Back in 2004, Graham Ezzy missed qualifying for the Windsurfing World Cup in Maui by one spot. The average age of the field was about 28. Ezzy had just turned 14. He went to school the next day playing back the performance in his head. The gut punch vanished when Ezzy's father picked him up after the last bell. He told his son that one of the Europeans had dropped out of the event, and a free spot had opened up. He was pitted against the sailor ranked second in the world, and he won. Defeating the elites as a high school freshman, Ezzy had began to etch his name into the sport of windsurfing.
Growing up in Maui, Ezzy watched the World Cup long before he competed. As a younger kid, he marveled at the big jumps like the stalled forward loop, a high flying trick where the surfer jumps forty feet into the air and whips a 360 degree rotation just before hitting the water. "I was really impressed with the height," he says. Ezzy surfed and boogie boarded before trying windsurfing at a summer program at age nine. Not until two years later did he ramp up his training. Ezzy dove competitively in high school, but windsurfing took the reins. "Every day after school, I would train at Ho'okipa Beach until it was dark." he says.
David Ezzy, Graham's father, holds a prestigious spot in the sport. In 1983, David launched a custom sail business out of an old shed. Now, he runs a state of the art 20,000 square foot factory out of Sri Lanka dedicated to producing high quality sails in an epic work environment. Despite his legacy, David never pushed his son to windsurf, gave him gear, or spoke to a sponsor on his behalf. "Only once I was into it, did he coach and encourage me," says Ezzy. Building on natural talent, Ezzy embraced the higher speeds of a windsurfing board, as opposed to a traditional surf board. "I generate my own speed, and don't need to be towed into a large wave," he says. "Wind surfing comes alive in the big waves." Once the board lifts off water, Ezzy takes control with the sail. "Jumping and big waves are the two best parts of our sport," he says.
Photo: Andi Jensen
The Mecca of windsurfing, Maui allows for plenty of big waves and gaping heights. The sport spawned in California, moved to Oahu, then matured in Maui. With most of the major competitions in Europe, Ezzy surfs as the only Hawaiian (and American) on tour. "A lot of guys don't see the point in competing because the conditions are so different than Hawaii," he says. "The tour isn't a perfect representation of wavesailing." In Hawaii, the waves climb higher, crash more powerfully, and the wind blows from the opposite direction of Europe. A surfer's orientation changes with the wind. "It's always at your back," says Ezzy. Because of rivaling wind patterns, a Hawaiin windsurfer must relearn every skill with the opposite foot forward to compete in Europe. "Imagine throwing a baseball with your right arm your whole life, then someone ties it behind your back and tells you to go pitch," he says. "It's like that."
"A lot of guys don't see the point in competing because the conditions are so different than Hawaii. The tour isn't a perfect representation of wavesailing" - Graham Ezzy
Learning to surf from both sides, Ezzy competed in half the world tour at fifteen. He clawed for top five finishes, but consistently placed outside the top ten. As the youngest surfer on tour, he felt out of place. Ezzy couldn't win against adults, and was barred from junior competitions because of his world tour status. Refusing to fold, he trained summers in the Canary Islands before enrolling at Princeton University. "A lot of people expected me to compete full time instead of go to school," says Ezzy. He only applied to top universities, and would focus on windsurfing if he received no acceptances. Upon earning a spot at Princeton, he transplanted his Hawaiian surfing style to the East Coast. Ezzy flew back to Hawaii five times per year to windsurf over breaks. At school, he followed the low pressure systems to Outer Banks, Cape Hatteras, and Long Island.
For competitions, Ezzy easily burned through the maximum allowed absences each semester. He juggled touring, an English major, and rowing. He practiced with the lightweight rowing team for two hours every day, before stopping after sophomore year to focus on windsurfing. Had NCAA rules not conflicted with his professional windsurfing status, Ezzy would have tried to walk on to the rowing team. "It was a balance of extremes," he says. "I would take a long weekend to focus on windsurfing, then take the same amount of time for school work." Rarely did the two collide. "Once, I had to write my final papers while at a competition in Japan," he says. "If I had to go one day longer past graduation, everything would have collapsed."
"It's not like I can't express my ability, but it's frustrating feeling like I can't have a clear link between ability and ranking. After all, wind and waves are chaos made physical.” - Graham Ezzy
Out of school for the past few years, Ezzy windsurfs full time. Things have changed since his first trip to Europe 12 years ago. He has won events around the world, but not yet a world cup. The tour schedule means his time is divided half-half between Europe and Hawaii. He now sits on the Management Board of the World Tour, making decisions to guide the future of the sport. “I like how I'm living. I love my life,” he says, "but I'd like to do better competitively. I'd like to win world cups." In windsurfing, luck swings a heavy hand. The ocean gives and takes wind and waves randomly. Uncontrollable forces, the waves reward some rides and dismantle others. "Sometimes when I'm not prepared I've done well, and when I'm very prepared the luck hasn't gone my way," admits Ezzy. "It's not like I can't express my ability, but it's frustrating feeling like I can't have a clear link between ability and ranking. After all, wind and waves are chaos made physical.” Struggling to find satisfaction after certain heats, he turns to freesurfing. Taking on waves outside of competition creates a balance in the sport born from recreation. "Windsurfing definitely lends itself to a meditative, in-the-zone state," he says. "At the end of the day, all we do is move around in circles, then come in to the beach."
From June 26th through the July 9th, 10% of your purchase of any product in our shop will go towards supporting Graham Ezzy. For action sport disciplines like windsurfing, funding doesn't always come easy, and elite athletes often times have to incur large personal costs to compete at a high level. The Frynge is proud to provide a platform that allows readers and customers like yourself, to have a direct impact in supporting athletes like Graham. So be sure to check back each week for new stories, gear and apparel!