Musings From a 40 Year old (Wave Bash) Virgin

Stephanie, Tosca, and I all just returned from a fantastic trip to the Southern Oregon coast for my first foray into competitive wave sailing as well as for some fun free-sailing with friends. The event was the 2011 Pistol River Wave Bash, and it marked the second stop of the five-stop American Windsurfing Tour (California, Oregon, Baja, North Carolina, and Maui).  Click here to check out some fun footage of the event.  (Steph has a cameo on the Day 1 video in a brief moment of fame at the 37sec mark. I had no such luck!)

I had the pleasure of watching the successful event last year at Pistol River and toyed with the idea of competing this year. At around that same time, both Stephanie and I had begun our strength and conditioning training program at Crossfit Taranis in Victoria on a friend's recommendation. Using Crossfit as the means, I had decided that I wanted to attain a higher level of fitness than I had seen in ten years through other types of fitness training I'd previously participated in.

My background in competitive slalom windsurfing, volleyball and rowing in university 20 years ago gave me a decent foundation, but now, nearly 20 years later, I had some good sized deficits in many areas of my strength and conditioning from focussing more on the activities I love (windsurfing, kiteboarding, devouring pains au chocolates and triple americanos), and less on things I disliked (squats, burpees, presses, and drinking pints of Greens Plus).

With a fresh goal of competing in the Pistol event, I embarked on a new fitness journey with zeal as well as a little trepidation (this was going to hurt). Arriving at the box (Crossfit's term for their training facilities) for each workout, I always had a swarming belly-full of over-caffeinated butterflies as I read the new Workout of the Day, or WOD.

Initially, I was encouraged by the coaches (and needed) to scale most of the workouts to prevent the outrageous bouts of delayed onset muscle soreness the next few days following a training session. As my fitness developed, I found I was able to more closely approach or even complete the prescribed (or Rx'd) workouts without feeling like I'd been flogged mercilessly by a thousand little whips the next day. The nervous feeling in my gut before a workout was subtly replaced by a new sensation: excitement! I began to really look forward to the workouts with other Crossfitters and felt my birdy legs feeling stronger and my endurance approaching what it was when I use to row. Push ups and burpees, while representing evil incarnate, became minor irritants rather than snarling, savage beasts to battle.

Stephanie's training was going well; she was sprouting biceps for the first time and her range of motion in her squats was never better! Most noticeably, my windsurfing was improving again in the form of better balance, power delivery, and endurance. On the strictly vain side of things, I was likely fooling myself that my pecs, previously undetected, were now at least approaching the vestigial variety. I could now do a workout that included one hundred pull ups. I had seen some solid improvement in my fitness.

Nearly a year after starting Crossfit, the time to compete in my first wave event arrived in June and I felt physically prepared despite some unexpected breaks in my fitness training and a couple of weeks off of sailing with a to-the-bone lacerated ankle from an "extreme" tree-pruning episode in our backyard.

Scanning the riders' bios on the American Windsurfing Tour website, it was apparent that a solid field of international wave sailing aficionados were gathering for this event. Sailors from all over the USA, including California and Hawaii, as well as competitors from France, Spain and Japan were also present. I entered the Amateur division (the next higher division was Professional) and initially set my expectations low, figuring that my main aim would be to have fun in the first heat, likely get knocked out, and then would have time to free-sail with my friends away from the competition area. As it turns out, I kept advancing all the way to the semi finals with some good loops and fun wave rides! (click here to see photos on the Hot Sails Maui website)

My previously laid-back approach to this competition was increasingly replaced with an old, competitive fire with each heat that I advanced through. Over fifteen years ago, I had seen photos of the competitions at Pistol River, and dreamed of sailing there. It felt a little surreal to be actually competing at this venue after so many years of reading about the competitions, seeing the videos and now having my sailing judged by two of my windsurfing heros. 

Sadly, however, the halfway point of my nine minute semifinal heat saw my hopes of making it to the final literally sinking as the wind dropped to an unsailable strength for my 200 pounds and the other much lighter sailors were able to advance even in the dying wind (we were being judged on our jumps and wave rides; difficult to do when submerged). The wind teasingly jacked back up to its previous 30 knots at the end-of-heat horn.

A little disappointed to have missed the opportunity of sailing the final, I decided that I'd performed my best under the circumstances and couldn't control for the wind dying, so was satisfied with the result. Interestingly during the competition, I overheard many of the competitors complaining that the intensity and duration of each heat had them fatigued tremendously. I experienced none of this, and felt very strong right into the semis thanks to the Crossfit training.

For the remainder of 2011 and 2012, I'm looking forward to continuing my Crossfit training and have my sights set on improving on my Wave Bash result for next year!

 (photo of Christopher Curran at the top of this post is courtesy of the American Windsurfing Tour)

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