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Monday, December 26, 2011

The Sea is a Magnet for Israel’s Windsurfing Champ

Israel’s Olympic windsurfing hopeful Lee Korzits readily admits to being a hyperactive thrill-seeker. Only on the water is she truly able to focus. “I can’t concentrate anywhere else, so it’s like a meditation place for me,” she says. “I learn to be quiet - really quiet. I listen to the sea, and the sound of the waves is like a mantra.”

The 27-year-old Israeli became the youngest windsurfing world champion in 2003. In September, she earned the silver medal at the RS:X European Windsurfing Championships in Bulgaria and on December 11 Korzits captured the gold medal at the Women’s RS:X World Championship in Australia, in the second of four qualifying rounds for next summer’s London Olympics.

“Windsurfing for me is everything,” says Korzits. The challenging sport combines elements of sailing and surfing with gymnastic jumps, loops and spins.

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The daughter of a swimmer and a lifeguard, she was raised in the beach town of Michmoret, between Tel Aviv and Haifa, along with sister Bar and brother Tom. Her siblings also are windsurfers of note, and Tom was her first coach. Nearly every child in Michmoret learns to windsurf, says Korzits, who still lives near her childhood home. “I grew up in a place where everybody went to the [Emek Hefer Sailing] club together as kids, and the good ones stayed. A lot of good athletes come from this village of mine.”

An Israeli Olympic sport

Korzits follows in the footsteps of Gal Fridman, an Israeli windsurfer who won a bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and captured the gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

There was one point in her career when it seemed like she’d had enough. In 2006, following a board-surfing injury, Korzits had a well-publicized run-in with the national team consultant and quit competing for a couple of years. But she came back with a deeper love for her sport. Korzits took on a new coach last year - a childhood friend who knows her well - and she’s in the water three hours a day. She does lung-strengthening activities such as biking and swimming for another six hours, taking just one day per week to cut back a bit.

“It’s all about getting to the Olympics,” she says. “That’s the dream and we work very hard for it from the time we are young.”

She doesn’t consider her training regimen a burden, even though her schedule leaves little time for a social life. “I cannot rest if there are good waves,” she says. “I want to be in the water.”


Korzits may specialize in windsurfing but she also enjoys sunboarding and other extreme water sports. “I look for the danger. I like risks,” she admits.

In her many travels around the world - six different countries this year alone - she sometimes faces risks of a different sort, as a living symbol of Israel. “You kind of get used to it, from traveling the world,” says Korzits.

“I try to stay in a bubble. But I feel proud that I was born here and I live here. I know I’m Jewish and I love representing Israel. When you hear the national anthem that’s playing just because of you, it’s a feeling you cannot imagine.”

She says that during the qualifiers in Bulgaria, one of the best aspects of finishing in second place was seeing the Israeli flag posted on the results board. When the athletes came ashore in Australia, Korzits draped her flag around her shoulders and said she was ecstatic to win gold for her country.

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Korzits writes songs, and has broad interests despite never finishing high school (she took equivalency exams for her diploma). “I’m not a person who likes studying, but I like to know stuff.”

After her competitive days are over, she plans to stay close to shore. “I would like to teach windsurfing, to show kids what the sport can give them. In the sea, they have to handle something stronger than themselves. I want to give the power I got from nature to other people.”