These days Geoff Mitchinson looks out on Kempenfelt Bay from his office in the City of Barrie’s Engineering Department.
And Kempenfelt Bay is certainly the body of water that Geoff knows intimately. Every ripple. In fact, the bigger the ripple, the better the ride.
Geoff grew up in Barrie’s east end, son of Jack Mitchinson who was in the engineering group at General Electric. And Geoff’s grandfather, John, is the fellow who brought GE to Barrie, working with builders to transform the town’s fairgrounds into the spectacular, modern General Electric plant that is now Barrie by the Bay.
But, I digress. Except to point out that Geoff’s lifelong experience has centred on the natural amenities that Barrie has to offer. He’s always been an athlete. So has his sister Lori. And that is the Mitchinson family trait. Even today, the senior Mitchinsons are physically active alpine skiers, sports enthusiasts.
Geoff grew up on a set of ‘boards’, the old euphemism for ‘skis’. He raced for Snow Valley as a kid, switching over to Horsehoe when Rob Butler was leading the ski school there. In fact, Geoff has stayed with Rob, now training for Rob’s Northwoods Ski School’s snowboard division.
He played hockey. His sister is an award winning mountain biker. Sports, pushing oneself to the limit, competition, it’s in the family DNA.
Six years ago, Rob tucked away his skis, took up snowboarding and hasn’t looked back. And then, one day, he happened to be kayakking past Minet’s Point when he saw a group of people with a different kind of board– windsurfers. A fairly new sport,certainly for Kempenfelt Bay,Geoff was enamored, enthralled, entranced… he tucked away the kayak, and ventured out on a windsurfer. From that moment, Geoff has been literally launched by the sport.
Now a regular surfer at Minet’s Point, Geoff is the loosely defined head of the Barrie Windsurfing Association, 100 surfers who offer specific training on skills, and equipment and racing techniques. For, that’s what it’s all about… wind, speed, and winning.
Geoff tells me that the race line for a windsurfer is much like the race line for a sailboat… tight at the race line and fanned out during the race. The courses are similar with similar starting sequences, rules etc. Except windsurfers are standing on a boat and usually go a bit faster.
Geoff estimates that on a dedicated speed board, a surfer on Kempenfelt Bay can hit 40 knots, well over 60 kph (20-30 miles an hour for those not into metric). That’s fast for a consistent speed.
Once caught with the racing bug, it didn’t take Geoff long to marshall his competitive nature… weekend races at Toronto’s Cherry Beach, Kingston’s downtown venue which is internationally approved, and Georgian Bay’s Wasage Beach. But then, that not enough, he ventured further… Trois Rivières, Montreal, Quebec City, and finally this summer, Geoff travelled to the northeast end of Prince Edward Island and rode the ferry north for five hours to Îles de Madeleine in the middle of the Gulf of St Lawrence, and well east of Quebec City.
A long trip for unforgettable wind and surf and a regatta with provincial and national interest. Now in its third year of competition, Îles de Madeleine drew competition for five different events, each offering professional and amateur status.
Wave riding (just what it sounds like). Freestyle (dramatic, fast trick movements on hard water). Slalom (high speed, straight race). Long Distance (races that last many hours and are hard on equipment and hard on the body). And Course Racing (a formula board demanding tremendous skill and speed).
That’s Geoff’s specialty and he and his friend Andrew Telford were the “westerners” in the competitive group. While there were competitors with international ranking, Geoff decided to pit himself with the best and doubled up in the professional category with his amateur status.
And guess what? He beat them all. All the pros, and all the amateurs. It was the last week of August and it felt good, really good, to win over people who make their living racing windsurfers.
His prizes? Lots and lots of equipment.
And then came fall and more racing, more speed, more soul-soaring leaps and pushing of body, mind and spirit to do it just a bit better this time than last.
We have a tremendous number of talented A1 people in Barrie, and Geoff Mitchinson, with a history of excellence, is one fine example of the pureness of love of sport.
And so he looked ahead to winter, when his snowboard will give him much of the same undulating movement, the same spin, if not the same speed. And he’ll ply his background in ski racing with young people exercising their own love of sport.
But right now, the bay is still open, mist rising each morning to greet the sun.
And Geoff looks out his window, waiting for freeze-up.
You see, he’s got a little rig, a board and a sail to catch the wind, and skis under the board to whip across the ice, at speeds that likely would scare most of us…
Talk about immersion! I can’t wait to see Geoff out on Kempenfelt Bay this winter, if I can focus well enough to catch him!
What an ambassador for Barrie! Thanks, Geoff.