Sam Bittner is the American Windsurfing Tour director, a strong lady in a men dominated windsurfing world. She has started organizing the American Wave sailing Tour (AWT) in 2011 with 4 events, continued with 6 events in 2012 and kept going with 6 events in 2013 and added a few extra events not in waves. The 29 year old lady from Enumclaw, Washington, who is an active competition sailor herself and finished the tour twice on the podium in the overall ranking, made the impossible possible. She got the PWA tour back to the beach of Ho’okipa together with all her AWT network, her media team and AWT tour crew, all the AWT sponsors, JP-Australia and Rich Page, the PWA tour manager. In the end the event was a big success with results in all classes. We had a chat with one of the most influential persons in the organisation of windsurfing wave sailing events.
“I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have the job I do. It is challenging for sure, but the reward of reaching so many people in a positive way is remarkable. I wouldn’t change that for the world!” Sam Bittner
Continentseven: How is it going? Are you tired after a long season of great events?
Sam Bittner: Thank you Chris! I did take a much-needed break from everything once the Aloha Classic had finished up but I am ready to go with plans for next year now! 2013 was such a huge year for me. I kicked the year off by going to Hatteras on the east coast for the Makani Windfest then headed straight to Europe for a month to participate in the Defi Wind, BWA Whales and BWA Ireland. Those were all spectacular events and I learned so much from being a competitor rather than organizer and meeting so many amazing organizers, who inspired me to improve the AWT. The AWT this year consisted of 6-wave sailing, one freestyle event, and 3 festivals. It was a slamming year! Pretty sure I slept for 3 days straight when it was all over.
Continentseven: Which AWT tour stop do you like most?
Sam Bittner: I really can’t answer that. It’s like asking me what kid I like most. Haha. They are all special in their own ways. Honestly they are all amazing events or I wouldn’t organize them.
Continentseven: Are you satisfied how everything went during the season and with the final event on Maui?
Sam Bittner: The 2013 Aloha Classic was a very unique event for me. It was the 20th event I have organized and the first time doing a PWA event. It was stellar having the 11 riders from PWA ,who came. It has always been my mission to provide an opportunity for every wave sailor to showcase their skills and having the PWA stamp of approval allowed more riders to participate, which was very special. I am proud of the way the tour has grown over the years and I am stoked to keep it going for 2014!
Continentseven: Are you happy about the feedback in the media or did you expect more hype about the Aloha Classic?
Sam Bittner: I thought the media was great! We were in the local Maui newspaper nearly every day and the live cast got thousands of people world wide watching. My inbox was flooded with people commenting on the contest from all over the world. We had amazing conditions and I think everyone, who was not there, had an easy way to watch the event with the live cast and follow up online articles and videos.
Continentseven: For some people the event was a bit confusing, as there were so many categories and several riders were competing in so many different categories.
Sam Bittner: We already are taking up so much time at Ho’okipa, I just don’t think we could take any more time away from having the normal open beach there. It’s so tricky to organize a windsurfing event. You put dates on the calendar and hope there are both wind and waves. The way we had lined up the contest worked well because we were able to run the pro heats in the best conditions in the start of the event and still have some great conditions for the remaining divisions towards the end and intermixed with the pro heats. The way I thought of the combination was that normally there are 5 divisions for the AWT events: women, pro, amateur, youth, and masters. For the Aloha Classic, we just added a 6th division with PWA. Only difference was we had to finish AWT pro before moving on to the PWA bracket. But I understand your confusion. We had so much going on in such a compact time. Riders are allowed to compete in a skill division (amateur or pro) and also an age division (youth or masters). There were loads of people, who qualified for 2 divisions and took advantage of it, which is a good thing: providing even more opportunity for the guys to have Ho’okipa with just a few friends is special.
Continentseven: But the livestream commentating was really great, very entertaining!
Sam Bittner: Glad you liked the commentating! Kai Katchadorian is a legend! He is so naturally talented at entertaining behind the microphone. I am lucky to have him on the team.
Continentseven: Is there a chance to see an Aloha Classic in 2014 again in combination with the PWA?
Sam Bittner: Yes, Rich Page and I worked with the County of Maui back earlier this year to confirm at least 2 years of the long window at Hookipa for the Aloha Classic. I will for sure have the AWT portion of the event October 29th– November 11th and I hope the PWA joins in on the fun again.
Continentseven: Will you run any other events together with the PWA?
Sam Bittner: As of now there are not plans to, but I would love to get approval from the PWA for their riders to participate in other AWT events.
Continentseven: How was the AWT – PWA collaboration?
Sam Bittner: I had met most of the PWA riders before on Maui. There were only a few new faces for me. At the last moment the PWA did bring in 2 of their judges, who were awesome! I had already hired Duncan Coombs earlier in the year after meeting him in the BWA events. Duncan is a hero and the best in the business!
Continentseven: What’s your personal feeling? Will a few AWT riders start to compete on the PWA tour in 2014 and will a few more PWA riders participate in AWT events, too?
Sam Bittner: Including the PWA in the AWT event this year opened doors for several AWT riders, who might not have otherwise had an opportunity to sail against regular PWA riders. I think this may inspire them to make the trek to Europe for a PWA event next year. I really hope the PWA riders will be able to participate in the AWT events next year. Everyone is welcome!
Continentseven: Everybody says that AWT events feel more like a family get-together than a serious competition. What makes the AWT events different and was there the same feeling during the AWT-PWA event, too?
Sam Bittner: It is true that the AWT is more family feeling. That was my intention when starting the tour: to get people who had the same love for windsurfing together at the same beach at the same time and hang out and sail together. The competition part for me came second. Over the years the AWT has evolved more and become a bit more competitive, but everyone is still participating out of love for the sport. Most staff are competitors as well. We are all pitching in like a family to run the tour. Having the PWA involved with the Maui event definitely brought more seriousness to the contest, but that is only natural when so much prize money is on the table.
Continentseven: Was it a surprise for you that the locals were dominating the event? Levi, Bernd and Morgan are real locals and Kauli spent years of his windsurfing life on Maui?
Sam Bittner: I was really happy that the AWT riders were so prevalent in the finals of the PWA bracket. I think it really shows the world what level the AWT is working with. I love those guys! They certainly have an advantage over the PWA regulars after competing on a 6-stop wave sailing tour over the past few years.
Continentseven: You compete in the AWT ladies category on tour and you always were pushing a lot to have a ladies category. The PWA has a ladies ranking with European events. There are so many good sailors in Europe, who would love to compete at Ho’okipa. What was the reason there was no ladies PWA final this year. The lack of sponsors, no interest of JP-Australia to support prizemoney for a ladies PWA event, any other reasons?
Sam Bittner: I was so disappointed to learn the PWA ladies had voted and agreed together that they did not want to come to the Aloha Classic. It really would have been nice to have them at the event! I know Ingrid Larouche who is top ranked on the AWT was really excited to sail with the girls from Europe. I am not sure on the reasons why the PWA girls voted not to come, but I really hope they choose to come next time. They are always welcome on the AWT!
Continentseven: Is it stressy competing and taking care on the organizing?
Sam Bittner: Of course it is difficult to balance competing and organizing. I set a goal this year to participate in every heat and made that goal. Next year I have set a goal to train more and push myself more for my personal windsurfing and in contest. The past few years I have been really focusing on the contests more than my personal windsurfing. I think it is important to participate and set a good example for the girls who may be on the fence about competing. For me competing is fun. The more the merrier. I do my best in heats, when I am smiling.
Continentseven: The tour plan for 2014 is set? Will you add any new events?
We have our calendar for next year and the tour will start in June:
Santa Cruz: June 5-8
Pistol River: June 12-15
Peru: August 3-9
Baja: August 16-23
Hatteras: September 15-20
Maui: October 29-November 11
There are some more events that I would like to do. I was really inspired with the Defi Wind in France having 800 windsurfers on the same start line. I am researching now and would love to add a Defi Wind type of event to the calendar. There are also a few more ideas I am looking into right now including an event in the Dominican Republic.
Continentseven: Do you plan to have livestream at a few other 2014 events, too?
Sam Bittner: Live stream is tricky but technology is always improving. If I had it my way there would be live cast at all the events, but its simply not possible yet. I know the Goya team is pushing hard to have live cast at the Santa Cruz event so look forward to that in our kick off event for 2014!
Thank you Continentseven for covering and supporting the AWT!
Yeah! Great interview. Good luck for 2014. And she is hot by the way.
Proud to be part of the AWT family, 2014 will be the best yet!
Thx for the nice interview.
Maybe she could be a good PWA Tourmanager as well…