Wind's Up for Surfing U.S.A.
Advertisements promoting sailboarding show well tanned Hercules types with knotted muscles dipping their backs into white-capped water as they lean over their sleek boards, catching the wind.
It's a constant test of endurance, balance, agility, and the skills required of a good skipper, the pamphlets say; a sport which appeals to those who love snow skiing and the feeling of slipping through powder on a blustery day, for water skiers who enjoy the feel of a rushing spray of water, or for the hang-glider who lives the feel of the wind and the excitement of being one with his sail.
North Country residents and visitors who were once content to water ski, canoe, hike, play golf and tennis, or hang glide once the snows had left even the Headwall can now join those other well-tanned fun-lovers of the world in the relatively new sport.
If you've been searching for new winds, new waters and new challenges, wind-surfing or sail-boarding, depending on your preference (wind-surfing is like Kleenex, a generic name - those in the know refer to the sport as sailboarding), is the sport for you. Of course, take away the hyperbole and just say that if you've been looking for an easy-to-learn, exciting new way to enjoy the summer, and you're a reasonably coordinated person with no fears or phobias about getting a little wet, then you, too, are probably the type of person who can and will want to learn how to sailboard.
But, you ask, where can one learn how to sailboard in the Mount Washington Valley? For starters, you can glide across the blue waters of Lake Chocorua, Silver Lake, or Conway Lake on a sailboard rented from the man from whom you will probably want to receive your instructions as well. Tamworth resident Karl Philippi is the dealer and instructor for New Hampshire's Lakes Region northward to Mt. Washington Valley for the Sailrider board-surfing company, and he is offering group instructions on a regularly scheduled basis at the previously mentioned locales as well as on Lakes Winnipesaukee, Ossipee, Newfound, Winnisquam, and Squam throughout the summer.
Karl, who has been board surfing since last August, was first exposed to the sport on a sailing trip to the Caribbean. Later he bought his own craft and leaned the basic techniques in the sometimes choppy and windy waters of Long Island Sound. After the prerequisite number of falls into the cold water and one dangerous trip in a thunderstorm, which ended in a Coast Guard tow back into the harbor last March, Karl acquired a proficiency in the growing sport and passed a certification test given by the Sailriders Company in late winter. Offering rentals, instruction and sales, his business provides the necessary tools and equipment as well as an equally important amount of patience that you, the inexperienced landlubber, will need to get started in the sport.
First conceived by a California surfer while driving along the San Bernardino Freeway in 1967, the sport has undergone changes in design of the simple crafts, and has experienced an increase in interest as more persons became aware of it. The first boards were somewhat more cumbersome than those produced today, and they were also equipped with universal joints which were far less responsive than the flexible mast stem used in the newer boards. Feet and other valuable possessions could become stuck in the universal joints, a quality which dampened their popularity among 200,000-plus surfers now participating in the sport in the United States and the 700,000 in Europe.
The new flexible mast is such a simple yet efficient device that one wonders why it was never thought of before. Made of a combination of aluminum and fiberglass, it moves both forward and aft as well as laterally in order to capitalize on the direction of the wind, using an aluminum wishbone boom also. The boards themselves are 12 feet long, 2.3 feet wide, and weigh a light 40-60 pounds inclusive of the gear. A daggerboard provides wind draft below water as does a small fin at the stern. Although it is longer, the sailboard is similar in shape to the old long surfboards or boards used by lifeguards to rescue swimmers. The Sailrider brand used by Karl has a high impact plastic outer shell which is reinforced at all stress points and then filled with closed cell foam. The foam insures that the board is stiff and will float to support a sailor, even when it has been badly damaged, though that is more a concern for ocean-boardsailing than it is on the relatively mild waters of Lake Chocorua.
A new sailboard costs anywhere from $795 to $1,000, depending on which of the five North American companies you select. While it is recommended that you try the sport first, certain points to consider beforehand if you are even remotely interested include the craft's construction and durability of the make, lightweightedness and ease of sailing, maintenance requirements or the lack of them, and the availability of a local dealer if or when a problem develops.
Karl explained while setting his rig into the relatively warm waters of Lake Chocorua that many people falsely assume that good sailors automatically have an advantage when learning how to broadsail simply because of their knowledge of the wind. "Sailing knowledge helps a little, but it's really a different sport. You're much more attached to the boom and sail as well as the water on a wind board than you are on a sailboat. The most important thing is to learn how to balance yourself, because boardsurfing is first and foremost a balancing act," the former tree surgeon remarked, noting that the penalty for falling in his new vocation is far less costly than it was with his old one.
A sailor but never a surfer himself, the Tamworth resident compared the sport and its need for balance to the sensation of skiing and the importance of the knees. "Strength plays a far less important role than balancing, and anyone down to 80 pounds can handle a windboard. Like skiing, once you have the feel down, the rest comes pretty easily, provided that you're not afraid of getting wet a few times while you're learning."
A lesson usually lasts four hours, with one hour spent on a dry land simulator followed by three hours of your baptismal bath. Once in the water, you practice your cast-off technique once if you're exceptionally gifted, but more likely many times more than that if you are a mortal like the rest of us. Assuming that you are of the latter category, you will learn how to backflop off a somewhat wobbly shiny board with grace by the end of the day. The important point is to keep trying, Karl says, adding that everyone falls when starting.
Once you've gotten the balancing act down, the next step is to lean down and pick up the uphaul rope out of the water and slowly raise the horizontal mast. Care must be taken to let up as the sail rises since it suddenly becomes very light once out of the water. Otherwise, you end up practicing your aquatic technique again.
Now the sail is up, but hopefully not luffing with any hurricane gusts yet. You release the uphaul with one hand, use it to grab onto the boom, and then let go of the uphaul altogether with the other hand. Push the mast forward with the hand still on the boom and then place the free hand further down the boom. With any luck, the sailboard will head off with the wind and you will be racing toward distant shores. If not, try again.
The sport has been called the fastest growing sport in America, first gaining popularity in the West Coast and more recently in the East around Cape Cod. Karl said that marinas, power boaters, and water skiers are expressing interest in boardsurfing as the price of gasoline escalates, a factor which he believes will help add to the sport's appeal. Eventually he would like to see it reach a stage where regattas could be held on local lakes with official International and National Boardsailing Association sanctioned competitions in slalom and freestyles races.
Until that time, he will be content to continue giving lessons and demonstrations to interested groups and private parties, and what better sport could you try this summer? Who knows, before long you might be like the guys in those old beach party movies, yelling, "Hey Gang, Wind's Up!"