Big wave surfer Ian Walsh and snowboarder Elena Hight anticipate the ride of their lives when they sail with the crew of 11th Hour Racing in the Newport Bermuda Race.
The 635-nautical-mile jaunt this weekend will be more than just a celebrity ride-along for Walsh and Hight .
They will be helping skipper Charlie Enright, crew Justine Mettraux and onboard reporter Amory Ross sail the foiling 60-foot Mālama. The race will give 11th Hour Racing another chance to test its new boat in preparation for the 2022-23 Ocean Race that starts this fall.
Hight, who competed in two Olympics, and Walsh, who travels the globe looking for big waves to ride, had a few days of training in Newport, Rhode Island, including an overnight sail.
“We’re on a foiling carbon missile and my expectations from this trip are to just to enjoy it, just soak everything in,” Walsh said from Newport. “Everything’s going to go fast and it’s going to be a lot to understand and try to learn in a short amount of time. I’m just looking forward to getting up on that foil and moving in the wind.”
Walsh and Hight will be on a watch system that overlaps with Enright and Mettraux.
“I’m ready to do whatever these guys need me to do to keep this boat going fast,” Walsh said. “Another expectation is mentally coming to grips with that I’m probably not going to sleep for two to three days.”
Walsh once joined Ross and some others to sail a catamaran from Tahiti to Hawaii. He also did a training camp with Oracle Team USA and fellow Red Bull athlete Jimmy Spithill aboard their 50-foot foiling catamaran before the 2017 America’s Cup in Bermuda.
He said he does “a ton” of foil surfing and is fascinated by the mechanics of foiling, although he admits sailing on foils “is a much different beast.
“The feeling out there is incredible,” said Walsh, who grew up in Newport before his family moved to Hawaii. “It’s crazy how powerful this boat is. When they bear off and they start picking up speed, it takes off like a Formula One car or an airplane. The acceleration this boat has and how much power these sails can maintain and create is incredible.”
Hight is retired from the halfpipe but competes on the Natural Selection Tour and does other big mountain snowboarding.
Hight spoke on a Green Sports Alliance panel in 2019 with 11th Hour Racing CEO Mark Towill and stayed in touch. She said she is impressed with 11th Hour’s focus on using sailing to call attention to ocean health and climate change, which is similar to her work with Protect Our Winters.
“There’s nothing like jumping headfirst into a sport you’ve never done on the highest tech equipment,” she said. “This boat, the IMOCA, is a really high-tech boat, super exciting, and for this race, I’m most excited about going really fast. I know it will be bumpy but I think it’s going to be really cool to see the boat in action and be a part of it.”
Walsh said he’s attracted to 11th Hour’s climate change messaging as well. “The overarching thing is we all have a very deep appreciation for the ocean. It’s important to convey the message of how to take care of it and hopefully leave it in a better place for the next generation,” said Walsh, who has a 16-foot Hobie Cat back home in Maui.
Enright said 11th Hour Racing wants to show Hight and Walsh a good time, while having them earn their keep.
They’ll do “anything they can,” Enright said. “They’re super keen. I see a lot grinding in their future, But even just the two days they’ve been sailing they’ve gotten involved everywhere. It’s a slow process. You can’t learn everything overnight. But they’re picking it up.”
Enright expects Mālama to complete the race in 35 to 40 hours while hitting speeds of 30 knots.
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson