There's much more to the Highland Spring HIHO than just who won and how much fun it is to compete in this BVI-based boardsailing event. For one, the 'new' event, run by Andy Morrell's Ocean Promotions Ltd., celebrates its 15th year June 26th to July 3rd and continues in its cutting-edge style by offering a Stand Up Paddleboarding class (SUP) for the third year.
What many might not know is that this classic event was conceived over 30 years ago, in the late 70s, during one of the Caribbean's quintessential think-tank sessions, the 'happy hour'. Like the addition of a SUP class today, windsurfing was at its prime back then and the original Johnnie Walker Hook-In-Hold-On (HIHO) quickly became the premiere destination boardsailing competition of its kind. Riders then, like today, hailed from throughout the Caribbean and the world, all drawn by the chance to eat, drink and sail in point-to-point races that always ended at the next party.
One of these early board-sailors was St. Thomas' Chris Thompson. "Back then it wasn't really a race, but survival, because none of us had really gone that distance," Thompson tells. "I think the first HIHO was from St. Thomas to White Bay to Sandy Cay and then back to St. Thomas. The equipment was the standard windsurfer, one sail and a dagger board, which you pulled out and put on your shoulder when going downwind. We all sailed with a backpack, and in that pack was a knife, distress flag, money, passport, some water and a flashlight. In those days it was sleeping in a tent or sleeping bag on the beach. That first year nobody cared about winning, it was just a lot of fun going on an adventure with friends and going on a windsurfer that was basically just invented."
Morrell, who first raced in 1982 at age 18 and who bought and started running the event as a business in 1993 after Johnnie Walker dropped its sponsorship seven years before, says, "We competed on longboards with centerboards and sliding mast tracks during those early years. Then, we switched to only racing short boards when I took over. One of the big changes we made was providing equipment, so racers only have to fly in with their harness."
Recreational windsurfers, and now SUPers, have always been the main draw for the HIHO. Yet, inevitably, pro-windsurfers such as Antigua's Eli Fuller and Brazil's Wilhelm Schurmann picked up on and entered the event.
"I most liked the racing at HIHO," says Fuller, who competed in several events between 1985 and 2009, "but, being with the other racers all day every day while we raced, ate, partied, was unique and something that kept us coming back."
Schurmann first sailed in 2008. "The two years I raced the Highland Spring HIHO, I had some really nice close competition with Jean Marc from St. Martin and other competitors. Both times the winds favored my way and I managed to win it. Though I still did not manage to win the Costume Pirate Party, maybe this year â€¦"
Slater Trout, one of the best SUPers in the world, will be competing in this year's Highland Spring HIHO.
The strength of the HIHO has always been its route through the BVI and combination of great racing and fun parties, says Morrell. "That portion of the event has remained more or less the same since the start."
Today, the popularity of the HIHO has grown from a single event into a year-round clothing brand.
"This evolved from the cool event T-shirts we designed back in the 1990s," says Morrell. "We started making T-shirts, rash guards and beach bags but the line has expanded to beach cover-ups, linen sweaters and shirts and wonderful cotton T's and dresses."
Perhaps the most defining aspects of the Highland Spring HIHO are its sustaining popularity, its ability to change and adapt with the board sports times and, especially for Morrell, its ability to come full-circle. "I won the event in 1986 and Josh, my eldest son, won in 2009," Morrell says. "Great fun!"
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.