U.S. Windsurfing National Championships in Worthington

  • Updated: June 12, 2014 - 2:44 PM

Wind-swept Lake Okabena boasts a kaleidoscope of colors this weekend with a national windsurfing competition blowing into town.


Windsurfers and windmills harnessed the abundant winds of southwestern Minnesota.

Windsurfing competitors from across the nation have converged on Worthington’s Lake Okabena to show off their skills this weekend.

This is the third time this unassuming town of about 12,900 residents has hosted the U.S. Windsurfing National Championships, which usually takes place in coastal communities such as San Diego, Calif.; Maui, Hawaii; Cocoa Beach, Fla.; Corpus Christi, Texas; and Cape Hatteras, N.C.

When locals Bill Keitel and Jeff Hegwer suggested an annual regatta dedicated to the sport 15 years ago, “we were considered wild-eyed dreamers,” says Keitel, a recreational windsurfer from Worthington and vice president of U.S. Windsurfing.

The landscape at the time had a few wind turbines pinwheeling on the horizon, but it was nothing like today, with 196 wind turbines churning across Nobles County, he says.

“We’re between two of the largest wind fields in the nation,” Keitel says, with one stretching to Fargo and the other to Des Moines.

It takes looking at a topographical atlas to see Buffalo Ridge, an expanse of rolling hills on the southeastern tip of Coteau des Prairie, a 100-mile-wide plateau that sprawls for 200 miles across northeastern South Dakota into southwestern Minnesota. Even Joseph Nicollet, the first European explorer to map the area in the 1830s, noted in his journal that “the wind is elastic, and there are no trees to stop its progression,” Keitel said.

The beautiful but often overlooked coteau topography enriches the scenery straddling the South Dakota and Minnesota border, but those virtues can be hard to detect in the flat-looking prairie farmland surrounding Worthington. But that magnificence can certainly be felt in the wind that funnels into the area, shutting down Interstates during winter blizzards and inspiring recreation by summer.

Fun for spectators

More than 100 competitive windsurfers are expected this weekend, with past participants coming from Australia, Great Britain, Canada and Malta. Closer to home, they come from Fond du Lac, Wis., Minnesota’s Lake Mille Lacs and Saylorville, Iowa — all places that host windsurfing events.

The community expects about 10,000 spectators throughout the week, says Ken Moser, president of the festival. While the event has grown, organizers try to keep it welcoming and not overly commercial. The weekend also includes an art fair, bike ride and food vendors that reflect the town’s ethnically diverse population with Hispanic, Asian and African influences.

The small size of Lake Okabena, 750 acres, makes it an easy place to plunk down a lawn chair and a blanket to watch the windsurfers from Sailboard Beach or a three-block stretch near downtown. Spectators often get a chance to try windsurfing and see what the sport is all about on a lake that’s always been the heart of this community. It regularly hums with runners, anglers, bikers, walkers and cruisers who use the 7.3-mile circumference like a community track.

At flashier coastal locations, it’s harder to see the action, which is usually a few miles offshore, Keitel says, rather than just off a comfortable lakeshore dotted with several parks.

While Mother Nature isn’t predictable — one year it skunked participants — the second week of June is historically the windiest. The wind usually begins blowing around 11 a.m. until early evening. Organizers try to run several races each day, zigzagging the mile-and-a-half-long lake in a figure eight or other configurations to emphasize control and speed that ranges from 30 mph to 65 mph.

“It is astounding,” says Keitel, who likes to quote a Chinese proverb that says flying a kite (or holding a giant kite-like sail) “is like holding the wind in your hands.”

The Worthington Windsurfing Regatta also runs in conjunction with the Unvarnished Music Festival that fires up each evening as the wind dies down. The music offers participants something to do and adds to the congenial, welcoming atmosphere with free stage acts until 10 p.m. From 10:15 p.m. until midnight, jam sessions and spontaneous busking take over in casual clusters that form around lakeside tiki torches.

Inevitably, a little breeze stirs up, and the sound of musicians — some of them windsurfers — carries across the water and disappears into the dark farm fields where the turbines keep churning, harnessing prairie winds that keep the regatta going.


St. Cloud-based Lisa Meyers McClintick, www.10000Likes.com, writes travel features and guidebooks.


  • related content

  • Windsurfing on Lake Okabena in Worthington.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Carolina 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Detroit 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
Toronto 110 FINAL
LA Clippers 98
Boston 88 FINAL
Washington 101
Orlando 102 FINAL
Charlotte 94
Memphis 103 FINAL
Miami 95
Indiana 110 FINAL
Brooklyn 85
New Orleans 100 FINAL
Chicago 107
Atlanta 90 FINAL
Milwaukee 85
Philadelphia 71 FINAL
Utah 88
New York 129 FINAL
Sacramento 135
Minnesota 97 FINAL
Golden State 110
NY Islanders 3 FINAL(SO)
Buffalo 4
Detroit 3 FINAL(OT)
Ottawa 2
Carolina 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
New Jersey 1 FINAL
NY Rangers 3
Boston 2 FINAL
Columbus 6
Winnipeg 4 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 3
Washington 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 0
Dallas 4 FINAL
St. Louis 3
Philadelphia 1 FINAL
Nashville 4
Anaheim 1 FINAL(SO)
Arizona 2
Chicago 5 FINAL
Colorado 2
Edmonton 1 FINAL
Calgary 4
San Jose 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 3
Indiana 87 FINAL
Georgetown 91
Maine 43 FINAL
Seton Hall 72
UNC-Wilmington 82 FINAL
Minnesota 108
Georgia State 61 FINAL
Green Bay 78
Jacksonville St 61 FINAL
Jacksonville 75
Kentucky 58 FINAL
Louisville 50
Northern Ky 55 FINAL
Northwestern 76
North Carolina 89
Pepperdine 53
Santa Clara 60 FINAL
St Marys-CA 73
Oakland 56 FINAL
Maryland 72
Gonzaga 87 FINAL
BYU 80
Mercer 77 FINAL
Georgia 86
San Francisco 77 FINAL
Pacific 71
Wright State 55 FINAL
Ohio State 100
Presbyterian 65 FINAL
Virginia Tech 87
Brescia 42 FINAL
Western Ky 89
Tennessee St 46 FINAL
Tennessee 67
Kennesaw St 45 FINAL
Illinois 93
Colorado State 58 FINAL
New Mexico St 57
Portland 61 FINAL
San Diego 58
Wayland Baptist 63 FINAL
Utah State 75
Bristol University 59 FINAL
Weber State 109
Sacramento St 74 FINAL
Utah Valley U 49
Southern Utah 45 FINAL
SD Christian 50 FINAL
San Diego St 72
Illinois 18 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 35
Rutgers 40 FINAL
North Carolina 21
NC State 34 FINAL
UCF 27
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
(2) Connecticut 96
Houston 50
Gonzaga 78
Pacific 92 FINAL
San Francisco 54
St Marys-CA 62 FINAL
Santa Clara 61
San Diego 87 FINAL
Portland 65
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question