Windsurfing is a surface water sport that combines elements of surfing and sailing. It consists of a board usually 2 to 3 meters long, with a volume of about 60 to 250 liters, powered by wind on a sail. The rig is connected to the board by a free-rotating universal joint and consists of a mast, 2-sided boom and sail. The sail area generally ranges from 2.5 m2 to 12 m2 depending on the conditions, the skill of the sailor and the type of windsurfing being undertaken.
Some credit S. Newman Darby with the origination of windsurfing by 1964 on the Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania, USA when he invented the "sailboard", which, incidentally, he did not patent. In 1964, Darby began selling his sailboards. A promotional article by Darby was published in the August 1965 edition of Popular Science magazine.
While Darby's "sailboard" incorporated a pivoting rig, it was "square rigged" and suffered all the associated limitations. You operated the sailboard with your back to the lee side of the kite shaped square sail. Darby's article boasted that "...you can learn to master a type of manoeuvering that's been dead since the age of the picturesque square riggers"
Windsurfing can be said to straddle both the laid-back culture of surf sports and the more rules-based environment of sailing. Although it might be considered a minimalistic version of a sailboat, windsurfing offers experiences that are outside the scope of other sailing craft designs. Windsurfers can perform jumps, inverted loops, spinning maneuvers, and other "freestyle" moves that cannot be matched by any sailboat. Windsurfers were the first to ride the world's largest waves, such as Jaws on the island of Maui, and, with very few exceptions, it was not until the advent of tow-in surfing that waves of that size became accessible to surfers on more traditional surfboards. Extreme waves aside, many expert windsurfers will ride the same waves as wavesurfers do (wind permitting) and are themselves usually very accomplished without a rig on a conventional surfboard.
At one time referred to as "surfing's ginger haired cousin" by the sport's legendary champion, Robby Naish, windsurfing has long struggled to present a coherent image of the sport to outsiders. As a result of attempts to claim the word "windsurfer" as a trademark, participants have been encouraged to use different names to describe the sport, including "sailboarding" and "boardsailing". The term "windsurfing" has persisted as the accepted name for the sport, and the word "windsurfer" persists for both participants and equipment.
Windsurfing is predominately undertaken on a non-competitive basis. Organised competition does take place at all levels across the world and typical formats for competitive windsurfing include Formula Windsurfing, speed sailing, slalom, course racing, wave sailing, superX, and freestyle. These events are exciting to watch as sailors push the limits both physically and creatively with moves that look as impossible as thinking them up in the first place.
The boom of the 1980s led windsurfing to be recognized as an Olympic sport in 1984. However, windsurfing's popularity saw a sharp decline in the mid-1990s, thanks to licensing battles, and equipment becoming more specialized and requiring more expertise to sail. The sport experienced a modest revival, as new beginner-friendly designs became available. Further pressure came as a proportion of avid windsurfers took up the similar sport of kitesurfing.
- 1 History
- 2 Boards and gear
- 3 Sails
- 4 Technique
- 5 Learning
- 6 Indoor windsurfing
- 7 Additional equipment
- 8 Competitions
- 9 Youth windsurfing
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Windsurfing, as a sport and recreational activity, did not emerge until the latter half of the 20th century. But before this, there have been sailing boats of various designs that have used wind as the driving force for millennia, and Polynesians have been riding waves for many of them, undertaking day trips over oceans standing upright on a solid board with a vertical sail.
In 1948, 20-year old Newman Darby was the first to conceive the idea of using a handheld sail and rig mounted on a universal joint so that he could control his small catamaran—the first rudderless sailboard ever built that allowed a person to steer by shifting his or her weight in order to tilt the sail fore and aft. Darby did not file a patent for the sailboard. However, he is widely recognized as its inventor as well as the first to conceive, design, and build a sailboard with a universal joint. In his own words, Darby experimented throughout much of the 1950s and 1960s and it wasn't until 1963 that an improved sailboard with a conventional stayed sloop rig sail arrangement made it more stable than the one built in 1948. In 1964, Darby began selling his sailboards.
Twelve-year old Peter Chilvers is often cited for inventing a sailboard in 1958. In the 1960s, Jim Drake was the first to solve many problems of getting the board to sail while Hoyle Schweitzer was the first to be successful in marketing the sailboard.
In 1964, during a discussion on water sports over a brandy at his home in Southern California, RAND Corporation aeronautical engineer Jim Drake and his former Rockwell boss and good friend Fred Payne, who worked at The Pentagon, discussed options for creating a wind-powered water-ski which would allow Payne to travel on the Potomac River. That night they developed the idea of a kite-powered surfboard. On later reflection, Drake didn't like the integrity of the idea and dismissed it. There were already a number of sailboard designs available, and Drake also was concerned about the integrity of a design needing taut wire close to a human body to keep the sail upright.
Still developing the idea, Drake's wife met the pregnant Diana Schweitzer, and the two families became good friends through their children. Drake mentioned the idea to surfer Hoyle Schweitzer who wanted to develop it, but Drake was still unsure of how to control and steer what he envisaged in a design concept as a surfboard with upright sail design, whereby the sailor stood upright on the board holding the sail.
The technical problem was that most boats steer by varying the angle of attack in the water between the centre board and the rudder, and Drake's question came down to simple operation of how a standing person could control both the power of the sail as well as the direction of the craft.
In 1967, while driving between his home and a contract at the Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, Drake had time to reflect on early 17th century based sail ship control. Rudders then were weak and ineffective, mostly used for trimming course. Hence with multi-masted boats, the sailors would trim the upper sails on the forward and rearwards masts to steer the ship.
Dismissing the idea of a design with two upright sails, Drake decided to move the sail by rotation, as moving it linearly would require a mechanical system. Experimenting with a rotational design which became the concept for the universal joint, whereby the angle of attack of the sail to the board could be varied to allow control of both power and craft direction. Drake finished the design by using an earlier but for them failed invention of East Coast racing sail, and added a wishbone boom.
On March 27, 1968, Hoyle Schweitzer and Jim Drake filed the very first windsurfing patent, which was granted by the USPTO in 1970. There is no evidence that they had knowledge of any prior inventions similar to theirs, but Drake accepted in retrospect that although he can be credited with invention, he was "probably no better than third," behind mid-west based Newman Darby and Englishman Peter Chilvers.
The early windsurfing boards were made of foam in the garages of Schweitzer and Drake, with the booms, tees and daggerboards hand crafted in teak. Hoyle sub-contracted the manufacture of the teak items to boat builder Ennals Ives in Taiwan, but the quality and costs of transportation brought other issues. One of the early customers was Bert Salisbury, and the first international shipment of a container of boards went to Sweden. Early customers also included Lufthansa pilots who had read about the board, who simply included one as personal luggage on their return journey from Los Angeles International Airport.
To ensure the quality of the product and handle marketing, in 1968 Hoyle and Diana Schweitzer founded the company Windsurfing International in Southern California to manufacture, promote and license a windsurfer design. The jointly owned patent was wholly licensed to Windsurfing International. Working in a factory unit in Torrance, California, Hoyle, who had previously built personal surf boards in his garage, was unhappy with the durability of the early "Baja Board." He therefore developed a new mould, based on an old Malibu surfboard design that Matt Kivlin had developed, which the company sub-contracted for mass manufacture to Elmer Good.
The company registered the term "windsurfer" as a trademark at the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 1973, launching the craft as a one-design class. Going one-design was influenced by the success of the Laser and Hobie Cat classes. Each Windsurfer had an identical computer-cut sail, a technology new at that time and pioneered by Ian Bruce and the Laser class.
In 1968, Hoyle's computer business collapsed, and he and Diane moved to Newport Beach; at the same time Drake accepted a two-year assignment to The Pentagon, and moved to Washington DC. Immediately, Hoyle offered Drake to buy out his half of the patent, and it was only when Hoyle pointed out ownership of the company that the relationship between the pair began to fall apart. Having returned to California, in 1973 Drake sold his half of the patent to Windsurfing International for the sum of $36,000.
Through the seventies, Schweitzer aggressively promoted and licensed the Windsurfing International design and licensed the patent to manufacturers worldwide, mainly through competition and the publication of a magazine. As a result, the sport underwent very rapid growth, particularly in Europe after the sale of a sub-license sold to Ten Cate in the Netherlands.
At the same time, Schweitzer also sought to defend his patent rights vigorously against unauthorized manufacturers. This led to a host of predating windsurfer-like devices being presented to courts around the world by companies disputing Windsurfing International's rights to the invention.
(In 1979, Schweitzer licensed Brittany, France-based company Dufour Wing, which was later merged with Tabur Marine – the precursor of Bic Sport. Dufour was not licenced!) Europe was now the largest growing market for windsurfers, and the sub-licensed companies – Tabur, F2, Mistral – wanted to find a way to remove or reduce their royalty payments to Windsurfing International.
Tabur lawyers found prior art, in a local English newspaper which had published a story with a picture about Peter Chilvers, who as a young boy on Hayling Island on the south coast of England, assembled his first board combined with a sail, in 1958. This board used a universal joint, one of key parts of the Windsurfing International's patent. They also found stories published about the 1948 invention of the sailboard by Newman Darby and his wife Naomi in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
In Windsurfing International Inc. v Tabur Marine (GB) Ltd. 1985 RPC 59, with Tabur backed financially by French sailing fan Baron Marcel Bich, British courts recognized the prior art of Peter Chilvers. It did not incorporate the curved wishbone booms of the modern windsurfer, but rather a "straight boom" that became curved in use. The courts found that the Schweitzer windsurfer boom was "merely an obvious extension". It is worthy of note that this court case set a significant precedent for patent law in the United Kingdom, in terms of inventive step and non-obviousness; the court upheld the defendant's claim that the Schweitzer patent was invalid, based on film footage of Chilvers. Schweitzer then sued the company in Canada, where the opposition team again financially backed by Bic included Chilvers and Jim Drake, and Schweitzer lost again. After the cases, no longer obliged to pay Windsurfing International any royalty payments, the now renamed Bic Sport became the world’s largest producer of windsurfing equipment, with an annual production of 15,000 boards.
In 1983, Schweitzer sued Swiss board manufacturer Mistral and lost. Mistral's defense hinged on the work of US inventor Newman Darby, who by 1965 conceived the "sailboard": a hand-held square rigged "kite" sail on a floating platform for recreational use.
Eventually US courts recognized the Schweitzer windsurfer as an obvious step from Darby's prior art. Schweitzer had to reapply for a patent under severely limited terms, and finally it expired in 1987. Shortly thereafter, having lost its license royalty income, Windsurfing International ceased operations.
In 1984, Australian courts determined a patent case: Windsurfing International Inc & Anor -v- Petit & Anor (also part reported in 3 IPR 449 or  2 NSWLR 196), which attributed the first legally accepted use of a split boom to an Australian boy, Richard Eastaugh. Between the ages of ten and thirteen, from 1946 to 1949, aided by his younger brothers, he built around 20 galvanized iron canoes and hill trolleys which he equipped with sails with split bamboo booms. He sailed these in a sitting position and not as a windsurfer standing up, near his home on the Swan River in Perth. The judge noted that, "Mr Eastaugh greatly exaggerated the capacity of his galvanised iron canoes to sail to windward" and that, "There is no corroboration of Mr Eastaugh's experiences by any other witness. Neither of his brothers or his father was called".
It is acknowledged in the courts that the separate Eastaugh (1946–1949), Darby (1965) and Chilvers (1958) inventions pre-dated the Schweitzer/Drake patent (1968).
Windsurfing International claimed trademark rights with respect to the word "windsurfer". While this was registered in the United States for some years, it was not accepted for registration in many jurisdictions as the word was considered too descriptive. Registration was ultimately lost in the United States for the same reason.
The Schweitzers initially chose the word for its descriptive quality. Unfortunately they immediately set out diminishing its value by naming their company "Windsurfing International" and even referring to themselves and their own children as "windsurfers".
As the word was rejected as registrable in a number of countries, lawyers advised that to be successful the word would have to be used as a proper adjective. They realised that this required a number of generic nouns to which the adjective would apply: sailboard, boardsailing, planche a voile, segelbrett and so on. The rearguard action was ultimately unsuccessful and arguably created considerable confusion which hampered marketing efforts in later years.
While the numerous patent and trademark disputes have left an unfortunate legacy, the fact is that these disputes did not occur until well after Windsurfing International, its licensees, class associations, retailers, schools and owners had built the sport to a successful commercial basis. That success bought imitation and then legal disputes.
The launch phase saw a comprehensive development of infrastructure for a new sport and dramatic sales growth.
Boards and gear
In the 1970s and 1980s, windsurfers were classified as either shortboards or longboards. Longboards were usually longer than 3 meters, with a retractable daggerboard, and were optimized for lighter winds or course racing. Shortboards were less than 3 meters long and were designed for planing conditions. However, this classification by length has become obsolete, as new techniques, designs, and materials have taken the sport in new directions.
Most modern windsurfers (1990s and later) are derived from the shortboard design, and are intended to be used ideally in planing mode, where the board is mostly skipping over the surface of the water, rather than cutting through, and displacing the water. Planing is faster and gives more maneuverability, but requires a different technique from the displacement mode (which is also referred to as slogging or schlogging). Generally, smaller (i.e., lower volume, shorter length, narrower width) boards and smaller area sails are used as the wind increases.
While windsurfing is possible under a wide range of wind conditions, most recreational windsurfers prefer to sail in conditions that allow for consistent planing with multi-purpose, not overly specialized, free-ride equipment. Larger (100 to 140 liters) free-ride boards are capable of planing at wind speeds as low as 12 knots if rigged with an adequate, well-tuned sail in the six to eight square meter range. The pursuit of planing in lower and lower winds has driven the development and spread of wider and shorter boards, with which planing is possible in wind speeds as low as 8 knots, if sails in the 10 to 12 square meter range are used.
Modern windsurfing boards can be classified into many categories:
- Freeride: Boards meant for comfortable recreational cruising (mostly straight-line sailing and occasional turning) at planing speed (aka blasting), mainly in flat waters or in light to moderate swell. They typically fall into the volume range of 90 to 170 liters. The so-called freeride sailing movement diverged from course racing as more recreational sailors chose to sail freely without being constrained to sailing on courses around buoys.
- Formula Windsurfing Class: Shorter boards up to one meter in width, for use in Formula Windsurfing races. See below for a more detailed description.
- Wave boards: Smaller, lighter, more maneuverable boards for use in breaking waves. Characteristically, sailors on wave boards perform high jumps while sailing against waves, and they ride the face of a wave performing narrow linked turns (bottom turns, cutbacks, and top-turns) in a similar way to surfing. Wave boards usually have a volume between 65 and 90 liters, with a length between 230 and 260 centimeters, and 50 to 60 centimeters in width. A general rule is for a sailor to use a wave board whose volume in liters is about the same as the sailor's weight in kilograms – more volume providing additional flotation for sailing in light winds, and less for high winds, where less volume is needed to achieve planing. In recent years, the average width of wave boards has increased slightly, as the length has shrunk, while the range of volume has been maintained the same more or less—according to board designers this makes wave boards easier to use under a wider range of conditions by sailors of differing abilities. The most common sizes of sails used with wave boards are in the range of 4.0 to 6.0 square meters, depending on the wind speed and the weight of the sailor.
- Freestyle boards: Related to wave boards in terms of maneuverability, these are wider, higher volume boards geared specifically at performing acrobatic tricks (jumps, rotations, slides, flips and loops) on flat water. Usually 80 to 110 liters in volume, and about 240 to 250 centimeters in length, with widths frequently in excess of 60 centimeters. Freestyle boards began to diverge more noticeably in design from wave boards in the early part of the 2000 decade, as aerial tricks (the Vulcan, Spock, Grubby, Flaka, and related New School maneuvers, almost all involving a jump-and-spin component) became the predominant part of the freestyle repertoire, superseding Old School moves, in which the board did not leave contact with the water.
- Slalom boards: Shortboards aimed at top speed, rather than maneuverability or ease of use.
- Beginner boards: (sometimes called funboards) these often have a daggerboard, are almost as wide as Formula boards, and have plenty of volume, hence stability.
- Racing longboards: Mistral One Design, or the Olympic RS:X class race boards.
- Tandem Board - Most popular tandem board on the market is the 'Starboard Gemeni II'
There are many attempts to bridge a gap between two of these categories, such as freerace, freestyle-wave, freeformula, and so on.
The original Windsurfer board had a body made out of polyethylene filled with PVC foam. Later, hollow glass-reinforced epoxy designs were used. Most boards produced today have an expanded polystyrene foam core reinforced with a composite sandwich shell, that can include carbon fiber, kevlar, or fiberglass in a matrix of epoxy and sometimes plywood and thermoplastics. Racing and wave boards are usually very light (5 to 7 kg), and are made out of carbon sandwich. Such boards are very brittle, and veneer is sometimes used to make them more shock-resistant. Boards aimed at the beginners are heavier (8 to 15 kg) and more robust, containing more fiberglass.
Two designs of a sail are predominant: camber induced and rotational. Cambered sails have 1–5 camber inducers, plastic devices at the ends of battens which cup against the mast. They help to hold a rigid aerofoil shape in the sail, better for speed and stability, but at the cost of maneuverability and generally how light and easy to use the sail feels. The trend is that racier sails have camber inducers while wave sails and most recreational sails do not. The rigidity of the sail is also determined by a number of battens.
Beginners' sails often do not have battens, so they are lighter and easier to use in light winds. However, as the sailor improves, a battened sail will provide greater stability in stronger winds.
Rotational sails have battens which protrude beyond the back aspect of the mast. They have to flip to the other side of the mast when tacking or jibing, hence the rotation in the name. Rotational sails have aerofoil shape on the leeward side only when filled with wind. They can be absolutely flat and depowered when sheeted out.
In comparison with cambered sails, rotational designs offer less power and stability when sailing straight, but are easier to handle when maneuvering. Also, rotational sails are much easier to rig.
The leading edge of a sail is called the luff. The mast is in the luff tube. The rear edge is called the leech. The front bottom corner of the sail, where the mast foot protrudes, is called the tack, and the rear corner, to which the boom is attached, is called the clew. The bottom edge, between the clew and the tack, is called the foot.
A windsurfing sail is tensioned at two points: at the tack (by downhaul), and at the clew (by outhaul). There is a set of pulleys for downhauling at the tack and there's a grommet at the clew. Most shape is given to the sail by a very strong downhaul, bending the mast in the luff tube. The outhaul tension is relatively weak, mostly to provide leverage for controlling the sail's angle of attack.
The sail is tuned by adjusting the downhaul and the outhaul. Generally, the sail has to be trimmed more for stronger winds. More downhaul tension loosens the upper part of the leech, "spilling" the wind at the gusts and shifting the center of effort (strictly, the center of pressure) of the sail down. Releasing the downhaul tension shifts the center of effort up. More outhaul lowers the camber/draft, making the sail flatter and easier to control, but less powerful, and less outhaul brings more overall depth to the sail, more low-end power, shifts the center of effort upward and to the front, and may limit speed by increasing aerodynamic resistance.
The disciplines of windsurfing (wave, freestyle, freeride) require different sails. Wave sails are reinforced to survive the surf, and are flat when depowered to allow riding the waves like surfers do. Freestyle sails are also flat when depowered, and have high low-end power to allow quick acceleration. Freeride sails are all-rounders that are comfortable to use and are meant for recreational windsurfing. Racing sails provide speed at the expense of qualities like comfort or maneuverability.
The size of the sail is measured in square meters and can be from 3 m2 to 5.5 m2 for wave sails and from 6 m2 to 15 m2 for racing sails, with ranges for freestyle and freeride sails spanning somewhere between these extremes. Learning sails for children can be as small as 0.7 m2 and racing sails being up to 15 m2 large.
A sailboard will move, depending on wind conditions and the skill or intentions of the rider, in two entirely different manners, with two different displacements; it will either sail or hydroplane (referred to as "planing"). A sensation likened to low level flying may be experienced by the hydroplaning windsurfer.
Under Sailing Conditions (light winds, less than appr. 15 kts)
The board moves through the water – much like a sailing boat does – using an extendable centreboard (if available) and fin or skeg for stability and lateral resistance. The centreboard is retracted at broad points of sail, again similarly to a sailing boat, to allow for jibing control. In these conditions windsurf boards also tack and jibe like a sailing boat.
Directional Control is achieved by moving the rig either forward (turning away from the wind) or aft (turning towards the wind). Jibing is initiated by sinking the tail.
Fall Recovery. The rider climbs onto the board, grabs the pulling rope, makes sure the mast foot is between two feet, pulls the sail about one third out of the water, lets the wind turn the sail-board combination till he/she has the wind right in the back, pulls the sail all the way out, places the "mast hand" (hand closest to the mast) on the boom, pulls the mast over the center line of the board, places the "sail hand" (hand furthest from the mast) on the boom, then pulling on it to close the sail and power it.
Under Planing Conditions (strong winds, more than appr. 15 kts)
Typically, at this point a harness is worn in order to more efficiently use the body to counter the force in the sail. As the wind increases, the rider continues to sheet in the sail, and the board picks up speed. The fin begins to generate lift. This causes the amount of board in the water to decrease, therefore the rider must follow the waterline towards the back of the board towards the foot straps, until eventually the rider is in the foot straps. At this point the board starts to plane on top of the water, rather than moving through it, skimming over the surface at much higher speeds. At what wind speed exactly this planing threshold is situated depends on rider's weight, sail size, board volume and rider skills, but on average it is appr. 15 kts. The transition from sailing to planing requires a lot of energy, but once the board is planing, water resistance decreases dramatically. This means that it is possible that a rider continues to plane, though the wind has dropped below a level that would be insufficient to get him/her into a plane, a phenomena referred to as "ghost riding". To make the most of planing conditions, the board needs to be smaller. Sufficient lift and lateral resistance are provided by the fin. A centreboard can no longer be used as its enormous lateral resistance would immediately flip the board over. Advanced rider boards therefore simply do not have a centreboard. The fin experiences huge pressures on the leeward side, and is therefore often made of carbon fiber. On the other hand, a very low pressure area can develop on the windward side of the fin. This causes the water to boil, creating pockets of water vapor which cause the fin to suddenly loose grip on the water. This is called a "spin-out", and if not corrected promptly, may lead to a violent crash. Ideal planing conditions for most recreational riders are 15–25 knots. Advanced windsurfers will often express the success of a day out on the water, or for that matter, a whole windsurfing trip, as the amount of "strap time" they enjoyed, because the foot straps on the back of a sail board can only be used if the board is planing, and planing is considered by many windsurfers to be the most enjoyable part of windsurfing.
Directional Control is mainly achieved by putting rider weight pressure on either the left or the right rail (edge) of the board. Jibing is done at full speed (a so-called "carve jibe", "power jibe" or "planing jibe"), whereby the rider continues to apply pressure on the inside rail of the turn, leaning into the turn much like a snowboarder making a toe-side turn. Pressure is released from the sail as the board speed turns downwind, allowing for the sail to be jibed. Tacking is still possible, but at these conditions has become an unstable and awkward maneuver, because it cannot be performed at full speed. A heel-side turn while planing (called a "cut-back") is usually only executed in wave riding.
Fall Recovery: winds are now generally too strong to pull the sail out of the water while standing on the board, as with light winds. This means the rider has to "water start" the board. This is done by (while water treading) positioning the floating sail into the wind, getting underneath it (where there is no air), pushing the luff out of the water to allow the wind to catch the sail, and then having the sail pull him/her onto the board. As the sail then becomes suddenly fully powered, it demands full power and trim attention from the rider, exactly when he/she is at the highest point of exhaustion. To successfully transition from a water start to planing (and not another crash) therefore requires considerable training and a good physical condition. Occasionally a rider can be unable to recover when, with dropping winds, the sail becomes too small to water start and the board has too little volume to allow the rider to climb up and pull out the sail. Because of the latter condition, this fate usually only befalls advanced riders. With rising winds, it is also possible that the sail becomes too large (overpowered) to allow either water starting or sail pulling, which typically may happen to beginning riders.
For the novice it takes a relatively long time to reach the sport's 'fun' level (i.d. planing, carve jibing etc.) when compared to other so-called "extreme" sports, like snowboarding, freeride Mountain Biking or kitesurfing. Beginners, starting off on a large board with a tiny triangular sail in less than 5 knots of wind on a shallow lake, often struggle to see the similarity between what they are doing and the images they see in magazines of advanced riders using a 2.25 m board to ride waves in 20–30 knots of wind. Learning to windsurf used to present the biggest barrier to the sport's growth, but with the development of new, wider (80 to 100 cm), high volume (more than 200 liters) beginner boards the transition time from beginner to intermediate has been reduced. Learning to windsurf can be compared to chess in that there are many pieces moving in different directions which must be kept track of. After a few attempts most learners finally catch on.
Beginners must develop their balance and core stability, acquire a basic understanding of sailing theory, and learn a few techniques before they can progress from sailing to planing. These techniques involve a similar process to that required to learn to ride a bicycle – the development of muscle-memory automatic reactions:
1. Standing on the board while holding the sail and balancing the weight of the sail leaning to one side with the sailor's weight leaning out on the other side.
2. Leaning the sail towards the front and rear of the board and learning how this is used to turn the board by adjusting the relative positions of the centre of weight of the whole sail/board/sailor combination and the centre of pressure of the wind in the sail.
3. Learning to adjust the amount of pressure in the sail while simultaneously counteracting that pressure by leaning the sailor's body in or out from the board.
Initial lessons can be taken with a windsurfing school, which exist in reasonable numbers in most countries. With coaching and favorable conditions, the basic skills of sailing, steering, and turning can be learned within a few hours. Competence in the sport and mastery of more advanced maneuvers such as planing, carve gybing (turning downwind at speed), water starting, jumping, and more advanced moves can require more practice. Training DVDs exist which are useful in a sport where it is difficult for a coach to be close to a pupil particularly when learning the more advanced maneuvers.
Nevertheless, windsurfing is a sport which, once mastered, can be enjoyed, even at an advanced level, well into retirement and then at a more sedate level for considerably longer still. This is partly due to the fact that windsurfing crashes tend to cause less injury than those sports which take place on harder surfaces (although being reckless whilst windsurfing in advanced conditions can still cause serious injury or death due to the speeds and altitudes involved).
Indoor windsurfing competitions are also held, especially in Europe, during winter.
One of the better known, the PWA/UKWA World Indoor Windsurfing Championships, are held during the annual London Boat Show at the ExCeL Exhibition Centre in London in January. Each year a massive indoor pool is constructed and housed in a marquee. Powerful fans propel the boards along the pool. The competitions held include slalom style races, jumping competitions and more.
- Harness lines
- Wet suit/Dry suit
- Personal flotation device
- Travel Gear – Sail Bags, Board Bags, Car Racks
- Safety gear: line, distress strobe light, whistle, Marine VHF radio 
In windsurfing competitions, there are the following disciplines:
- Olympic Windsurfing Class
- Formula Windsurfing Class
- Raceboard Class
- Big Air
- Super X
- Speed Racing
- Freeride Master blaster
Freestyle and Wave are judged competitions, the sailor with best technique and diversity wins. Olympic Boardsailing, Formula windsurfing, Slalom and SuperX are races where many sailors compete on a course, and Speed Racing is a race where sailors compete on a straight 500 m course in turns.
Early scoring programs on portable computers
Windsurfing led to the development of scoring programs on early portable computers. Because windsurfing regattas were drawing a large number of competitors at remote locations, Windsurfing International sponsored the development of software running on portable computers to score regattas, starting with the 1976 World Championships in the Bahamas. The software, named OSCOR, was developed for the HP9825 (then a $20,000 computer) and later ported to the TRS-80. The OSCOR software was eventually donated to the United States Yacht Racing Union.
Sailboarding has been one of the Olympic sailing events at the Summer Olympics since 1984 for men and 1992 for women. Olympic Windsurfing uses 'One Design' boards, with all sailors using the same boards, daggerboards, fins and sails. The equipment is chosen to allow racing in a wide range of sailing conditions. This is important for the Olympic Games, as events have to take place regardless of whether there is enough wind for planing. The current Olympic class, the Neil Pryde RS:X was used for the first time in the 2008 Summer Olympics and 2012 Summer Olympics. However, in May 2012 the International Sailing Federation voted windsurfing out of the list of the Olympic sailing disciplines for the 2016 Games in favour of kitesurfing. The decision to replace windsurfing with kiteboarding was reversed by the ISAF general assembly in November 2012.
Formula windsurfing has developed over the last 15 years in order to facilitate high performance competition in light and moderate winds. Formula is now a class of windsurfing boards controlled by the International Sailing Federation that have the principal characteristic of a maximum 1m width. They have a single fin of maximum length 70 cm and carry sails up to 12.5 m². Class rules allow sailors to choose boards produced by multiple manufacturers, as long as they are certified as Formula boards and registered with ISAF, and use fins and sails of different sizes. With the sail, fin and board choices, the equipment is able to be tailored to suit sailors of all body shapes and formula windsurfing presents one of the fastest course-racing sailing craft on the water. Formula Windsurfing is popular in many locations around the globe with predominantly light winds and flat water.
Large sails in combination with the 'wide-style' design allow planing in very low wind conditions as well as control and usability in high winds and bigger sea conditions. Non-planing sailing is very difficult with this design and racing is only conducted with a strict 7 knot wind minimum in place. Formula boards are used on "flat water" as opposed to coastal surf; but racing is still held in windy conditions involving swell and chop. In 2008, a Formula Windsurfing Grand-Prix World Tour began, with events in Europe and South America complementing the single-event World Championships as a professional tour for the Formula class.
Formula boards have excellent upwind and downwind ability, but are not as comfortable on a beam reach unless fin sizes are reduced. This explains why the course is usually a box with longer upwind and downwind legs, or just a simple upwind-downwind return course.
Raceboards are longer windsurf boards with a daggerboard and movable mast rail allowing the sailor to be efficient on all points of sail. Excellent upwind ability is combined with good reaching and even downwind ability typically sailed in an olympic triangle course. Whilst in decline in manufacture since the advent of shortboard course racing (which evolved into Formula) there remains some models in production and most notably the IMCO One Design remains popular amongst amateur racing clubs.
Slalom is a high speed race. Typically there are two sorts of slalom courses.
- Figure of eight: All of the course should on a beam reach with two floating marks that have to be jibed around.
- Downwind: More than two marks are laid and sailors sail a downwind course – gybing around each mark only once.
Slalom boards are small and narrow, and require high winds. Funboard class racing rules require the wind of 9–35 knots for the slalom event to take place.
Competitors compete to see who can record the highest jump or maneuver. A 3D accelerometer is worn to measure and record heights of the jumps. Xensr is a manufacture of 3D accelerometers and promoter of the Big Air competition. It is a popular discipline in Hood river, USA.
This is a new discipline in windsurfing competitions, a cross between freestyle and slalom. The competing sailors are racing on a short downwind slalom course, have to use duck jibes on all turns, and are required to perform several tricks along the way, such as jump over an obstacle, spock or front loop. The competitors are required to wear protective equipment. The Super X discipline was short lived and is now largely unpracticed, it reached its peak in the early 2000s,
Speedsurfing takes place in several forms. The ISWC (International Speed Windsurfing Class) organizes (under the umbrella of the ISAF) competitions in various locations around the world known for conditions suitable for good speeds. The events are made up of heats sailed on a 500m course. The average of each sailor's best 2 speeds on the 500m course, which is typically open for 2 hours per heat, is their speed for that heat. As such it is possible for the sailor with the outright fastest time not to win the heat if his second best time pulls his average down. Points are given for the placings in the heats and the overall event winner is the sailor with the best point score (again not necessarily the fastest sailor). Likewise points are given for places in the events and at the last event a World Speedsurfing Champion is crowned.
On record attempts controlled by the World Speed Sailing Record Council (WSSRC) competitors complete timed runs on a 500m or 1 nautical mile (1,852m) course. The current 500m record (for Windsurfers) is held by French windsurfer Antoine Albeau, ratified at 52,05 knots (96.34 km/h – 59.9 mph) on Luderitz Canal in Namibia in Nov 2012. The Women's 500m Record is held By Zara Davis, from England, also in Luderitz. The Men's nautical mile record is held by Bjorn Dunkerbeck and the women's mile record is held by Zara Davis both set in Walvis Bay Namibia
With the advent of cheap and small GPS units and the website www.gps-speedsurfing.com, speedsurfers have been able to organise impromptu competitions amongst themselves as well as more formal competitions such as the European Speed Meetings and Speedweeks/fortnights in Australia. With over 5000 sailors registered it is possible for windsurfers all over the world to compare speeds.
Freestyle is a timed event which is judged. The competitor who has the greatest repertoire, or manages to complete most stunts, wins. Freestyle is about show and competitors are judged on their creativity. Both the difficulty and the number of tricks make up the final score. Sailors who perform tricks on both tacks (port and starboard), and perform the tricks fully planing score higher marks. High scoring moves include: Shaka, Burner (funnel ponch), Double Forward Loops, the Funnell (invented by freestyle champion Ricardo Campello in memory of Andy Funnell), the Chachoo and the Clew First Puneta (switch stance Spock), Eslider, Flaka. The latest freestyle windsurfing has been well documented in the film Four Dimensions.
For novice windsurfers, low-wind freestyle tricks are an appropriate start, such as sailing backwards with the fin out of the water, or transitioning from a sailing stance to sitting on the board while continuing to sail.
Bearing some similarities to freestyle, wave sailing has been part of the sport for much longer (indeed, modern freestyle started off, in essence, as wave sailing without waves). Wave sailing took off during the rapid development of windsurfing on the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Maui. It can be seen as comprising two distinct (but related) parts, wave riding and wave jumping.
Wave jumping, as with freestyle, involves stunts of varying levels of difficulty which are performed after the rider has jumped from the peak of an unbroken wave (having sailed towards the wave, thus using it as a ramp). These are commonly referred to as aerial moves and include both clockwise (forward loop, cheese roll) and anti-clockwise. The rider and his equipment rotate, doing single & double rotations and jumps where the sailor contorts his or her body and equipment (table top and Crazy Pete, etc.).
Recent innovations have included combining moves whilst airborne (i.e. the pushy-forward – a push loop followed by a forward loop) and one professional sailor, Ricardo Campello, has made attempts at a triple (three complete rotations) forward loop during a 2008 PWA competition.
Wave riding, by contrast, is much closer to surfing in style, and involves the rider performing a series of top turns and cutbacks whilst riding an unbroken wave back to the shore. Unlike surfing, the rider does not utilise any sections of the wave that have started to barrel – although top wave sailors are able to incorporate aerial moves into their wave riding and will use overhanging lips to launch themselves out in front of the wave as part of this.
These days most top wave sailors spend very little time competing as the type of conditions required (massive swells producing clean, well-spaced waves and strong winds blowing cross-offshore) are very hard to guarantee months in advance (when planning an event). Thus, aside from the annual event in Cape Verde (which boasts an impressive track record in recent years), true world-class wave sailing can only really be seen in non-competitive freeriding sessions around the world.
Competition wave sailors thus have to be very adept at performing in sub-optimal conditions (often small, messy waves and onshore winds). A typical wave contest will score two jumps going out and two wave rides coming in. A good heat would consist of a clean forward rotating jump, a backward rotating jump, a long slashy wave ride and a trick on the face of the waves such as a goiter or wave 360.
The lack of a guarantee of top class action is often cited as a reason why wave sailing events fail to attract the same level of TV coverage (and accompanying corporate activity) as other extreme sports despite the stunning visual spectacle and obvious aspirational appeal to key demographics. Recently it was divulged that the first prize for winning a PWA wave event in Grand Canaria was a mere £5,500.
- Robby Naish: one of the first windsurfing champions to gain international fame, he dominated the early years of competition in the 1970s and 1980s. Pre-PWA World Champion from 1976 to 1979, PWA Overall World Champion from 1983 to 1987, and PWA Wave World Champion in 1988, 1989, and 1991.
- Mike Waltze: first to put a windsurfing sail on a surfboard and sail the famed Hookipa beach on Maui in 1979. This shifted the entire sport from the original 12' long boards to the shorter boards ridden today. Mike also hosted Maui's first professional wave sailing and slalom event in 1981, which became the foundation of the windsurfing world tour, and Maui became the mecca for the sport both as a design center and a training ground for professionals.
- Peter Boyd Moved to Maui in 1980, and pioneered several windsurfing maneuvers. He was the first to perform an aerial loop, which was considered impossible by many. The maneuver opened the door to a variety of aerial loop variations, including the push loop and double rotations. While innovation was his main focus, Boyd did defeat World champion, Ken Winner several times at International competitions.
- Jean-Patrick van der Wolde: IFCA Junior World Champion of 2011.
- Aron Etmon: 1st U15 in IFCA JYM World Championships Slalom, Torbole, Italy, 2012
- Bjorn Dunkerbeck: the successor to Naish, he dominated competition for many years in the late 1980s and 1990s. Twelve time PWA Overall World Champion.
- Stephan van den Berg, World Champion 1979–1983, winner first Olympic windsurfing contest in 1984.
- Antoine Albeau: 21 times World Champion in various disciplines : Formula windsurfing, Super X, Freestyle, Slalom, Race, Speed, Overall. Holder of the windsurf speed record (52,05 knots)-(about 60 mph)
- Guy Cribb: four times world championships runner up in 1990s. 13 UK champion titles.
- Josh Stone: freestyle pioneer, inventor of spock, PWA Freestyle World Champion in 1999, 2000
- Ricardo Campello: a freestyle innovator, he created many difficult moves, PWA Freestyle World Champion in 2003, 2004, and 2005.
- Kauli Seadi: pioneered freestyle maneuvers in wave competition. Ranked first in PWA Wave competition in 2005, 2007, 2008.
- Tonky Frans: One of the best freestylers in recent years. Ranked third freestyle at end of 2009. Won Midwinters Merit Island Freestyle Competition in 2001.
- Karin Jaggi: multiple PWA World Champion in freestyle, wave, speed competition, 1990s and 2000s.
- Lisa Penfield: Freestyle World Champion 1985, multiple Championships from 1981– 1986.
- Natalie Lelievre: overall World Champion, 1984, 1985.
- Daida Moreno: PWA Wave World Champion, 2000–2005, Freestyle World Champion 2003–2006.
- Iballa Moreno: PWA Wave World Champion, 2006. Twin sister of Daida Moreno.
- Jason Polakow: PWA Wave World Champion, 1997, 1998.
- Kevin Pritchard: PWA Wave World Champion, 2006, PWA 1st overall ranking, 2000.
- Nik Baker: Three-time PWA Wave World 2nd Place, six-time Indoor World Champion.
- Gollito Estredo: PWA Freestyle World Champion 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, innovator of new tricks.
- Steven van Broeckhoven: European Freestyle Champion 2010, PWA Freestyle World Champion 2011.
- Philip Köster: PWA Wave World Champion 2011 & 2012.
Windsurfing is suitable for children as young as 5, with several board and sail brands producing "Kids Rigs" to accommodate these short and light weight windsurfers. In some countries, organisations exist to provide entry into the sport in a semi-formal or club-style environment (i.e. The RYA's Team 15 scheme). If children want to get more involved in racing, they can go to trials for the RYA 'zone squad'.
Indeed, several teenagers have enjoyed success at professional level in both wave and freestyle disciplines. Marcilio "Brawzinho" Browne and Jose "Gollito" Estredo are two windsurfers which both won PWA Champions before reaching the age of 18. Whereas most recently, Philip Köster has become one of the dominant sailors at the annual PWA Pozo "wave" event. He is widely regarded as one of the sport's leading exponents of the double forward loop.
In Maui, there is a growing band of young wave sailors, led by Kai Lenny Gustav Häggström (Sweden), who are beginning to gain access into the most extreme wave sailing spots, including the legendary Jaws break on the Island's North Shore.
Some more established riders, including Nik Baker and Levi Siver believe "this new generation is set to push windsurfing to levels never before seen."
Historically, it should be noted that Robert (Robby) Naish, at the age of 11, took up the fledgling new sport of windsurfing. Shortly thereafter, in 1976, he won his first overall World Championship title, at the age of 13.
Similar sports (with some rough descriptions):
- Kite ice skating — ice skater propelled by kite
- Kitesurfing — surfer propelled by kite
- Land sailing — yacht with wheels
- Land windsurfing — on large skateboard, propelled by sail
- Wakeboarding — water skiing on a board instead of skis
- See S. NEWMAN DARBY WINDSURFING COLLECTION, 1944-1998 #625, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
- "From Hawaii to the World". British Broadcasting Corporation.
- "Windsurfing was invented 60 years ago by Newman Darby". SurferToday.com.
- "History of Windsurfing". Oregon Interactive Corporation.
- USA. Lonely Planet. 2008. ISBN 9781741046755.
- Board. Netbiblo. 2008-06-03. ISBN 9788497453318.
- Sailboarding. Popular Science, August 1965.
- "Robbie Naish interview in The Windsurfing Movie". thewindsurfingmovie.com.
- "Jim Drake – Inventor of windsurfing". World of Windsurfing.
- "A Chronological Order of the Development of the Free Sail System Sailboard". The Hart's Homepage.
- "Windsurfing From the Beginning". Darby Electronic Museum.
- Windsurfing. Human Kinetics. January 1995. ISBN 9780873227605.
- "Origins of windsurfing : JIM DRAKE". American Windsurfer Magazine : Vol 4 Issue 4.
- "About.com: Inventors – History of Windsurfing". Inventors.about.com. 2010-06-15. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
- "Origins of windsurfing: Hoyle Schweitzer". American Windsurfer Magazine.
- "History". Bic Sport.
- Zelasnic, Laura. "Technology, invention, and innovation collections". Americanhistory.si.edu. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
- see pages 104–105 of judgment cited
- Hollman, Eva-M. "Anatomy of an Epoxy Sandwich board". The Board Lady. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
- "Lemelson Center Invention Features: Newman Darby". Invention.smithsonian.org. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
- Professional Windsurfers Association. pwaworldtour.com.
- "UK Windsurfing Association. ukwindsurfing.com.
- "Schroders London International Boat show". Retrieved 2011-08-06.
- "The PWA World Tour". Professional Windsurfers Association.
- pedrowind (May 5, 2007). "Indoor Windsurfing Kamasutra". Youtube. Retrieved 2011-08-06.[dubious ]
- Windsurfing Safety, San Francisco Boardsailing Association (SFBA)
- "24 Hour Distance". Sailspeedrecords.com. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
- "Home – GPS-Speedsurfing.com :: for windsurfers by windsurfers". GPS-Speedsurfing.com. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
- "The Ricardo Triple Challenge". Boardseekermag.com. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
- Cabo Verde World Cup 2009. caboverdeworldcup.com.
- "Phill Horrocks Live from Grand Canria". Boardseekermag.com. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
- "Team 15". "RYA. Retrieved 2012-08-01.
- "Marcilio 'Brawzinho' Browne". pwaworldtour.com.
- "Jose 'Gollito' Estredo". pwaworldtour.com.
- "Philip Koster". pwaworldtour.com.
- "Double Trouble: Philip Koster" (video). boardseekermag.com.
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