13-year-old rides a wave of success

Published May 2, 2007

Competing in his first windsurfing contest, Tyler Heston of St. Petersburg recently placed first in the juniors division at the 2007 Florida Wave Challenge in Cocoa Beach.

Tyler made it to the semifinal round and was able to surf with the professionals who served as judges in the wave-riding and jumping aspects of the windsurfing competition.

Tyler, 13, has been windsurfing for nearly 10 years with his father, Ty.

His age and ability have gained the attention of sponsors and fellow windsurfers. He is currently sponsored by Sailworks International and Chinook Sailing Products, two windsurfing supply companies based in Oregon. He has appeared on the cover of one magazine devoted to the sport and in ads in several others.

With a trip to Maui on the horizon next month to practice in the big waves and big wind, and the possibility of going pro, Tyler might be tempted to let it all go to his head. But he has other things on his mind.

"You can make a living at it, but really his strong point is academics, " Ty Heston said.

Tyler, who attends Northside Christian, is in eighth grade, after having skipped seventh. He's taking geometry at high school level as well as Spanish.

Language seems to be his strong point.

"I think God's really gifted me with languages. I've learned biblical Greek, and I'm teaching myself biblical Hebrew, " Tyler said.

He learned Greek in order to read the New Testament in its original form.

The drive to achieve has helped him get noticed in the windsurfing community. Dan Van Hoose of Chinook Sailing Products said the company is always looking for young people active in the sport to promote it. Tyler's age and ability made him the perfect candidate.

"Getting started at that age, he's got the chance to be a world-class champ at the sport, " Van Hoose said.

Britt Viehman owns North Beach Windsurfing, a rental and instruction company. He has sailed with and instructed Tyler.

"He's progressed a lot over the past couple of years, " Viehman said. "He's very enthusiastic. He's always sailing, asking what can I do to improve this or that."

Viehman said that until recently, most windsurfers around St. Petersburg were middle-aged men. Now that their children are reaching the age when they can participate, more of them are becoming active in the sport.

"It's like flying. You get going very fast. You're in balance with nature, with the wind and water, " he said.

Tyler plans to continue to practice and compete and is looking forward to the next Florida Wave Challenge, in October.

He likes the prospect of turning pro but has other things on the brain: "I think I'd like to continue to pursue it, but probably not as a career. I think I'd like to be a Greek professor."

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnson@sptimes.com or 893-8215.