Film: Windsurfing reigns in tiny Bonaire

Photo courtesy of childrenofthew

“Children of the Wind” is among the films from last month’s International Film Festival returning to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center this weekend. The documentary tells the story of a phenomenal group of windsurfers from the small Caribbean island of Bonaire. It includes commentary by Vineyarder Nevin Sayre, a five-time U.S. windsurfing champion, who will attend the Sunday, Oct. 13, screening and answer questions.

Directed by Daphne Schmon, “Children of the Wind” captures the colorful equipment and balletic moves of windsurfers who rose from poverty and obscurity to international fame. Bonaire is a small island 50 miles north of Venezuela in the Lesser Antilles with a population of 15,000. Colonized by the Dutch, who arrived in 1634, it consists of three cultural groups, its Mr. Sayre helped launch the Bonaire windsurfers’ professional careers by inviting them to come to one of Cape Cod’s first windsurfing competitions. “They basically stole the show,” recalled Mr. Sayre. Following their performance in the Cape Cod event, where they won the top prize of $1,000, they went on their first European tour, competing successfully in Spain, France, Italy, and the Canary Islands.

“Children of the Wind” tracks the Freestyle Windsurfing World Cup, held in Bonaire in 2011. It interweaves into this event a history of windsurfing in Bonaire, the impact the sport has had on the impoverished country’s children, and the Bonaire windsurfers’ distinctive influence on freestyle windsurfing. As one islander says in the film, windsurfing for Bonaire has been “a dream come true, like building a castle in the desert.”

Antilles windsurfing champion Elvis Martinus was the first local to take windsurfing seriously, and he organized Bonaire’s first windsurfing regatta in 1988. A karate teacher, he next began promoting windsurfing among the island’s youngsters, developing a site in Lac Bay where the water was shallow and conditions were safe for children learning the sport.

Although windsurfing in general had suffered a decline in popularity in the 1990s, the development of new equipment for beginners and a growing youth movement on all board sports led to its revival and helped foster its growth in Bonaire. After the young Bonaire windsurfers distinguished themselves with their innovative, freestyle tricks, they were invited to demonstrate their talents at Merritt Island in Florida in 2001. All of them came home with trophies, and a crowd of friends, family and supporters showed up at the airport to cheer for them.

At age 11, Tonky Frans was the first of three Bonaire boys to take up the sport, which achieved Olympic status in 1984. After watching Mr. Martinus, Tonky asked if he could use Mr. Martinus’s equipment. Windsurfing quickly became his passion, and his brother, Tati, and cousin, Kiri Thodes, joined him soon after. Now 30 years old, Mr. Frans is ranked fourth by the Professional Windsurfers Association, and all three are among the world’s top freestyle windsurfers.

Other films that will play this weekend include “Love Is All You Need” and “Haute Cuisine.” “Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy” will also play again. Also returning is “Girl Rising,” which will be introduced by Debbie Phillips, the Director of “Women on Fire.” The Classic Wednesday Night film will be “King Kong.”

“Love Is All You Need,” with “Groomed,” Thursday, Oct. 10, 7:30 pm.

“Girl Rising,” Friday, Oct. 11, 4 pm.

“Haute Cuisine,” Friday, Oct. 11, 7:30 pm, Saturday, Oct. 12, 7:30 pm, and Sunday, Oct. 13, 4 pm.

“Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy,” Saturday, Oct. 12, 4 pm.

“Children of the Wind,” Sunday, Oct. 13, 7:30 pm. All films at Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, Vineyard Haven. $12; $9 M.V. Film Society members; $7 children under 14. For information and tickets, visit