Opinion » Alta States

Alta states: A blast from Whistler’s past

Where have all the windsurfers gone?

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With the ongoing sanitization of Whistler culture (wouldn't want the world to know just how weird we really are, would we?), it seems that newcomers don't appreciate just how irreverent and outside-the-law the original denizens of this valley were. Whether skiing or surfing, racing or partying, early locals were definitely the stars of their own movie.

And nowhere was that more evident than in the growth of this newfangled sailsurfing sport. Wherever Whistlerites windsurfed a celebration was sure to follow. Didn't matter where they went. Didn't matter who else was there. On the water and off, Whistlerites were invariably in the thick of things. I remember, in fact, a memorable road trip down to Corpus Christi, Texas back in 1978 where our rented Winnebago became the unofficial clubhouse for the whole race fleet...

Indeed, it could be argued quite successfully that "Whistler Style" had a profound impact on some of the sport's most famous destinations: Kailua Bay in Oahu, Paia and the northshore of Maui and, of course, Oregon's notorious Columbia Gorge (to name but three). I mean, characters like Mike Gadd and Larry McKee and Betty Birrell and Harry Hall and Peter Lamont and Dave Ezzy and Gord Huxtable loom large in the early annals of the sport.

"Those were pretty exciting times," says Ladner. "I still remember our first trip to Kailua. 'Here come the skiers,' the Hawaiians would say. And they'd all point to our thighs - which were admittedly large compared to their skinny pins - and they'd laugh and laugh." She pauses. "But what they really liked were our Vuarnet sunglasses. They'd never seen anything like them. And they wanted some." Legend has it that you could trade your 'Nez for some righteous windsurfing add-ons back then...

So who gets the credit for introducing Whistler to the sport?

"Mark Dufus brought the first board to Whistler," Jinny informs me. And she should know because he dropped it off at her house first. The year was 1975. "Mike Gadd and René Paquet had recently seen windsurfing pictures in a magazine," she continues. "And they both thought it looked like a really cool sport. But that was about it. Nobody else had a clue."

Alas, Dufus didn't know the first thing about assembling the new gear either. "So when Mark dumped it on our doorstep," recalls Jinny (who was partnered up with Gadd in those days), "we didn't have much choice but to learn how to put it all together ourselves."