Thanks to the turmoil on the Gaza Strip, more than 100 world-class windsurfers from all over the planet will soon head to Clearwater Beach to compete for an international championship.
The RS:X Youth World Windsurfing Championships were scheduled to be held in Herzliya, Israel. But organizers have decided to move the event due to the continuing unstable situation in that country.
The competition's new location: Out in front of Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach. The event will run from Oct. 18 to 25, beginning on the annual Clearwater Jazz Holiday weekend.
"We had some other options, but Clearwater's solution was most attractive as it was well prepared within a very short time," said Andrus Poksi of Estonia, the executive secretary of windsurfing's youth division. "Clearwater is a perfect venue for windsurfing events."
Last year's youth windsurfing championships, held in Italy, attracted 122 competitors from 17 nations on four continents. In 2012, the championships were held in Taiwan. Next year they'll be in Poland.
"It's truly an international event, and it's the first time it's being held in the Americas," said Jerome Samson of Clearwater, president of U.S. Windsurfing.
More than 100 domestic and international athletes are expected to compete, including Samson's 17-year-old daughter, Charlotte. All of the competitors are 18 and under, and many are aiming for the 2016 or 2020 Olympics.
The Clearwater Community Sailing Center on Sand Key will be the base of operations for the event. Action throughout the week will take place in the Gulf of Mexico right in front of Pier 60, promising good views for beach spectators.
"Our intent is to run the races very close to the beach," Samson said. "Each race can last anywhere between 20 and 45 minutes, and the plan is to run three such races each day throughout the week. It's very demanding physically, and spectacular to watch."
The racing fleet will be divided into groups of up to 60 competitors. They all start together and race around a set number of buoys along the course, upwind and downwind. A commentator will help explain to spectators what's happening on the water.
Local restaurateur and philanthropist Frank Chivas, who's on the Sailing Center's board of directors, is lining up sponsors and local government support for the event.
Local windsurfing enthusiasts approached him after it became clear that this year's youth windsurfing championships needed a new home. A few years ago, Chivas helped lure an annual offshore powerboat race to Clearwater Beach after he saw a Key West race and thought it would be a good fit for this area.
"We believe that Clearwater is one of the best sailing areas in the world," Chivas said. "This is good exposure for Pinellas County."