Knot your typical sailor

Chelsea Bruzga is off to the races, and taking the world by storm — or more accurately, conquering the wind that comes with the world’s storms.

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Chelsea Bruzga says she got hooked on the sport of speed sailing after volunteering for a competition. –Gabrielle Mannino

When Chelsea Bruzga volunteered for the North American Speed Sailing Invitational (NASSI), never having participated in the sport before, she probably couldn’t have imagined where she is today — training hard for a trip halfway around the world to compete in the Prince of Speed competition, hosted in France between June 3 and July 1.

Bruzga grew up an athlete. An avid kite surfer or “kiter,” when given the opportunity, at the urging of several friends she took off two weeks of work in the fall of 2017 to assist with NASSI.

“Running social media, caddying, pumping up kites, setting markers — I did whatever they needed,” said Bruzga. “I didn’t know anything before that, but there was nothing better than spending the time with the athletes and the race committee to figure out the sport. I got to meet so many people who said, ‘You should do this next year.’”

Kite surfing and speed sailing may appear to be the same, but Bruzga explained that the technique, equipment, and purpose make each unique. Speed sailors hug the shoreline and compete in short-distance races, looking to have the top average speed.

When NASSI rolled around again in 2018, Bruzga didn’t hesitate to compete. The only thing holding her back was a lack of raceworthy equipment; she owns one race kite that she got used, and at the time, had only one board that she could race on. When it came time to compete in NASSI 2018, Bruzga scraped together racing gear by borrowing from a family member and friends, who were more than willing to step up and support her.

“I had more support than anyone else out there,” said Bruzga, “and I feel confident saying that. I’ve never seen such a community effort in an individual sport.”

Bruzga opened herself up to input, seeking out coaching opportunities and pointers from seasoned sailors. The tips and tricks that she picked up on, and her athletic skills, proved beyond helpful — she ended the invitational as the fastest female speed sailor in North America, and on her first go at it.

The holding period for NASSI, or the period in which speed sailors are ready to race, is two weeks long, and Bruzga said they sailed 12 of the 14 days, making the grueling competition exhausting. The wind needed to be at approximately 16 knots for racing (that’s about 18.5 mph, for those of us not well versed in watersports). Some days, the gusts were well above 50 knots, or about 60 mph, meaning many of the participants were whizzing through the water at a pace well over any Island speed limit. Bruzga’s victory stoked the flames, fueling her desire to keep competing in the sport.

Bruzga was slated to attend the World Championships in Oman this July, which were unfortunately canceled. Instead, she will now wait for a call from the Prince of Speed competition to take the journey to France. This time, the holding period is nearly a month, spanning from June 3 to July 1, and once race officials determine that the forecast is strong enough, Bruzga and fellow sailors will receive a call to hop on a plane and head to the competition for two days of sailing. With a 40-knot minimum, as opposed to the 16-knot minimum here, race officials will have their work cut out for them in properly deciding when to host the competition, and Bruzga will have her work cut out getting that plane ticket.

For Bruzga, the thrill is not only in the athleticism, but also in the chance and spontaneity of it all. For someone who never imagined even jumping in, Bruzga has now committed, diving headfirst into the sport: “What can I say? I’m hooked.”