By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
ST. PETERSBURG -- Mark Ward has no problem making important decisions. A man of science, he gathers the facts, weighs all options, then chooses a course of action.
As a young catamaran sailor on the coast of North Carolina, Ward saw some people riding sailboards and knew he needed to make a change.
"I became enthralled immediately," he said. "I think that was mainly because I couldn't do it."
The next day he went home to Raleigh, sold all his sailing gear, then turned around and headed back to the Outerbanks to take windsurfing lessons.
"I just kept at it until I had it down," he said.
When Ward, a biomedical engineer, no longer found his work with artificial hearts challenging, he once again gathered the facts, weighed his options and chose a course of action.
"I was a little older than most medical school students," said Ward, 45. "But I thought why not give it a try."
As a student at Duke Medical School, Ward used windsurfing as a way to relieve stress.
"You don't have a lot of free time on your hands," he said. "But when I did get free, I wanted to just get up and go.
"Windsurfing is great because it totally occupies your mind. You don't have time to dwell on whatever is bothering you."
When it was time to choose a hospital for his residency, Ward went on another fact-finding mission.
"I liked San Diego, but when I went into a couple of windsurfing shops out there, all they did was complain," he said. "It seemed like nobody was having any fun."
Ward kept checking off cities on his list -- Charleston, Savannah, Daytona Beach -- then he got to St. Petersburg.
Time for another fact-finding mission. Ward wasn't sure where to start. He had seen an ad in a windsurfing magazine about a shop that catered to boardsailors.
"So I called up Steve Levine and it was like I had just been forwarded to the Chamber of Commerce," he said. "He had nothing but good things to say."
Levine, of Watersports West on Walsingham Road in Largo, lives to windsurf. Ward knew that he had found more than a kindred spirit; he had found a home.
"It doesn't matter which way the wind is blowing," Ward recalled Levine as saying. "There is always someplace to windsurf in Pinellas County."
If it's blowing from the east, check out North Shore Park or Tierra Verde. If it's coming from the west, try Pass-a-Grille. If it's howling out of the north, Fort De Soto is the spot, especially if you want to jump some waves. If flat water is your thing, then try the Dunedin or Belleair causeways.
"It seemed like no matter what was happening, there would always be a place to sail," Ward said. "It seemed like this would be the place for me."
So Ward bought an old trawler, a 35-foot Tai Ch'ao, and docked the diesel-powered craft at a downtown marina.
"I live on the boat," he said. "I can walk to work if I want to."
He also got a van and rigged it so he could carry a half-dozen windsurfers at any time.
"You have to be prepared," he said. "You never know what kind of board you will need."
Now he spends his work days tending to patients at the Bayfront Family Practice and his days off praying for wind.
Seems like the perfect life for a windsurfer.
"To be honest, I have one complaint," he said. "It is a little too hot for a little too long here during the summer."
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