The three of us laughed over a few beers while watching the sunset from the hot tub at our Avon, North Carolina windsurf rental house on Cape Hatteras.  Windsurfers continued to blast across the water.  JR Wilhelmy (Owner of Makani Fins), Brian Klauser (owner of Ocean Air Sports) and I were unwittingly about to hatch a plan for the biggest windsurfing event in the Western Hemisphere.

It was April of 2016.  There was a good vibe in the air across the windsurf community.  Every waterfront house was packed with windsurfers.  People were slowly starting to come back to windsurfing and the community was rebounding from the great windsurf recession of the early 2000’s.  

JR puts his beer down on the side of the hot tub and says, “We should make an event.”  

I added, “Yes, we should make an event!  It should be something that anyone can do.  It shouldn't matter what kind of gear they have.”  

Brian picks up his beer, “We should send everyone out to the reef and back.”

JR, “Out to the reef and back twice!”

The three of us agreed on the plan that took us all of 30 seconds to come up with.  

“But when should we do it?” I asked.

Without hesitation, JR says, “It looks windy this week!  Let’s do it this week.”

Brian and I look at each other, thinking, “Well…why not give it a shot?”

This no-name, spontaneous race was actually about to happen.  We were in agreement that if we had twenty people sign up, it would be worth running this small, fun, race.  The next morning JR went around town, walking from house to house spreading the word about the race.  “Hey guys, we’re going to run a windsurf race on the next windy day out to the reef and back.  It’s for anybody to join. Go see Mike Burns if you want to sign up so he can give you a sail number. He’s staying in Island Tempest.”

None of us were prepared for what happened next.  Those good vibes that were spreading across the windsurf community took physical form as I tried to eat my grilled shrimp wrap from Buxton Munch.  One person after the other came walking into our kitchen asking, “Is this where we sign up for the Reef Race?” At one point there was actually a line of excited windsurfers extending all the way from the kitchen table down to the front door and outside to the porch. By the end of the day, we had 106 registered racers with only 24 hours of planning.  It was clear that we were on to something.  

This first, impromptu race went off without a hitch later that week. While the later events became bigger and more involved,  I was actually able to compete in the first two OBX-WIND events.  These were the most enjoyable two races I ever competed in. Standing on the start line, with so many other windsurfers was incredible!  JR and I were among the first ones to round the outer mark.  As I flipped the sail to make the first three-mile leg back towards shore, the view was surreal and is an image that is permanently burned into my brain. The 100+ windsurfers charging straight toward me with spray flying sideways off the boards was enough to completely obstruct my view of the shoreline.  The rumble created by over one hundred windsurf boards flying across the water was as if Aeolus himself (the Greek God of the Winds) was screaming with joy as if we’d finally discovered why these winds were given to us. It was at that moment that I knew this was going to be an experience that all windsurfers needed to have.

I had been competing in various windsurfing events since 1999.  In all previous events, my goal was to be at the top. I’d train new moves freestyle, I’d train for slalom, I needed to be at the top!  This time it felt so different. As much as it was a race and we were all technically competing, nobody cared what place they were in. We were all caught up in the moment laughing, hooting and hollering.  We were too excited and overcome with windsurfing bliss to pay attention to who was in front of us and how many smiling faces were still behind us. I saw a few catapults, a broken boom and even a broken fin.  

I remember passing JR on the inbound leg of one race, making sure he could hear me laughing and hooting as I pulled past him. Then karma struck. After missing my foot strap coming out of the jibe at the very next mark, I went into the drink.  As JR zipped back past me while I was standing waist deep in the water, he made sure that I could not only hear his expansive  laugh, but he also made sure that I was able to see his giant ear-to-ear grin as he flew by. I was easily laughing just as hard - and no, I did not catch up to him again.   Thinking back to that moment still brings a smile to my face six years later.    

After we wrapped up that first day of racing, it was immediately clear that this “Reef Race” event was going to be an annual gathering. We started planning for another race the following year. For 2017 we officially named the event “OBX-WIND”.  Since none of us were professional event organizers and OBX-WIND was clearly well on its way to becoming a full blown international event, we enlisted the help of Sam Bittner who headed up the IWT at the time. Sam was happy to join us in planning the event for 2017.

In its second year, we already had some big names in windsurfing starting to show up. Kurosh Kiani, Boujma Guilloul, Tyson Poor, Wyatt Miller, Phil Soltysiak and more pro windsurfers were on the start line for Round 2 of OBX-WIND. The event grew larger each year. We added the US Nationals for Freestyle and US Nationals for Slalom. Multiple disciplines also attracted more professional windsurfers from around the world. Youp Schmit, Taty Frans, and more of our professional freestyler friends from Bonaire always make an appearance each year.  European Pros like Nico Prien, Marco Lang and Dirk Doppenberg have been traveling over to the event as well. The list of top PWA pros in attendance is growing steadily.

Fast forward past the few years canceled by COVID lockdowns, and we find that OBX-WIND has now matured into a well-oiled machine. The event is well organized and hosted by Ocean Air Sports and Severne Windsurfing.  It has gone from a pop-up, wild west style event that we never even planned on having, to an extremely well organized,  internationally recognized and globally promoted race.  

I recall having a conversation during a meeting with Svein Rasmussen, the owner of Starboard Windsurfing. We were talking about how windsurfing has started to build momentum again around the globe. He liked to see how much success we have with OBX-WIND and asked how our OBX-WIND event kept attracting so many people year after year. 

Svein asked, “How do you do it? How do you keep getting people to show up and race year after year?”

My answer was simple, “OBX-WIND isn’t a race….  It’s an experience.” 

I explained that the vast majority of windsurfers across North America have absolutely no desire to take part in intense competition. They just want to go windsurfing and have fun. Isn’t that the whole point - having fun?  The goal for many people at OBX-WIND’s Long Distance race is to not come in last. Half the fleet can’t jibe!  Social gatherings break out mid race, 3 miles off shore at the outer mark when half the fleet is swimming on their missed jibe.   Heck we even have a light wind race with beer at the finish line that’s growing to be almost as popular as the long distance race!  We want to make sure there’s some fun to be had by all on and off the water, regardless of the windsurfer’s ability level. It’s not about making the podium or even coming in the top ten.  OBX-WIND is about making new friends, laughing with old friends and getting together for a week-long celebration of windsurfing. Svein agreed that there need to be more events around the globe like our OBX-WIND event.

I have to say, the 2023 event was as close to perfect as one can imagine. The entire island was filled with windsurf stoke, and the wind was perfect for competition all week long. Every event went off without a hitch. We added a BonFire night and an on-water demo day this year which were both hits among the crowds. Windsurf dealers from around North America are also flying in for the event and to check out the new equipment from the event’s sponsoring brands. After this 2023 event, it’s clear that not only is OBX-WIND a fun event for the average windsurfer, but it also attracts professional level competitors and many folks from around the industry.  All in all, OBX-WIND 2023 became the center of the North American windsurf market and we will build on this for 2024. 

For those who have never experienced OBX-WIND, here is a rundown from the week of the 2023 event.  

Saturday and Sunday are non-race days. People are usually checking into their rental houses Saturday afternoon, so we have racer check in on Saturday and Sunday. We have a welcome / skipper’s meeting to give everyone a rundown of the week on Sunday morning as well. Racers also use these days to test their gear and figure out the venue. 

The first race day is usually on Monday. Monday tends to always have some sort of action on the water whether it’s the light wind “Beer Race”, or high wind competition. This year, we kicked the event off with a perfect day of Slalom. With temps in the 70s and southwest winds around 20mph, it was absolutely perfect. We were able to finish the full round of the US Nationals for Slalom as the sun was setting. In the end it was Taty Frans from Bonaire who took home the Gold for slalom, followed closely by Marco Lang from Austria in second place. Terence Clappers, also from Bonaire was able to beat out Dirk Doppenberg from the Netherlands for the final podium position.

Tuesday turned out to be the day everyone was hoping for. The Long Distance race had winds in the mid/upper 20s from the Northeast. Classic OBX-WIND conditions!  After roughly twenty-four miles of racing, it was Taty Frans of Bonaire again taking home the top spot. Second place was Olivier Jallais, the owner of Worldwinds, a windsurf rental center in Texas. Third place went to Vincent Lindauer who came down from Canada with a big crew. Vincent is no stranger to the OBX-WIND podium.

For women’s Long Distance, Kim Greaves took the overall top spot followed by Mary Mouthaan and Amber Kasbeer.  All are excellent windsurfers.

It was also amazing to see our Junior fleet growing. Kaelyn Holmes has been traveling up from Puerto Rico for the past few years and her level is on a par with the adults. She was our First Place Junior and - if she had been scored as an adult - she would have made the podium there as well. For 2023, the event saw our youngest competitor to ever compete the long distance course at only twelve years old. Andrew Misener showed the crowds that competing in windsurfing is possible at virtually any age!

The US Nationals for Freestyle went off on Wednesday. Pro Freestylers flew in from around the globe to compete. After a full afternoon of incredible action, in the end it was Phil Soltysiak, coming out from the Gorge who took home the first place trophy. Alex Mertens from California put on quite a show to place second, and I managed to pull off some big moves when I needed them to land in third place. The entire Freestyle fleet was riding at an incredible level!

Thursday was “Gear Day”.  It was still windy so the sponsoring brands got together for an incredible demo day on the sound. Conditions were perfect to test the newest boards and sails from sponsoring brands like Severne Windsurfing, Starboard Windsurfing, Duotone and North Sails. At the same time Ocean Air was holding a gear swap where people were able to sell some of their old gear or make an upgrade.

The only on-water competition left was the light wind “Beer Race.” This went off on Friday. The “Beer Race” has definitely grown in popularity over the past few seasons. Light wind course racing with free beer at the finish line is a big hit. There ends up being a full on party at the finish line every year and it’s simply a great time!

In the end, the 2023 event saw one hundred and sixty windsurfers compete over the course of the week and many, many more come to join in the off-water fun or just to watch. 

We started OBX-WIND to showcase the sport of windsurfing and, with this goal, the event has been more of a success than any of us could have dreamed. We’re definitely seeing more new windsurfers hitting the water lately! More kids are getting into it. New windsurf schools are being opened up at yacht clubs and local beaches across North America. Windsurf shops that stopped selling windsurf gear twenty-five years ago are starting to order windsurf gear again for their inventory.  

There’s new blood getting into the sport as the original windsurfers are having kids and making it a family affair. Lessons are becoming more widely available so it’s easier for someone to find a place to learn. As we can see from all the different types of competitions that we have at OBX-WIND each year, windsurfing can be so many different things for so many different people.  It can be an adrenaline pumping, full speed ride that feels like you're at the limit of a race car going 200 mph while you’re pushing 40 knots. It can be a personal challenge to land the next trick on your freestyle setup. It can simply be a fun time cruising around in light wind with friends. We had competitors with ages ranging from twelve years old to other folks well into their seventies. Windsurfing is incredible in this way;  it comes in a flavor for everyone. 

As I finish writing this story, plans have already begun for OBX-WIND 2024. We expect to see more action, and even more windsurfers than ever come out from more places across the globe. There will be even more fun in store for the 2024 event. If you haven't made it out to OBX-WIND yet, what are you waiting for?  We’ll see you next year!