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Dancing With The Wind
A True Story of Zen in the Art of Windsurfing

By Laurie Nadel

Paraview Press 2001
ISBN: 1-931044-31-7 
Nonfiction, 323 pages
Trade Paperback, $17.95

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Lazy Point, Napeague, NY
July 28, 1994

So, if women must, they will paint blue sky on jail walls....Women will draw doors where there are none, and open them and pass through into new ways and new lives. Because the wild nature persists and prevails, women persist and prevail.
—Clarissa Pinkola Estes

As squirrelly as the road got back there, when it felt like I was “exiled, paralyzed, deprived of all pleasures…reduced to the existence of a jellyfish…(and) horrible to behold,” there were friends who called, who offered prayers, and who let me know that I was in their thoughts. My women friends, going as far back as kindergarten, checked in from points as close as across the street and as far away as the other side of the world. Like blowing gently on a dying fire, their caring helped bring me back from the embers of the bardo. True friendship helps us find beauty in the darkness. 

The best part about being alive again is girl time. There’s a freewheeling lightness to driving underneath overhanging trees, past marsh ponds and windmills and potato fields with Catherine, a blonde attorney whom I met while working on a human rights project for writers and journalists sixteen years ago.

“Do you remember that afternoon in Port Washington, when I hung on to the back of your sailboard while you were windsurfing?” she laughs. “I still have those pictures.”

Yes, I remember. 

“Do you think you’ll get into windsurfing again?”

“Only if I rent equipment. The thought of hauling all that heavy gear around is overwhelming.” The mere thought that I might be capable of hauling all that heavy gear around is just plain absurd. I’m wondering if the idea of my windsurfing isn’t equally absurd. That is, until I spot the sign: WINDSURFING SWAP.

Before I promised God that I wouldn’t complain ever again, as long as I could walk and talk and breathe, I used to complain about people who liked to stop the car to browse for antiques. Certainly, I would understand if Catherine complained about this.

“Would you mind if we stopped in at that windsurfing swap?” I’m half-hoping that Catherine will give me one of those irritated looks that I used to give friends who wanted to stop for antiques, but her face lights up. “Are you thinking about getting a board?”

“Of course not!” But I am already out of the car, moving around the brightly colored sails and used windsurfers, trying to gauge whether or not I could lift any one of these onto the roof of this 1992 Honda Accord in the unlikely event I got a roofrack. How much would it cost to get back in the sport? I think, and calculate a quick estimate: board, mast, universal, mast foot, boom, sails, wetsuit, harness, and roofrack? About two thousand dollars. Out of my league. “I’ve made up my mind to rent equipment. It will be easier.” 

I seem to be talking to no one in particular when, like Alice in the Red Queen’s rose garden, I come face-to-face with a ten-foot-ten purple windsurfer, standing on its tail. A sign in front of it proclaims, “NEW FROM GERMANY—XANTOS 310—WEIGHS 16 POUNDS!” Lighter than a bicycle. My mind’s eye sees a slim, silvery wake fanning out behind my heels with three hundred sixty degrees of prussian blue water radiating sunlight capped by a bowl of sky. Right there, in the store, I catch a scent of afternoon wind off the ocean. The back of my ears tingle. Breeze. I had forgotten about that… Intuitively, my knees go into flex mode as I lean back a little. This feels oddly like meeting someone you used to be in love with but you broke up and you thought it was over but then you saw him again. Damn.

“It’s a brand new design, called a no-nose.” I delivered this comment to Catherine while shooting left across the westbound lane of Montauk Highway in order to grab a carlength of space in the eastbound lane, aware that it may turn out to be one of those non sequiturs that gets remembered forever, due to astrological conjunctions of that particular day, hour, angle of the sun, and the manic speed you were driving. Years later, Catherine will say, “Remember when we were trying to make that turn into all that traffic on Montauk Highway and you started talking about someone’s nose?” At the same time, there’s a growing, but dim awareness that the succulent tidbit of information have just passed on is of no interest whatsoever to the person sitting next to you.

“It’s one of the first Xantos boards to arrive in this country from Germany.” Am I talking to her or to myself? We have slipped off the main road, dodging south, behind Easthampton’s Guild Hall, under an arch of old trees, swinging east past an astonishingly wide curve of the road, through the middle of the Maidstone golf course near the ocean. When our trajectory intersects Montauk Highway at the eastern end of Amaganssett (settled 1680), instead of hanging a right, toward Catherine’s mom’s place in Montauk, I gun the accelerator for a lunge across the highway, onto a rough, pitted macadam road that curves around the edges of pine forests and salt ponds. “You don’t mind?” I ask with the kind of slightly nervous laugh that people must have when they know they have done something socially gauche, like hijacking. Fortunately, Catherine has one of those musical laughs that makes you think of arpeggios, even if you’re not sure what arpeggios are, music education not having been a mandatory subject in the Brooklyn public school system. Reassured by her laughter that it’s okay, we continue north until sand from the forest spills onto the road where it forks sharply. Turning right, we pass a couple of vans stacked with windsurfing gear. 

“Getting close,” I say.

“You’re not…are you?”


Lazy Point Road ends at Napeague Bay, a flat stretch of water that picks up steady ocean winds throughout the summer. Years ago, when windsurfing was a way of life, I had heard that the combination of steady thermals, flat conditions, and waist high water gave Napeague a reputation as the Bonaire of the northeast, one of the most popular windsurfing sites on this coast. I had wanted to sail here years ago but this will be the first time I’m attempting Napeague and I probably should have my head examined. The wind is coming from the southwest, around twelve knots, and it looks like anyone planing out there must be half my age. What am I thinking? That Xantos doesn’t even have a daggerboard. I’ll keep falling off! Everyone will laugh at me

Introducing myself to Bill and Jeremy, the two young men renting gear out of the “Main Beach” van parked at the water’s edge, we chat about my windsurfing experience so they can choose a sail that’s right for my skill level and the wind conditions. I’m having one of those disorienting mind moments where you seem to be having a normal conversation and inside, anxiety is making your teeth chatter but fortunately, no one can see them. Watching them rig up a new, 5.7 meter clear Mylar Neil Pryde sail, it occurs to me that in the eight years since I was last on the water, there has been a great technical leap between my old, clunky HiFly and these new F2s. This generation in sail design looks like an F-16 compared to those old Wright Brothers’ planes. Considering that I’m the kind of person who gets intimidated in a hardware store (what are all those gadgets for, anyway?) it looks like I’d need a masters in nautical engineering just to put that rig together. 

“Why did I say I would do this?” I mutter, as Catherine pats me on the shoulder for encouragement.

Back to the wind, with the board at a perpendicular angle, I jump onto the Xantos, kneel, then quickly stand. This is the point where I usually fall backwards on a shortboard. The board is rocking back and forth, yet it feels strangely stable. Hand over hand, the uphaul lifts the sail through the water, until the mast is nearly upright. Hands find their way home, gripping the boom and sheeting in, intuitively.

Liquid fire. Sun hits the brain. A moment of surrender, like seconds before an orgasm, when molecules in your body fuse and all around blazing, white, hotsilver light flashes through a star-sapphire afternoon. I forgot, I forgot.

“You’re good,” Bill and Jeremy nod as I head back in. “Go take another run.”

A gust of wind yanks the sail, but instead of losing grip, my legs crouch. My weight now holds the sail. I lean back, against the wind. 

Onshore, Catherine is clapping for me. Weren’t we supposed to be at her mom’s place in Montauk?

“Want a bigger sail? A harness?” Harness? I would end up face-first in the sail. Still, their enthusiasm is tempting.

“No thanks. We’re on our way to Montauk.”

“You were really good out there,” they smile.

Such unexpected, outright praise is embarrassing. I remember one of my last times on the water: “Why aren’t you as good as that woman?” I never thought I was any good at windsurfing.

Copyright 2001 Viking Rain, Ltd.


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