US Windsurfing National Championship makes LA debut

Crowds gather at the beach, Sunday, July 18, 2010, in Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Crowds gather at the beach, Sunday, July 18, 2010, in Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Mark J. Terrill/AP

Competitive windsurfers from around the world are facing-off at an unlikely place this week — Los Angeles.

The US Windsurfing National Championship starts Monday at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro and lasts through August 9. This is the first time the nation’s largest windsurfing competition will be held in L.A.

What makes the event so grand? 

“It’s not because of the number of competitors, but because of the caliber,” said Peter Bonello, Southwest regional director for US Windsurfing.

The competition is typically held in San Francisco or Hood River, Oregon because of the need for strong, reliable winds. But the Cabrillo Beach Yacht Club teamed up with US Surfing to organize the event this year at Cabrillo Beach, known as the windiest in Southern California.

As of Friday, 30 people had signed up for the event, but Bonello said at least a dozen more are likely to show up. Folks can register at any point during the competition.

There is no vetting process for the competitors and all who feel they are able to compete can sign up. For these competitors, the event is more than just sailing on a surfboard. It's about winning the nation’s largest windsurfing competition.

“This is one of the stops of the keen windsurfer,” Bonello said. “Where they go next could be more of the same in terms of pro circuits, but there are certainly many global events going on continuously.”

Spectators are welcome to watch all three competitions, but Bonillo suggests viewing slalom and freestyle because they are held closer to the beach and are exciting to watch.

Slalom is a purely downwind race where participants zigzag around six-to-eight markers in the water.

“Competitors are sailing at a very fast rate of speed and all approaching the same mark at the same time," Bonillo said. "If you get a fall it’s going to be spectacular because you’ll get people falling over each other. Of course if you do that, your chances of being a winner are out right there. It’s action packed.”

Freestyle is the only competition that is judged and not determined by who can finish first.

“The freestyle is likened to a gymnastics display. Competitors are judged on a sequence of tricks they can do,” Bonillo said.

Winners will likely do tricks such as leaping off a wave and doing a summersault in the air before landing successfully.

The third competition is course racing. Participants start at the same time and complete one or two laps around an upwind-downwind course.

Also associated with course race is the long distance race. The equivalent of two course races, the long distance race extends eight miles east of Cabrillo Beach and is expected to last two hours for those who finish first.

Events begin at 2 p.m. Monday and will last as long as the wind allows.

“Windsurfing as a sport is highly dependent on the wind. We like to sail in stronger breezes, not lighter breezes sail boats can go out on. If the wind continues to blow as late as 5 or 6 in the evening, we will try to take advantage of those,” Bonillo said.

Winners will be announced Friday, but Bonillo said it’s not the prizes that are important.

“It’s not about the trophies, it’s the bragging rights,” he said. “To be the US Windsurfing National Champion is a big deal.”