What happens when your windsurfing gear gets away from you at Kanaha Uppers?

I got to find out last Friday. I’m here to tell the tale, so obviously the outcome was positive!

I’ve gotten a lot of questions from friends and family, so I’ve organized this post to answer the most common questions.

I’ve been sailing here, 120-160 days per year, since 2003, and this is the first time I’ve been unable to get back to my gear. It wasn’t a big wave day, or super windy – just biggish wind swell (mostly knee-to-waist-high, a few shoulder-high) and an ebbing tide. I’d been at Camp One and was heading back to Kanaha, playing and enjoying my way downwind. I was on a 4.0 Maui Sails Legend and 83 l. Thommen Maui WaveX. I was sailing alone, because my husband is off the water for a while due to an injury, and other friends had either already sailed, or weren’t sailing that day.

Kanaha wind graph for Friday, September 14

Kanaha wind graph for Friday, September 14. I launched sometime after 3.

How did it get away?

I don’t remember what made me fall in originally – a missed jibe, or a wave, nothing dramatic. I came up a few feet from my gear and saw a wave hit it, and take it about 30 feet away. I swam for it as hard as I could, but couldn’t make any progress – the current was really strong, and the gear landed in a position that gave it a lot of windage.

Windage demo

The board and sail maintained this position and were pushed along by the wind (wind is coming over the clew, from the right side of the frame). (Demonstrated with a different set of gear on a later date)

What did you do to try to catch and retrieve it?

The gear drifted, and I swam after it, for several minutes. When I saw some windsurfers near, I yelled and waved, and Paul dropped in to snag my gear. This usually works, but I still couldn’t gain on him – he was drifting fast with 2 sets of gear! There can be a strong current inside the reef on an outgoing tide.

Tide chart for September 14

Tide chart for September 14

How did you get back to shore?

I flagged down another windsurfer, and rested a bit on his board (thank you, Tom!). We tried to drag down to Paul and my gear, but weren’t making any progress, and were both getting tired. Some SUPers came by, and I asked if they would give me a ride in, and they did. It was hard work for him (thank you so much, Ken!), and we came in at kite beach below the lifeguard stand.

What happened next?

I knew my husband would be worried, because I’d told him I’d probably be out less than an hour, and it had been about two hours, so I called to let him know I was okay, and what had happened.

It was late in the day (about 4:30 when I started in and about 5:30 when I got back to my van), so the lifeguards were gone. I called the police non-emergency number (244-6400) to let them know I was safe and NOT to send out a search party if someone found the gear floating without a rider. An officer called me back right away to take my report of what had been lost, and told me some likely spots to check where gear sometimes drifts in. In the hour or so of remaining daylight, I and a few other Uppers regulars checked the beach between Lowers and the harbor (thanks Keith, Dave, Deb, Garth, and Val!) but didn’t see the gear, and no one we talked to had either.

Did you get your gear back?

Someone walking along the beach Saturday morning spotted it, noticed the name and phone number, and decided to make sure it got back to its owner. She carried it back to her father’s house – about a mile, she said! – and called me. She wouldn’t even take the money I offered to thank her – just said it made her feel good to do something nice for someone.

Put your name and phone number on your gear

Put your name and phone number on your gear to make it easy for someone to get it back to you

Put your name and phone number on your gear

Put your name and phone number on your gear to make it easy for someone to get it back to you

Put your name and phone number on your gear

Put your name and phone number on your gear to make it easy for someone to get it back to you

Where did it come in?

My gear washed up around Waiehu Beach. Here’s a map showing Kanaha Bay, and my guess at the paths my gear and I took to shore. Perhaps it would have landed at one of the kite beaches, or the harbor breakwater, if the wind had been more onshore, or the tide was coming in instead of going out.

Map showing locations and estimated travel paths

Map showing locations and estimated travel paths

The Kanaha windcam on MauiWindCam.comlooks toward Wailuku and Waiehu.

MauiWindCam.com Kanaha view, looking towards Wailuku and Waiehu

MauiWindCam.com Kanaha view, looking towards Wailuku and Waiehu

Here’s what the shoreline is like at Waiehu, and the view back towards Kanaha.

Waiehu coastline

Waiehu coastline

View toward Kanaha from Waiehu

View toward Kanaha from Waiehu

Was the gear damaged?

The board fared pretty well, with no damage to the deck, and shallow scratches and a few dings to the bottom. The sail took a bit of a beating. The stitching at the top of the window ripped out, and the mast sleeve is torn – reef rash. I sent the pictures to sailmaker Artur Szpunar at Maui Sails, and he thinks it can be repaired. The boom grip is pretty chewed up on one arm, but the boom itself seemed solid and undamaged. I’ve sailed it since, and it was fine. The mast looks good, but I haven’t sailed it yet.

Are you worried about it happening again?

Of course it could happen again, but I’m not paranoid about it and it won’t stop me from windsurfing. I’m pretty comfortable in the water, but I was never a distance swimmer, so I’ve thought for years that it would be a good idea to take some swim lessons and get better. Coincidentally, earlier in the day, a friend had told me she and her husband and another friend were going to start getting coaching from the Valley Isle Masters Swim Club, and invited me to join them. I didn’t commit at the time, but after Friday’s adventure I decided I’d better! We’ve had two sessions, and I think it will really help improve my endurance and efficiency. (We’re serious: we’re at the pool at 5:45 in the morning!)

Now it’s your turn

Did I answer all your questions? What else do you want to know? Do you have a story about getting separated from your gear? If you have tips on how to reunite swimmer and gear, or get both back to the beach, separately but efficiently, I’d love to hear them! I’m especially interested in hearing about how people have gotten successfully reunited with their gear on the water.

Sailing in - the way it should be!

Sailing in – the way it should be!

About Karen Bennett

Combining words and images into visual communication to enhance understanding
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3 Responses to What happens when your windsurfing gear gets away from you at Kanaha Uppers?

  1. Ben Jones says:

    Great report! I was going to post a super long comment, but instead referenced your story and put my ideas here…
    Glad to hear you’re OK!

    • Karen Bennett says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences, Ben. You always put a lot of thought into your posts, and this one has some great advice and ideas for people to think about. The swim time calculations were interesting: a good way to set training goals. And good point about not being able to swim as fast in the ocean, wearing windsurfing gear, as in a swimsuit in a pool!

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