Interview: Randy Johnson

We talk one on one with individuals from our community. Going deeper into what brought them to their life in the wind, and what keeps them coming back.

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Interview: Randy Johnson

Post by Tighe »

Name: Randy Johnson
Age: 55
Years in the wind: hangliding ’74-81, windsurfing ’81-present

So Randy do you remember what steps lead up to your path in the wind? What about your first ride?
I had been hangliding a few years and saw windsurfing in Hawaii in ’79. It looked fascinating, but I didn’t actually get on a board until ’81 when my brother-in-law thought it’d be a good transition since my wife was threatening to leave me if I didn’t stop hangliding. My first ride was on a Dufour Wing and our instructor had us sail two miles to an island. It clearly taught me that if you keep your sights on where you’re going you’ve got a much better chance of ‘arriving’. My wife and I just celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary thanks to that transition from hangliding to windsurfing.

You're driving to the lake, the wind is blowing, let us in your head.
It really varies. I try to leave my head and go to my heart. There’s a lot of research that now shows our real center comes through heart intelligence, not the brain. If I get lost in my head I build up all kinds of expectations that may have me missing the beauty of the drive. I now find it’s much better to enjoy the drive, in gratitude for that ride. The heart always brings me back to gratitude for what is in ‘this particular moment’. If it looks like a marginal day or an epic day, this seems to require more work. I hate it when I’m playing Mr. Clever about where to go or allowing fear in when I’m going to a location I know is going to push my skills.

I know you used to hang glide, you Skimbat, you kite, you windsurf, you ride the wind under many different cloths. Are there differences? What do they all share?
There are many ancient spiritual traditions that view the wind as our ‘felt’ experience of God. I know many on the site aren’t enthusiastic about our spiritual commentary when it comes to riding. Yet, it seems that those who’ve ridden the wind for decades eventually come to this spiritual connection. All of the vehicles you mention in your question have that ‘felt’ experience of God through the balance and ‘pull’ of the wind on the instrument. The more aligned we are with the instrument, through the attention we’ve given to our riding, the more subtle our communications are between elements of nature given, between our body/mind/spirit, and the instrument of choice. They share the ‘pull’, balance and alignment, sensitivity of the feet required by all board sports, and opportunity to commune with nature and friends without polluting the environment. They all have potential for injury, with hangliding and kiting requiring more pre-risk assessment than the vehicles held closer to the body and/or surface. My reflexes now seem slower and healing takes longer, so I tend to put more attention to windsurfing and Skimbatting.

If you had a passport for your windsurfing trips, what stamps would fill the pages? What stamps bring back the best memories?
I’ve been very fortunate having been in the windsurfing business. For a couple decades manufacturers would fly their top dealers around the world to their destination centers. My stamps include Aruba, Margarita, Barbados, St.Barts, Hatteras, Cape Cod, Florida, Texas, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, DR, BVI, Lake Garda, Holland, Denmark, California and Oregon coastal sites, the Gorge, Lake Superior and Michigan, Hawaii, British Columbia, and all the stops made in the early ‘80’s when I was on the road peddling windsurfers to retailers.
I’ve noticed how ‘at home’ I feel in these new places once I hit the water. It seems to immediately take me out of the ‘tourist’ mode. Perhaps the most outstanding are the trips to the BVI, staying on the Catariba, a monster catamaran that carried thirty windsurf rigs. I suppose my most memorable are the trips where I encountered the greatest risks (i.e. sharks, big waves, lost rig, strong currents). Probably the ‘best’ center around the joy of friends/family sharing the gift of the ride. For sure, sharing this with my two boys has been an ultimate gift.

Some people refer to our passion in the wind as an addiction, what are your thoughts on that? I think this is best answered by understanding ‘addiction’. For me, an addiction is a behavior we engage in that we know is not good for us. It’s best seen by ‘living life backwards’. Looking at myself tomorrow morning, can I stand solid today, knowing I’d make the same decision? Either I’m making decisions that strengthen my body/mind/spirit, or I’m making decisions that weaken me. I have an addiction to chocolate. Around 9pm I fight a craving, knowing full well, that the next morning I wish I would have resisted. I never get this feeling with sailing. There have been very, very few instances where I was glad I neglected sailing. There have been major family events where my decision to sail has caused significant pain to others. However, more often than not, it’s simply others trying to make us feel guilty for following our heart when theirs has been frozen far too long. They try to force us into the ‘addiction’ argument, calling us selfish. Yet, when you look deeper into it, it’s their desire to have us share in their misery. I simply don’t buy into this BS (belief system). Sailing is like my food…very healthy food. It connects me with nature, God, strengthens my body, challenges my mind, and all in all, contributes to deeper, more fulfilled living. Addictions are quite the opposite.

I know it's tough to choose a "best session" because they aren't really comparable. You want to share some of the ones that come to mind?
I like your sensitivity to comparison. This seems to be the poison to so many as we try to capture the experience of a previous event. It seems our real work is to make every session our ‘best session’, even when the conditions aren’t what we expected them to be. Outstanding sessions that come to mind are generally when I’ve been sailing with my boys and/or friends in outrageous conditions, or when I’ve been in large bodies of water, all by myself, ‘knowing’ I’m deeply connected to all. Perhaps these have happened most on solo sessions in Mother Superior and my sea creature sessions in the BVI. Then, again, there have been so many blessed sailing sessions in Minnesota and I’ve posted a number of these through the years.

If all of our life events teach us something, what has the ride taught you?
I think the phrase, “You can’t stop the wave, but you can learn to ride it” came from an Indian yogi, or a dream I had about one. This has probably been my greatest learning. Life happens and it’s our job to ‘find the gift in the given’. This past year has presented many events beyond my wildest imagination…events of extreme pain. Yet, the healing through these events comes through the ‘knowing’ they’ve been presented to grow us to deeper living. I’ll never forget being on Cannon when the winds kicked up well over 60mph. I saw a large dock section get sucked sixty feet in the air and I was fully sheeted out on my 4M knowing that if I lost my grip the board would tumble down the lake. I looked at the 6’ waves and came to peace in gratitude for the gift of the outrageous texture on the water. The ‘ride’ has taught me the value in ‘no complaint, no complaint’, no matter what!
I’m not a big religious person, but this past week my son selected Philippians 4 for his wedding text and I locked into the wisdom of this text (without knowing he and his bride had even selected a bible verse) two days earlier. It essentially commands us to rejoice, to stay out of whining and complaint, and forever stay in gratitude for the gift of what’s been given. If our media followed this they’d be sure to incorporate a joyful lesson in every story of pain and suffering.
Over the years it’s common to have instances where equipment or body fails and fear enters the mind. I’ve learned that my survival has depended upon my capacity to let go fear, stay alert and relaxed, and forever in gratitude for the gift of the moment…no matter what. For sure, this is what I ‘aim’ to do and many times I fall short.
For the past decade I’ve written my ‘ride insights’ and am now trying to compile these so that others may not have to go through my painful mistakes. That’s what I really like about your site…this opportunity to share with others lessons from ‘what’s worked’.

What do you appreciate most about your time on the water....what's the feeling coming off the water?
I love texture. The way the water plays in such rhythmic, harmonic beauty. Playing in mounds of water and waves is beyond what most people could ever imagine. Snowboarders love the mountain, but in waves the mountain is moving. Surfers get this experience, but it’s so short lived compared to kiting and windsurfing.
I have a deep feeling of gratitude when entering the water and when exiting. It’s kind of like giving a blessing to food before you eat and after you eat, no matter what’s served up. There’s nothing better than that ‘worked’ body feeling, the body and spirit screaming, “Thank you” for using your mind to make the decision to do this. I’ve literally had major crying spells of joy, exhausted, kneeling on the beach, filled to the point that I could die in that moment beyond any notion of regret, somehow feeling like I’ve been fed far more than I deserve.

Some have said that wind sports are solo sports, do you agree?
We’ve all got different motivations for engaging the sports we do. For sure, our sports are not as ‘social’ as many, but they are far from ‘solo’. To the contrary, these sports when done in consciousness are about as ‘connecting’ as one can get. A rider like Jack Mertz made the sport as social as possible…everyone knew him from his tremendous love for people. I’m nowhere near as social, often preferring to ride by myself so that I can bury my ego’s temptation to compare to another rider. I find these ‘solo’ rides the most ‘connecting’, yet relish the days riding with a posse.
Windsports happen on their own schedule. Group sports like to work around a defined schedule. Our social connection revolves around those dedicated enough to the sports to get out when the wind happens. I feel very connected to those who’ve arranged their life well enough to get out when the wind blows. This is not easy. While our connections may be fewer, there’s a level of connection that’s far from ‘solo’ experience of separation.

Any advice for someone considering windsurfing or kiting?
I don’t have to much to say other than what I what I always told our customers. First, taking up a windsport is a lifestyle decision. It’s not easy and you probably won’t get the real experience of it until you start planning. Bottom line…don’t expect your three hour lesson to mean anything. We (at The House) finally came to the realization that it was a waste of time to teach anyone who wasn’t willing to first invest in their equipment. I always asked people what their line of work was, looking to see if they had flexibility with their schedule. Most people serious about windsports make this communication a priority with coworkers, family and friends. Most good partners, employers and friends realize the value in giving the windsport enthusiast their freedom when the wind does blow. I applaud all new learners today. Back in the ‘80’s the equipment was terrible, but at least there were masses of people flopping about. Today’s entry level sailor has to deal with a beach filled with experienced sailors and I’d only say that everyone has gone through our moments of humility in the learning process. Don’t be shy, don’t worry about others judgments, step into the moment and relish that great space of ‘surprise’ that simply never ends with windsports. Ask questions, use others as a resource…they love sharing their knowledge with someone who wants to learn. Use this website, watch videos, have someone video you, travel to destination centers, never stop taking lessons and trying new maneuvers.

I’d have to say the main suggestion to future kiters is to go to South Padre or Millacs north shore for steady wind, large and safe launching and landing zones, and a dedicated stretch of time to get familiar with what can go wrong and how to eject from situations before they get out of hand. While winter kiting can’t be beat up here, water kiting seems very challenging given the restricted shorelines, heavy boat traffic and gusty winds. I have the greatest respect for the posse of kiters that frequent our waters, knowing most of them are at an expert level.

As for windsurfers switching to kiting, I defer to ‘the law of attraction’—that which we put attention to grows stronger. I’d like to play trombone, but after close to forty years of trumpet, I just want to go deeper with my trumpet. I’m kind of the same way with windsurfing, my wife, and many other things in life. I’m sure if I were at another stage of life or context this could be different.

You've trademarked the phrase "Just Be It". What's that about?For several years I had been writing life insights as a morning exercise. One morning, I discovered that most of what I was writing could be condensed down to three words: just be it. At the higher levels of performance we break our dichotomy with nature or our equipment. Simply put, the snowboarder becomes the mountain, the basketball player becomes the ball, Wayne Gretsky is the puck as he sees its placement outside of notions of time and space. Many riders will report this experience of not only stepping outside the body as witness, but entering the full connection of the universe outside notions of separation. I remember when Nike first introduced ‘just do it’. Most people were very confused by it until they had dropped millions of dollars into promoting it. Today there’s still a wide variety of meanings to this phrase, and it’s changed the way we operate. While it’s meant as a launch pad to action, many of us have perverted it to self achievement and accomplishment. So many in our society are now ‘doing themselves to death’. Just Be It aims to incorporate the reality of our ‘being-ness’ with our actions (doing-ness). It steps outside of attempting to gain the approval of others and places us in trust to our heart intelligence. It’s where real passion is found as we surrender to the integrity of the heart rather than the head. As we reaffirm our ‘human being-ness’ over ‘human doing-ness’ we find the freedom to push our performance to the extreme, just past our previous level of ability.
My goal is to someday have a major corporation pushing this concept so that ‘just BE it’ would be as common to our perception of the world as ‘just do it’. It seems like the next natural progression. (I just saw an ad by Mazda stating, ‘Don’t just drive the car, be the car’.)

Any last thoughts?
If I’ve come across like ‘I know’, please do me a favor and edit it out. Perhaps the thing I’ve learned most over the past few months is to be comfortable in ‘I don’t know land’. It seems to always work to make an effort to stay out of another’s way, to see others as myself, to be grateful for whatever comes and to forgive any who’ve crossed my path. Having fun and deeply caring for the body and spirit seem to go hand in hand with good lifetime riding. It’s sometimes rich to listen to music while riding. It seems a worthwhile challenge to make every ride new.

Tighe, thanks for the opportunity to go deeper into our exploration of ‘the ride’.

thank you Randy
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