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Windsurfers ride high at Aloha Classic

In Hawaii, ho'okipa means "hospitality."

It is also the name of Maui's famous windsurfing beach and home to this week's 16th Annual Swatch Aloha Classic, the world's longest-running windsurfing event. Here, 130 professional windsurfers from more than 20 countries are competing. Out of this large field, the top 64 men and 32 women qualified for the championship event which ends today.

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Since the competition began in 1984, it has attracted windsurfers and spectators from around the world. One reason for its appeal is the beauty of the location and its great windsurfing conditions. Many top competitors make Ho'okipa their year-round training grounds.

The future of windsurfing looks bright, according to Aloha Classic event organizer Paul Ehman.

"The popularity of windsurfing plateaued a few years ago, but now it's on the rise again," he says. "Sponsors are again becoming interested because they see the marketability of the windsurfers' lifestyle. It is a clean, healthy, nonpolluting sport, and you can do it almost anywhere."

Although the contest location and Maui's extraordinary beauty help, they are not the sole attractions. Professional windsurfers compete in the Aloha Classic because of the event's prestige and the stiff competition.

As the final event of the Professional Windsurfing Association's World Tour, the Aloha Classic determines not only the Wave World Champion, but also the Overall World Champion. Much like professional tennis players, World Tour competitors accumulate points for placing in the circuit's 15 competitions. The athlete with the highest combined (race and wave) point total wins the coveted overall title.

In both the men's and women's divisions, Americans boasted the highest number of qualifiers. In the men's class, though, only Kevin Pritchard of the United States stood a chance of snatching the overall title from top-seeded Dutch windsurfer Bjorn Dunkerbeck, who has dominated the tour for nearly a decade.

In the women's division, Americans Cecily Kitts and Kelly Moore, along with Japan's Tsugami Takagi and Spain's Iballa Ruano Moreno, advanced to the women's final. Winners receive a $6,000 check, but many competitors make additional money from sponsor endorsements and placement bonuses.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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