Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Back in USSR… or my windsurfing adventure in the motherland - Minsk, Republic of Belarus

As I was planning my trip back to ‘old country’, I decided, this time I HAD TO get some windsurfing action in the place I was born and grew up (a quick background note: I left USSR 29 years ago, and my windsurfing experience of 14 years consists of either US or Caribbean destinations, plus one trip to Tarifa, Spain). Thanks to the Internet, I quickly located windsurfing club that offered some rentals (just in case you’re in the neighborhood: Minsk/Extreme Club www.windsurfing-by.org).

On my arrival to Minsk I assessed the weather condition and decided to pick the day based on the tree bending method, they bend - I go! Two days late the opportunity presented itself, 65-70 F, partly cloudy, a bit chilly for Miami standards but the trees and flags in the city were getting yanked all over the place and the wind was calling my name. I made a quick call to my cousin that lives in the area, he agreed to drive, my wife put her stamp of approval (even decided to come along); last minute, my cousin’s girlfriend joined in. Couple of hours later we piled into beat-up VW Golf, driving in the direction of Sea of Minsk (manmade reservoir next to the city). As we passed smaller lakes on the way, I noticed that the waters were churning and I was getting more and more excited! Twenty minutes later we were there.

I must say, place wise, local windsurfers got it made, the club has its own fenced in property right on the water, about 300 yards of frontage, small office building, few larger steel containers to store the gear, huge grassy rigging area, last few feet to the water some soft sand, no rocks, no weeds, no shore break, shallow and sandy bottom for a bit, than in gets deep – perfect! They even decorated the beach with few poles camouflaged as palm trees with the help of straw, ropes and tape. After a quick conversation with the woman in charge and her assistant, I’ve learned that Minsk is not a high wind Mecca I was hoping for, 5.5-6.5 m2 conditions I was witnessing, was uncommon for summers. Most of the locals have their own gear that looked pretty good, but for rentals I would have to settle for a ten year old F2 Axxis 95 L or something similar in 120L range, and 5.7 NP sail. I chose a smaller board, got changed and carried the rig + board to the water with enthusiastic entourage consisting of my cousin (who could not stop taking pictures with his cell phone camera) and his girlfriend; my wife remained unimpressed and demanded my leather jacket to keep her warm. It was relatively cold for a person that was used to Miami’s tropical weather and didn’t bring his wetsuit along but I was undeterred and ready to go. I beachstarted, only then I really understood how much windsurfing gear progressed in the last decade, board felt twitchy and unstable and the sail felt like a ton of bricks, still seconds later I was on the plane, trying to pop the board in the air off a small chop ahead, the board refused, so I continued in a straight line. After I got to the middle of the lake, I jibed, or better said, I tried to jibe but fell in, surprised I swallowed some water, waterstarted, etc.. Few more semi-successful laps with falling in the cold water, and I made a wise choice to cut the session short.

In summary: I’ve gained new respect for people using older gear, learned that a shot of good ol’ Vodka is a perfect remedy if you swallow some questionable quality water, remembered my own humble windsurfing beginnings and was very grateful that at home in Miami awaiting me was hot ‘no need for wetsuit’ weather and state of the art boards and rigs tuned to almost perfection. There’s no place like new home…
July, 2009

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