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Hangin' with Arnie: Wisconsin windsurfer feels at home on Worthington's lake

WORTHINGTON -- Last Sunday, when the wind blew fiercely across Lake Okabena, Arnie Cleveland strapped on his gear and climbed aboard his surfboard. The wind soon carried him across the waves on one of the most exhilarating rides of his life. When it came to an end, Arnie checked the GPS unit strapped to his arm, sure that he'd recorded a personal best time.

Alas, Arnie had forgotten to turn the unit on. He'll never know what speed he reached on that particular windsurfing adventure.

It was a frustrating turn of events, but there will be other opportunities for Arnie to record his speed as part of the Midwest Speed Quest, the local contest that offers a top prize of $1,000 to the windsurfer who records the fastest time over the course of the summer. That chance could come as early as next weekend, during the Worthington Windsurfing Regatta and Unvarnished Music Festival, because Arnie will be here.

Arnie lives in Prescott, Wis., along the Mississippi River just south of the Twin Cities, but has become an irregular visitor to Worthington. He's attended every Worthington Regatta except for the very first one and during those visits has established friendships with many local residents. Last weekend, he was in town not just to windsurf, but for the high school graduation celebration of Lisa Kremer, daughter of Glenn and Barb Kremer of Worthington, who is a member of the U.S. Sailing Team in the RS:X women's class.

"I may enjoy the wind, but Lisa is 10 times a better sailor than I am," Arnie praised. "Lisa has a special gift. I may have the enthusiasm, but she has a gift, and not just in windsurfing."

Besides appreciating Worthington's windsurfing-friendly lake and residents, Arnie may be drawn to the local area because he spent the early years of his life in the region.

"I'm a prairie boy. I was born in Sioux Falls, at Sioux Valley Hospital, on Sept. 28, 1953," he recalled. "My family lived on a farm outside of Worthing (S.D.) for the first five years, then we moved into Sioux Falls. I attended the Sioux Falls public schools until the summer between my eighth and ninth grade, when we moved to Prescott, and it's been my home ever since."

Arnie claims to have enthusiasm for windsurfing, but that term barely skims the surface of his attitude about the sport that is his chief endeavor. Earlier in his life, he dabbled in more extreme sports, such as hot-dog snow skiing and hang-gliding, but now prefers the somewhat-tamer water sport.

"I was one of the early brain-damaged boys of free-style skiing. I was -- tongue in cheek -- 'Hot Dog of the Year.' I started doing what was called the Flying Worm Turn," Arnie said, getting up to simulate the maneuver as best he can on dry land. "It's sort of a horizontal helicopter. For years, it was illegal."

At one time, Arnie served as a freelance consultant to a major ski manufacturer, helping design skis that could withstand the punishing twists, turns and jumps of freestyle skiing.

"During the summer of '74, I was working on the river as a deckhand on barges when I got a call from one of my ski bum buddies," Arnie explained about another sporting adventure. "He'd found a hang-glider, so five of us went together and bought our first kite. We called it 'the community kite.'"

Arnie's first experience with windsurfing came in a similar manner -- he was hanging out with his buddies at a friend's house along the river, and somebody showed up with windsurfing gear.

"I see everybody else trying to get up on it. So when it's my turn, I stand up and fall off. I stand up, fall off the other way. From there, I went out and just began to play. Thirty-two years later, I'm still falling off, but I'm not hang-gliding anymore."

Arnie's current lifestyle allows him to focus a lot of time on windsurfing, although he admits that it requires some creative financing.

"My top priority is I'm resident caretaker of a private retirement home," he explained, referring to his commitment to caring for his mother. "It's the job you get when you're the only son and your father dies."

He used to take on some odd jobs and seasonal work putting in and taking out docks to help pay for racing fees and windsurfing-related expenses. But an accident involving an industrial-strength cleaner aggravated a skin condition and waylaid those money-making ventures. Arnie claims to have shed his skin at least three times since the incident.

"I'm like my skin. I'm flaky," Arnie declared. "I don't have a real job, but I have a real passion for life."

Windsurfing is a large part of that passion, and Arnie is not at a loss for words in describing what it is he enjoys about the sport.

"I've been told I can make a short story long," he said, conveying both honesty and humor.

"You feel your skin tingling, that little ripple through your hair?" he queried, referring to the touch of the light breeze on this particular day. "There's something about the elements -- the sun, the sky, the earth. And there's a fine line between control and disaster out there. The wind will just hit you with a side gust, and all of a sudden you're launched. It's intriguing. You can find a casual peacefulness on a day like today. You're not going to set a speed record, but you're enjoying life to the fullest. ... It's a chance to outwit, outsmart, outplay -- it's our own game of 'Survivor' without the commercial breaks."

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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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