Graham Goes to Japan
At the very last-minute and inspired by the forecast, I flew to Japan for the World Performance Event. The conditions arrived along with my first chance to use the new Ezzy 3 batten Takas in competition. Here’s my story of the event:
In high school, I didn’t haven many friends because no one understood why I was obsessed with “that weird windsurfing thing,” so Alex Mussolini was one of my closest friends when I was a teenager. Being 5 years older, he was a mentor in addition to sailing buddy. My first year on the PWA (2005), Musso was the one to travel with me and show me around (I think my dad made him promise to keep me alive). In every PWA contest that year (and since), we were on opposite sides of the bracket and we’d joke: “ See you in the finals!” Neither of us ever made it to the finals in those years. Now, almost a decade after my first summer traveling with Musso, we have drifted apart as the currents of life pull in opposite ways. He spends most of his time in Tenerife with his 2 kids and wife. But on the first weekend of this month, Musso and I finally had our final together—IN JAPAN!
I had not planned to go to the World Performance event this year because April is a bad month for waves in Omaezaki. However, the day before the event, windguru showed full stars for the contest weekend. I called my friend and former Japanese pro Shoji Ogura and he confirmed: “It’s going to be good!” I booked a ticked and only had a few hours to pack and nap before I had to catch my flight.
The World Peformance Event is Japan’s inclusion of the western windsurfing world into theirs. The best Japanese sailors compete against of group of invited foreign (or “Gaijin” in Japanese) professionals. At the last event, I won with Victor Fernandez in 2nd (the other Gaijin that year were Camille Juban, Dany Bruch, Tyson Poor, and Francisco Goya). This year, the invitees included Francisco Goya and me again and some of the top riders from the Aloha Classic: Bernd Roediger, Morgan Nourioux, and world #2 Alex Mussolini.
More than any other windsurfing event in the world, the western professionals feel like rockstars in Japan. Lots of photographs, lots of autographs—even to the point of discomfort. At first glance, the Gaijin pro feels on the giving side of the deal—smiling for photos to the point of cheek cramps and signing not just posters and papers but shoes and iphones and handbags. But to think this is a mistake. We Gaijin windsurfers were very much the recipients of a great gift: inclusion in Japanese windsurfing culture.
Japan is a very closed country. Immigration is incredibly difficult. Before Admiral Perry opened Japan to trade (by force) with the Convention of Kanagawa, Japan was closed to the world for 200 hundred years. Japanese seclusion still exists. Case in point, there are Japanese professional windsurfers that live off of windsurfing but never leave Japan to compete or publish stories in the western mags.
To attend the World Performance Event as a foreigner is a great honor. We are invited into this special world that is self-sufficient and without outsiders. They give us sushi and sake. They show us their windsurfing. We are the lucky ones.
The Conditions: Omaezaki is similar to Guincho—strong onshore starboard tack winds with a heavy wave pounding sand (mostly) and pointy rocks (rarely, thank god). On the day of the double elimination, we had 4.2 wind and logo high surf. “Best day of the year,” I heard a local say.
Before I mention anything else about the sailing, I need to declare that the Japanese windsurfers were much better than any of us Gaijin at turning on the punchy waves. With superb timing and bravery they pushed their boards into the throat of the waves with faith they would be thrown to glory. And sometimes they crashed! Hard! Us Gaijin were better at the tricks and more versed in jumps, and this allowed us to claim the top 4 spots.
Sitting in 3 and 4, Bernd and Morgan (respectively), greatly impressed me with their contest awareness (which they proved at the Aloha Classic too). At 17 and 19, Bernd and Morgan are way better competitors than I was at their age—or am now for that matter!!!
Bernd is devilishly consistent when he needs to be, reminding me of a reborn Kevin Pritchard, landing the tricks on command when the competition becomes do-or-die.
The Final: Me vs Alex Mussolini
I saw Alex do one of the highest backloops I have ever seen. Remember those massive pumping backloops that Jonas Ceballos did in Pozo back in 2003? You thought he couldn’t go any higher and then he would pump in the air and carry himself another 4 meters. This backloop from Alex was like that—huge! With a frontside 360 and a goiter, his waverides were solid too.
In the final, I had my best heat of the event with a fast taka, a backside 360, and a one-handed goiter. For jumps I had some 1-handed pushloops, backloops, and a wet double.
The final was marked by 2 pro Japanese judges and the audience. Alex won one judge and I won the other meaning that the audience was to decide our fates. Alex and I waited side by side while judges tallied votes. The final score arrived: 86 to 81 with Alex Mussolini in 1st. I hugged him happily. I sure as hell wanted to win but I sailed well, and was happy to see my close friend win.
In that moment, I learned something about competing: I sail best (in a comp) when I like my opponent and can be happy to see him advance. Somehow the lack of negative energy helps me focus on the waves rather than the heat. Losing isn’t so bad if you sail your best.
The crowd continued to cheer and something happened that I’ve never seen in a windsurfing contest: they asked for an encore. So Alex and I went back out on the water to sail—just us 2—for a heat length. No judging this time, just 2 friends windsurfing.
I’m a fan of windsurfing just as much as I am a pro—I love to watch a legend like Alex Mussolini rip and win in conditions other than Europe. The windsurfing world seems to forget that Alex grew up on Maui and his first podium was Guincho back in ’05. Musso may live in Tenerife now, but he is not limited to onshore port tack 360’s and takas (of which he is also masterful).
This fall, Alex turns 30 and I 25. We each step into a new era and if this event in Japan is any indication, it’s going to be a good one.