Thirty years ago a strange board mysteriously washed up on Bonaire. Some called it ocean debris. Others called it a gift from God. A few boys patched up the board and strung up some cloth. Then they stood on the board and hung on. Windsurfing was here. No one took to it quite like a 20-something fisherman, Elvis Martinus, who in 1992 qualified for the Olympics. He couldn’t go to Barcelona because he had to work, but he did lead a new movement with the wind.
At first we’d get blown out to sea because we were riding on the leeward side of the island. When we couldn’t get back to shore, dive boats would pick us up a mile out. We entertained local people with our falls. But I told my friends, “Don’t worry, one day they will clap for us.”
We used broken boards and ripped sails. When we went to competitions, people thought we had a lot of sponsors because our sails had stickers all over them. But we were using those stickers to patch our sails. If nothing else, we made the most noise and had the most fun at those events.
There are no buses on the island. No public transportation at all. So I started driving kids all the way to Lac Bay to windsurf. I’d have a dozen kids in my VW van. I was once a DJ, so I always had loud music in the van. They remember that.
The kids would walk 10 miles if they missed the van. That’s how determined they were to learn the sport. Windsurfing is like an addiction, but in a good way. It’s so chal- lenging that when you manage to do it, you feel good about yourself. That’s especially good for kids who have very little else.
There are no rules. It’s why kids like windsurfing. There are rules at home, rules at school. Their lives are always controlled. But with freestyle windsurfing kids can take a board and do anything. It gives them confidence. It frees their minds. They’ll walk a long way to find that kind of freedom.
The kids started inventing board moves and naming them after the local fish. They even created their own style, the Bonaire style, which is known to be smooth and high. They changed the sport worldwide.
It’s us against the world now. When we go to a professional freestyle competition, everyone wants to beat the Bonaire riders. We usually have maybe 10 people in the finals, so it’s a big thing for our small island to do well against the big countries.
I never saw this coming. Windsurfing has become our national sport. We have more than 200 kids involved. That’s a lot for a total island population of 15,000 people. And it’s all because that old board floated up to the beach one day.