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HIHO Evolves

It is 26 years now since the world famous windsurfing adventure race round the British Virgin Islands began. From its conception as a pro-am, long distance windsurf racing event in the windswept blue waters of the Atlantic, Caribbean and Sir Francis Drake Channel, the event has no peak era; it simply evolves, encompassing new sporting events and pushing the limits to create an adventure for every waterman, woman and child. This year, with the addition of stand up paddling (SUP), the Highland Spring HIHO maintains its discipline of world-class athletes windsurfing, travelling aboard catamarans exploring the Islands, and oh did we mention five-star lunches and dinners on beaches, parties?

 

Health is paramount, and in the islands, our outlook is activity on the water, predominantly. It isn’t to say that any windsurfer, sailor, swimmer, snorkeler or stand up paddler shares the same perspective, but there is something breathtaking about charging across the Sir Francis Drake Channel, rig in hand and powered over 20 knots, destined to scream to the beach, hit the finish flag and park up under a coconut tree for a cold beer and a catered lunch. These days, more people look for the adventure element of active holidays—it has been that way on this event for over 26 years now. Why break a good thing?

Andy Morrell is the organizer, former competitor and active waterman of HIHO, the head honcho. Now with two boys Sam and Josh ripping it up out on the water, the windsurfing legacy looks solid for the future. This year sees the return of champions, current and former, pit into a pro-am event of windsurfing and stand up paddling in two separate disciplines. Entries from all over the world include Wilhelm Schurmann returning with a team from Brazil to defend his victory in the Highland Spring HIHO 2008 event. The SUP division will be headlined by champion US paddler Ernie Johnson from California.  Johnson will be joined by his wife Andie who is a top women’s competitor. Adding SUP came about from Andy Morrell’s desire to expand the HIHO event. SUP is one of the fastest growing watersports in the world. The goal is for Highland Spring HIHO to become the sport’s premier destination event.

 

Not only does everyone competing test their limits in the event to gain podium or personal bests over a week’s long racing, but it is also an event where friends reconnect, familiar faces are recognized, styles have improved, and the event is a quick pick up from the last. ”What have you been up to? Riding pretty hard, I’m juiced for this one,” is a regular icebreaker, often followed by “Great let’s see it. See you out there.” Some of the most familiar faces in the event are the captains who help competitors every step of the way. “ They are the backbone of the event,” says a smiling Andy Morrell, “With their knowledge, help, and eyes on the water, we always feel assured the guests and racers are onto a great week away from it all. That and island life, weather and great times always makes me feel good about this event.”

 

Certainly looking back, there have been major significant events over the HIHO years. The Royal Navy Frigate whose guns started the race in 2005, helicopters that seemed to shadow the racers, lunch at Necker Island, and last year the 25th anniversary seeing a reunion of veterans who competed in the very first events, back again with old friends, still windsurfing and still grinning.“This year we expect great racing and fun parties,” adds Andy who still windsurfs but finds competing and running the event a bit of a handful.  “The addition of SUP will see more competition, more nightly awards and more fun.  We have lots of families in this year’s event and we are expecting a strong BVI team which is always gratifying.”

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Competitors are set to board yachts and hit the water on June 27 and wrap up July 6. The week’s event will encompass a myriad of racing, partying and windswept fun across the BVI, from Tortola to Virgin Gorda, Anegada and the blasting through the Drake’s Channel that makes up the unique event of the Highland Spring HIHO. Catch the action on www.go-hiho.com or visit HIHO stores for further updates.

Andy's HIHO by Andy Morrell

The event began in 1979 and was sponsored by Johnnie Walker until 1986. I raced twice, placing 1st in 1986, then I bought the event and restarted it in 1993 and have been running it ever since.

One of the most memorable times was when The Royal Navy contacted us in 2005 and asked if they could take part. We used HMS Liverpool as a start boat. In the evening, we had a drinks party on board and then the crew came ashore for the pirate party at the Last Resort. A team from the Royal Navy returns to race every other year.

New this year, we’re adding stand-up paddle racing. I think SUP will prove to be a great addition. Every few years we start the event down-island. We are mulling an Antigua start for 2011 with a 90-mile SUP race from Anguilla to Virgin Gorda.

Also new this year, my sons are competing in the windsurfing class. They love it!

The Highland Springs HIHO is a great combination of inter-island racing, fun parties and adventure. It’s a unique week. You can’t really run an event like this anywhere else in the world.

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