Water Sports: Wanted--Windsurfing Demigod, Sales Experience Preferred

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, February 1996

Water Sports: Wanted--Windsurfing Demigod, Sales Experience Preferred

Bjorn Dunkerbeck is arguably the greatest boardsailor ever. Is that really enough?
By Stephanie Pearson

After winning boardsailing's overall world title for eight consecutive years, Bjorn Dunkerbeck feels he's entitled to some respect. Of course, you won't see him clamor for it. "Where I'm from, you don't talk about yourself," says the 26-year-old Dane, sounding a little like a stoic Kansas wheat farmer. "If you're good, people will recognize it."

And people have. But as the 1996 Professional Windsurfing Association season kicks off this month in the Canary Islands, where Dunkerbeck has lived since he was nine, there is some rumbling in the ranks that the arrogant, intensely private champ is the wrong type of hero for a sport that desperately needs the right one. During Dunkerbeck's reign, the sport has hit a serious lull: Board sales are flat; the sport's organizing body, the Professional Boardsailing Association, recently went bankrupt; and several marquee events have gone belly-up. And while a top athlete doesn't necessarily deserve the blame for his sport's business problems, to many it appears that Dunkerbeck, a man with unparalleled talent and striking good looks, is fiddling in the Canaries while Rome burns. Instead of taking the sport to the next level by embracing corporate suitors and tossing glib one-liners to the media à la Michael or Deion, his critics charge that Dunkerbeck has tended to strike a haughty, above-it-all pose. As one former World Cup competitor puts it, "Bjorn's the kind of champion people just love to hate."

Of course, no one denies that Dunkerbeck is among the best ever to step onto a board. He's dominated the tour since 1988, when he wrested the title from boardsailing's then-perennial champ and marketing maven, Robby Naish. He's won more than 75 individual events, and in 1991 logged the second-fastest top speed (43.34 knots) in the history of the sport. "He's higher, smoother, faster, and cleaner than anyone," says PWA spokesman Gavin Randall. "He's a demigod."

Still, Dunkerbeck, who is notoriously reluctant to make promotional appearances and occasionally testy with autograph-seeking fans, has proved to be quite the opposite of Naish. "Robby shouldered a lot of the responsibility for turning windsurfing into a business," says two-time world champ Cort Larned. "He enjoyed that aspect of the game. Bjorn is just 100 percent dedicated to going as fast as he can."

Which, Dunkerbeck is quick to note, is the point of being a professional boardsailor. "When I compete I focus on one thing: winning," Dunkerbeck says in a thick, Terminatoresque accent. "If I were windsurfing for fun, I wouldn't work nearly as hard."

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