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Ups and Downs at Aruba Hi Winds

The 23rd Aruba Hi Winds international wind and kite surfing competition started on the first Thursday in July under the most ideal circumstances. All 90 participating windsurfers and 28 kitesurfers found the best wind they could ever imagine on the spot and, according to the predictions on the frequently consulted windguru site, the weather was supposed to stay the same throughout the four remaining days of the event.

Spirits and speeds were high at the slalom races at Fisherman’s Huts, the Hi Winds’ home base. Even more speed could be noticed on the other side of the island at Boca Grandi, the best place for the kitesurfers who want to perform dare-devilish “heart-attacks,” “720 spins” and “one-footers.”

All sailors were eagerly looking forward to the next competition day, but along came a tropical wave. The weather system that approached the ABC islands like a thief in the night first becalmed and soon after brought rains and thunderstorms so severe that the whole island suffered a total electricity black-out during Friday night.

Although organizer Charles and race directors Frank, Wim and Evert had to cancel, postpone and shorten the planned freestyle and long distance races during the weekend, all sailors, family and friends showed enough drive and kept their sails stand by, taking advantage of every single sigh of the wind ghosts.

Fortunately the rains didn’t disturb the Saturday afternoon entertainment program, which each year attracts a big crowd on the beach at Fisherman’s Huts. The bands Earplugs and Root Rebels musically framed the traditional Amstel Bright Happy Hour while the kiters performed a tremendous show.

This 23rd edition of the event had many nationalities: athletes from the ABC Islands, Argentina, Venezuela, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Slovenia, the U.K. and the U.S. Many windsurfers return each year as does the "grand master," Myles Borash, a 60+ vet from the U.S. Curacao and Bonaire were also represented by a fixed group, and the Venezuelans are always the life and the soul on the beach, scoring high in the open competition slalom. They were closely watched by a film crew from Caracas, which also took shots of actual tourist activities on the island.

Hi Winds 2009 will go into history not only as a turbulent edition but also as the first Hi Winds with a magazine of its own—11.000 copies of a colorful, 28 page booklet, put together by the Dutch organizer/trainee Charles Meijer and distributed in all supermarkets and hotels, united wind- and kitesurfers with tourists and locals.

Aruba’s minister of Tourism Edison Briesen put it this way at the prizegiving ceremony on Monday night in the beautiful shopping and entertainment mall Paseo Herencia: “This year Mother Nature challenged participants and spectators.”

Their perseverance was rewarded on the last, fifth day. Monday’s weather equaled the first day’s ideal situation and that memory stays. The last day also brought the decision. For some it was obvious that they would obtain a spot on the stage, others surprised friend and foe.

Among the most notable participants were the 14 year-old Aruban twin brothers Quincy-Lee and Wesley Connor. Last year they scored high in windsurfing, this year they swapped first places in the kitesurf sports class. The 14 year-old Christiaan Zweers from Bonaire is an emerging talent. The son of the famous kitesurfer Pieter Zweers, who practiced the extreme sport for only a year, ended up third place in the highly competitive men’s class. The same goes for 15 year-old Annabel van Westerop who won all heats in the women’s class.

The youngest wind surfers, Oscar Etmon (9) and Maxime Kaan (10) were honored as "rising stars.” Sarah-quita Offringa and Steven Lageveen were put in the spotlight for their excellent performance at world class Freestyle events in Lanzarote and Sardinia.

Full results can be viewed on the website www.hiwinds-aruba.com

Els Kroon is a Dutch former teacher who now lives and works as an award-winning free-lance photojournalist on Curacao.

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