There is a small but devout - group of Utahns addicted to behavior brought on by the movement of air on water.
They suffer from symptoms including: 1) constantly watching for wind in flags, trees and leaves, 2) a sudden need to leave work at the report of small-watercraft advisories and trucks being blown off the interstate, 3) constantly logging onto the Internet for the latest weather report.If you catch yourself doing any of the above, you might be diagnosed as a Utah boardhead, i.e. windsurfer.
The Utah windsurfer is part of a dying breed. A decade ago there were as many as half a dozen stores catering to sailors in the valley. This year there are zero. The last remaining windsurfing shop, Milosport, has stopped selling windsurfing boards to concentrate on snowboards, skateboards and wakeboards.
George Johnston, who has worked at Milosport for years, thinks people are just too burned out chasing wind. "It's a time-management issue. People are just busy, and they'd rather do something they know they will have success with like boating or mountain biking."
Johnston also points out that windsurfing equipment lasts a long time. People don't need to be constantly buying equipment. "That's great for the consumer; it just isn't good if you happen to own a windsurfing shop," said Johnston.
The only place you can learn to sail in Utah is through the University of Utah, and the only way to buy a board is by mail order, on the Internet or through classified ads.
Ironically, because of the Internet, chasing the wind has never been easier. The National Weather Service (NWS) and the Utah Windurfing Association have Web sites to help sailors and others pinpoint the wind. (See accompanying box.)
Salt Lake City's National Weather Service (NWS) Web site contains forecasts for specific areas throughout the state. More important, it shows current wind readings and 24-hour histories from several sites. Sailors no longer have to guess if it is blowing, they can simply check the Internet and be on the water within the hour. The NWS site is also helpful to people interested in fishing and others trying to escape the wind.
The Utah Windsurfing Association (UWA) was recently formed by two longtime Utah windsurfers, Dimitri Milovich and Grant McAll-ister. They have helped unite sailors, especially in issues of access. Both helped form the UWA Internet site where sailors post a windlog after sailing specific areas. With this information, sailors can compare sailing experiences from different sites on the same day and soon become experts on reading the wind.
The UWA site also contains an online swap meet for equipment, helpful hints on predicting wind, a guide to Utah sailing and information on how to become a member.
Eric Christensen is probably typical of a Utah boardhead. He is a 36-year-old stockbroker, married with two children. He started windsurfing 20 years ago on places like Decker Lake, the International Center, Deer Creek Reservoir and Utah Lake. Like most Utah sailors, he makes an annual pilgrimage to the wind-surfer's Mecca at the Columbia River Gorge. He has also sailed in Japan, Norway, the Caribbean and Hawaii.
Christensen's garage is filled with three boards, seven sails, four booms, four masts, wetsuits, dry suits and other paraphernalia. As a former motocross rider, he found the same thrill sailing through the air on a board as he did on a motorcycle.
"The damage to my body wasn't nearly as bad flying 20 feet and landing on water compared to dirt," he said, smiling.
Christensen's idea of a perfect day is working hard with people making deals, faxing and phoning - and then checking the Internet to find wind and heading out for a late afternoon solo session on the water.
"The feeling of being out there alone in the wind with the sun reflecting off the waves makes it seem like you are in a completely foreign place. It's really an amazing feeling, and it works your body from head to toe." Absolutely the worst possible day, he says, is when you have arranged your schedule to sail, only to be skunked. But that happens less often now.
"The predictability has improved tremendously. The In-ter-net sites and cell phones are by far the biggest improvement in sailing."
Because of time spent chasing wind, religion and politics can be less contentious subjects in a marriage than windsurfing. It is probably good marital advice to learn the sport as a couple. It is not uncommon to see a husband and wife tag-teaming, one watching children while the other sails.
Windsurfing can be done on almost any body of water, but here are a few favorite spots:
Sulphur Creek - Located 12 miles south of Evanston, off the Mirror Lake Highway. Many say the best windsurfing in Utah, especially on a south wind, is in Wyoming.
Utah Lake - With a seven-mile reach, Utah Lake on a north wind is probably the best sailing in Utah. It needs to be blowing at least 25 mph for a good southerly. The waves are huge and set up nicely. There are at least four good launch sites. The marina off Center Street in Provo and the launch one mile south of the Linden marina are good spots on the east side of Utah Lake. The access next to El Nautica boat club and Rocky Point (access gained by joining UWA) are excellent on the west side of the lake.
Rush Lake - Located south of Tooele, Rush Lake is proof that a sailor can be happy even on a septic pond, providing 35 mph winds are added. Rush is recovering from a fish kill that closed the lake three years ago, and it is strictly enter-at-your-own-risk, but there are still many sailors who swear by it. A word of warning - don't take any non-sailors for a fun day at the beach. If it blows, the dust will be so thick they won't see the cow manure while blindly searching for shelter in the car.
Deer Creek and Jordanelle reservoirs - Most Utah sailors learned on Deer Creek. It is best in the fall and spring when there is a large temperature gradient and the thermals come up Provo Canyon. Jordanelle is excellent on a very strong south wind.
Minersville State Park - Located 12 miles west of Beaver, Minersville is the best-kept secret in Utah. Campsites, facilities, clean water and wind make this a windsurfer's paradise. Check out the wind readings on the Internet for Milford, which is east of the reservoir.
Yuba Reservoir - Located 30 miles south of Nephi off I-15, Yuba has the most beautiful water and beaches (excluding Lake Powell) and good morning thermal winds.
Lake Powell, Flaming Gorge and Lake Mead - All are excellent on a big wind day; just stay in the big bays.