Smooth Sailing

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Olympic windsurfer Dorian van Rijsselberghe lives in Laguna Beach, but trains around the world in hopes of competing in his third Summer Games in 2020.

By Sharon Stello


Ever since he was a little boy, Dorian van Rijsselberghe has been windsurfing. It was, perhaps, a natural progression for someone growing up on Texel, an island in the Netherlands, surrounded by water and with a family that loved the sport—his older brother also competed internationally. But it was a combination of van Rijsselberghe’s talent and perseverance that took him all the way to the Olympics—twice—winning gold in London in 2012 and again in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Now, van Rijsselberghe has his sights set on the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. He will learn in February whether he’s headed to his third Olympics; each country is allowed only one competitor in windsurfing. Interestingly, his friend and training partner is also his biggest rival for that position.

Although van Rijsselberghe represents the Netherlands, he has lived in Laguna Beach since 2012 with his wife, Sasha Plavsic, the founder of natural makeup company Ilia; they have two young daughters, 4-year-old Lise and 4-month-old Rhea. Van Rijsselberghe travels around the world to practice and compete—New Zealand in the winter and Europe in the summer—but Laguna provides a perfect mix of good weather, ocean and hills for his cross-training regiment plus a small town vibe reminiscent of his hometown.

“I think I’m very fortunate to live here and I really like it,” he says. “There’s a great attitude in this town for everybody. It’s kind of the same as my little island back home because everybody knows each other and you run into the same faces.”

Here, in between his whirlwind schedule of traveling abroad for training, van Rijsselberghe sat down to share some of his history in windsurfing and advice for those looking to try the sport.


What do you enjoy about windsurfing?

I love the freedom. I think it’s a kind of similar feeling with a lot of people here when they go surfing. When I go windsurfing on the water, you know, there are no boundaries—only the beach. … The whole world’s connected with oceans. So, you can kind of go anywhere you want. Obviously, you have your own limitations. It’s just a very free feeling out there.

Where do you train around here?

Sometimes I train in Long Beach because there is very nice thermal breeze. If the guys are coming over from Europe and New Zealand, that’s mostly the time when we go. Before Rio, we trained there pretty much every year leading up to that in 2016. Occasionally, I go by myself in Newport Harbor. It’s super fun because it’s inside the harbor, it’s flat water and you need to do lots of tacks and jibes, so it’s good to keep yourself occupied. But now and then I get pulled over for speeding. … Here I am, a double Olympic gold medalist and I get pulled over for speeding. … It’s kind of funny. … I’ve sailed out of Dana Point as well.

When you’re not windsurfing, what other workouts do you do?

I love to go surfing, road biking, obviously mountain biking’s really good over here. And a little bit of gym work. I try to stay out of the gym as much as I can. You know, we live in California with beautiful weather and there’s a lot of activities that you can do instead, so the gym is kind of the last resort. … For example, on Monday, I will do a 2.5-hour road bike ride to Camp Pendleton and back. … On Friday, I’m supposed to do a mountain bike ride—like a two-hour ride. … We live up Temple Hill and just cruise up the road and drop down the other side. It’s perfect.

What was it like to be on the Olympic podium and receive a gold medal?

It was really satisfying because this was a goal I had set out to achieve. When I was 13 years old, I told my dad in the living room at the house, I said, “Dad, I want to go to the Olympics and I want to be a gold medalist.” And instead of laughing at me, he said, “OK, that’s a good goal. Let’s write it down and let’s start to make a plan.” … Actually, achieving the goal was almost inner peace. … It was like, “Yes, finally, I got it.” … I felt very fortunate and very thankful.

If someone around here wanted to start windsurfing, do you have any tips?

I think you can learn in Dana Point inside the harbor. … You don’t need a lot of wind. You don’t need to go very far. Those kind of spots are perfect for it. I always say, just start off with a buddy because together it’s a lot more fun than doing it by yourself. Just make sure you’re safe and have a good time.

What kind of workout do you get from windsurfing?

When it’s a light breeze, we have to propel ourselves by moving the sail, which is kind of a rowing movement with your arms. Our race takes 20 to 30 minutes and we have our heart rates at 90 percent, if not 100 [at some points]. … So we have the fitness part of it—we’re good endurance athletes. But then, on top of that, you have to play a chess game of the tactical aspect of things.

What are the challenges of this sport?

You have to power yourself through elements. … You get put in this environment with always changing conditions. … If you’re a 100-meter sprinter, you might have some headwinds, you might have some tailwinds, but that’s about it. The track’s always 100 meters. … That never changes. And with windsurfing, … you have to deal with a lot of variables, which makes it a lot of fun, but it can also be frustrating if you’re not at the right side of it.


Seaworthy Supplies

Feel the wind in your face while staying comfortable with these clothing items and accessories.

In addition to a windsurfing board, this basic gear will help protect you from the elements so you can focus on tacking, jibing and enjoying the scenery.

Protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays with Babo Botanicals’ SUPER SHIELD SPORT STICK SUNSCREEN with SPF 50, an ultrasheer, moisturizing formula that is hypoallergenic, reef safe and both water- and sweat-resistant for 80 minutes, $16, at The Roots Beauty Underground. (949-424-4266; avoid getting too cold while skimming across the water, don this lightweight, 2-millimeter-thick SYNCRO SHORT SLEEVE BACK ZIP FLT SPRINGSUIT from Quiksilver, $99.95, at Hobie Surf Shop. (949-497-3304; warm weather days, swap the wetsuit for this pair of 16-inch-long, quick-dry Thalia Surf Aussie Men’s Boardshorts in a retro, mustard yellow hue, $54.94, at Thalia Surf Shop. (949-497-3292;

Hat, DaKine lock-down trucker hat? (emailed LBSC | Surf Club and DaKine and West Marine NB and Dana Point)

Salt brand Francisco or Audrey polarized sunglasses at Sunglass Gallery. (949-494-5452;

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