Keeping Pace with the Changes

Published on December 15th, 2014

Steve Bodner provides a historical tour of boardsailing and his personal path in keeping pace with the changes…

No matter how hard you try to keep things the same, there comes a time when you must move on. The harder you resist, the more difficult the change.

Sailing classes come and go – especially windsurfers where the sport has evolved for the past 45 years. I got my first windsurfer back in 1987, as a 12 year old, after having sailed dinghies around the Midwest USA and seeing a lightning-fast windsurfer blaze past me.

At that point. I knew stand up sailing was for me. Little did I know where it would lead me.

From 1992 to 2004 I campaigned the Mistral One Design, sailing in three Olympic trials, four world championships and countless local, regional and national events. I got a taste for international competition while living a nomadic lifestyle – chasing the wind at every opportunity I could get. Good friends were made as we shared the same challenges, victories, and setbacks – on and off the water.

In 2000, after graduating college, I moved to San Francisco where the local fleet was transitioning to the formula board and I began the next chapter of my sailing career. It wasn’t an Olympic class but that didn’t matter as we had one of the strongest race scenes in the country – right in my own backyard and the gear was the fastest, most high tech thing around.

For the next 12 years, the class and our fleet grew as we hosted championship regattas on the San Francisco Bay and the fleet traveled to Florida, Texas and Hood River like a band of gypsies. I made even more friends racing across the world from remote islands off the coast of Brazil, to European lakes to magnificent Canadian rivers. The formula windsurfer fit the bill perfectly.

I reveled in the constant evolution of the sails and boards and fins…but it grew too fast. Soon the gear was almost foreign to most sailors as we were sailing $1500 carbon fins, 100cm wide boards and 11m rigs and updating our kit every year. Luckily there was always a new sailor coming along to buy your gear and grow the class – until it slowed. I tried going back to one design with the advent of the Olympic RS:X board but quickly realized the gear was outdated a year after it was produced. I started this sport as I wanted to be the fastest on the water, and not just on the water.

Around 2006-7, something else began to happen. Kite boarding was coming of age and the San Francisco local kiters were leading the charge, introducing course racing to the scene. I was a bit skeptical at first, seeing the dangers of kiting but in constant awe of how the sport was evolving – much like windsurfing did the previous 45 years.

Soon the formula windsurfing fleet and kiters began sharing the course in our long distance races and it wasn’t long before the kiters got the advantage and began beating us at our own game.

The nerve!

More recently, the kite fleet began to grow while our local formula fleet began to decline. I couldn’t deny it as the writing was already on the wall.

I finally took the plunge a few years ago, learning how to kite in Baja with an experienced group of local kiters helping me along the way. I wasn’t hooked like windsurfing but it sure was fun having other people to share the stoke.

With windsurfing, I had the best gear you could buy and could win local and national races and finish respectable at major championships. With kiting, I was still a kook, barely able to make it around the course. The transition was harder than I imagined; more so in the sense of unlearning all those years of windsurfing.

All the meantime, the kite fleet was evolving with the introduction of foils. I knew this time, I wouldn’t be left behind.

Last month, I got the opportunity to sell a whole lot of my formula gear, which doesn’t happen all too often. So it begins, the next chapter of my sailing career: kite foiling and foil racing.

I’m scared as hell but more excited than I’ve ever been in a long time. The goal in 2015 is to become proficient at foiling so I can begin to be competitive on the course again. With an abundance of local racing and a strong group at Crissy field (on SF Bay) to help along the way, I’m looking forward to the next challenge.

Mind you, I’m not giving up on windsurfing, just the light & medium wind formula racing which seems to be better suited for foiling anyway. I’m keeping a slalom kit as well as my ml 8.9 & 10.0 so as not to miss anything at all.

Onward and upward!


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