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Champion Windsurfer Also Charts a Course for Success in College

July 28, 1994|JAMES BENNING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Torrance windsurfer Mariel Devesa has glided across wind-whipped waters from San Pedro to Maui to become the women's national champion, but the journey hasn't always been a breeze.

Over the last five years, the 19-year-old El Camino College student has balanced not only her colorful windsurfing board, mast and sail but the demands of a busy school schedule, often racing from class to the windy shores of Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro to practice her moves.

Devesa's discipline has brought her high marks at the college and more than a few victories at sea. Her parents' home is dotted with plaques and trophies marking her achievements in the sport, a combination of surfing and sailing invented in the 1970s.

"I love the freedom of windsurfing," says Devesa, one of the country's youngest champions. "You're being powered by nature and you're out on the water. It's great."

This weekend, Devesa and several other award-winning windsurfers will sail in the UP Sports Windsurfing Expo and Race at Cabrillo Beach, an event that combines competition and clinics designed to educate spectators. Devesa will compete in the races around buoys and give a speech about women in the sport.

The course is along the same shores in San Pedro where Devesa frequently hops on her lightweight board, clutches the wishbone-shaped bar that wraps around her transparent sail and leans back over the cold, murky water as she rushes over the waves.

Devesa frequently practices the tacks and jibes--turns into and away from the wind--she hopes will one day make her a world champion or an Olympic gold medalist.

To become the world champion, Devesa must windsurf past many women from Europe, where windsurfing is among the most popular sports. At CabRillo, she frequently sails past seamen with years more sailing experience.

"She's great," says Art Moore, 52, a Malibu resident who frequently makes the drive to Cabrillo to windsurf within a splash's distance of dozens of other sailors on weekday afternoons. "She's definitely one of the best out there."

Windsurfing wasn't always easy for Devesa. She learned to sail nine years ago when her parents loaded a single board and sail onto their RV and drove for days down the coast of Baja California.

There, Devesa, her parents and her older sister, Monica, took turns learning to maneuver the clumsy board and sail in the warm Mexican waters.

Five years ago, the South High School honor student began making regular trips to Cabrillo with her parents to practice the sport. After school let out in the afternoons, Devesa's mother, Elsa, 46, and father, Celso, 54, drove the family to the beach, where the four of them practiced riding short, hot-rod-style boards near the shore.

Devesa soon tackled the tricky task of turning the board and began racing alongside veteran windsurfers. Several years ago she began competing in local races, and this year, with the financial support of several sports companies, she traveled as far as Korea for a competition.

It was over clear Hawaiian waters last year that Devesa won the national championship. She sailed past about 24 other expert women windsurfers in three kinds of races. The women had traveled to Maui after winning regional races around the country.

"It was really a great feeling because I had worked so hard for it," Devesa said. "Afterward, I just went, 'Wow, I'm the national champion.' "

But sometimes even national champions have to do homework.

Hours before a recent Hawaiian competition, Devesa sought out a public library to finish work for her speech class. While many competitors stretched on the beach, warming up before the contest, she researched news events that have occurred on her birth date.

"It's so hard," she said. "I'd wake up really early in the morning to read and then study more every night. Everybody else would just go out and have fun."

She continues to struggle maintaining that balance. Take the time she dislocated her knee while trying a high-flying windsurfing trick off a remote beach in Baja California.

With the closest hospital hours away and the possibility of sharks lurking below the cold water, Devesa thought: "Oh gosh, I have to take my finals next week."

And she still earned straight A's on the exams.

Items for this column may be sent to People Column, South Bay Edition, Los Angeles Times, 23133 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance 90505.

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