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Ready, set, surf: Prize money increases, and more classes are added for Midwest Speed Quest

WORTHINGTON -- By the time the inaugural Midwest Speed Quest concluded in October of last year, 35 windsurfers had tested their ability to go fast on the race track that is Lake Okabena. Chris Lock, a windsurfer from Plainview, posted the top time of 38.8 mph and took home the $500 grand prize.

By the time this October rolls around, organizers anticipate that many more sailors will have taken up the challenge and a new top speed will have been posted. This time, the winner will receive $1,000.

But for the windsurfers, it's not really about the money. It's more about the need for speed and the prestige of having the fastest time, according to Craig Bergh, the event's instigator. With the wind that prevails along the Buffalo Ridge and the prime sailing topography of Lake Okabena, Bergh believes a top speed of 42 to 45 mph is achievable.

Last year, about this time, Bergh bought his own GPS unit and conceived the idea of a speed challenge.

"I realized how much fun it was to track your speed and had the idea that other windsurfers might be interested in this form of racing," said Bergh, who began to research the sport of speed sailing through the Internet. "It's a new sport that's becoming very popular. Some sailors are uncomfortable with course racing and just enjoy going fast. This can be a sport that the public will enjoy. Everybody understands speed."

Through sponsorships, Bergh came up with prize money, and the Midwest Speed Quest was born as a separate but complementary event to Worthington's Windsurfing Regatta and Unvarnished Music Festival, which takes place the second week of June. Because the Midwest Speed Quest's competitors can pick their own days to race, depending on schedules and wind conditions, it keeps windsurfers coming back to the Lake Okabena throughout the warm weather months.

"The same sailors from last year are already contacting me and are preparing their equipment and getting ready for the season," said Bergh.

Bergh has solicited more sponsors this year, including windsurfing equipment manufacturers from as far away as Australia.

"Some of the sponsors have sponsored our event very heavily compared to other speed sailing events," he noted.

The Midwest Speed Quest has also gained international recognition, listed as a speed sailing venue on a Netherlands Web site

"We're following European speed sailing rules, so we're eligible to be posted on the world sites," Bergh explained. "A number of last year's sailors had their times posted on the European speed sailing sites."

In addition to a larger purse for the top posted speed overall, this year's event will offer prizes in various categories, including a women's class, a youth class and classes for different designs of sailboards.

Since the ice has disappeared on Lake Okabena, Bergh has tested the waters himself, and he thinks it won't be long before other windsurfers join him on the waves.

"The water is still only 40 degrees," he said. "Sailors want it to get up to 45 degrees before they get out there."

Bergh keeps potential competitors advised of the weather conditions and possibilities for speed sailing through the event's Web site. There's a weather forecast page that posts conditions hour by hour, 48 hours in advance, so windsurfers can use the information to plan a trip to Worthington.

"When we recognize high wind conditions, we send out a high wind alert," Bergh added. "There's also a link on the site to old pictures of Lake Okabena from 100 years ago that might be of community interest to non-windsurfers."

So far, the Midwest Speed Quest has vastly exceeded Bergh's hopes for the event, and he is confident that it will continue to cause a stir in the windsurfing community.

"I just knew it was fun and thought it would catch on," he said. "I didn't realize it would catch on like this."

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Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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