By Cindi Courbat

Photos courtesy of Tinho Dornellas

Tinho Dornellas came to Brevard County with his wife three decades ago to open Calema Windsurfing & Watersports. Their waterfront facility, now located in Kelly Park on Merritt Island, has gained worldwide recognition as a premier windsurfing site.

Combine the delicate balance of riding a surfboard and the exuberant feeling of sailing in the wind — and suddenly you understand why sailboarding (also known as windsurfing or boardsailing) is one of the most popular watersports here on the Space Coast.

“You couldn’t ask for better conditions,” said Tinho Dornellas, an avid water-sportsman who came to Brevard County three decades ago to open his own wind surfing and watersports center.

Tinho said his passion for traditional boat sailing and surfing led him to try wind surfing back in 1978.

“In the 1970s, there was true explosion in wind surfing throughout Europe,” said Tinho. “Back then there was only rudimentary equipment. There was no teaching of steps. We just got on the board and caught the wind and figured it out on our own.”

Tinho says he was hooked from the start. He quickly became an expert at maneuvering his board.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about this sport — while it does require a lot of balance, strength is not that important. It’s mostly a matter of learning technique,” Tinho explained.

In 1978, he taught wind surfing at Club Med in Portugal. The following year, he taught in Brazil and then in Cancun, Mexico where he met his wife, Susie.

Soon after, the newlyweds returned to the United States where Tinho began studying engineering at George Mason University in Virginia. Before long, however, the couple’s passion for wind surfing took precedence and led them to head south in search of the perfect spot to open their own wind surfing school.

“We left Virginia in a van with our boards on the roof and decided we would simply drive until we found the right location,” he said.
They landed on the Space Coast.

“Merritt Island offered flat water, safe conditions with no rough currents, good wind, limited boat traffic and best of all, it was far away from the hustle and bustle of big cities yet strategically located to Orlando,” Tinho said.

They opened their first location in March 1984 on the 520 Causeway on Merritt Island. In 1998, they moved to their current facility inside Kelly Park at 2550 N. Banana River Drive.

In the ‘90s Tinho coached Kathy Chapin, a top female windsurfer. He also coached 10 of the world’s top Jr. League wind surfers from Guatemala and Puerto Rico. In 2010, he was hired by the Olympics in Singapore to be one of their official team trainers.

Alejandro Monlier, age 19, came to Calema in 2008 for the Olympic Team tryouts held during the company’s mid-winter festival. Alejandro, who began windsurfing in his home country of Puerto Rico at age 10, felt he was ready to compete at an international level. He was right. Once he made the team, Tinho took him under his wing and has remained his trainer, mentor and friend.

“Out of 23 countries competing in Singapore, we placed tenth which wasn’t bad considering the poor wind conditions and difficult currents. It was a challenge due to many factors beyond our control,” Tinho said.

Beyond the Olympics, Alejandro has consistently ranked in the top five at International regattas around the globe. Last summer he placed first in a U.S. competition held off the coast of Massachusetts.

“In North America nobody has placed higher than me in the Open Division—I am the guy to beat,” said Alejandro, who is a student at Eckerd College and is actively involved with the college sailing team.

“What makes Tinho such a great coach is his encouragement. For him it is not just about teaching me the technique, it is about preparing me mentally for a competition,” said Alejandro. “Each day he would push me to the limit and tell me to never give up. He taught me how to focus and how to channel my energy so I could convince myself to succeed.”

Now in its 28th year, the Calema Mid-Winter Windsurfing Festival is the largest wind surfing event in the U.S. This year the popular regatta took place in February to coincide with the company’s 50th Anniversary celebration.

“This festival strives to bring together World Cup pros, Olympic class competitors, beginner sailors and all other levels in between. In addition to competition, there will be classes for all skill levels and type of equipment,” said Dornellas.

“My big mission is to teach kids,” Tinho said.

For the past three years, Calema has served as the host for the USA Junior Olympic Windsurfing Festival, a competitive event held each summer for young sailors ages 8-19.

Calema Windsurfing also offers a summer kids’ camp with 100 to 200 students enrolled. The Kids Camp also served as the inspiration to bring wind surfing to a new generation in a remote island off the coast of Venezuela.

While running a free-style championship wind surfing regatta in Bonaire (an Antilles Island off the coast of Venezuela) Tinho said he was able to share his passion for teaching children.

“Before long, some of the adult wind surfers came here to observe our kids’ camp and then returned to their home to start a similar program — they trained some of the best young wind surfers in the world,” Tinho said.

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