Wind Surfing in Bonaire - My Family Travels

I sped along, imagining myself as a glamorous young woman with sun-kissed skin and long flowing hair skimmed effortlessly across the crystalline blue ocean. I raced faster, and faster, my board no longer even touching the water! I was flying! I grasped the heavy boom, preparing to swing the sail around and leap onto the other end of the board with the grace of an osprey. I reached . . . I pulled . . . I lept . . .

“Pippi Longstocking, watch out!!!” Sputtering, I dived back underneath the water as a fin sliced past me. I raised my freckled nose out from under the sail just in time to witness the stunning antithesis of everything I had ever learned about Newton’s Law of Gravity The local and all of his windsurf equipment rose spinning into the air like a small cyclone. With a happy “Wheeee-yeah,” he balanced himself back on the water and took off speeding into the sunset, dreadlocks flapping in the breeze.

It was Day Four of my family trip to Bonaire, a Dutch colony 30 miles off the coast of Venezuela. Bonaire is a tiny desert island consisting of several small villages, cacti, a salt mine, a large population of wild donkeys, some rocks, and a few iguanas. It also supports several sinfully delicious chocolate cakes at The Last Bite Bakery, but I suppose that is beside the point.

Three kinds of people come to Bonaire. Most of the people who live there came to escape society and the noise, stress, and hurry that comes with it. They generally make their living supporting the scuba divers from around the world who were lucky enough to have heard of the best-kept secret this side of Africa. Bonaire more than makes up for its sparse land with the equivalent of the Amazon Rainforest off its coast, just beneath the surface of the water. Then, there are the windsurfers.

Windsurfing is not an easy sport. Dad tells my brothers and me stories of the beginning of windsurfing, when he and his friends would make their own equipment using parts of catamarans and surfboards. In winter, he and his friends would construct sail-sleds and whip screaming across the frozen lake back home in Massachusetts. With modern equipment and well-tested methods, my brothers and I should have no difficulty learning to plane, jibe, and water-start. Right.

I had just spent the last 6 hours growing steadily more pruny as I continued to attempt to windsurf. I could no longer walk, having recently undergone a violent experience involving a stampeding herd of donkeys, a vindictive patch of cacti, and my left foot. After losing control of my sail for the umpteenth time and finding myself stranded in a shallow field of coral, I lost my balance and fell backward, landing in a patch of sea urchins. After a very awkward hour spent with a pair of tweezers, I could no longer sit. My entire right side was scratched, bruised, and bleeding from falling on the rough board. A bump on my head paid tribute to the strength of the mast towering above me. Windsurfing hurts!

But for all its challenges, I love it. The out-of-control, at-the-mercy-of-the-wind, oh-man-this-really-could-be-the-end feeling just before I wipe out is the most exhilarating emotion I have ever experienced. You also learn valuable flexibility skills from trying to peel off a wet rash guard at the end of the day. The satisfaction of learning to set up my own equipment and tie the complicated sail knots is rivaled only by my pride in my own cunning and ability to sleep late when I am able to snatch up an already assembled windsurfer as its previous user leaves for lunch. Even when I’m exhausted and just walking my board to a different part of the beach, there is much to be said for breathing in salty air, watching dolphins leap against a backdrop of happy white clouds, and counting how many different shades of blue I can find in the water.

Bonaire really is the best place to learn to windsurf. The water is calm and shallow, so you can always walk back to shore if you become tired. The field of sea urchins in the west, rocks in the north, and nudist colony in the east gives you a great incentive to learn how to turn immediately. The locals are talented and friendly, nicknames notwithstanding. There are also several Indian restaurants on the island, where you can lay on the floor as you eat, so your battle-wounds will not affect you whatsoever.

If you ever want to learn how determined you can really be, learn to windsurf. You will discover things about yourself that you may not have ever realized. More importantly, you will have the time of your life . . . and some interesting stories when you return home!

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