By Liz Collin

WORTHINGTON, Minn. (WCCO) — The pandemic put the brakes on many Minnesota traditions last summer, but this year it’s a different story.

The shores of Lake Okabena are home to the Worthington Windsurfing Regatta and Music Festival. All was calm and much cooler Friday afternoon, but after the year that’s been, it seemed Mother Nature had one more surprise in store Friday morning.

READ MORE: ‘It Feels Like We’re Back To What It Was’: Lake Communities Embracing Summer After Pandemic’s Gloom

Wind and rain toppled some tents but also brought some much needed relief from the heat, just in time to welcome the Worthington tradition back.

President of the Regetta Board, Josh Miller, expects a couple dozen windsurfers to hit the lake over the weekend after a long year off.

“We’re excited. We’ve had about two years to plan now,” Miller said. “A lot of people are ready to get back out, enjoy this event and just reconnect.”

The summertime staple dates back to 1999 in Worthington ,where surfers from around the world have competed since. The rolling hills of the Buffalo Ridge provide the high winds needed to keep them clipping along.

“A lot of wind around here, typically. Sometimes on the Regatta, it’s just as calm as can be. But hopefully we have a little wind for the weekend,” Miller said.

Even without it, judging by the satisfaction WCCO found, this year’s Regatta is already a success.

“The winter months are really long when you are closeted in,” resident Ron said.

City Administrator Steve Robinson remains focused on the future, ready to move on from a trying year for Worthington’s largest employer, and a southwest Minnesota community forced to navigate through COVID-19.

“Early on in the pandemic we had a lot of challenges, with the JBS facility having to shut down for a few weeks. It created a lot of economic turmoil and concerns,” Robinson said.

Robinson credits a $2.5 million business support package for keeping businesses afloat. From foodbanks to schools and healthcare facilities, he says the city made sure federal dollars went where they were needed most.

“We are now back to full strength. All of our facilities are open. Things are pretty much back to normal,” Robinson said.

Normal means, of course, taking in the wind from Lake Okabena and a weekend filled with plenty of food and music. The Windsurfing Regatta will feature a couple dozen surfers from around the world on the lake, as the summer season finally sets sail in Worthington.

“This kicks off our summer events this year. We are full blown and ready to go,” Robinson said.

The concert begins at 7 p.m. Friday. The event is free, and different activities are scheduled throughout the weekend.

The rest of summer will include the annual beach bash, international festival and Turkey Day, coming up in September.

Liz Collin