This year's Highland Spring HIHO wind-surfing event included a new division – the up-and-coming sport of stand up paddling. Windsurfing continued to be the main event, with 20 competitors from around the world participating. The six-day race consisted of more than 100 miles of windsurfing and more than 30 miles of SUP throughout the British Virgin Islands. Ten SUP competitors participated in the inaugural event, including several women.
"We had a bunch of women paddling – they love it," Organizer Andy Morrell said. "You can expect to see a healthy men-to-women ratio." Morrell, excited to introduce SUP to the event, said it was a "good fit" after years of debating about how to improve and incorporate another discipline to the competition.
"Paddling is really taking off as a sport," Morrell said. "It is our intention to really be the first great destination paddle event." Next year he plans to adjust the SUP courses and make the competitors more visible.
Professional SUP competitor Ernie (EJ) Johnson of California, invited to this year's event, agrees with Morrell and believes the BVI is a perfect venue for SUP. He's used to paddling
in the cold, rough Pacific Ocean waters.
"There is no comparison," Johnson said. "It is like paddling in a swimming pool [here]. The courses have been great." Most of the courses were downwind, but they still posed a challenge for several SUP competitors. In fact, one paddler vomited on his board after a strenuous race.
Johnson came in second in the SUP division behind fellow-Californian Lance Erickson who claimed the first place title.
Professional SUP competitor Tom Pace of Florida said the race from Virgin Gorda to Trellis Bay, Beef Island "was the hardest paddle, hands down that [he] had ever done." He would place third overall.
Johnson's wife, Andie, also competed in the event. She would place fifth, while he took second. Other husband-and-wife duos included Mickey and Peggy Munoz. Mr. Munoz is a surfing pioneer who has taken up SUP.
"[Mickey] is like 72 and he and his wife were killing it," Johnson said. "We try to promote that aspect of the sport. We would rather paddle with chicks than guys." Johnson hopes to come back next year. In the meantime, he will be traveling around the world competing in various SUP events.
"There are no cons in mind [about SUP]," Johnson said. "Anybody can do it. You can see the turtles; you see the reefs. It is a nice healthy way to get some exercise. It is just begun, but it is really going to go."
As far as the windsurfing division – it went smoothly, according to organizer Morrell. "We have run the windsurfing portion so many times that we have it spot on," he said.
Despite "unseasonably light" winds and a smaller turnout than previous years, Morrell said the competitors got to know each other better and enjoyed the scenic competition. "Our success formula is to sell a week of adventure," he said.
The racers stay aboard Moorings catamarans that accompany the fleet throughout the territory. After a day's race, parties are held at restaurants and bars for the participants. One of the bigger parties was a "pirate party" at the Last Resort, where people dressed the part.
Five junior windsurfers competed in the windsurfing, including Morrell's son, Josh, who completed the 30-mile race from Buck Island to Little Thatch.
Wilhelm Schurmann of Brazil, a professional windsurfer, returned this year to recapture his 2008 title. He would win the event over St. Martin's Jean-Marc Peyronnet and Andrea Colombo of Switzerland, who placed third.
BVI resident Rusty Henderson came in fourth. It was his first time windsurfing in more than four years. However he has competed in the event five other times. He decided to race after England was knocked out of the World Cup.
"I watched England lose football and I thought I have to represent England better," Henderson said. He encourages more people, particularly residents, to take up the sport and compete in the event.
"People come from around the world and have a great time and return every year," said Henderson. "Ironically, the people who live here rarely get out to enjoy it."
Todd VanSickle is a journalist living and working in the Virgin Islands.