Outside magazine, January 1992
Windsurfing: Going Off to Boarding School
By Bob Howells
Learning to windsurf all too often comes down to not learning to windsurf. A friend gives you five minutes of the basics of balance, uphauling, and tacking and then, at the first puff, sails for the horizon as you flounder in the shallows. Or you're lured to a resort that touts windsurfing among its recreational delights but in fact offers outdated equipment and an indifferent instructor. Either way, your shins and ego get bruised, and you figure that this is a pretty dumb sport.
Better to go to a windsufing school, perhaps one located in some version of paradise where you can supplement your studies with extracurricular snorkeling, horseback riding, and lounging on the beach. The I've recommended here offer conditions gentle enough for beginners and wild enough to satisfy any wind-worshippers you hang out with. Best of all, they guarantee you'll learn to windsurf: Besides topnotch instructors, they have all new equipment, rigged and ready to sail, and a good selection of it, for changing conditions and your advancing skills. In two days you'll likely progress from a simulator (a dry-land sailboard with training wheels), to a big floaty board or a BIC Flotation Trainer (like a pontoon with a sail), to-we kid you not-open water.
Vela Highwind Center, Cancún, Mexico. Beginners really have it good here. There's a sideshore wind, which means you sail parallel to shore and not out to sea while you're trying to nail your first clean tack. The water is shallow (a comfort for beginners) and warm (a comfort for anyone). A one-week package, including lessons, equipment, technique seminars, video analysis, and a double room at the Hacienda del Mar, costs $769; they knock off $50 for first-time sailors. The hotel and equipment center are right on the beach, so you just walk out the door and start sailing. Or snorkeling on Cancún's colorful reefs. Or exploring the beaches of Isla Mujeres, a short ferry ride away. Season is late November through May; call 800-223-5443.
Rhonda Smith Windsufing Center, Hood River, Oregon. Hood River is the sport's ground zero: It's where they film those boardsailors somersaulting in frothy swells, powered by the winds funneling down the Columbia River Gorge. What the windsurfing videos don't show is a quiet, flat lagoon in the lee of a two-story hotel, where five-time women's windsufing world champion Rhonda Smith and crew instruct beginners from kayaks. Budding high-wind sailors can learn the intricacies of balance in light air, with brisker stuff nearby at The Hatchery and Swell City for graduate-level study. A weekend basics course, with equipment and a hotel room, costs $250; this also includes all the time you want in one of the Gorge's more popular meeting places, Rhonda's riverfront hot tub. Season is May 1 to September 25; call 503-386-9463.
Windsurf Village, Aruba. Boardheads blow into this barren Caribbean isle for the world's most consistently sailable winds. But Aruba has warm shallows to suit neophytes, too. If you're daunted by the fabled offshore winds, remember that they're generally lighter from September to December and always lighter close to shore. And instructors can opt to keep you tethered so you stay close to shore, lest you visit Venezuela before you master tacking. Packages start at $399 per week, including equipment and beachfront cottages with efficiency kitchens. Lessons are extra-three for $70,five for $120-but beginners get free lessons from August 15 to November 15. You can arrange to sample Aruba's snorkeling, scuba diving, catamaran sailing, or horseback riding through Holiday Inn's watersports center on the beach. Season is year-round, but summer is the windiest time of year, when daily wind speeds average 20 knots; call 800-252-1070.
Maui Magic Windsurfing School, Maui, Hawaii. Marnie and Dave Crans like to stay in close touch with their students-so close that they rig them up with one-way radios (no talking back to the teacher). That way they can encourage, cajole, and correct their fledglings out catching the gentle morning breezes at Kanaha Beach Park. This north-side beach is definitely not Hookipa, but the trade winds do pick up in the afternoon, meaning bigger air for intermediate and advanced sailors. Three days of lessons run $150; five days, $240. Maui Magic (800-872-0999) can refer you to nearby accommodations as well as snorkeling, scuba diving, horseback riding, or parasailing oufitters. Or you can book a lessons-and-hotel package, starting at $457 per week for first-timers and $676 for return guests, through Vela Highwind Centers; call 800-223-5443. Season is year-round, but winds are most consistent from May through August.
Excursions Extraordinaires' Windsurf Baja Center, Punta Chivato, Baja California. Punta Chivato is one of those Baja secrets: a remote peninsula on the Gulf of California where a small hotel serves up fresh fish and a strong north wind makes for great winter sailing. There's no swinging nightlife, no sightseeing, no distractions-just an intense week of windsurfing with daily clinics on land and water. Beginners learn in a flatwater cove with a sandy beach, while experts can head one bay over for Baja's famed chop and swells. Eight-night packages start at $779 and include lessons, equipment, meals, and a hotel room. If you happen to get skunked by the wind one day, you can hop onto a mountain bike or into a sea kayak and go exploring. To get there, fly to Loreto, and an instructor will pick you up. Season is December through February; call 800-678-2252.