03 March 2011

Windsurfing in Mui Ne

Coming into Mui Ne in the taxi, I’d noticed a banner strung across a hotel. About all I could understand was Windsurfing Competition and March 1-5, the rest being written in Vietnamese. Well this was fortuitous. Once situated in hotel number one, I cruised the internet for details. Yes, there was a PWA, (Professional Windsurfer’s Association), contest going on right here in town. The problem was that the PWA site didn’t list where in Mui Ne it was happening.

Once in hotel number two, I continued my search for windsurfing details and was just about to go out on the street to flag down surfer-types when I stopped to chat with another hotel guest sitting in the shade in front of her room, five-month-old baby on her lap. We talked about the kid and I noticed a surfboard lying to her right. It turned out that her husband was in the competition and she told me to go down to the Full Moon Resort to watch.

A little background on me and surf related sports; had I grown up at the water’s edge, (and not across a bay that lead to the Pacific Ocean), and had that shoreline been in a hot weather location, (and not frigid Northern California with its 50°F/ 10°C water), I would have been a surfer.
The ocean is my lifeblood. There is nothing on earth that clears my mind and replenishes my soul as does a walk along the beach listening to the sounds of the crashing surf.

Even growing up turning blue in order to romp in the waves of Stinson Beach didn’t deter me from the dream of catching a few waves on a board. (But access and equipment did.) It wasn’t until I jumped into the warm waters in Southern California at around 14 that I realized I had been tricked into thinking one must endure pain in order to play in the ocean. From that time forward I think I only tested the arctic waters of the north a few more times. I knew what was available and I was holding out.

Landing in San Diego to go to college I, of course, lived in Ocean Beach. Everyone there surfed or scuba-ed and I watched with vicarious delight and with more than a bit of sadness that I wasn’t out there with them. One apartment I had overlooked the Ocean Beach Pier and the waves beyond. I actually would have a few surfer friends call to ask how the waves were at any particular time of day. All I could answer was, They’re breaking.

I moved to another apartment where my neighbors were all into, at the time, cutting edge sports like hang-gliding and windsurfing, which was so new that one of the guys was hand-manufacturing boards. They invited me for a windsurfing lesson and I was over the moon. Little did I know that I was not going to be able to master the sport.

Maybe I was past the age of developing water and sailing skills. My friend kept telling me to snap up the sail and make sure the wind was at my back. I tried and tried but just couldn’t manage to hold that contraption in the right position to catch the wind. I don’t know how long I was out on that little lake when I finally gave up, lay down on the board, and began to paddle towards shore which was taking a long time. My friend easily sailed out on his board and towed me back in.

And here I am, all these years later, still dreaming of my little surf shop on a white-sands, tropical beach. Possibly I’ll never have that, which is ok, but that doesn’t stop me from my surfer girl mind-set.

I caught the bus down to the Full Moon Resort, which is one of the high-dollar joints in town. The entranceway and surrounding gardens with brilliant flowers and lots of shady palms looked charming. With many of the hotels along that stretch of beach, it is just a matter of walking through the entrance, out through their beach café, and onto the beach proper. Not quite the case with the Full Moon. It sits above the beach on a mini-cliff requiring climbing down a bunch of stairs to the sands below.

Not that it mattered as this was the spot where the event guys were set up, manning a number of laptops. It was also and the main filming area for both foreign videographers and Vietnamese press photographers. I ordered an ice coffee and joined the ranks of the press corp. I didn’t even need the press pass that they all had hanging around their necks.

Since the wind had yet to pick up to an acceptable sailing speed, the contest was on hold. This gave me time to check out my photographic competition. Right. These guys had the bad-boy mega lenses. I pulled out my new, very expensive Canon, with its little bitty zoom. I made eye contact with one of the photographers and pointed to my camera and then to his and laughed. I walked over and asked about his very expensive Canon and that 400mm lens. The lens alone weighed close to 6 kilos. I looked out to where the action was to take place and knew it was a virtual impossibility to get any good shots of folks jumping their boards over the water. Even if I walked down to the sand, I wouldn’t get much. My alternative was to hang out with the guys getting paid to do what I was trying to do and take pictures of them and the sunshine.

I sat back down to sip my coffee, took off my lens cap and saw some grime on the lens. It hadn’t occurred to me up until then that I should have brought a lens cloth with me. And why the heck didn’t it come with my very expensive camera? But hey, I was surrounded by pros; they’d know what to do. It took me a few minutes to gather the courage before approaching one of the men and asking how to clean my lens. He asked me to hand him my camera. For less than a split second I worried about him dropping it. (I don’t ever hand this camera to anyone to even take a picture of me). Of course I quickly realized that my camera was much safer in his hands than even in mine. He called out to his buddy to lend him the required materials. With the gentlest care imaginable, he first cleaned the lens with one cloth and then finished it with another. At least I now know that this is a two-step process.

Every ten or fifteen minutes an announcement came over the loudspeakers informing us that the competition was still on hold due to lack of wind. Mind you, I thought it was quite breezy, but apparently it was not enough for windsurfing. And it was already past 3 in the afternoon. And the sun goes down by 6pm. The guys would look at each other and shake their heads. I’d look and say something like maybe tomorrow. The last announcement I heard before leaving was that if the wind picked up they would start at 4:05. That was enough for me. I hopped on a bus back home.

I might head out again in the next day or two if it gets really windy. I don’t think I can get any good pictures but I would like to watch the guys and gals take to the sea. And more importantly, just being around the whole surf scene makes me very, very happy.


This is my one winsurfer shot; a speck on the landscape. I took a peak at the same shot done by one of the real guys with the big lens, and you can read the name on the riders sunglasses.