You have seen them skipping the waves, somersaulting their boards, and sending up wakes like speed boats. They are windsurfers, sailors who get the maximum out of the wind with the minimum amount of board and sail. And this week, for the first time, the U.S. Open National Windsurfing championships come to Chesapeake Bay. The races were to have been held in Martha's Vineyard, but a last-minute logistical problem led to their transfer to Solomons, in Southern Maryland.
"It's definitely been a handful," said Alan Bernau, president of the 75-member Southern Maryland Windsurfing Association, who has had six weeks to organize the championships here. "There was nobody else wanting to stick their neck out. But I love windsurfing, and I didn't want a year to go by without a championship."
The event is expected to bring around 100 top national and international windsurfers to the bay. Among the racers will be former champions Phil McGain, from Australia; Jimmy Diaz, from the Virgin Islands; Sergio Mel, from Argentina; and Jamie Douglas, from Massachusetts.
Devon Boulon, 18, a rising star from St. John's in the Virgin Islands, is expected to be among the pacemakers.
The co-ed sport will feature a variety of classes, with competitors ranging from the teens to the 50s, using different boards and sail areas to race round typical sail-racecourses, under the auspices of US Sailing, the overall racing authority.
If the wind is right, there will also be a long-distance race of up to 12 miles. "That's a pretty hefty stretch for a guy on a windsurf board," said Brian Collis, a local windsurfer who helped organize the regatta.
The best place to see the races will be from the Solomon's Island boardwalk. Tomorrow night, after the first races, a welcome party for the racers will be held at the Harbor Sounds Restaurant. The regatta finishes Saturday.
The championships have previously been held in California, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands and Texas, and the bay promises to present the racers with unusual conditions.
"In Maui, they had conditions when they ran into 14- to 15-foot-high waves. Out here we aren't going to run into anything more than 4 feet," Collis said.
"But we don't rely on waves to move us as much as we rely on the wind. When you get into large waves, it adds a new component to the race, because when you get into the bottom of the wave you lose the wind. Here the main component will be overall speed rather than just working the train, riding the waves, maneuvering in and out of the waves. If you don't have the waves, you are not working quite so hard to keep yourself going."
As in any sail race, tactics will be crucial. A good start can decide the race, as can finding the favored side of the course. Stealing the competition's wind is a constant challenge, but the races are sailed under classic round-the-buoys rules.
"We are governed by the same rules as the folks in the America's Cup," said Collis, whose windsurfing experience has been limited to the mid-Atlantic region over the past three years. Bernau, who has been windsurfing for seven years, said the increasing popularity was being fueled by a new design of broader, more stable boards and more easily handled sails.
But there will be no hijinks on the bay because the championships do not include a freestyle competition, which would bring out the tricksters and daredevils.
"It's all about tactics, and having a good time," Collis said. "Windsurfing above all is about fun."