Special to the Pique
Tortola, British Virgin Islands Hook in hold on, Highland Spring HIHO is the name of the most adventurous windsurfing event on the planet, and Whistler pro windsurfer Sam Ireland was in the British Virgin Islands last week looking to become the winner.
"Its the pinnacle windsurfing event, like an explorer hiking Everest, or playing in the Super Bowl as a windsurfer you must attend HIHO," said Ed Sparrow, managing director of Highland Springs water.
The Highland Spring HIHO is a seven-day island to island odyssey. Every July for the past 19 years competitors representing countries around the world, live aboard sailboats and spend their days racing around the Islands.
"I wanted to do this event for over 10 years," explained Ireland, "touring with Jimmy Diaz and some of my other friends who live in these parts, I would hear fantastic stories about the fun and the epic locations we visit and just had to come."
As one of the worlds most favoured sailing destinations, the BVIs are host to exceptional scenery, secluded beaches and harbours featuring restaurants and bars with phenomenal character. Being my first experience to the Caribbean, I had to keep pinching myself to prove that it wasnt all just a dream.
The Bitter End Yatch club ( www.beyc.com ) was our first nights destination. Billed as the worlds premier water sports resort, the BEYC is home to some of the worlds best sailing waters and great fishing.
Gord-O Overing, originally of Montreal, is the clubs water sports director.
"The North Sound of the BVIs and home to the Bitter End, features nice unobstructed waters, easy for sailing. It offers up some great variety with little winds in the bay and then bigger winds out in the ocean for those who have the experience," he said. More like a resort than a yatch club, the Bitter end was an exceptional place to be introduced to the sights ahead.
By day two it became obvious this years main competition was Ireland and Julian Quentel of St. Maarten. Each day featured a race or several races with a start and finish areas on the beach. To tag in, a competitor would have to race up the beach and touch the HIHO flag, a finish style unique to other windsurfing events.
At several points throughout the week, the race was so close that it was an all out sprint between Ireland and Quentel to get to the flag first.
After six days of exhilarating racing, and heading into the last day tied, it all came down to equipment. Due to a broken mast earlier in the week, Ireland was reduced to using a sail that wasnt big enough for the minimal winds the day offered, resulting in a second place finish.
Considering Quentel, last years Highland Spring HIHO winner, has participated in the race five times, Ireland did an outstanding job to place second within the field of forty competitors representing ten countries.
Not just for windsurfers, Highland Spring HIHO takes care of everything and sets the stage to enjoy one of the worlds best windsurf races while at the same time taking in the incredible sights and nightly parties.
Mooring in a different location each night, you get to go ashore and experience something unique. Franchise free, the BVIs are known for mooring locations with interesting locales.
In the area, patrolling the Caribbean waters for drug runners, the British Navy destroyer HMS Liverpool added another exhilarating element to the HIHO experience.
"It was the British Navy who contacted us," said event director Andy Morrell. Just south of billionaire Richard Bransons Necker Island, the HMS Liverpool fired its guns, signalling the start of Thursdays 12 mile race. With a military chopper flying overhead, the massive 375 foot destroyer in view, and yachts bobbing in the sea, the competitors had an exhilarating send-off.
"It was exciting from the start line, when those guns fired it left my ears ringing through the race," said Ireland.
In addition to starting the race in the morning, the destroyer hosted a fantastic costumed cocktail party that afternoon, gearing HIHOs crew up for the infamous HIHO pirate party that night and wow, what a party!
Directly after securing second place, and loving every minute of it, Ireland headed back to Whistler on Sunday to prepare for the North American Windsurfing Championships taking place in Squamish from July 20-23.
"The event is going to be exciting; (were) hosting over 60 competitors from around the planet. With races taking place close to shore it offers great action matched with great parties (and) its going to be fun for the fans as well," said Ireland.
For details about Sams exploits visit his website at samireland.com.
More details on HIHO can be found at go-hiho.com.