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The first man to put a sail on a surfboard deserves a place in some future hall of fame alongside the guy who tied barrel staves to his feet one winter and ushered in the golden age of the autographed leg cast. Both were on to something, but they didn't go far enough. One didn't invent the ski bunny and the quick-release binding. The other didn't know about the universal joint. Hoyle Schweitzer was acquainted with this bit of hardware, and in 1967 he used it to fasten a mast to a surfboard, thus inventing a wonderful piece of equipment called the Windsurfer and forging a minor miracle. Schweitzer had transformed sailing into a tingling spectator sport, and if you don't believe it, you weren't at the 1980 American Windsurfer Championships last week at Falmouth, Mass. on the west side of Cape Cod's Buzzard's Bay.
The sport itself is officially called board sailing (the Windsurfer, the most popular American board, is a trade name) and more than 500,000 sailboards have been sold around the world. It is also the only sailing sport that offers competition in freestyle and slalom racing in addition to round-the-buoys course racing and a nasty ordeal known as long-distance racing. A Windsurfer sailboard is only 12 feet long, with a 59 square-foot sail and a small daggerboard, but it can turn on a sand dollar and perform spectacular feats. The sounds heard above the keening Cape Cod winds last week were cheers from the beach-bound spectators. Indeed, whoever wrote the script—and it seemed that someone must have—may have overdone things at the outset by ordering up too much wind. It gusted offshore to 35 knots on the first of the five days of competition. Only three of the four men's weight classes—officials had to cancel the medium-weight event because of the wind—could complete a course race, and no woman had the muscle to make it past the first windward leg.
Then for two days the wind moderated. Preliminaries were held for slalom racing and the freestyle event, the former a test of tacking, jibing and general boatmanship, the latter a display of virtuoso footwork, balance and waterborne acrobatics. There were pirouettes, forward and backward hair wettings (a/k/a nose dips and head dips) on the flighty boards, rail rides, with the boards slicing along on their edges, and other equally improbable maneuvers.
The week's particular hero would be the so-called pentathlon winner, the sailor with the best total score after all four events, course racing counting double. All the men's classes were eligible, as well as the one for women, and at the end of three days five competitors were nearly dead even: 26-year-old Nancy Johnson of Newport; brothers Alex and Greg Aguera, 19 and 17, of Clearwater, Fla.; Cort Larned, 25, of Fort Lauderdale; and Anders Foyen, 22, of Norway.
Midway through the fourth day, with the wind freshening to 15 knots, the slalom finals began. They were unisex, and one-on-one races, over a six-buoy course. The first of the leaders to falter was the 118-pound Johnson, who kept falling over and lost her initial race in the stiff breeze to 180-pound Mark Robinson of Clearwater Beach, Fla. He had the strength to carve far tighter turns. Next to drop a race was Alex Aguera, but in the loser's bracket he hung on to win four straight. Finally it was brother against brother, Greg against Alex, for the slalom title. The two Agueras tacked simultaneously at the first buoy, but at the weather mark Alex fell from his board and was slow to get back on. Then he fell again. His father, Joe, the Florida distributor for Hoyle Schweitzer's Windsurfing International, which manufactures the boards, said on the beach, "It's Alex' seventh slalom race today, and he's dog tired."
On lap two a wave caught Greg and threw him farther down the course than he had anticipated. His boom, barely missing Alex' head, brushed his brother's mast, and Greg shouted over the roar of the wind and waves, "I'm sorry," as he swept by. Alex fell, and Greg sailed smoothly on to victory, then jumped through his wishbone boom just beyond the finish line and landed in the water. Alex leaped off his board, grabbed Greg's head and angrily shoved it underwater.
Ashore, Greg was asked if he knew he had knocked his brother overboard. "No," he said, "the only time I look at the competition is at the end of a race."
"Did it feel funny racing against Alex?" he was asked.
"Funny? It felt good," said Greg, a mere 5'5" and 134 pounds to his brother's 5'9", 154. "Alex has always been a little better and bigger than me."
Next month Greg will enter St. Petersburg Junior College, meanwhile teaching board sailing and selling Windsurfers for his dad. Dad said his biggest problem is getting enough Windsurfers to meet the demand. "We're just scratching the surface in this country," he said. "There are 20 times as many in Europe."