The Mike Porter Racing Experience
The Mike Porter Racing Experience.
Anyone who knows Mike will enjoy this story. Mike is an inspiration to all of us and continues to demonstrate his love for the sport, competition and embraces all the experiences it brings. As Mike communicated to us at the PWA while planning his trip to Leba in August 2003, we thought it would be a good idea to make a short story of it. It’s not everyday you get an over 40 year old doing his first PWA World Cup event, especially traveling from the Caribbean to Poland in Eastern Europe. I was going to edit the story to make it shorter, but as I got reading I realized that it was important and interesting to leave it as the long version. We hope to see Mike back at more PWA events next year. Congratulations on achieving your goals.
Event Impressions \ Report by Mike Porter ISV-2, St. John U.S. Virgin Islands.
PWA \ ERA FORMULA WORLD CUP LEBA, POLAND
AUG 6-10, 2003
I don’t know that I put much thought into what was to come while packing my kit on St. John the day before I left. Things were pretty hectic; 60% of my time is taken by my painting company (we apply pastel \ tropical colors to the homes and businesses here in the Virgin Islands) getting everything set up for my being almost completely out of touch while in eastern Europe had taken some careful planning. Packing \ planning for my first professional windsurfing event required focus bordering on neurosis (my dearest friends tell me this is my natural state!).
I’d started racing about five years prior, making every mistake possible along the way (possibly inventing some new ones too!) but steadily improving after each event and gaining a little more insight as to what it takes to win… believe me, getting around a windsurfing race course with 50 other guys trying to blow you away is about a lot more than speed, I guess I’ve always been pretty fast… but I’ve also been dusted quite often out there during my learning curve thus far.
I’d had some excellent guidance and support in getting to this point; Jaime Torres, Rich and Cindy Metcalfe, Micah Buzianis, Phil McGain, Devon Boulon and many others each a success in their own way, young and old have added bits and pieces to the racing package that was about to get on that plane the next day. A 6000+ mile journey to try my luck in a PWA event, in Poland of all places!
Racing has literally taken me halfway around the world to date; I’ve been to some pretty fantastic places…well worth seeing on their own without traveling with 300 lbs. of gear. My mental projections of Poland were somewhat out of date, to say the least, all coming from old World War 2 documentary footage; somber, gray, with pale people bundled up against the cold or looking out at you through sooty windows…split open livestock hanging in butcher shop windows… pretty depressing stuff.
In recent years racing had brought me into contact with some very energetic and enthusiastic folks from Eastern Europe who challenged the image I had of this land in my mind; I’d never been to Europe at all and I was curious.
43 years of age is to some, I imagine a little late taking on a top level competition experience in any sport. Except for a short period, I’d been involved with many sports my whole life. The truth is that 10 years ago, windsurfing became part of my return to living, during my 14 years of freedom (thus far) from substance abuse…I don’t remember a lot of my 20’s; in a very real sense, through formula racing, I seem to be living them now.
The trip looked pretty simple on the map; Virgin Islands to NYC, NYC to London, London to Warsaw and then a 500km drive north to the Baltic Sea coast to the small town of Leba (pronounced “Weba”, I’ve found, has nothing to do with what you actually say in Poland, unless you are born there!) My routing itinerary had changed about 6 times during the planning process but I did get very lucky with the cost of my kit transfer there; only $130.00 U.S.
I tried to sleep as much as possible on the plane from New York to London, but I was pretty wound up from excitement, realizing that I was actually going to do this and thinking about what I needed to be doing to get set up and dialed into the conditions. Most of the competitors were already in Poland and many had been doing the Eurocup circuit all season. I knew that most pro sailors traveled in small groups to make travel easier and trained together whenever possible; I was alone for this trip. I’m one of the few formula racers left in the Virgin Islands who actually still lives there. Ever since Devon left to realize his dream on the pro circuit, I had to travel just to find training partners who could push me. A lot of events had been cancelled in my part of the world this year and I had not done nearly as much actual racing as I would have liked >> my starts were going to be a bit rusty… but I didn’t care; I was going for it!
I landed in Warsaw the next day and received my first “Pro” experience right off the bat; my kit was still in London! Up ‘till then this was something that always happened to “other people” during event travel, I guess I was due. I had arranged for a ride via the web (and $400.00), with kit, to and from Leba through a friend of a friend who lived in Poland. The Airline assured me that they would have my gear sent to Leba via a truck overnight. Luckily, Damian and his friend Pavel were waiting outside when the airport rep. finally guided me to the exit. We had exchanged photos over the web so we knew what each other looked like. These two were a couple of pretty young guys who only spoke a few words of English but were very friendly; it’s amazing what you can communicate with hand signals when you have to!
The airport rep. explained to Damian in Polish what had happened to my kit; within an hour, after a cell phone conversation with his wife, who spoke English and had arranged our meeting via e-mail, Damian had called KJ (one of the event officials) and had gotten all details arranged for where the airline truck was to deliver my gear in Leba… I was very grateful.
We arrived in Leba around 11PM after a 500km drive though the polish countryside. The sun had only just gone down it seemed, which was weird… and then I remembered that I was at 54 degrees north latitude (I live at 18.3). For all the world I was expecting to see caribou or moose! Instead we were driving through tall pine forest, which except for the height of the trees, reminded me a lot of Martha’s Vineyard where I learned to windsurf and where I spent a lot of time growing up.
Damien and Pavel dropped me off where Devon and Gonzalo Costa hovel (who I had not seen since the Midwinter’s in Florida) were staying, wishing me luck and promising to be back in a week. Dev., “Gonzo” and I were stoked to see each other again; they had been in Europe all summer and had been doing very well in Eurocup. I was pretty jetlagged and could have slept a year, but I went into the town with these guys instead seeing a few other competitors I knew from previous events and checking out the layout of the town. The streets were pretty busy even at that hour; lots of people, including some of the most beautiful girls I had seen anywhere in the world. They were everywhere! I now understood why many of the hot fashion models had been coming from Eastern Europe lately.
I guess there had not been much wind; early the next morning there was a knock on our door and someone stuck their head in the door and yelled “Get up! Get up! It’s blowing!!” There was a mad scramble and we piled into Devon’s van. I was not quite remembering where I was, what country I was in, or even what was happening…. but what ever was going on, in my mind it was NOT happening without coffee! We drove to the beach and I got my first view of the Baltic Sea when my eyes focused…a little like the coastline of Hatteras, except facing north! Small waves broke about 3-4 sets deep just offshore, golden sand, the air was much warmer than I expected, tall pines lined the beach… just beautiful!
The event committee was still setting up; already there were sailors out on the water. I was introduced to Steve Allen and Brian Rogild along with other top sailors from the PWA and European circuit, who were rigging up in a small clearing in the pine grove behind the beach. I then remembered my gear, and the fact that I didn’t know exactly where it was…After a series of questions to various committee members (and a few locals who probably were not even involved!) I was directed to a large campsite about 500 meters back from the beach where many competitors were staying. Along the way I met PWA racers I’d known from training in Maui, who said it was good to see me here and wished me luck. The camp had its own windsurfing group, “Klub Windsurf” and its some of its members showed me a central area where, to my relief, my kit was laying in a pile on the grass! I inspected my board, as I would after flying to any event, and discovered my Mistral Devil II had 2 large holes knocked into its planning surface…it was going to be awhile before I could get out training, luckily I had arrived 2 days early for my biggest event thus far.
It turned out I needed every minute of those two days to get ready; after fixing my board I was told there would be a truck to get the competitor’s gear to the designated beach area the next day. It was already noon and the narrow street to the beach was packed with summer tourists and competitors trying to get rigged 12 meter sails and boards with 70 cm fins to the water over people’s heads! This was turning into quite a circus; the Virgin Islands did not have this many people on all 3 islands put together! Deciding that dragging all my kit to the beach through that crowd was impossible, I went to the water to check the wind and decide what to rig. Devon and Gonzalo were out on the water along with groups of other racers pushing and testing each other to find out what gear was working best in the local conditions. It was really light; I decided on my 11.7, which I had just received from North Sails \ Velauno and had not really used much yet.
I saw 2 familiar forms as I walked back to rig; it was Micah Buzianis and Seth Besse. It was great to see them, Micah had been a big help to me in getting set up, working with North and Mistral and was always helpful when it came to tuning and racing overall; they had just come in from testing. I told Micah about my board and said I’d be back after rigging. They both said it was pretty light and 11.7 was the right call for the day. I was getting quite stoked for this event; I had run into Phil McGain earlier, who was my main inspiration\ guide in getting into PWA racing. He checked in on me quite often and made me feel “a part of” (as did many sailors) for the whole event. I reminded myself that all these established pro sailors would be pretty busy with their own preparations and I would try not to distract them from what they did so well, but do my best to learn from them whenever the chance came up.
It turned out I needed every minute of those two days to get ready; I was not as prepared equipment – wise as I thought. One set of booms had a new front end on them which I had failed to adjust properly; it caused an after-dark re – appearance back at the beach after my first training session out on the water when it came apart… I had to swim my kit 1000 meters back to the beach some distance away from the event site (my mast had filled with water in trying to correct the problem!), swim across a cement lined canal with my board (most foul!) and arrive exhausted only to find people looking for me, very concerned… Devon had been ready to call the Polish coast guard! It was not the way I had pictured my pro debut…
I‘m not sure how I managed to get all my kit to the beach and rig some sails before the first skippers meeting; but it involved using the dolly I use for rolling my stuff through airports on the brick paved street to the beach and then dragging kit bags, piece by piece across the sand to our designated area. I was not the only racer doing this as I saw a lot of long “drag marks” in the sand, then after I was almost finished, I saw the truck with everyone piling their stuff on! I understood why the established tour sailors had those big vans packed with kit to go from race to race in Europe; I had a lot to learn….
I didn’t realize just how many competitors were at this event until the first skippers meeting; I could barely see the notice board and course diagram for the day. The race director spoke both Polish and English which was helpful and I got to see the course after the crowd had cleared a bit. The light wind was almost dead onshore and the small waves from the previous days of training were a bit bigger; I’m not a wave person really, they are more of an annoyance to me than a thrill when I’ve got formula racing gear on my head trying to get out to the start line. But I was very excited as I was about to cross the line under the PWA banner for the first time!
The first race was a few hours later; I got through the breaks and over the sandbars without too much trouble, but I noticed that there was much less wind in the “impact zone” than on the day’s prior to the event, this was going to be tricky with an 11.7 if I didn’t time things just right. Turning a formula board almost broadside in waves so that a light onshore breeze could pick you up and get you out was not really my strong point. I didn’t have much experience in waves and I’ve broken a lot of gear in the past in dealing with them. I bobbed around the committee boat waiting in the swell waiting for the red flag.
I tried hard to not look too much like an insect that had landed on my 11.7 in such fast company, I felt like a speck of dust amongst the world’s best. But being a speck was not a bad thing as the wind was getting really light and alot of the bigger guys had to pump to get going… Yellow flag; the line was forming up! My pulse was racing; I did not want to get buried in a start sequence with more than 90 competitors in light air. I went below a bunch of guys towards the pin end, planning at about half speed, back foot out of the strap and cut back in near Micah and Phil (who waved)… 20 seconds; I put the hammer down and just hoped I wouldn’t hit anyone before I torqued my fin and started driving upwind to the first mark.
That never got a chance to happen; I heard a “Pop” and suddenly my booms were around my knees! The liners in my new front end had let go again, I fell backwards into the water just as the green flag went up! I franticly tried to stuff them back into place and get going, but like two days before, I had no leverage while in the water! I let myself drift back off the line toward the beach so as not to be an obstacle for the other racers, fell off a sandbar getting through the last set of waves, breaking 2 battens while I was down and stood finally on the beach, addressing the gods in a language that was definitely not Polish! The local racing gods must have heard me; this first race had been called back!
Some of the pack was over early! No time to fix my booms or battens; I grabbed my 10.9 and rushed back out into the waves, but the wind there was almost non – existent by then and the smaller rig did not have enough power to get me out. I fought the surge to keep my kit in position to get going and a rouge set knocked me down and broke my outhaul… The green flag went up again in what turned out to be the only heat of the day; my first PWA race would have to be the day after!
I finally did get going on day 2; it felt great, although I did not get a great start and sailed the wrong course on the 1st lap, so I did not get scored. I finished in the middle of the fleet though, which told me my board speed not as bad as I thought over the swell… I broke battens and a sail trying to get to the next three starts. I had the wind die on me on a last lap of the next race on a down winder when I had to resort to my 9.8 in 10 knots just to stay in the game (the last sail I had registered!) with my other sails temporarily out of commission, and got a DNF there for not finishing within the time limit. But it was all ok.
I was racing at the top level of the sport and paying my dues for sure. On the 3rd day there was no wind at all; so I repaired some dings in my board, replaced my broken battens (with supply help from fellow North riders Seth and Micah!), FINALLY adjusted my booms correctly and celebrated my 44th birthday with best wishes from all. I look much younger than I am through some genetic blessing, some of the local gals did not believe my age!
On the last day of competition I was determined to end the string of DNF’s next to my name on the scoreboard. It was getting windy and the Baltic Sea was pretty rough. I had NO problem at all getting out on my 9.8 and I sailed the course as soon as it was set to see how I was tuned. I got the best start I’d had all week and drove upwind with the pack, getting some excess air over the swells but pretty much staying in control, actually passing 4 racers after I tacked over to port. I had good angle as I held my lay line for the mark thanks to a stiffer Foil.
Finian Maynard had introduced me Mr. and Mrs. Debiochet after noting that my softer flat water fins would not work here if it got rough. That kind of help was common among the top racers; every one seemed ready to offer advice and support to the new guys and it said a lot for the PWA overall. Headed downwind, I saw a couple of guys explode ahead of me, getting slammed in the choppy conditions. Things were getting hairy! I jibed the leeward mark and drove back upwind losing some speed and ground as I started to get more air over the waves as the wind increased. I got a killer lift on port though, so that when I tacked for the mark I was only 30 meters from it, but a bit low… I just made the mark by about a 50cm and bore off only to have my fin catch the mark’s mooring line. I landed about 20 meters from my rig! About 15 racers past me before I got to my kit and waterstarted but I would not give up, theses guys were barely hanging on and I knew it would be a question of who could stay on their gear to the finish. I caught 2 of them before the leeward mark; a series of slalom type jibes in the waves and it was over. I had finished my first professional race… and I was not last!
I felt great but was pretty worked so I went to get some water. But fate struck again while my back was turned as the wind picked up my gear and blew it into a post on the beach putting a huge hole in the deck of my board! Some spectators tossed me some tape and I patched the hole as best I could. I charged out again but the waves took the tape right off. I barely made the start and looked down to see my hull filling with water… I had to turn back or wreck my board. It took the last of my solar epoxy and some ‘Ding Stick’ borrowed from Sam Ireland after that race, to seal the hole after sucking the water out.
The last race of the event was next and I wanted another finish pretty badly. I sailed the course after an OK start without much control as the board still had too much water in it on one side to “feather” the swells and downwind was a nightmare; at this level of racing you cant get away with that and I missed the finish cut off time by 30 seconds according to the race director.
I was not too disappointed as I was packing up; I had gained a lot of valuable experience my first time out and felt that I had fought a good fight, even though much of it was with the elements! Pro level racing was as much about being at the right place at the right time as it was about skill, speed and preparation was 70% of the battle… with a bit of good luck mixed in to get good results… I would come back to try PWA \ World Cup again!
Surprisingly, a few of the top finishers asked me if I was coming to Sylt in wishing me well; I thought about that and laughed (I pictured myself training by trying to get through “Jaws”!)…It was nice to be asked, but I figured I’d come back to Leba next year and do better here first, Poland was a great venue! I went to the awards ceremony to cheer on Micah, who had won and the others who had placed well, I thanked everyone who had treated me so well while I was there…. On the plane back home I thought about Sylt and laughed again; I still had a few good racing years left in me and I was still learning… you never know what could happen….
Mike Porter, ISV-2