Saturday, June 26, 2010

Home of the Week: For local athlete, home sweet home is a minivan

By WENDI WINTERS, For The Capital

Published 06/26/10

"Home is where the heart is," according to the classic aphorism ascribed to Pliny the Elder, the ancient Roman philosopher. If Pliny is correct, Farrah Hall's home is anywhere the water and wind are in perfect alignment.


Joshua McKerrow — The Capital

For several years, Farrah Hall’s physical “home” has been a spruce green 1997 Plymouth Voyager minivan. Farrah is the No. 1 female windsurfer in the United States, according to US Sailing rankings.

For several years, Farrah's physical "home" has been a spruce green 1997 Plymouth Voyager minivan. In early May, when Farrah and her home were photographed for The Capital, she and the van had just traveled up Interstate 95 from St. Petersburg, Fla., to her parents' Cape St. Claire home.

A day later, the Voyager was driven to the Port of Baltimore and loaded on an oceangoing "roll-on, roll-off" ferry. Two weeks later, when the Voyager rolled off the ferry in Amsterdam, Farrah was waiting on the pier to resume their next adventure together.

"It costs $1,200 and I had to prepare a lot of paperwork to ship it this way, but, in the end, it's worth it to have my van in Europe," Farrah said. "I can keep everything in it and sleep in it."

The 28-year-old doesn't spend every night in the van. The windsurfing community is a tight-knit group, so she is often a guest in other athletes' homes. When her travels bring her back to Maryland, Farrah usually stays with her parents, William and Linda Hall.

Farrah, a 1999 graduate of Broadneck High School, is the No. 1 female windsurfer in the United States, according to US Sailing rankings. The past seven years, Farrah has been on a sometimes lonely odyssey to represent the United States in the Olympics - the pinnacle for any athlete.

She was on track to represent the United States in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. However, during the windsurfing Olympic trials in the fall of 2007, racing officials gave the spot to a competitor after deciding that windsurfer's race was adversely affected by a tear in her sail. The flawed ruling was eventually overturned - after the Olympics had ended.

It was a bittersweet victory for Farrah, who decided to continue her training for a chance to participate in the 2012 Summer Olympics in Great Britain. The games will be held in London and the sailing events are planned for Weymouth, situated on a sheltered bay 109 miles away.

"Ever since I started windsurfing in earnest, all my friends had camper vans outfitted for surfing," Farrah said. "I lived in St. Petersburg and had a station wagon. When I decided to pursue windsurfing full time, I immediately had to pick up a van."

The Plymouth Voyager, manufactured from 1984 to 2000, was once one of America's best-selling vehicles. The Voyager was on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best List for 1996 and 1997, when it retailed for $17,225 to $20,750. Farrah purchased hers in 2005, five years after the last Voyager rolled off the assembly line. It has nearly 180,000 miles on its odometer.

The vehicle has roughly 168.5 cubic feet of space inside, about as much as a small powder room.

Immediately after she purchased the minivan, her father, a retired Westinghouse electronics engineer, pulled out his tools.

"Dad is good with van repairs," Farrah bragged. "He does 90 percent of my maintenance. He did a brake job on the minivan and replaced its radiator. He also replaced the cloth headliner inside. It had gotten old and was sagging."

"This American minivan is fuel-efficient," Farrah added. "Because there are so many of them, I can park it in most places and it is inconspicuous. It houses my equipment and is a place for me to sleep."

Farrah flipped up the back door of the Voyager. Its contents were inelegant but efficiently organized.

Showing off her bed, she said, "This was made by a windsurfing friend, Kent Heighton of Hood River, Ore. He made it from scrap lumber." The sturdy bed, essentially a long box with open ends, had a bed pad, blanket and pillow on top. The box itself is a storage area for the sails, masts and booms of Farrah's two windsurfing boards. One is her RS-X Olympic-class regulation board, which measures 9 feet 3 inches in length. Next to it lay a Formula windsurfing board.

The sails, removed from their cloth tube and unrolled, are longer and wider than the Voyager. Unlike the solid canvas materials of just a few years ago, the sail for Farrah's RS-X board is made of a tough, clear monofilm produced by KA Sails of Australia. Out on the water, it looks like the shimmering wing of a giant dragonfly.

"This is Olympic equipment," she explained. "Everyone has the same equipment. Yet, there are some variations. The top sailors test new equipment to find out what works the best."

The logo of Compass Marketing, an Eastport firm, is printed on the sail. "They're a generous corporate sponsor," Farrah said. "I'm probably the only windsurfer in the world that has a corporate sponsor. Usually windsurfers are sponsored by the sailing industry or local efforts."

Windsurfer Scott Steele, a 1984 Olympic silver medalist and Annapolis resident, coaches Farrah when their schedules align.

A typical week entails 12 to 36 hours on the water and 20 hours of aerobic exercise. She'll also network to raise funds for her quest, since training does not allow her to work full time.


With a flick of her wrist, Farrah slid open the rear right passenger door. Stacked neatly inside were covered boxes containing her collection of wet suits, tools and additional equipment.

A clothesline dangled overhead. Hanging on it were several visors, hangers and a roll of paper towels.

Smaller items were stashed inside the car's console.

"The more organized I keep the van, the better chance I have to avoid losing things," she said with a laugh.

The van will remain in Europe for two years, though Farrah will shuttle between Europe and the United States several times.

While the van served as her home on this side of the Atlantic, Farrah developed a routine. "Basically, I have gym memberships with two national chains, Gold's and 24 Hour Fitness. I go online to see which one is nearby when I'm on the road. I stop, shower and get some rest. National Parks also have nice shower facilities.

"I've driven straight through for four days without showering. I do not feel as well when I arrive in that condition," she noted wryly.

During the next two years, she plans to travel to six to eight annual international windsurfing regattas on the Olympic Class circuit in Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

She also will participate in Formula Class races on the continent, plus myriad other regattas to continue building her skills.

"I started windsurfing using a boyfriend's equipment when I was 15," she recalled, standing on the community beach in Cape St. Claire. "I windsurfed on the Magothy River. I had so much fun with his stuff I asked my dad for equipment. For a long time, I did it recreationally here in this park."

Eventually, the interview completed, the photographer and I headed to our cars to leave. It was a perfect day. As we looked back, Farrah was on her board, skimming over the waves on the Magothy. The sail glinted in the sun as Farrah dipped it up and down over the water.

She looked entirely at home.

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