Kathy Bender, who didn't know her bow from her stern before taking a windsurfing class, balanced shakily on the windsurfer, her feet kneading it as if she was standing on hot coals. In fact, Bender may have preferred to be standing on hot coals instead of the windsurfer, which tilted sideways, dumping her into the chilly waters of Ventura Harbor.
Donning a blue wet suit, Bender had expected to fall in--but not so soon. Very few students get through their first windsurfing course without taking a dip.
Dave Donaldson, 29, of Ventura, appeared to be the exception. On his first try, Donaldson glided his windsurfer with the poise of a veteran. He practiced pulling the boom out of the water and letting the plastic sail down before paddling back to the dock.
Donaldson's second attempt was not as graceful, however. Less than 20 yards from the dock, Donaldson fell backward into the water before quickly emerging with a hearty laugh.
Instructor Renee Pulporak, 29, of Ventura, observed the aqua-batics from the dock. If one of her students strays too close to Death Cove--an area barred to windsurfers--Pulporak will mount a windsurfer and sail over to offer assistance.
Before allowing her students anywhere near the water, Pulporak demonstrates the proper windsurfing techniques on a stationary simulator atop a grassy knoll above the harbor. Students risk only grass stains on their wet suits if they fall off.
Pulporak's students must first demonstrate that they can rig a windsurfer before advancing to the simulator.
They spend the first hour learning to differentiate between the various parts of a windsurfer--such as the up-haul line from the boom. It's a lesson that will come in handy when these novices hit the water.
Pulporak patiently stands by while her students fumble with the windsurfer. After three years of teaching the sport, Pulporak has learned patience. It takes a lot of patience to teach beginners in anything--especially windsurfing.
Pulporak also has learned another lesson from teaching windsurfing. Students become much better windsurfers after taking a class than if they learn the sport on their own.
"It's real important to get instruction," Pulporak said. "In an eight-hour certified course, you can learn what it would take three to six weeks to learn doing it alone."
Scott Werner of Ventura, owner of Waveline--a Ventura store that specializes in high-performance windsurfers and surfboards--agrees with Pulporak. He took up windsurfing on his own and wishes he hadn't.
"A class is absolutely essential," Werner said. "Windsurfing is a sport of technique and balance. It is more like skiing than anything else. An instructor helps you get over the hurdles."
Pulporak's students encountered plenty of hurdles in their first four-hour lesson. Pulporak's beginning class consists of two four-hour sessions. After eight hours of instruction, a student should have a grasp of the fundamentals of this sport, which combines surfing and sailing.
If a student is not comfortable with windsurfing after a beginning class, the City of Ventura Department of Parks and Recreation also offers intermediate and advanced classes. After learning the basics of recreational windsurfing, a student can take up freestyle windsurfing or wave-sailing--which involves skipping ocean waves with a windsurfer.
Unlike more demanding sports, such as surfing, Werner says anybody can learn windsurfing.
"Because this is a sport of technique, women actually make better windsurfers in the beginning than men," Werner said. "Women don't try to outmuscle the ocean while men like to be macho and use their strength."
Pulporak had only two men in her class of seven. Dick Gilden, 57, a burly, gray-haired man who considers gardening his favorite form of exercise, wasn't sure why he was spending his Saturday morning in the class.
After a couple of dips in the harbor, Gilden was even more unsure of himself.
"Living in Ventura, we always see windsurfers," said Gilden, who took the class with his wife Jeanne, 59. "We thought that this was something we should try before turning 60. Neither of us have exercised in so long, I don't know how far we can go with this."
Donaldson also is uncertain how far he will continue with the sport. After taking a sky-diving lesson, he is now trying to determine if he likes windsurfing.
"I'm trying to collect experiences," Donaldson said. "What's appealing about windsurfing is that it is something I can do locally and on my own if I want to."
Donaldson picked the right area to take up windsurfing. Ventura is considered to be a premier area for the sport in Southern California.
Just ask Werner.
"I used to drive down here from Santa Barbara and then I just moved to Ventura because the wind conditions are so much better," Werner said.
Werner is commodore of the Ventura Sailing Club, which stages weekly windsurfer races during the summer. Werner also teaches windsurfing when he's not out jumping the waves at Surfers' Point in Ventura.
For the students in Pulporak's beginning class, wave jumping will have to wait. They will have to be content to stand up on the windsurfer without falling in the water.
"I think the cold water is what's going to make it or break it for me," said Dawn Hildebrand, 26, of Ventura. "If I can stay out of the water, I think this will be fun."