Warren Miller: End of one fun era
Vail, CO Colorado
I was loading the remnants of the windsurfing era of my life into my Suburban the other day because I needed the space in my garage.
In the late 1970s, I bought my first windsurfer and launched it in Marina del Rey, Calif., where the wind blew every afternoon. I immediately got blown downwind and had to take my rig apart to carry it back to my car. By the end of that first summer, I was sailing at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, where the wind blew a lot harder.
Unfortunately, my athletic careers have always consisted of my imaginary skills exceeding my ability, and this was definitely the case with my windsurfer.
For example: I was sailing in the ocean outside the breakwater and was carried way south of my launching point and didn’t yet have the skills to sail upwind.
When I realized that it was almost dark, l took my boom off the mast, rolled up my sail and started paddling toward the entrance to San Pedro Harbor. Since I had on a wetsuit, my plan was now to paddle inside the entrance of the harbor and spend the night there.
When the sun came out and the wind came up the next day, I would sail back inside the breakwater to where I launched. Nobody knew I was out sailing, so nobody would miss me anyway.
As darkness completely took over, a boat approached me, and fortunately, it was the Coast Guard. They hauled me aboard and took me to where I could walk about a half-mile to my car.
I was thinking about my windsurfing career as I was loading my equipment to take it to a friend who had recently bought a home in the Columbia River Gorge.
I thought about Laurie and my first trip to Maui. The first thing I did was immediately go to Hookipa, where the world’s best windsurfers and some of the world’s biggest waves and steadiest wind come together.
I thought it was no big deal, so I rigged my board and paddled out a little ways because I still could not do a water start. I tried for half an hour to get the mast up and sail away before I realized that I had been blown downwind.
Later on, I was trying to get over the reef in front of Mama’s Fish House to the delight of all of the customers eating lunch. My fin caught as I was washed over the reef, and I did two forward somersaults through shallow water, imbedded parts of three different sea urchins in my body and called it a day.
Two years later, we owned a Sugar Cove condominium where I would write my film scripts from early in the morning until the wind started blowing to my level of sailing. I could then windsurf until the sun went down. I did this every spring and early fall for the next 10 years.
As I was waiting in the ferry boat line with my car full of windsurfing equipment, other memories came spinning back: One day, I was sailing two miles offshore when I crashed and landed on a Portuguese Man o’ War. It was all over my body and in my mouth, too. More lurching!
I have some very pleasant memories of acquiring enough skills on a windsurfer to go way outside on the outer reefs when the waves were over the top of my 16-foot mast. Those waves are some of those exciting things in my memory bank or of the other survival experiences that I have lived through.
I was heading down Interstate 5 with all of my windsurfing gear thinking about when Don and Barbara Guild, Alan Cadiz and I took a trip on our windsurfers across the 11-mile-wide channel between Maui and Molokai. Oh, to sail up and over the top of a wave and look down the face of it when you’re in mid-channel and realize that if you crashed and lost your board, there is a very strong southbound current, and with some luck, your body would float up on the island of Guam or maybe even make it all the way to Japan.
Don, Barbara and Alan got way ahead of me. When I got there, the only lunch left was a couple of big bars and a lukewarm can of diet Pepsi. I was very tired but so high after sailing across the channel that I knew I could sail back on adrenaline alone. Within 10 minutes of when I got there, Alan said, “We have to be back on Maui no later than 5 o’clock, or my wife will call the Coast Guard.”
I gulped down my warm Pepsi, launched my board, negotiated the big shore break and was back across the Molokai Channel once again. The ride back was perfect. I had exactly the right-size sail; the wind-blown, very large waves had changed to giant groundswells; and, as you raced along face of one of them, flying fish would explode all around you.
Since I was sailing faster than they could fly, they would bounce off of my sail, my legs and my chest, and I realized that it would be impossible to explain the elation of an ocean crossing on a windsurfer.
Back on Maui, Don said he was 63 years old, Barbara admitted to 64, and I was 65. Then he said, “Out there, we almost committed geriatric genocide!”
As I was helping to unload most of the windsurfing equipment from that era of my life, I knew that the fantastic memories of that era of my life would be with me forever.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to more than 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log onto WarrenMiller.net
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