By: Vicki Jackson
A group of local windsurfing enthusiasts are celebrating this week because one of their own, Cullen Aheran, of Clearwater, is invited to represent the United States at the International Sailing Federation World Championship in Istanbul, Turkey in July. Competitors were selected after first-place finishes in their respective classes at the 2010 US Sailing Youth World Qualifier, hosted by the Clearwater Yacht Club. The Qualifier was a three-day racing weekend. Cullen was chosen as our national entrant in the Boy's Windsurfer event.
According to Clearwater Community Sailing Center's windsurfing coach, Britt Viehman, Cullen will begin "accelerated and intense training, including aerobic and endurance exercises such as running and gym work, as well as three or four days a week on the water". And, he will continue to play ice hockey on the side! At 17, he has been on the CCSC windsurfing team for just two and a half years. He said people who might be considering the sport should "give it a shot-the younger, the better. It's all about balance, and how to work with the wind. Floridians have an advantage, in that", he added, "though it's not as windy here as in some places, we can windsurf year-round".
Fellow CCSC team members shared this enthusiasm. "It feels like you're flying", said Chris Conlon of Seminole. Like many others, he began by participating in the CCSC windsurfing summer camp. Now at 16, he has "invested a lot of money". Purchased new, a beginner's set-up of board, sail, and mast, could cost over $2,000. Although it's not necessary to have your own equipment, it does allow more opportunity for practice. Three-year team member, Austin Emser, 17, said he "sold his bike for windsurfing equipment". His passion also began at the summer camp. He confessed, "I didn't want to come, but my mother made me".
Almost 15, and a veteran of three summer camps, Joe W., joined the windsurfing team just last August. He said, "It's very fun, especially when it's windy". He likes the regattas and is looking forward to the next one. It will be held in Sarasota, at the end of next month.
Windsurfing isn't just for boys. Margot Samson, 16, of Palm Harbor, has been on the team for two years. She is set to race at the Youth Olympics Qualifier, to be held in March at Merritt's Island, Florida. With luck, she could go on to the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore!
Coach Viehman explained that a race could last 20 to 50 minutes, depending on the course, with up to five races per day in a regatta. Some races are kids versus kids, while others are not age-restricted, so a student might compete against his/her instructor. A regatta is a series of races. While a student might win a race, it's unlikely they would triumph overall and surpass their teacher, but with these youngsters, they might be in for a surprise.
To share the expense of going to competitions, the CCSC team members most often travel together. Coach Viehman commented on how well they do, for a room or two full of teenagers, but then, these aren't just any teenagers. They train hard for the sport that has been commonly described as a combination of "running a marathon, while balancing on a basketball, while playing chess". These athletes practice two to fours hours at a time, twice a week. They sail from the Clearwater Sailing Center, which provides storage space for their equipment. When the wind just isn't there, they work on other drills, tacking and technique.
Coach Viehman said he has modeled the team after his own experience, which begun in 1991 at Eckerd College. He emphasized that, unlike some of the more popular recognized sports, windsurfing ability doesn't depend on brawn or a certain weight. It's more of a finesse, relying on balance rather than raw strength.
Windsurfing is a relatively new sport, not yet into its fourth decade. Regrettably, it's not a very accessible 'spectator' sport, as events are often held offshore. Thus, the thrill of 'flying' over the water at speeds of 20 to 30 MPH is not easily shared with others. Pity, as we can hardly imagine the wonder of being at one with the wind.
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