Our sister islands, Aruba and Bonaire, are well known in the windsurfing world. Bonaire has even inspired the award-winning 2012 documentary, Children of the Wind, the incredible journey of brothers Tonky and Taty Frans and their cousin Kiri Thode — the world’s top freestyle windsurfers. Curaçao enjoys the same favorable windsurfing conditions, but remains relatively unknown among traveling windsurfers. Recent high school grad and up-and-coming freestyle talent, Rafael (“Rafa”) de Windt (18) is determined to change that: Rafa has decided to forego university to become the first yu di Kòrsou to go Pro, dedicating himself full-time to competing in Professional Windsurfing Association (PWA) as well as European Freestyle Professional Tour competitions. Rafa’s dream is to break into the top 15 ranking and it doesn’t seem too far-fetched: Rafa recently shared the winner’s podium with Kiri Thode and Taty Frans (his role model) at the Aruba Hi-winds competition.
Not to be confused with (bo-ring) windsurfing, Freestyling is a hybrid between windsurfing, surfing and kitesurfing. Its countless tricks are invented and coined by “Wizards” who are constantly trying to control the sail, the mast, the board and the wind in awesome – often crazy – acrobatic moves. (Rafa’s favorites: the kabikuchi and the shove-it spock) “I feel free, like I can do whatever I want without anybody telling me where I can sail and where I cannot sail. Or what I can do or what I cannot do” says Rafa.
Rafa credits his parents, Jacqueline Hol and Jules de Windt, as well as his step-father, Arthur Liqui Lung, with encouraging him to pursue his passion on a daily basis. Rafa’s freestyle journey began at eleven years old, when his step-father gave him four windsurfing lessons with Hilde Schnitzler at Windsurfing Curaçao. He has a vivid recollection of those first few lessons:“I saw [now-mentor, Ingmar Schnitzer and Victor Wederfoort] jumping, flying and flipping… I told myself: that’s what I want to do!” Rafa kept taking lessons once a week after, so his father bought his first board and rig 6 months later. By his twelfth birthday he was windsurfing every day. He could spot the conditions – as well as his friends – from his step-father’s house and be on the water within a few minutes. “We had so much fun growing up on the water! It was Felix Martina, Gino Martina, Nico and Marco van der Woude, Alexander and Raoul Da Costa Gomez, Kaj van der Lubbe, Didier van der Horst, Albert-jan Klein… We even made a tree house in the mangroves [in the Spanish Waters].”
But it wasn’t ALL fun and games. Rafa had to work hard to juggle school and windsurfing. He’ll never forget the deal his mother struck with him in sixth grade: “I wasn’t a great student at the time, my mother told me that if I made the grades necessary to get into Havo, she’d get me my first freestyle board.”
Despite being an avid thrill-seeker, Rafa isn’t immune to fear. “Sometimes the wind is so strong, even when you take a smaller sail, you still have no control…” Rafa copes by channeling his mother’s and Ingmar’s sage advice: “don’t think, just go for it!” (Jacqueline Hol) and “the more over-powered you are, the easier it becomes” (Ingmar Schnitzler).
Rafa has a big year ahead: he’s leaving his trusted Curaçao trade wind and beloved Spanish Waters for the first time and moving in with his grandparents who live in a small village in the Netherlands (Beneden Leeuwen). Rafa will be training daily to impress PWA judges and picking up tricks of the wind from the Dutch pros in Brouwersdam.
“Everything will work out if I continue to have fun on the water,” says Rafa, with a determined look in his sparkling eyes and a huge grin on his face.
Root for Rafa: rafaeldewindt.blogspot.com.