The Olympic sailing qualifier in the Netherlands last May was a watershed moment for Nimrod Mashiah. His rival, Shahar Zubari, nabbed the ticket to London at the last moment, and the windsurfer’s Olympic dream was left shattered.
“I picked myself up and went far away from Israel and everyone who knows me,” says Mashiah. “I flew away to do what I love most − surfing the waves in the most amazing places in the world. There, I had time to digest a lot of the things I couldn’t swallow with all the pressure and madness on me. I gained a ton of insight about myself, what’s right for me and who I truly am. I realized how far I was from myself during the Olympic trials.”
Mashiah took some time off as officials were discussing the possible removal of the Neil Pryde RS:X class at the Olympics − a move that would have made his specialty irrelevant on a competitive level. “We athletes have a sickness,” Mashiah says. “We want to know all the time what will be in the future, and I hate it. It ruins a lot of moments for me. It makes me disconnected from the moment. Instead, I have to have everything planned out and think how to act, consciously or not, for what’s next.”
However, the pre-Olympic exit gave Mashiah a serendipitous opportunity. “Instead of fretting about what would be, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, nice, now I can be really free, without thinking about anything, because I have nothing to think about and I have no idea what will be,” he recalls. “I arrived in the Philippines and it was just me, nature, the waves and the coconuts. For a whole month, I showered solely with rainwater. I got up every morning to look at the sea, and I felt really good.”
Even as he enjoyed his vacation and soul-searching, Mashiah was keenly aware of the date that would decide the fate of his class at the Olympics. The International Sailing Federation had voted in May to replace windsurfing with kiteboarding, but then met in early November to consider reinstating windsurfing and the RS:X class over kiteboarding.
When the decision was made, on the other side of the planet Mashiah was left without an answer − the faulty electricity kept his iPhone from working, and the island’s Internet stopped working at the worst possible moment for him. “I was completely cut off from the world,” he recounts. “I really felt I wanted to know what was happening.”
Internet access on the Philippines was restored the next day and the information flowed to Mashiah at an insane pace: “I suddenly saw the headlines that the Olympics were keeping the class, and there were messages on Facebook from my friends and family − ‘Let’s go, come back!’
“I felt I would finish the vacation and take something special back to Israel, which I would bring to the surfboard in money time. When I heard the decision, I realized how much I really wanted to go back, and this time from my own place − a new place, with a feeling of my truth, my fun and my love. I wanted to succeed while enjoying myself, not through power struggles. That’s why I came back. The quiet I found there, on the waves and in nature, made me come back to windsurfing from a completely different place.”
Mashiah returned to Mikhmoret beach and started preparing for his return to competition. His relationship with Gal Fridman was on the rocks at the end of the previous campaign, so Mashiah hired Tom Korzits (the brother of fellow windsurfer Lee), to be his new coach. “He knows me since I first got on a board,” Mashiah says of the change. “It was very easy for me to decide that I wanted him by my side. He puts his heart into things, and he has time to be with me in every regard. I don’t need to explain anything to him. He just knows me, and everything flows between us.”
Mashiah returned to windsurfing after a six-month break. “It was special,” he recalls. “On the one hand, I felt as if I had only just stepped off the board the day before. On the other hand, I really felt a different kind of desire, a different voice talking to me, and it was fascinating,” he says.
“When I was young, sports were my whole life. This time I knew that, first of all, before sport I have a life. I felt that my mind was fresh and my body in the right spot. Surfing on the waves during the interim kept me sharp, and I got back on the Neil Pryde and felt almost ready. During the previous campaign, every day I looked ahead only to London and I lived solely for the future. Today, I live only for the moment.”
And so, after loitering in the Maldives, Indonesia and the Philippines, Mashiah will be on the beaches of Brazil this weekend for the opening of the World Championships, where he stood on the podium three years running between 2009 and 2011.
“I am charged with fun and expectation, not pressure, which exhausts me and makes me waste a lot of energy,” says Mashiah ahead of his comeback. “I am not the same surfer or athlete that I used to be. Even my surfing style changed, because I was looking for new things.”
Mashiah says he still feels he can compete for a medal. “I have come to enjoy myself, and to me the meaning of enjoying is to get as close as possible to the experience of winning,” he says. “In the past I was close to winning the world championship but it didn’t happen. I love surfing, am prepared physically and mentally, and all that’s left is for me to put into action what I know, and go as far as possible.”