Tuesday, March 25, 2008

It’s great to be a Polish kid!

I’m back in the Polish immersion program. Not only am I training with the Polish youth team (ages approx. 16-22), I’m living with them and traveling with them too. These kids can really sail but, besides that, they are pretty stimulating to be around. There is always action, whether it is joking, running around like crazy, playing games, or breaking equipment! If something is going on with your equipment and the coach, Romek, is helping you, you are sure to have an audience. They are bouncing off the walls until Romek, calls the pre-session meeting. Then they are all business about rigging and getting on the water.

On the water there is plenty of action. There are about 16 of us milling around the coach boat and Romek finds lots of drills for us to do. Starts are always interesting and there is a lot of shouting and heckling, all in Polish of course. In light wind we all inevitably end up at the marks in a big pack and rounding is always tricky and really entertaining! Training is very energetic and fast-paced, with lots to do, which I love.

The best thing about being with a bunch of Polish kids is feeling like one yourself. I’m learning the language more and more every day and lots of the jokes which I previously didn’t understand I am now laughing at. I always have thought that the best reason to learn Polish is to know what is so funny all the time. It’s basically impossible to be in a group of happy kids and not feel good. It brings out and sustains the happy, quirky side of my personality that sometimes gets lost in the midst of loneliness. Poland turned into my European home last season, and there is something about it that just feels right. I feel a lot for this country and being a part of one of their teams is like having a home wherever I go.

Calema Midwinters 2008…Nothin’ but Hard-Core Fun

A Formula start in light wind

The Calema Midwinters, held at the locally famous Calema boardshop in Merritt Island, Florida, is always quite the scene. For the northerners, it’s all about getting some water time and sunshine after a long winter. For many, it’s about the mostly-serious top-level competition in a great low-key setting. And, for all of us, it’s a chance to see old friends, exhaust ourselves sailing as hard as possible, and have a few adventures. There’s always some excitement when you’re on a windsurfing road trip, especially when you’re with a crazy bunch of guys from Maryland and Virginia who happen to be some of my best friends. We call ourselves “The Other Team.”

The name is basically a rip-off from a hard-core group of professional Formula sailors based in Maui, called simply “The Team.” We figure that we’re at least as cool as these guys, even if a few of us can’t afford the latest Formula gear. Here we are:

Logistics Captain Alan “Sir Spends-a-Lot” Bernau: This guy is the heart of the Other Team, and the most enthusiastic and giving racer I have ever met. He shuttles the Maryland boys and all their gear to Florida every year, and also takes reams of trash-talking from the rest of us with a smile. He is a big guy and uses the biggest sails possible. He is known to register two 12.5 meter Formula sails out of 3 possible entries in one regatta. Before the cap on Formula sail size (12.5 of course) he was the proud owner of a custom 13.5, which made him locally famous. Alan’s business is officially my first sponsor.

Fin Master Dave “K-Time” Kashy: Dave is Alan’s evil twin. He belligerently keeps us all in line and focused. He is also a brilliant engineer who makes by hand the fastest Formula fins in the world. Professional Formula sailors have been known to wait years to get one of these sweet babies, and pay up to $1,400.00! When you need to be fast, you gotta have a Kashy fin. It’s quite the scene at Alan’s gear trailer when the Kashy fins are in town.We’re proud of him.

Enduro Eric “Sir Drives-a-Lot” Rahnenfuehrer: Eric is actually from Ohio, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he drives laps around the continental United States. Wherever you go, at every regatta, there is always Eric. He’s always got a smile on his face and is willing to help you out. He has the most stoke out of anyone I’ve ever met, and he is known to always be the “last kook on the water,” hours after everyone else has quit from exhaustion. He also once followed me from the west coast across the entire country, and upon reaching Florida, decided to stay the winter just for fun. He frequently makes life decisions by flipping a quarter, but I can’t say he’s gone wrong so far.

Peacemaker Tom “Tomaso” Sargent: Tom stands out from the other guys on the team because he can always add sanity to the craziness (although he is very quirky himself). Alan and Dave don’t really listen to him, but he is usually right. He sometimes pretends not to know us, but we don’t blame him. Tom organizes the Baltimore Area Boardsailing Association regattas so he’s an important member of our community. He does a lot of carpentry work, loves the outdoors, has many enlightening views of the world, and is always a gentle presence among the more high-strung members of the team.

And….there’s me.

These guys have been there for me for as long as I have been windsurfing!

After the snap decision to attend this regatta for my fifth year in a row, I was agonizing about what class to sail in. I’d sailed longboard, formula, RS:X two years in a row. I wanted to sail RS:X, but only if other RS:X sailors showed up, which I wasn’t sure was going to happen. I decided to take 2 sets of equipment just to be sure. So I made some phone calls, scraped up Alan’s old Formula board, and caught Eric on his way down to Florida from a ski race in New York. His minivan was stuffed and 3 boards were already stacked on the roof, but he unloaded all his snow gear and reloaded with my RS:X. The 1,000 mile trip to Merritt Island is a walk in the park for this road warrior.

The morning before the racing, Eric met me at the Orlando airport. We then waited 45 minutes for Dave, who, arriving only 15 minutes later than I, had snuck by us wearing shades and a hood, and was waiting out on the curb. Eric’s van only has 2 seats, so I was packed into the cargo bay to cuddle with the smelly wet windsurfing gear for the 45-minute drive to Calema. Alan was on-site with his huge Dodge diesel truck, and we commenced with the gear unloading. Much to my disappointment, the local RS:X sailors, Nancy Rios and Dominique Vallee, weren’t competing…so my RS:X gear would sit idle for the duration of the regatta. I threw together a few of Eric’s old sails, my HPL Formula boom, and Alan’s monster of an old Bic board. I also got to borrow a Curtis fin reshaped by none other than Dave Kashy. Sweet.

I took the borrowed gear out for some tuning in the 12-knot breeze of the day. Although it is an old design, the board was so easy to plane compared to the RS:X that it felt like heaven. I dialed in my harness lines and old North sails and did some runs against Eric and Dave. These guys are fast so I wasn’t keeping up as well on the old gear, but I was pointing upwind well and downwind I was able to hang with them and actually go deeper than both of them in the light air. Mmmm…power! We also got to line up with some of the pros that were in attendance, which was awesome. At this point I was hungering, almost salivating for the racing to start.

The Formula fleet competition was starting to look good. Not only was an entire pro contingent from Brazil in attendance, pros came from Denmark (Jesper Vesterstrom), the Virgin Islands (Jimmy Diaz) and France (Antoine Albeau) too. The very competitive San Francisco boys were present, including my favorite master blogger and Olympic campaigner Steve Bodner. The fast and organized Miami fleet showed up at the last minute and brought a surprise with them: a Polish sailor that I had met at the Allegro Cup in Leba, Poland last summer. Her name is Natalia Luczynska and she is a very good sailor. Needless to say, I was thrilled to see her again. Fellow Olympic hopeful Karen Marriott also made the drive from Denver, Colorado to sail Formula! It was great to see her again too. Although just the three of us made up the women’s fleet, we are all good sailors and I knew the competition between us would be fierce.

The first day of racing dawned with a horrible forecast. Although it was warm and sunny, there wasn’t much wind. The Formula fleet was called out by race director Darren Rogers, who is from Hood River, OR and is famous for running the most efficient and professional regattas in North America. Darren will do just about anything to get a few races off, but we had three abandoned starts before the wind filled in! The wind filled to about 8 knots, enough to get the lightweights and pros planing….who finished in about 25 minutes. The rest of us, including the girls, were slogging along only planing in the puffs. I finished right behind Natalia, but unfortunately our half of the fleet didn’t make the time limit! Darren, unsympathetic character that he is, told us all “tough luck.” At least after one race, the girls were all still on an even playing field.

Although the first day of racing was not so great, the second was even worse. With no wind almost the entire day, the Formula fleet languished on the beach. Darren called us all out and we ran another few abandoned starts. Not all the starts were abandoned from lack of wind…we had a few general recalls from hotshots trying to do dip starts and getting pushed on course side early, annoying the rest of the fleet. Finally Darren wisely began to use only the “I” flag, forcing the dipping dudes to do real starts with the rest of us. We didn’t get a single race off! However, competition was fierce in the Kona fleet, which was using the regatta as its North American Championships. Local longboard racing legend Dave Stanger, wearing his famous leopard-print Spandex shorts, was protested several times for pumping, which is not allowed in Kona class rules. The post-race parking lot scene was intense. Meanwhile, the Other Team was gearing up for the Saturday night party.

Most impressively, Susie and Tinho Dornellas, who run the Calema shop, had ordered a mechanical bull for the party. After a great meal, the kids lined up to take rides. Tinho organized a competition to see who could ride the bull for the longest time. The prize was supposed to be a secret, but a shop kid leaked it to the rest of us…it was an 11.0 Maui Formula race sail…so all the kids were really breaking themselves to win it. The bull was in actuality very difficult to stay on. The seat was slippery and there was a lot of centrifugal spinning action, sending a kid or two flying through the air over the railing. The short guys with lower centers of gravity fared better. After Natalia achieved the best time wearing only a skirt with bare legs, the guys took a hint and began to hike up their boardshorts to cling to the plastic seat. Much leg hair was lost that night! I retired early, with the promise of a better forecast and great racing for the last day.

I was up very early to make the 9:00 a.m. start…but once again, the wind was delayed. I decided to rig up my 10.0 and lay it in the shade anyway, but as I was carrying it, a panel exploded! The old sail had seen too much sun and wind and had become fragile. I spent the next hour derigging, taping, and rigging again. Luckily the racing was delayed until after noon. I went running to kill some time, and by my return, the entire fleet was rigging in preparation. Finally! We sailed three races in 12 knots, which was perfect for the 10.0 taped special. I had some great starts and consistently placed ahead of Karen, and ahead of Natalia in one race. Formula is very gear-intensive, and in one case Natalia smoked me pretty good on a broad reach to the finish line, even though I had tacked on her and was covering her. Although she had borrowed gear too, it was most decidedly newer than mine! I also got passed by sailors in the rear of the fleet catching up to me in the same manner…and lapped by the pros once! I am dying to see how fast I can sail on new Formula gear, but I think it will have to wait! I’d also like to clean up my technique too to make sure nothing is holding my speed back. However, I did beat Alan in all the races of the day, poor guy, and teased him mercilessly, which he took good-naturedly. I ended up in second, losing to Natalia by only four points. What great racing! I was very happy with the regatta. However, the difficult part had yet to begin.

Packing up Alan’s truck is always a feat of willpower and inhuman strength for cranky sailors exhausted from racing. By the end of the regatta the gear is strewn everywhere and one must account carefully all the pieces. In 2005, my forgetfulness created a memorable incident. I had borrowed a board from a Maryland sailor, and in the frenzy of packing (and buying new gear) the board was forgotten. Oops. A day or two later I got a frantic phone call, and I was immediately driving from St. Pete back to Calema. The board had sat all alone on the beach overnight and had been rescued by some of the shop employees! Not only was I in big trouble with the guy who lent me the board, I had to pay around $250 to have it packed and shipped back to Maryland. You can be sure that never happened to me again!

Because the Midwinters is always a place where sailors exchange gear, and so many people fly home, Alan usually has more gear to take home than he started with. This time it took us almost 3 hours to load the truck, and we had picked up three more new boards. There wasn’t room for my gear, so Eric put it back on the minivan roof for a second trip up north. After rounding up all his loaner fins, Dave perched precariously on the top of the stepladder, barking out instructions for loading, keeping us all occupied. Alan ran around trying to be productive but getting easily distracted by new sails, his friends, and cute women. After scarfing down dinner at the awards ceremony, Alan and Dave tried to rally Tom and I to leave early to get the travel trailer. We boycotted them and off they rolled, leaving us to collect the awards and the potential raffle prizes. No sooner than Susie had snapped a picture of the three Formula girls, Tom, Eric and I were off to meet the boys at the travel trailer. We all took showers and hitched up the trailer. Panic ensued when Dave began to drive off with the electricity still attached, which quickly attracted a crowd of old snowbird people to gawk at the operation. We smiled, waved, and hauled ass out of the park.

Although we were really hyper when we left, in a few hours we began to crash. I ended up in the back of the cab with Dave’s feet on my lap and Alan’s headrest jammed into my chest while Tom bombed up I-95 at 85 mph. After a few hours of this immobility, I finally got to uncurl at a gas station and limp around. Alan took over the shift and I sat up front with him and Tom, leaving Dave, who flies to Russia this week and has crazy amounts of work to do, in the back bench to sleep. With Alan awake and alert, there is no rest for the weary. He kept Tom and me in stitches with his crazy stories, antics, and bizarre CD music compilations. Dave wisely was using earplugs, so he got plenty of sleep!

At 7:00 a.m., we finally rolled into Richmond to drop Dave off. We unloaded all his gear in the sunrise, and said good-bye. Alan, Tom and I then stopped in Port Royal, VA for breakfast at a trucker’s joint called Horne’s, which is famous for its eclectic collection of souvenirs (Confederate flags next to the incense and psychedelic candles?) and also its old-fashioned diner, where the boys scarfed down some pancakes. Unfortunately after breakfast we also had to make an emergency stop on the side of Rt. 234 for Alan to run back to the trailer for…no comment. The next destination was our base camp, Alan’s Factory Outlet in Hughesville, MD, where we unloaded another friend’s Formula gear into Tom’s cargo van. Alan parked his trailer in the lot with his Amish sheds, powered down the diesel, and breathed a sigh of relief while Tom and I left on the final leg. We drove to Mayo, MD to drop off the gear, and exhausted, sat at Mayo Beach checking out the fine southeast breeze but unable to do anything about it. Then we made the drive to Annapolis to throw me out of the van, after which Tom continued another hour west to his home in Howard County.

The drive home took 20 hours, but it was worth every exhausting minute as the hilarity was non-stop. I spent the afternoon trying to recover, and the next day had a killer workout at Annapolis Sailing Fitness and an interview with the Washington Post. I leave for Spain and the European Olympic-class series on Sunday, March 9…so there is a lot of work to do. The Florida trip left me happy, relaxed, stoked, and in a great position to work hard. Long live the Calema Midwinters!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Spotlight on POL 729: Max Wojcik

This fine looking Polish gentleman is Max Wojcik, a 24-year-old sailor on the Polish Olympic Team.

Max lives in Gdansk, a beautiful city on the Baltic coast of Poland. He is a really special guy for many reasons. First of all, he is a great sailor. In the talent-deep Polish fleet of boardsailors, he is currently ranked third on their Olympic team, which is an amazing accomplishment. He has had some really great regattas, the most notable being the 2007 ISAF World Championships in Cascais, Portugal, in which he finished 12th overall.

When you see Max sail, you can tell that he really loves the sport. There isn’t a moment on the water when he isn’t having fun, and it carries through to his great attitude. In fact, I’ve never seen him when he isn’t smiling and laughing, or performing crazy antics. He keeps the entire team entertained on a regular basis. I’ve even heard that he can perform backflips from a motorboat sitting on a trailer, above hard concrete. Check out Max in action at http://www.rsxteam.pl/menu/team/maks/wideo2.html.

Max has many other talents besides windsurfing and back-flipping. He is full of great stories, which he is good at telling. Many interesting things happen to him, and he writes about it all. His writing is excellent (just check out his home page, http://www.rsx.nazwa.pl/max/frameset.htm) and remember that English is his second language. His perspective of the world is interesting and enlightening and sometimes I seek him out just to have a good conversation. While living in Poland last summer, I experienced a lot of loneliness. Just talking to Max for a few minutes would change my whole outlook on the day. Max is one of my favorite Polish sailors not only for these reasons, but because he was the first sailor to ever approach me, and introduce himself to me, on my first European spring regatta circuit in 2006. I was feeling a little stressed out on the ferry from Palma de Mallorca back to Barcelona, when Max came up to me and sat himself down. “Hi, I’m Max, from Poland,” he said. Who was this friendly guy? We talked about sailing and training, and then he said, “Maybe you should come to Poland to train with us.” Little did I know how long I would end up living there! Out of my first experiences at the Palma regatta (Princess Sofia Trophy), this ferry ride stands out the most in my memory, thanks to Max.

Mixed-up money, mixed-up days

Before launching into the next entry, I wanted to add that I am still working out the kinks in this blog. I am only halfway to figuring out how to post pictures, and allow you guys to leave comments! So the next few entries may not have pictures but I’ll do my best to make them interesting otherwise.

One of the best things about being a professional windsurfer is getting to schedule your own life. However, sometimes not everything that you put on the schedule can be accomplished. Take for example, a training camp with the Polish team in Cadiz, Spain. I was a mouse-click away from buying my airline ticket when I got a reality check. My credit card was maxed out. If I paid it off enough to put my plane ticket on it, my savings account would be empty. After about an hour of thought, and a debate with my manager (in which he laid the smack down on my training plan), I decided that starting another 4 or 5 months in Europe without a credit card or cash in the bank would actually be a really, really bad idea. Unfortunately my desire to train and compete as hard as possible usually overrides my common sense…which sometimes is a great thing, but quite often leaves me broke and stranded thousands of miles from home!

So what do you do in this scenario? I’m lucky enough that because my parents haven’t seen me for more than a couple weeks straight since I turned 18, they are still thrilled whenever I’m home. Therefore, I can spend a portion of this winter here in Annapolis, getting my work done with relatively little drain on the finances. By “work,” I mean fund raising. Writing letters, preparing presentations, making cold calls, and interviewing takes up a lot of time. In addition to this, I’m working with a trainer to get my physical strength and balance up (More on him later), and of course….lots of preparation for my arbitration. All this is part of the game of Olympic-class sailing, but sometimes you go crazy for action. Take my last week as an example.

Although I had just gotten home from Cape Hatteras, my parents’ house was quickly becoming oppressive. Annapolis, while it is my hometown, and is beautiful and a great place to live, can sometimes get too busy for me. The remedy for me was to escape to rural southern Maryland for two days, where I stayed on my friend’s sailboat, ran for hours in the woods, and used the free wireless internet at St. Mary’s College to do all my work. Then it was back to Annapolis for a session with the trainer at 6 a.m., another day of work at home, and the same evening another drive to Virginia for a weekend of shortboarding! All in all, a lot of driving for just a little action. Sometimes, I need the illusion of productivity just to stay sane!

Tentative plans for March are already taking shape. In the beginning of the month, I’ll fly to Palma de Mallorca to train with the Polish youth team for a few weeks before the Princess Sofia Trophy. My fund raising efforts are starting to bear fruit and I am extremely grateful to be able to pay off my credit card bill and get started on the next season!