A renewed enthusiasm for windsurfing in west metro

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , S pecial to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 7, 2012 - 11:27 PM

A regatta will draw dozens of top windsurfers to Lake Waconia.

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Trey Evans, 2, watches his father, Rob, rig up his sail. Rob Evans will be competing in the upcoming Kona North American Windsurfing Championships at Lake Waconia.

Photo: Megan Tan, Star Tribune

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To Michael Fox, the 1980s weren't defined by hair bands or President Reagan.

Fox, who lives on Lake Minnetonka, remembers the decade as the golden age of windsurfing, with the Twin Cities home to one of the most vibrant windsurfing scenes around.

"In the '80s, windsurfing just exploded here," he said.

Now Fox is determined to help the sport regain its edge.

Thanks largely to his efforts, more than 60 windsurfers from the United States, Canada and Europe will gather at Lake Waconia Aug. 24- 26 for the 2012 Kona North American Windsurfing Championships, a three-day regatta.

Nearly a third of the competitors are from the Twin Cities area, and between 1,500 and 2,000 spectators are expected. Wind permitting, 10 to 12 races will take place.

Karen Marriott, president of the U.S. Windsurfing Association, said the regatta is among the top four annual windsurfing events in North America.

The North American Championships have been held in Florida for five consecutive years. Convincing Kona, a manufacturer of boards, sails and other gear, to hold the event elsewhere took some effort.

Fox said he was motivated by his longtime love of the sport.

"I love sailing in general, but to have your body control the sail as you go across the water is so much more exciting than sailing. It's a great workout," he said.

'One-design' converts

Fox's renewed enthusiasm for windsurfing also comes from the Kona longboard, known as a "one-design" board because everyone competes on the same board.

The competition will have three weight divisions and a women's division, with four different-sized sails that correspond to the windsurfer's weight.

Fox believes one-design competitions like this one are more balanced because the lighter windsurfer or the windsurfer with the most high-tech board no longer has an advantage.

The large, "floaty" Kona boards also are closer to those used at the sport's inception and throughout the '80s.

Kona is both a brand and a windsurfing class, one of three main windsurfing classes on the U.S. pro-am circuit.

Local advantage

Rob Evans, 49, of Chanhassen, a windsurfer for 36 years, competes in several windsurfing regattas yearly and spends 12 hours each week windsurfing.

Evans, also an accomplished sailor, said he is excited about the recent rise in popularity of Kona boards, which are moderately-priced and make the sport easier for beginners to learn.

He will be a strong competitor in his weight division, though Mother Nature always offers surprises, he said.

"Some days the wind can be very shifty and variable. ... I have local knowledge of Lake Waconia, and that may give me an advantage, though you can't count on it," he said.

The North American Championships will bring many nationally and internationally known windsurfers to Lake Waconia, which has a reputation as a windy lake. The well-known windsurfers are fairly evenly distributed among the weight divisions, Fox said.

One of those competitors is Bruce Matlack of Florida. At 68, he's retired, but spends much of his time promoting windsurfing.

"Basically, I donate my time to a sport I love," he said.

Rebounding popularity

As an early windsurfer --he learned from a couple who helped to develop the sport in California in 1969 -- and a national champion in 1972 and 1973, he believes windsurfing is already making a comeback.

He said the upper Midwest is essential to that comeback.

"People who have a short summer are more focused on one thing. And if they pick windsurfing, that's what they do," he said. "You've got to have the Midwest."

He's impressed with the number and range of competitors already registered for the event. A leading competitor in the Kona class, he said he's going into the regatta with the attitude that he could win.

"At my age, I have to count on my superior skills," he said. "One of the greatest things about windsurfing is that I could sail with Olympic-caliber windsurfers and compete."

Erin Adler is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

  • IF YOU GO

    What: The Kona North American Windsurfing Championships, sponsored by Lola's Lakehouse and Edina Realty/The Stabeck Group

    When: Fri., Aug. 24 through Sun., Aug. 26 (Thurs., Aug. 23 is a registration and practice day for competitors.) Races begin each day at approximately 10 a.m. and end at 3 p.m., weather and wind permitting.

    Where: Lake Waconia Regional Park, on the southeast shore of the lake. Spectators may watch from the shore or from private boats.

    Cost: Free. Parking is available for $5 at the gatehouse of Lake Waconia Regional Park. For more parking information, go to www.co.county.mn.us/departments/PW/parks/lake-waconia.asp

    More event information: www.konausa.org/event-overview. An interactive map is available under the "Site Information" tab.

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