Highland Spring HIHO organizer Andy Morrell stayed busy during this year’s event, which featured windsurfing and stand up paddling races around the BVI.
On the first day of the event, which started near Virgin Gorda’s Bitter End, races got under way with a gusty squall that moved through the area. Shortly after the start, Morrell was called to rescue competitors who either got hung up on a reef or stepped on a sea urchin.
Despite the few perils the competitors faced early on, the organizer was happy with the event, which had “good wind,” according to Morrell.
Participants from around the world competed in the annual event that featured a windsurfing division with 15 competitors and a Stand Up Paddling (SUP) division with about 18.
“We are a little softer this year, but we are getting better depth,” Morrell said.
The ‘depth’ included America’s Cup crewman Shannon Falcone of Antigua in the SUP division, and professional windsurfer Wilhelm Schumann of Brazil who won the event for the second consecutive year.
In the SUP division, all eyes were on Chase Kosterlitz of Florida who won all the races, including the Painkiller Thriller relay.
The inaugural race featured seven SUP teams of three, including one female, paddling 13 miles along Tortola’s north shore from Trellis Bay to White Bay, Jost Van Dyke. It was billed as an “event within an event,” Morrell said.
“I have never done an event like this,” Kosterlitz said, who does about 20 professional SUP races a year.
He competed with Belar Diaz of Spain and his girlfriend Sarah Bryne as Team Fanatic to win the $4,000 prize.
Second place went to Colin Butler and Gail and Eric Walker of Team St. Thomas.
Shannon Falcone, Nik Bohachevsky and Joy Chien of Team Antigua took third place.
“We’re especially pleased with the inaugural Painkiller Cup,” Morrell said. “I’m betting this will become a must-do event on the SUP tour.”
He added that next year the prize money is going to be even bigger.
In recent years, windsurfing participation has been dwindling in comparison to the SUP division, which has grown considerably. However, Morrell doesn’t have any plans to get rid of it. Instead, he is thinking about adding kite boarding to the event.
“We came up with this concept of the triple crown of watersports — wind, SUP and kite,” he said.
Eli Fuller, a former Olympian windsurfer and past HIHO champion, competed in this year’s event.
“Racing here is a lot of fun. There is so much to see. It is not like you are seeing the same thing everyday,” Fuller said.
He acknowledged that windsurfing participation has gone down in recent years and he seldom windsurfs anymore. However, he makes an exception to compete in the HIHO event every couple of years.
“There are guys who have been doing it all of their lives and it is hard to walk away from,” Fuller said.
Todd VanSickle is a journalist living and working in the Virgin Islands.