lie here and get drilled by sand all day? We do lessons,” he adds.

“Lessons in what?”

“Windsurfing, of course.”

“Oh, thank you, no. I have an instructor,” I say.

“Going well, then, is it?” he asked.

“Ok…”

“Do you find that his teaching methods intersect nicely with your learning aptitudes?”

Not exactly, but who the hell is this guy to be so forward? When I don’t answer, he says, “Anyway, we’re up at the far end of the beach. Why don’t you come up and check us out?” I have enough windsurfing pressure in my house already, and this guy is selling it door to door.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t like to quit. Bored the next day, napped out, and pestered by my something in me, I go for a beach walk and find myself watching the lessons.

Australian-Guy is in waist-deep water coaching a woman. The wind is calmer. She stands on the board and pulls the sail up by a string. She grabs the sail and windsurfs 20 feet before falling in. I hear him say, “That was great! Try it again.” She hops back up on the board and eagerly pulls the sail up.

Boards are everywhere. A guy stands on a board attached to a swivel on the beach. The board spins as he manipulates the sail, under the guidance of another instructor. A third student holds just a sail, on the beach, and is able to lean back, like an imaginary wall is supporting her. I watch for a while. The instructors all seem to be enjoying themselves and incredibly, the students are too. Nobody is receiving CPR or holding their own tourniquet in place until the chopper arrives; there is a noticeable lack of frustration and anger. Laughter is the only audible thing from the students, although I can almost hear their concentration. A student sails toward land with a facial expression that resembles the look Mark gets when he windsurfs.

“I think I want to take a lesson,” I say to Mark when he comes off the water two hours later. I am unsure and want Mark’s opinion.

“That’s a waste of money. Besides, I’m your instructor.”

“Yes. I appreciate that, but I don’t want you to have to spend all day working with me.”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re worth it.”

“Worth five-minutes since we got here?”

“Well, it’s not like you’ve been bugging me to share the gear, or respond well to help.” He makes a good point, and now that he has firmly decided against my taking a lesson, I’m definitely taking one. 

“It’s a waste of money,” he says for the fifth time, lagging behind me as we walk up the beach at 10 am the next day.

“You spend $1,500 on a board and would give anything to have a girlfriend who windsurfs.”

“You’re back,” says Australian guy. “You, too?” he says to another couple that has also just arrived. “I’m Jon.” The other student is Liz. After brief introductions, he says, “Boyfriends, thanks for coming. Now please go windsurf, guilt free.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” Mark and his counterpart say.

“Go windsurf. No spectators allowed.” Mark doesn’t budge. He doesn’t like being told what to do. I wave him away, and say, “Shoo.” They leave, grumpily, the corpus spongiosum in their brains unable to figure out that they’re being relieved of responsibility for us, and we’re learning to windsurf. Leave it to guys to have a problem with that scenario.

The first hour doesn’t require getting in the water, let alone needing gills to survive. Liz and I use the swivel board and other props and get instruction from Jon. He is authoritative but encouraging. He massages my anima with encouragement when I need it, and fuels my growing enthusiasm with compliments yelled during my moments of success. It’s hard to hear things like “That’s it!” and “Great!” too many times while climbing a steep learning curve, which Jon refers to as the stairway to heaven.

I’m able to compartmentalize feeling like an idiot, as the beach is deserted except for instructors I’ll never see again. The hour of windsurfing on the sanctuary of dry sand goes by too fast, and Jon says, “We’re ready to christen our newfound skills on the water.”

“Will it feel like a bottle is being broken over our heads?” I ask. I look for a Surgeon General’s warning on the board, that windsurfing and water do not mix. Jon pshaws me and asks who’s first. 

Liz and I offer to let the other go first. Jon shouts my name and I am walking toward a windsurfer awaiting me in knee-deep water. My stomach is a mess and my muscles feel weak. My heart is working like a blender on frappe, but in a mere hour, Jon has earned enough of my trust to successfully order me on a windsurfing board.

“Just step right on,” says Jon. “It’s a big board.” It is wobbly, but I am able to stand without falling in. He has me bend my knees and pull the sail from the water by a string. It comes easily up. “Grab the handle part,” he says. “It’s called the boom.”

The wind catches the sail. I am pulled forward, but I regain my balance and I am moving. The Wind is pushing me across the water! I glide with ease toward the ocean. The sun sparkles on the ripples and the sensation of movement is a beautiful feeling. I let out a small involuntary scream. The excitement is instant. It feels like the start of a ride at an amusement park.

“Tack!” yells Jon. We did this 20 times on the swivel thing and I have a vague sense of it, but I’ve earmarked it to coincide with my demise. From the previous repetition, my subconscious is steering the board upwind, even though my conscious mental resources are totally consumed in having a most sincere, heartfelt panic attack.

“That’s it! Now step to the other side of the board.” I don’t hear this over the angst-driven rock band playing in my head, but the music of the board pointing upwind has me two-stepping to the other side, crossing my arms over to grab my partner’s opposite hand…and I am dancing the other way, back toward the beach. Liz is by now windsurfing toward me and we pass. She looks amazing. We scream for joy. Jon is beyond supportive, jumping up and down with encouragement, yelling, “Chicks rule!” Windsurfing looked fun, but only now am I addicted.

We stay out for two hours, going back and forth. When we finally quit, my arms hang like noodles. My head is equally spent and a calm, comfortable feeling of satisfaction replaces the smoldering worry I’ve had for weeks. A mental feng shui has come over me; my entire life has just been reprioritized. Liz looks like I feel. We exchange yahoos and high fives. We’ve forged an alloy of camaraderie only experienced by fellow participants of an intense event. We walk back to the expert’s beach and agree to meet tomorrow for another lesson.

Mark is out when I find our beach chairs, and I crash, falling into a deep state of reverie and satisfaction. My biceps and brain have a pleasant dull ache. I’m high on the chemicals my body secreted to get me through the experience.

Mark comes back and we kiss as if he’s been away at war. “How was the lesson,” he asks. “Great,” I say, and casually throw in, “You might be onto something with this whole windsurfing thing. I had fun.”

I pretend to close my eyes to sleep, but see Mark make a fist and silently mouth the word, “Yes!”

Brett Nichols is a guy, writing in this case from a woman’s perspective. This is no easy task, particularly in reference to the male dominated sport of windsurfing. We chose this article for the contest out of three that he submitted (“Gone to Maui,” Vol.9 Issue 2, “Moment of Clarity,” p.28 this issue). Congratulations to this talented writer!


american_windsurfer_9.34_contest_spread4-s
(enlarge)

CONGRATULATIONS to all of the contest winners and thanks to everyone that submitted their vacation stories and pictures.

Special Thanks to Contest Sponsors: American Airlines, American Eagle, Bonhata of Bonaire, Hertz, Jibe City, the Windsurf Place and WindMALL.


american_windsurfer_9.34_contest_spread5-s
(enlarge)

MARGARITA . . . with a twist!         by Gregg Richardson

For those people fortunate enough to have sailed Margarita you already know about the hot and consistent side-on 15-35 knot winds that seem to blow non-stop day and night at El Yaque Beach.  I would like to relate an epic adventure to you, and the many who have yet to experience Margarita’s sailing. An adventure of the more exotic and adventuresome aspects of windsurfing on this arid little Caribbean gem… Margarita with a twist, if you will…

It is my second trip to El Yaque Beach, Margarita’s windsurfing center, and I am excited.  I’ve been corresponding via e-mail with Miguel Bruggerman at the Caribe Winds Sailing Center in El Yaque Beach for many weeks and we are finally about to depart. Miguel has been tempting me with promises of mini sailing “safaris” to some of the more inaccessible and wavy (yes waves!!) sailing sites in and around El Yaque.

At 7:30 a.m. we board the plane in Toronto on one of those crystal clear, but frigid 10-below Canadian March mornings. There are no sugar plums dancing in my head (I’ve just spent a layover of 7 hours on the departure lounge floor sleeping on my board bag), but I am definitely dreaming of hot, ripping thermal ocean winds, chilly Polar beer, and steamy nights of salsa and cool choco-monkeys (a very potent chocolate/banana/rum concoction) at El Yaque’s infamous Los Piratas bar.

We land at Porlamaar airport on Margarita some time later and as we walk from the plane to the terminal on the taxi-way we are blasted by furnace hot, 20-knot winds… Cripes! My personal stoke meter just buried its needle!  The first few days are spent idyllically whiling away the time flat water blasting and freestyling on 5.0s and 8-7 boards, the only thing impeding our rhythm is the residual “Cuba Libre factor” from the previous nights activities.  All the while I keep plugging away at Miguel to make good on his e-mails promising some wave action, and finally one night, during the now legendary live Blues night at “Gabbys”, a day is picked that Miguel thinks will have the right combination of wind and swell.  The spot we are intending to go to is no real secret, and you can actually see Punta Carnero from El Yaque beach, just look due east or downwind about 3-4 miles and you will see a point of land sticking out into the ocean with two large huts on it. This point of land basically forms a narrows in the channel separating Margarita Island and that fabled flat water windsurfer’s drag strip called Illa De Coche. As a result of this slightly narrowing channel, and wind that is almost full onshore at the point, waves (the full onshore breaking variety, really!) are often the result.

As Mr. Murphy always seems to have it though (I swear that guy hates windsurfers!) the swell is not too high on our chosen day, and after an awesome 40-minute white knuckle downwinder from El Yaque we are greeted with small, mushy but fun little wind waves at Punta Carnero. The fact that they are breaking on this rugged, wild and unimaginably beautiful little beach more than makes up for their lack of size.  The feeling of isolation and raw nature is intoxicating, and a steady 18-knot, 85-degree breeze further enhances the vibe.  Miguel has conveniently arranged for one of his staff to drive the his Landcruiser down (yes it is accessible by road-–barely!)  loaded with coolers of icy beer and sandwiches, and as we sit replenishing our energy reserves I am once again struck  by the fantastically surreal scene before me–red sandblasted earth, sapphire blue and emerald green surf, all surrounded by this black rock moon-scaped terrain. There are two large thatched huts on the point which have been commandeered by a family of local fishermen, who seem to find us cautiously amusing as we invade their tiny little piece of paradise.

Sailing there and back is definitely more challenging than sailing the fun little waves that break at Punta Carnero, for this reason I would suggest checking with Miguel, or any of the other surf stations in El Yaque to see if transportation can be arranged. The downwinder is real fun, about 2-3 high speed off-the-wind reaches–way out–almost to Coche, will get you there in no time, but the fun really begins when you have to sail back to El Yaque Beach at the end of the day.  I barely made it in before dusk in a failing wind, and my sailing buddy had to actually do the “walk of shame” (with his rig) for the last half-mile or so, and he is a great sailor!

Some El Yaque locals enjoy this downwind sailing so much that they often make the epic five-mile downwind run from El Yaque along Margarita’s southern shore to Punta de Mangle or even farther, almost eight miles to the east, to the little port of Punta De Piedras where the ferry to mainland Venezuela docks.  These trips are definitely not for the feint at heart, but if you manage to get invited on, or can arrange one, and you are a pretty competent sailor, do it… it will make that going back and forth slalom thing look about as exciting as an all day lawn bowling tourney with the in-laws! These longer downwind trips, however, will definitely require a pick up car, as even the seasoned locals wouldn’t dream of trying to sail back upwind to El Yaque from here.

Another awesome “safari” that Miguel arranged for our group involved another downwind sailing adventure from El Yaque but this time our destination was Illa De Coche’s famous Punta la Playa or “Speed Beach”.  After blazing, fully lit, across the channel that separated the two islands we played at the well known “hero gibing capital of the world” for a tireless morning of high speed drag-racing action in a solid 20-knot wind on concrete flat water–barely 15-feet from shore, our fins ripping a scant few inches off the bottom!

Its day seven now, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be needing a new personal stoke meter from all the use it’s been getting here.

As enjoyable as this sailing was though, the fun really began when lunch time rolled around. We climbed on our boards and followed Miguel around the western tip of Coche Island from speed beach to the sleepy little 500 year-old fishing village of San Pedro De Coche where we literally sailed right up to the most amazing little shore-front restaurant (which was one of the only ten or so buildings that make up the whole town).  We then ate lunch alfresco in this quaint old wall-less little “posada,” all still clad in dripping wet shorts and harnesses. We dined on some of the most tasty and fresh seafood I’ve ever eaten!  A few disheveled hens and a sleepy old dog who lay in the parched, dusty street out under a now blistering midday sun added a bizarre but timeless olden-day wild west flavor to the whole funky scene.  The hazy blue coastline of mainland Venezuela was barely visible to the South, and Margarita Island is off in the distance to the North, enhancing the feeling of isolation of place and time.  This place is old, man, real old.  The story we were told is that some of the actual sailors that were on Columbus’ Voyage of Discovery got off and decided to stay on Coche and Margarita and reap the rewards of the regions outstanding natural pearl bearing oyster beds.  After quickly exhausting the oyster beds, they turned to fishing, then by taking wives from the local Caribe tribes  they firmly entrenched themselves in the region.

Miguel had once again come through by providing a chase boat which our significant others found more comfortable riding in than sailing the extremely choppy, 25-knot offshore winds found here. After lunch it was a few reaches back upwind to Speed Beach for some more supersonic sailing and lay-downs, and then a very memorable ride home, straight into 35-knot winds and 8-10 foot seas in the open wooden 30-ft chase boat. I’m still not sure what was more exciting, the day’s adventures or that epic boat ride home!

All in all the trip was one of the best yet, my wife got into her harness and footstraps for the first time, (Margarita is a fantastic place to learn), we made good friends and had some amazing adventures, and we came away with some memories of a lifetime!  So, for those of you who have never been, go! And for everyone that has been and never sailed anywhere but El Yaque beach (which is still a flat water/ freestylers dream factory by the way!), try Margarita… with a twist–it will amaze and excite you. Oh yeah, and make sure you pack a spare stoke meter or two because you will definitely be needing them!

by Brian King

Associate Editor Brian King worked at Burger King before becoming an integral and highly sought after computer nerd for the publication.

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Suggested correction

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Suggest an article topic