Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Hopeless romantic fool

Out windsurfing again, on a long burn out to sea, with my ‘traditional’ board in18 knots of wind and a growing swell, I let my mind wander over the reasons why clattering over the water on a small piece of epoxy covered foam so captures me.

14 years ago, living in Barcelona, it was the most accessible route on to the water. Cheap compared with dinghy sailing, uncomplicated in terms of kit and versatile I invested all my spare time in scaling the learning curve as quickly as possible. Pottering back and forth, falling in, clambering back on, uphauling that sail, (I reckon you have to fall in a least 2000 times before you’re proficient) I was having a ball. And then I discovered speed and planing, bought new kit, learnt to carve gybe and started travelling to other sailing venues like Tarifa and the Canary Isles. As my skills increased I could sail in stronger winds, launch through surf, make my first tentative jumps.

My dream and goal was the forward loop but before I got there I began to tire of the constant effort required to sail a lot in an area without much wind. Shirking work or family engagements, letting friends down for the sake of a good forecast only to drive 100km to find a light breeze, flat seas and a handful of disappointed men in rubber standing on the beach kicking the sand. My pocket couldn’t take it, my rusting van couldn’t take it and frankly I couldn’t take the pressure of constantly having an agenda, an eye continually on the sea and the sky, heart pumping at the sight of a snapping flag. And how could I raise a family if I was forever shy of making arrangements that couldn’t be undone in a trice?

I let my kit deteriorate, kept only the high wind gear and sailed only when it was blowing its socks off outside my own front door. I stopped progressing, sailed less and less and only in my comfort zone.

At the height of my windsurfing passion I kept a surf diary and recorded that I sailed 72 times in one year. I doubt I manage more than 10 now. But I still enjoy it enormously and feel immensely privileged to have the skills that allow me to fly over the water at 20 knots in tune with my equipment and the conditions.

Coming to end of that long, long reach I fluffed the gybe and fell in, cold water seeped down the neck of my wetsuit but I was in no hurry to get back on the board. The opportunity that windsurfing gives me to experience the sea is what I hold most dear about the sport now. I love to observe how the wind rakes the water's surface, as I’m lifted by the relentless heave of the swell. How else would I get to see the sea in rough weather this close up? Two miles offshore, treading water with one arm slung across the board, it’s scary and it’s beautiful but I don’t hang around for long. A phobia of losing ground downwind gets me back on the board and blasting back to the beach.

I’ve had many of those moments over the years, I’ve been out in conditions that would have been considered extreme for boats, I’ve seen the surface of the water ripped to shreds in a force 8, sat helpless under three metre breaking waves, been trashed by the same many times and sometimes, when I’ve been out at sea treading water, one hand on the board the wind and spray whipping about me, I’ve dived under and swam down, experiencing the quiet, dark blue.

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