"My sail is full because the wind was lighter" in the morning, said Zeitvogel, a former resident of the area. "The wind has picked up, so I'll have to work harder over the course of the race."
Zeitvogel was among about 18 people who registered for races Saturday and today in a competition sponsored by the Windsurfing Enthusiasts of Tidewater, or WET. Saturday marked the first races of the season for the mid-Atlantic region.
A chill lingered throughout the day by the water. Windsurfers ranging from ages of about 20 to 61 wore wet suits to protect them from water that remained in the 50s.
"It's a little cold, but so what," said Zeitvogel, who calls himself a transient windsurfer who currently has no permanent residence. "Most of us sail all winter long anyway."
A cloudy morning turned brighter in the afternoon. A strong breeze gradually increased throughout the day. The water got choppy, especially farther out from the shore.
"This is advanced-level wind," Stuart Gray of Bowie, Md., said in the late afternoon. "I'm an intermediate. This is kind of out of my range."
Gray held in his hand a small device that measured the wind speed. He raised it over his head while he stood on the bank overlooking water by the Hampton Roads Bridge- Tunnel. The highest speed Gray recorded: 30 mph.
Gray, who has windsurfed for about three years, opted out of an afternoon long-distance race, saying he finds 10- to 15-mph winds a better speed for him.
The conditions caused problems for the boat that held the race committee. Its anchor broke off. And troubles followed for some windsurfers.
All registered participants joined in morning races. But by afternoon, the blustery weather left about 10 experienced windsurfers to compete in a long-distance race.
"It's overpowering conditions," said Pete Wells, owner of Beach Sports in Hampton, a cosponsor of the event. "You're holding on for dear life."
It's fun to windsurf in the high swells, Wells said. But that's before the race. The windsurfers needed to keep speed in the race, not catch air.
Some used the day more to learn, rather than race. Velma Potash, the only female participant, said that was her main goal. Potash, of Yorktown, has windsurfed for about six years and said she mostly enjoys jumping waves. "It's a free-spirited sport," she said.
Potash watched some of the event's best windsurfers take up the challenge of a long- distance course. Among the top competitors were Doug Stryker of Edison, N.J., and Dave Kashy, president of WET.
They were tied for first throughout the day's races. The two are clearly friendly competitors.
"We've always just been rivals back and forth for about four years," Stryker said. "He gets a little more heated than I do. I can laugh it off."
After one of the last races of the day, Kashy came out of the water feeling good. "I just killed him on that," Kashy said.
Stryker came to shore much later, slowed by a broken foot strap.
While the two worked hard to beat one another, they also were having fun.
"It was beautiful," Kashy said. "The wind is nice and steady and strong."
For a fee, subscribers - mostly windsurfers - call the hot line to find out which way the wind is blowing and how hard. As long as it doesn't come crashing ashore, Hurricane Edouard should be good for business.
"There's a real fine line between making us a lot of money and being real devastating," Titlow said.
The Wind Hot Line is a private weather service that competes with television forecasters and the National Weather Service, where people can get weather forecasts for free. The hot line makes money because it provides information and forecasts that people who care about wind can't get anywhere else, Titlow said.
The Wind Hot Line is based in Massachusetts, in the home of founder Phil Atkinson, an MIT grad and avid windsurfer. Seventy computerized wind stations from Maine to North Carolina collect wind readings every five minutes and automatically send the results to a main computer in Atkinson's home. Calls on the toll-free hot line number are answered by that computer.
Titlow maintains the southernmost wind stations and provides four wind and weather forecasts for the entire system four times a day. He works from his Poquoson home, surrounded by maps and three computers that show data from the wind stations as well as color weather maps and satellite photos beamed to a dish on his roof.
"This used to be our living room," said Titlow, noting that the playpen for his 8-month-old son, Matthew, is about the only remaining sign of domesticity.
Titlow gave up a job at NASA Langley Research Center to work full-time on the hot line. An avid windsurfer whose license reads "MO WIND", Titlow says work combines two passions- wind and meteorology. His wife, Susan Sorlie, is a climatologist who works at NASA Langley analyzing atmospheric data collected by satellites.
Titlow wakes at 4:30 each morning to feed Matthew and work up the day's first forecast, which he reads into the computer by 6 a.m. Hot line customers occasionally hear Matthew crying in the background, he said.
More than 80 percent of the hot line's 500 to 1,000 area customers are windsurfers, people who want to know whether it's worth the trip down to the beach. But Wind Hot Line is trying to broaden its customer base, by appealing to yachters, fishermen and anyone else who might want to know what the wind is doing. The company will soon put a station at Fort Story to provide wind information for pilots who bring ships into Hampton Roads, Titlow said.
The Wind Hot Line operates the largest private network of wind stations in the country, though there are others on the West Coast, Titlow said. One service in California automatically pages its clients when winds are favorable for windsurfing, Titlow said.
"We've stayed away from that", he said. "I don't know about you but if I can't sail, I don't want to know about the wind."
The highest winds recorded by the network were in the 80s during a big winter storm in March 1993. During Hurricane Emily, winds reached 40 mph on the Outer Banks before officials there cut the power. The company may get batteries to run the computers in the future, Titlow said.
The wind stations need minimal upkeep. Titlow finds a good place for them - the roof of the Days Inn at Willoughby or on top of the Buckroe Beach Fishing Pier- and they work on their own.
The Buckroe wind station has been popular, said the pier's assistant manager Dorothy Hitchcock in the pier's bait shop. Just opposite the minnow tank, a small, black-and-white television on top of the computer box shows the latest wind readings. Word has gotten around among fishermen there, Hitchcock said.
"You'd be amazed the number of times a day I get a call saying, What's the wind doing down there?" she said.
For her part, Hitchcock is also hoping Edouard remains safely out to sea and that the wind station remains a pleasant diversion.
Their friend Markus Wells was about a mile off shore with a smashed ankle and in need of help. The fun was over but the afternoon was just beginning.
The 35-year-old Woodell - who researches semiconducting materials at NASA Langley when he's not windsurfing - and his friends-had been at the beach since about 2 p.m. taking advantage of the high waves and stiff winds brought in with Thursday's cold front.
The 6-foot waves sometimes crested to 10 and 15 feet. "It was one of the better days," Woodell said. Until Wells got hurt.
Wells, whose parents own the windsurfing shop Beach Sports at Buckroe, was about a mile off shore, just at the boundary of how far the surfers would ride, when the accident happened.
Wells was at the top of a wave when his foot slipped out of the strap on the surfboard, which rolled to one side as he went up, he told his friends later. Wells landed back on the edge of the board, and his foot twisted.
Immediately, Wells told his friends, the veteran windsurfer knew his ankle was broken. He tried to guide the sailing rig back to shore, dragging his body behind, but he couldn't make it.
Nearby, Brennan saw Wells go down and not come back up. Brennan sailed over and Wells told him he needed a tow back to shore. Brennan went to Woodell for help.
Back on the beach, Woodell used a cellular phone to call the Hampton Fire Department while Brennan ran down to Beach Sports, where Wells' mother called the Coast Guard, Woodell said.
Woodell and Brennan grabbed ropes, a lifejacket and their sailboards and went to find Wells. There was no panic, Woodell said. All three men are experienced windsurfers used to towing each other in, although usually when something was broken on the sailboard, not the sailboarder, Woodell said.
It took a while to find Wells, who had maneuvered over to a fishing net marked with a floating flag buoy and tied on to it, Woodell said. When the waves were at their highest, Woodell said he couldn't even see Brennan's sailing rig, much less a head bobbing in the water.
Eventually, they spotted the net marker. "I waved and the marker waved back so I figured it was him," Woodell said.
"We managed to get to him, but the seas were too rough to try and tow him," Woodell said.
Woodell roped onto Wells' rig, and the trio clung to each other to wait for help. But it seemed slow in coming, Woodell said. They spotted Coast Guard boats, but the closest was several hundred yards closer to shore near Fort Monroe.
Hampton Fire rescue personnel got to the beach just after 6 p.m., noted the 25- to 35-mph winds and the small craft advisory, and called the Coast Guard again, said Rick Rickett, a fire spokesman.
It began to get dark and the trio decided Brennan should sail back to shore while he could still see so he could direct rescue boats to his friends, Woodell said.
As darkness closed in, Woodell and Wells clung to their boards and the net marker. Wells didn't seem to be in too much pain. The water was not terribly cold, about 71 degrees, but Woodell was in a short wet suit and Wells was in a dry suit that kept water out from neck-to foot, Woodell said.
So they just waited. Finally, a 41-foot Coast Guard boat came closer and Woodell untied his rig to sail over to it and guide rescuers back to his friend. A Coast Guard helicopter arrived to light the way.
Coast Guard officials said the crew of a 22-foot boat from the Portsmouth Coast Guard station pulled Wells aboard about 7:25 p.m. Both men were taken to the Fort Monroe marina, where Wells was taken by ambulance to Sentara Hampton General Hospital.
All total, Woodell estimates Wells was in the water for about two hours. At the hospital, Wells was told his ankle had been dislocated and some bones shattered, Woodell said. Well was in surgery Friday afternoon.
While the day had a nasty turn at the end, Woodell said overall it was just a normal day of windsurfing.
"The weather was bad and we went out to play in it," Woodell said.
"Windsurfing is the biggest water sport in Europe," Wells claims, "mainly because they never had the surfboards and surfing." American windsurfing originated in the late 1960s in California. By 1984 the sport had gained enough worldwide respectability to be included in that year's Olympics.
"Windsurfing is the purest form of sailing," said Chris Zeitvogel of 10th Transportation Battalion, a member of the Windsurfing Enthusiasts of Tidewater. "It's just the wind, water, sail and you on the board." "Every bit of force that hits the sail is transmitted to the board through you. It intimately connects you to it all," Zeitvogel said. But windsurfing is not easy, he added; no one can "just do it."
The best way to get started windsurfing is to take an introductory course, said Wells. Then the person can determine whether or not the sport is for them. After that, they can take a beginner class. Those classes are about six hours long and teach basic instruction - how to assemble the components of the windsurfing "rig" (sail, boom, mast and board); how to stand; how to change direction, and how to sail against the wind. After the beginner course, the student should be able to sail confidently, said Wells. Windsurfing equipment prices range from $150 for used equipment to thousands of dollars for new equipment. The average lifespan of a windsurfing rig is three to five years, he added. Beginners should get used equipment to start out with, rather than make a large investment in a sport they may later decide they're not interested in, said Wells.
Places to launch off in the area include Strawberry Banks, Buckroe Beach, and Fort Monroe (Mill Creek) in Hampton, and Chick's Beach, north of Fort Story in Va Beach. Wells said Mill Creek is the best spot for beginners, because it is a flat, shallow, enclosed body of water. A free "learn to windsurf" clinic will be held there May 18. Equipment is provided. Registration for the clinic is necessary. For more information, call 851-3224.