Escaping Cuba on a Windsurfer

Published on December 9th, 2014

Alex Morales journeyed from Cuba to America… by windsurfer. This is the story of his brave journey across the ocean and to becoming a respected board shaper.

Like many of Miami’s population, Alex Morales’s life started in the Communist dictatorship of Cuba – but his journey since has been unlike any other. Fascinated by his first sight of a windsurfer as an eight year-old boy, he knew he was bitten by the windsurfing bug that was sweeping the world. However, with no windsurfing opportunities for kids, he had to make do with sailing dinghies and begging the local windsurfers for a try on their boards.

This is when young Alex showed the first signs of his improvisational, ‘get-it-done’ attitude when he started to build his own kid’s windsurfer. “I started building Styrofoam boards and bamboo masts and booms. It was jury-rigged gear like a typical third-world kid – but it was the only gear I could get for my size.” Finally, a few years later, he was able graduate to real boards, and his dedication and persistence paid off when he won the 1987 Youth Event and was selected to be in the Cuban Olympic windsurfing team in 1989.

For many windsurfers and Cubans alike, this might have been a dream come true – being paid (albeit a modest stipend) to windsurf. However, the life of a state sponsored windsurfer had limited appeal to Alex, who was acutely aware of the artificial bubble he was living in – limited to state events with other communist countries. “You might be in the best shape – but if you don’t compete internationally, you can never be your best technically.” Word was flooding in from the US and Europe through windsurfing magazines, TV and radio of the exciting developments in equipment and competitions. “My biggest influence back then was the windsurfing magazines that made windsurfing look so colorful and hardcore.”

Alex knew what he had to do – but leaving Cuba freely was not an option, so he plotted his departure with the only option left – as a ‘Balsero’, making the 90 mile journey to Florida and freedom by raft. Even as an expert windsurfer, he realized that windsurfing to Florida would be physically exhausting and dangerous, so he tried leaving twice with home-made rafts powered by outboard engines. After both attempts failed, he finally turned to his last and least favored option – by windsurfer. “The windsurfing option was always in the back of my mind, but I knew that it would be exhausting – perhaps beyond my limits.” – Boards, full story

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