Special to The Washington Post
By Remar Sutton

The Champion! Fifty-year-old Guillermo Real of Puerto Rico
Dean Dunham of the U.S. Virgin Islands
Surfing legend Nat Young of Australia
Rafael Cruet of Puerto Rico
Vincent De La Place of Guadeloupe

Little Apple Bay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands—Upsets and life-changing surprises hit the Conch world here in Tortola during the last few days. Though I didn't smile when one of my favorite persons failed, I think I did have an inward grin of sorts.

Upsets: The picture tells it all—at least for a Conch. Four competitors stand by Nat Young, 52, an international surfing icon. These competitors are the finalists in the Bic Longboard Shootout organized by Hi-Ho. ("Hi-Ho" stands for "Hook In and Hang On," and refers to the extraordinary windsurfing event hosted here in the BVI each summer by Hi-Ho Watersports. A hundred wind surfers race island-to-island for seven days. Their families and other supporters trail them in dozens of sailboats which become party headquarters at night.)

The Longboard Shoot Out, with Nat Young as a very VIP judge, takes only one day. It took place below my balcony right here in Apple Bay, a setting Van Gogh would have painted if he'd ever visited. Fueled by the remnants of a great northeastern swell, sturdy young surfers from five countries competed for cash prizes and tickets to other longboard events. The competition went on for hours. I couldn't help wondering if the collective age of any five of the participants even equaled my age.

J.C. Pierce, the man in charge of our Conch events in December, also participated. J.C. is affectionately called "the Mayor" of Apple Bay because of his celebrated surfing skills. J.C. is not in this picture, however; plagued by a serious shoulder injury and a week's bout with the flu, he failed to advance beyond the semi-finals.

Because J.C. at 35 is more than half my age, I mourned his defeat until the final standings were announced. Gaze again at that picture: The Bic Longboard Shootout, the first of its kind in the Caribbean, "focusing on finding the best surfers in these conditions," according to Hi-Ho honcho Andy Young, was won by the shortest, baldest, oldest competitor in the picture. Excellent! Let's award Guillermo Real, 50, from Puerto Rico, a Conch salute.

Probably more exhilarating was the life-changing event which literally fell into Lexi Hurst's lap Saturday two weeks ago. As you may know, Lexi is a 22-year-old islander who is training with us for December (you can read his journal on-line at our site). He quite frankly hasn't had many breaks in life. Until one week ago, Lexi was working as a yard man at Frenchman's Key, a great resort here. But on his own Lexi has been learning to cook, part of his plan to become a chef. A week ago Saturday, while working on a friend's computer, Lexi mentioned his desire to be a chef. The man, who respected Lexi's determination in life, said nothing, but quietly called a dean of the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College here in Tortola. Our college is unique in the Caribbean. Besides the normal curriculum, it maintains programs with respected educational institutions around the world—including the New England Culinary Institute. Paul Bocuse himself has hired graduates from the Culinary Institute and speaks highly of the Institute's teaching skills.

Turns out, as Lexi's friend remembered, there was an unexpected opening in the two-year culinary program—starting in two days right here in Tortola. Saturday night, Lexi interviewed with the dean. Sunday the Culinary Institute's staff met to review his application. And Monday morning last, Lexi Hurst became a chef-in-training.

I attended Lexi's opening classes and felt the great energy that program director Joey Abitabilo brought to the group. Then I nearly burst out laughing when Chef Abitabilo reviewed the first item in the Culinary Institute's course description: "Health and wellness." "The food service industry is physically demanding, and can be quite stressful," says the course description, as it outlines the Culinary Institute's schedule for personal fitness goals and a documented Health and Wellness Activity program.

Shoot, every decent Conch knows that the food service industry can be demanding and stressful: It's hard eating as much and as poorly as we do!

That's why we’re asking Lexi Hurst's culinary class both to train with and then to feed the Mighty Conchs who will be in Tortola in December. Now there’s poetic justice!

I think the Hi-Ho event has it right: we have to hook in and hang on, whatever the opportunity, whenever it comes. Like your Conch training commitment.

What to do right now:

  • Head to our cookie- and advertising-free website. Check out Lexi Hurst's journal, and check out the link to Tortola’s local college and culinary program. Food and education, a nice combination!
  • Rumble around in the site. If you can identify exactly where the hanging tire in the palm tree is located, you'll receive a special bonus— an extra-long training schedule.
  • It's not too late (in fact, it's never too late) for you to become a Mighty Conch. Chose a training calendar, and take that fifteen minute walk!