Windsurfing & Stand-Up Paddleboarding in Michigan
For the second installment our Get to Know More Than Sail Size series, Michigan Windsurfing’s Will Splashtack sneaked into the city by the bay to interview Steve Bodner, USA 4. Steve is another Michigan/Ohio-made windsurfer who has definitely made his ‘mark’. If you followed the recent Lord of the Wind Showdown or the La Ventana Classic, then you’ll already be aware of some of Steve’s most recent accomplishments. If not, then meet Steve!
Will Splashtack (WS): Steve, thanks so much for taking the time to talk again. Michigan Windsurfing did a very brief story on you almost two years ago, but you’ve been involved in so many things lately that we thought it was time to get to know more about your story. Let’s start with where you grew up and how and where you first learned to windsurf.
Steve Bodner: I grew up down the road in Toledo Ohio, starting out junior sailing at the Jolly Roger Yacht Club - a very blue collar sailing club on the Ottawa River. We sailed Lasers, FJ's and Thistles, competing every summer at the Junior Bay Week in Put-in-Bay and going onto to the National Junior Championships for a few years in a row. We had a really good group of friends and this made sailing and racing exciting. I continued with dinghy racing crewing for a lot of people at the club and learning the ropes racing Interlakes & Thistles around the Great Lakes and smaller lakes in Ohio and Michigan. These were really formative years in that I gained a strong sailing and racing background within the camaraderie of our small sailing community.
I tried windsurfing, for the first time, at Camp Store Summer Camp in Brooklyn, Michigan and was hooked! A few years later, I made a bet with my parents, at the age of 12, to give up TV for a year in exchange for my first windsurfing board - an Ypsi Wayler, from Rod Clevenger at Sailboard Alley in Toledo. I can remember driving home with my parents and sailing on a local pond a mile or two from our house. My dad had to drive me back from the other side of the pond quite a few times as I only knew how to sail one way. Rod Clevenger and a few other racers really helped me along while I was a young pup taking me to regattas and making sure I was on the right track. As I began to get better at local regattas in early 90's, I ventured further and started competing regionally at the MOWIND regattas in Wisconsin, Michigan and the east coast. I think it was in 1991 that we had the US Windsurfing championship in Lorain, Ohio. Everyone raced IMCO’s back then, and there was a big fleet of light, medium and heavyweights. I remember getting 2nd Place in the Nationals that year and it really pushed me to keep going. In 1993, the IMCO World Championships were in Canada - only a 30 hour+ drive to Gimli, Manitoba. I was stoked on the racing scene as we had a lot of juniors from around North America. I was never the top guy but kept going and never gave up. Every winter I would take a week or two off from school and go down to train at the Banana River Windsurfing Resort, where there would be top Olympians from around the world training. This was probably the first time I received any training and I got better right away. Right after graduating high school in 1994, I headed down to Savanna, GA to compete at the US Olympic Sailing Trials, finishing mid-fleet, but that was just the first of many trials to come.
WS: What brought you to Michigan?
Steve: Michigan was close to home, and I was still trying to sail and race as much as I could, crewing with other people and also racing my board in the Midwest and Florida during the winter. I attended the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM) from 1995-1998 and actually resurrected the sailing team from the late '70's when it was active last. I had a few other friends at school who sailed, but we always scraped together a team of lightweight girls at the last minute to take as crew to regattas around Michigan and Ohio. I found myself crewing for other schools as well becoming an honorary member of a few university sailing clubs around Ohio when I couldn't get enough crew from UDM to make a team.
WS: From your days at UDM, you must have some favorites sailing sites in this fresh water paradise?
Steve: Hmm, let me think about that one . . . Oh yeah - the nude beach across the Detroit River on the Canadian side was a real treat to visit until the Canadian Coast guard busted me for not registering at my first port of entry and not wearing a life jacket! I sailed out of Grosse Point Park while I was at UDM as I kept my gear in Frank Murray's garage, as that was a lot easier than keeping in in the dorms!
WS: How did you get invited to your first Olympic trials? Tell me about that process.
Steve: Invite? Hah! I crashed it. No seriously, it was an open trials set-up where winner takes all. Anybody had the chance to win. I was the dark horse from Toledo, Ohio. I wouldn't say I campaigned for the '96 trials but I learned a lot from it. We had around 30 windsurfers from around the country competing. I was one of the younger kids, 16 or 17 at the time but we had a lot of youth racing then. I think I finished mid-fleet but it was an eye-opener to be around the whole Olympic movement. All of the other Olympic sailing classes were having their trials there as well, so I got caught up in the idea that you could represent your country at the pinnacle of the sport. The eventual winner, Mike Gebhardt, became a friend and a mentor for the next 10 years, as I worked my way through two more Olympic campaigns.
WS: In the process of trying out for the Olympic team, you earned U.S. National Championships in both long boards and the formula class, and several regional championships. Is there anything that particularly stands out? Those years of training and traveling and competing must have been grueling at times.
Steve: I would say it’s been the journey, not the destination that's been the most rewarding. I’ve been windsurfing and competing for almost 25 years now and every regatta has taught me something. I try to write down the lessons I've learned in my sailing blog so that I wont have to repeat the mistakes again. The biggest lesson of them all came when I learned not to take things so seriously. I used to be wrapped up in the results and really took it personally when I lost. Now I try to come away from every sailing experience with something positive. If I win, I win. If I lose, I lose. No big deal.
Steve: Two words: 'thermal breeze'. The breeze is like clockwork here on the SF Bay for eight months of the year. In other places of the world, you have to be ready at a moments notice to drop everything to catch a good session. From March to October the breeze comes up almost every afternoon, giving you 3-5 days a week with 20K+ conditions. Its one of the few, if only, metropolitan areas in the US where you can hold down and job and still get out on the water on a regular basis. We have a strong group of racers here, plus the St. Francis YC supports the racing with a weekly summer series and several long distance races every year. I first came to SF in 1998 to compete in the IMCO North Americans Championships. Sailing under the golden gate bridge instantly captured my heart. It still does. Of all the places I’ve been sailing around the world, sailing from Crissy Field, and reaching up on port tack under the bridge, is still the most spectacular feeling. (Sounds like we’re going to have to invite you to run with us under the Mackinac Bridge!)
WS: You took 3rd Place, behind Tyson Poor and Bryan Metcalf-Perez in the 2012 Lord of the Wind Slalom event, and you scored a great 1st Place belt (looks like WWF) in the 2012 La Ventana Classic. These were a little different than your normal regattas.
Steve: Yeah, I can’t believe that I haven't been down the Baja peninsula sooner. That place rocks! The racing is a bit less serious but it’s all good as the camaraderie there is great. Tyson and Bryan are great competitors, and they compete more in slalom than me, so they really had the edge. I had traveled with just one board and two rigs for the event, so I gave up some things, but really enjoyed racing in a new spot. I’m sure that I’ll be back next year!
WS: You’re still competing in the Formula Worlds, and I saw that you’re also doing some mentoring of the US Juniors. What other plans have you got for the future.
Steve: Working with the Juniors is a bit of a new role for me, but I’m trying to help out the young racers, just like I was helped while working my way up through the fleet. If I can lead by example and help them get through the logistical concerns of organizing a campaign or traveling with gear, then all the better! We have developed a junior windsurfing program over the past few years at the St. Francis Yacht Club and now I’m trying to help those kids who are interested in windsurfing, get turned onto racing. As for the future, we're trying to make a bid for hosting the Formula Windsurfing World Championships in 2013, right before the Americas Cup on the San Francisco Bay!
WS:…and how about your personal and windsurfing goals? How have they changed over the years you’ve been competing?
Steve: Goals always seem to change over the course of your life but I still try to make time for windsurfing as much as I can. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point? I stopped competing on the Olympic circuit in 2007 as I developed some lower back problems after 14 years of pumping the IMCO and RSX board in light wind conditions. Now I try to sail several days a week at home on the San Francisco Bay in either formula or slalom as well as go to a regatta or two outside of San Francisco every year.
Windsurfing is so much easier when you’re powered up and don’t have to pump. The last few years have been a bit tougher as I have finally gotten a bit more serious about my career - I am pursuing my architectural license which takes a bit more of my free time. Currently, I work as an architectural designer consulting for a few different architects around the city in order to have a more flexible schedule for windsurfing.
Over the course of many jobs, I’ve learned I had to 'train' my employers to adapt to my schedule. Now, when its windy, they just say “go and have a good time.” I come back the next day, or the next week, refreshed and focused for work. Overall windsurfing has been good for my career as I am more balanced because of it. I think that if you are going to be successful, you’ve got to be passionate about your work and at least one other thing in life. I feel really fortunate to have architecture and windsurfing to keep me going and stoked every day.
Steve: Hmm . . . tough choice. I've been pretty focused in Formula for the last 10 years, racing as much as I could. But in the last few years I rediscovered how much fun slalom could be again. I went through several production boards, but never found that magic feeling until last year. Last fall I had Mike Zaijcek make me a new slalom board, after having sailed one of his new prototypes. I was blown away at the feeling of flying over the water with a 12lb board. It was more like flying than windsurfing. The design came from the work Mike Z has been doing with the kiteboard course racing boards - a super lightweight construction that really livens up the ride. We worked a bit back and forth, and I settled on a 70 cm wide board that absolutely beats anything I have ever sailed before. I sail it with a cut-down 40cm formula fin and my North Warp 7.0 m2. Hard to beat that set up!
WS: Steve, this is something I have long wondered about, and I have asked others this before - why do you think most Michigan/Ohio windsurfers are so intelligent and good-looking?
Steve: Windsurfing has always attracted a very ‘unique’ set of individuals. You’ve got to understand the wind, the tides and weather, almost to the point of being a geek about it, in order to score a good session - especially in Michigan! As for the good looks - well, we're always outside windsurfing, so the tan comes naturally with the sun-bleached hair!
WS: Lastly Steve, any shout-outs to any of your old sailing buddies back home who might be reading this?
Steve: There’s probably a whole group of sailors in the Midwest that I haven’t seen in years, but every once in a while one will show up at a regatta and we’ll catch up like it was yesterday. So many people helped me out with my windsurfing endeavors and now I’m just hoping to return the favor and help out some of the younger kids who are just starting.