Windsurfing is a surface water sport that combines elements of surfing and sailing. It consists of a board usually 2 to 2.5 metres (6 ft 7 in to 8 ft 2 in) long, with displacements typically between 45 and 150 litres (9.9 and 33.0 imp gal; 12 and 40 US gal), powered by wind on a sail. The rig is connected to the board by a free-rotating universal joint and consists of a mast, boom and sail. On “short” boards The sail area generally ranges from 1.5 to 12 square metres (16 to 129 sq ft) depending on the conditions, the skill of the sailor, the type of windsurfing being undertaken and the weight of the person windsurfing. On long boards, upon which the sport was first popularized -sail areas and board lengths are typically larger and the athleticism required is much less.

Many credit S. Newman Darby with the origination of windsurfing by 1964[1] on the Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania, United States when he invented the "Darby sailboard", which he did not patent due to limited financial resources and inadequate legal advice. His main focus of his “Darby Industries” was to sell plans such that any school age child could build one for under $50. Rather than building personal wealth, his focus was to introduce youth to the sport of sailing in even very shallow water.[2][3][4][5][6] In 1964, Darby began selling his sailboards.[4] A promotional article by Darby was published in the August 1965 edition of Popular Science magazine.[7]

Darby told me in the presence of his wife Naomi, that the mechanical universal joint picture was removed in editing due to magazine “space considerations”. I believe this was a “pivotable” error, like many others in the Darby story. He told me he did not think it was important as he preferred the more simple rope universal joint anyway. This was Darby- Artistic, practical, minimalist, gracious,- always inventive, and his wife, Naomi was the first ever sailboarder.

While Darby's "sailboard" incorporated a pivoting rig, it was "square rigged" or “kite rigged” and was subject to the associated limitations. The sailboard was operated with the sailor's back to the lee side of a kite-shaped sail. Darby's article stated that " can learn to master a type of maneuvering that's been dead since the age of the picturesque square riggers"

Windsurfing straddles both the laid-back culture of surf sports and the more rules-based environment of sailing. 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 surfers do (wind permitting).

At one time referred to as "surfing's ginger haired cousin" by the sport's legendary champion, Robby Naish,[8] 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, including in the Olympics. Typical formats for competitive windsurfing include Formula Windsurfing, speed sailing, slalom, course racing, wave sailing, superX, and freestyle.

The boom of the 1980s led windsurfing to be recognized as an Olympic sport in 1984. That same year saw the first international professional tour and the first year of the Aloha Classic event at Ho'okipa on Maui's north shore. The Windsurfing boom continued and expanded into the 1990s with the Professional side of the sport becoming immensely popular across global media. Windsurfing had a larger global media presence than Surfing during these years. This popularity attracted significant sponsorship deals which in turn further promoted the sport with extensive paid advertising.

Many of the world's top riders, particularly the European riders, became wealthy and very famous athletes.

Windsurfing's popularity across global media saw a decline toward the end of the 1990s. This has been attributed to many possible problems within the sport including licensing battles, equipment becoming too specialized, requiring excessive expertise, the splintering of Windsurfing into various niche groups around the world and splintering of the fundamentals as constant reinvention of technology challenged what it was to be 'a windsurfer'. On top of these internal issues there was a coinciding drop in major sponsor support, directly caused by the steady introduction of international bans on cigarette advertising during the 1990s. Cigarette industry advertising had become the dominant source of sponsorship support during the early and mid 1990s boom years for the professional level of windsurfing. With the internationally legislated withdrawal of these large companies, the money spent on promoting the sport and paying for add space declined steeply and Windsurfing receded from public view across global advertising and media generally.

After some lean years in the early 2000s, the sport has seen a steady revival. New beginner-friendly designs have become available and new corporate sponsors have emerged to once again invest in advertising and promoting the sport to align corporate values and interests for marketing.

The sport of Windsurfing is one of constant re-invention, innovation and of pioneers in water sports generally. With the advent of kitesurfing, created by windsurfers, many avid windsurfers took up the similar sport for some variety after many years on the traditional windsurfer style equipment. More recently 'foiling' has become a major new interest among many windsurfers. As of 2019, longer, wider boards that are easier to sail are coming back and engaging a new generation. The sense of what it is to be 'a Windsurfer' or 'a surfer' is also changing as watermen like Kai Lenny break down barriers.


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.[9] In the early 19th Century, people in logging communities around western Lake Michigan were purportedly fixing sails to logs as part of log float control and for recreation.[10]

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.[11] 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.[3] 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.[12] In 1964, Darby began selling his sailboards.[4]

Twelve-year-old Peter Chilvers is often cited for inventing a sailboard in 1958.[13] 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.[13]

In 1964, during a discussion on water sports, RAND Corporation aeronautical engineer Jim Drake and his former Rockwell boss Fred Payne, discussed options for creating a wind-powered water-ski which would allow Payne to travel on the Potomac River.[14] 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.[14]

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.[14]

The technical problem was that most boats steer by varying the angle of attack in the water between the centerboard 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.[14]

In 1967, Drake reflected 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.[14]

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 direction. Drake finished the design by using an earlier, but for them, failed invention of East Coast racing sail, and added a wishbone boom.[14]

Windsurfing International

On March 27, 1968, Hoyle Schweitzer and Jim Drake filed[15] the very first windsurfing patent, which was granted by the USPTO in 1970.[16] There is no evidence that they had knowledge of any prior inventions similar to theirs. 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.[14]

The early windsurfing boards were made of foam in the garages of Schweitzer and Drake, with the booms, tees and daggerboards handcrafted 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.[17] One of the early customers was Bert Salisbury, and the first international shipment of a container of boards went to Sweden.[17] 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.[17]

To ensure the quality of the product and handle marketing, in 1968 Hoyle and Diana Schweitzer founded the company Windsurfing International[18] in Southern California to manufacture, promote, and license a windsurfer design. The jointly owned patent was wholly licensed to Windsurfing International.[14] Working in a factory unit in Torrance, California, Hoyle, who had previously built personal surfboards 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.[17]

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 offered Drake a buy out of 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.[14]

Patent disputes

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.[17] As a result, the sport underwent very rapid growth, particularly in Europe after the sale of a sub-license sold to Ten Cate Sports in the Netherlands.[14] In 1975 Ten Cate Sports sold 45,000 boards in Europe.

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.[19] 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 the 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.[4]

In Windsurfing International Inc. v Tabur Marine (GB) Ltd. 1985 RPC 59[20] 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". This court case set a 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 one of the world's larger producers of windsurfing equipment, with an annual production of 15,000 boards.[19]

In 1983, Schweitzer sued Swiss board manufacturer Mistral[21] 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.[4]

Eventually US courts recognized the Schweitzer windsurfer as an obvious step from Darby's prior art.[22] 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.[17]

In 1984, Australian courts determined a patent case: Windsurfing International Inc & Anor -v- Petit & Anor[23] (also part reported in 3 IPR 449 or [1984] 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".[24]

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).[14]

Trademark disputes

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.


The numerous patent and trademark disputes created an unfortunate legacy that disrupted the sport for many years. 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 brought imitation and then legal disputes.

The launch phase with 'Windsurfing International' saw a comprehensive development of infrastructure for a new sport and dramatic sales growth.

Darby is now largely recognised as the 'original inventor', while the massive growth of the sport is largely attributed to Schweitzer with his elegant refinement of the craft from a surfing background and his savvy business investment strategy. The sport of Windsurfing now honours both these individuals as the founders of the modern sport.

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 boards and smaller 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 kn (6 m/s) if rigged with an adequate, well-tuned sail in the six to eight square meter range. The pursuit of planing in lower winds has driven the popularity of wider and shorter boards, with which planing is possible in wind as low as 8 kn (4 m/s), 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 105 liters, with a length between 215 and 235 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 3.4 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 203 to 230 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: In the past, the key feature of slalom boards was merely speed, but it has been proven that maneuverability and ease of use are as important as speed in order to get you around the slalom course faster, and therefore modern slalom boards are shortboards aimed at top speed, maneuverability and ease of use.
  • Speed boards: In essence an extremely narrow and sleek slalom board, built for top speed only.
  • 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: The most popular tandem board is the 'Starboard Gemeni II'.

There are many attempts to bridge the gap between any two of these categories, such as freestyle-wave, freeformula, and so on. These attempts are often successful in their own right, but every shape has its specific strong points and disadvantages. In short, a board with a lot of scoop, rocker or tailkick will turn more easily and respond to footsteering, but top speed and upwind performance will suffer. A board with a straight mid- and aft waterline will plane earlier, thus giving good upwind performance, but will not footsteer without the sailor actively shifting weight. In 2013 a Norwegian inventor Sundin Gjessing patented a prototype board which changes its tail shape with a footswitch - an attempt to combine speed and turning ability into one hull. The board has not been put into production. 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 stiff, 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.[25]


Modern windsurfing sails are often made of monofilm (clear polyester film), dacron (woven polyester) and mylar. Areas under high load may be reinforced with kevlar.

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 create a rigid aerofoil shape for faster speed and stability, but at the cost of maneuverability and how light 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 flip or "rotate" to the other side of the mast when tacking or jibing, hence the rotation in the name. Rotational sails have an aerofoil shape on the leeward side when powered, but are nearly flat when sheeted out (unpowered). In comparison with cambered sails, rotational designs offer less power and stability when sailing straight, but are easier to handle when maneuvering. Rotational sails are usually lighter and easier to rig.

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 a grommet at the clew. Most shape is given to the sail by applying a very strong downhaul, which by design bends the mast. The outhaul tension is relatively weak, mostly providing leverage for controlling the sail's angle of attack.

The sail is tuned by adjusting the downhaul and the outhaul tension. Generally, a sail is trimmed more (flatter shape) for stronger winds. More downhaul tension loosens the upper part of the leech, allowing the top of the sail to twist and "spill" wind during gusts, shifting the center of effort (strictly, the center of pressure) down. Releasing 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; less outhaul results in more draft, providing more low-end power, but usually limiting 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 nearly flat when depowered to allow riding waves. 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. Race 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 6 m2 to 15 m2 for race 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 race sails up to 15 m2.


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. 12 kts or 6 m/s)

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). When jibing, the clew of the sail is let around and allowed to rotate out and around the mast.

Fall Recovery. The rider climbs onto the board, grabs the pulling rope (uphaul), makes sure the mast foot is placed between his/her 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. 12 kts or 6 m/s)

In planing conditions a harness is typically worn to more efficiently use the rider's weight to counter the force in the sail. As the wind increases, the rider continues to sheet the sail, the fin generates more lift, and the board gains speed, transitioning onto a plane. The volume of board in the water (displacement) decreases, and the rider moves rearward, stepping into the footstraps for improved control. When planing, the board skims on the surface rather than displacing water as it moves. Planing can be achieved at different wind speeds depending on the rider's weight, sail and fin size, wave conditions, and rider ability. With modern equipment planing can normally be achieved at a wind speed of around 12 kn (6 m/s). The transition from displacement motion to planing requires a jump in energy, but once planing, water resistance decreases dramatically. This means that it is possible to continue to plane, although the wind has dropped below a level that would be required to transition to plane. A board in plane can be much smaller than a board moving by displacement (thereby gaining an advantage in gear weight and board control). Lateral resistance to the wind is provided by the fin alone (generating more lift at higher speeds) and a centreboard is no longer used (smaller boards do not have one). A fin generates lift, transferring a strong load to the board, and so is usually constructed of carbon fiber for accurate shape and strength. A low-pressure area develops on the windward side of the fin, which can lead to cavitation, leading to a sudden loss of lift, called "spin-out" (equivalent to "stalling" in flight terminology). Ideal planing conditions for most recreational riders is 15–25 kn (7.7–13 m/s) of wind, but experts can windsurf in much windier conditions. Planing is considered one of the most exhilarating aspects of the sport.

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 advanced maneuver, because it requires quick movements and good balance. A heel-side turn while planing (called a "cut-back") is usually only executed in wave riding.

Fall Recovery: In strong winds it is difficult to uphaul the sail (pulling it out of the water while standing on the board) so waterstarting is necessary. This is done (while water treading) by positioning the mast perpendicular to the wind, lifting the luff out of the water to allow the wind to catch the sail, and then having the sail pull the sailor onto the board. As the sail becomes powered, it is then trimmed to bring the rider, board, and sail back onto a plane. Occasionally a rider may be unable to waterstart if the wind has dropped. If this happens the rider can wait for a gust and "pump" the sail to get back on the board. If this becomes hopeless uphauling the sail will be necessary.


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. Beginners, starting off on a large board with a tiny triangular sail in less than 5 kn (3 m/s) 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 kn (10–15 m/s) of wind. But with good instruction windsurfing can be picked up rather quickly, not unlike other extreme sports like Kitesurfing, or Snowboarding.

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.[26] 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

Indoor windsurfing competitions are also held, especially in Europe, during winter.

One of the better known, the PWA[27]/UKWA[28] World Indoor Windsurfing Championships, are held during the annual London Boat Show at the ExCeL Exhibition Centre in London in January.[29] 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.[30][31]

Additional equipment


In windsurfing competitions, there are the following disciplines:

  • Olympic Windsurfing Class (RS:X)
  • Formula Class
  • Raceboard Class
  • Slalom
  • Wavesailing
  • Freestyle
  • Speed Racing
  • Foil
  • Super X
  • Tandem

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.

Olympic class

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 class

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 has 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 kn (4 m/s) 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.

Raceboard Class

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 winds of 9–35 kn (4.6–18 m/s) for the slalom event to take place.

Big Air

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 on the Columbia River near the town of Hood River, Oregon, USA.

Super X

This discipline is a cross between freestyle and slalom. Competitors race on a short downwind slalom course, must duck jibe on all turns, and are required to perform several tricks along the way. 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,


Speedsailing 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.[33] 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, 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.[34] With over 5000 sailors registered it is possible for windsurfers all over the world to compare speeds.

Speed Sailing Records Date Sailor Location
53.27 kn (27.4 m/s) 5 November 2015 Antoine Albeau Luderitz, Namibia
52.05 kn (26.8 m/s)[35] November 2012 Antoine Albeau Luderitz, Namibia


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, and 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.


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 involves stunts of varying levels of difficulty which are performed after the rider has jumped from the peak of an unbroken wave. These are commonly referred to as aerial moves and include both forward rotation and backward rotations. The rider and his equipment rotate, doing single & double rotations and jumps where the sailor contorts his or her body and equipment.

Recent innovations have included combining moves whilst airborne and, for the first time in 2008, one professional sailor, Ricardo Campello, has made attempts at a triple forward loop during a 2008 PWA competition.

Wave riding, by contrast, is much closer to surfing in style and culture, and involves the rider performing a series of bottom turns, top turns, and cutbacks whilst riding an unbroken wave back to the shore. 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.

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 wave ride with flowing bottom turns, radical top turns, and an aerial manoeuvre on the face of the waves such as a 'goiter', 'taka' or wave 360. Depending on the conditions at the location, some competitions will focus more on jumping while others focus more on the wave-riding aspects.

The most famous wavering locations on earth include: Ho'okipa on the north shore of Maui, Diamond Head on Oahu, Klitmøller in Denmark, Pozo and Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Cabo Verde off the north west coast of Africa, Moulay in Morocco, Margaret River in Western Australia, Pacasmayo in Peru, Topocalma in Chile, and Omaezaki in Japan.

International stars

Top Men

  • Robby Naish (USA): 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.
  • Björn Dunkerbeck (ESP): the successor to Naish, he dominated international professional competition from the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. Twelve-time PWA Overall World Champion in a row. He won the Professional Windsurfers Association (PWA) World Championships for Slalom, Wave, Course Racing and Overall, a record forty one times in total.[1][2] He is credited in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most successful athlete of all time.
  • Mike Waltze (USA): 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 370 cm (12 ft) 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 (USA): 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.
  • Mark Angulo (USA): Early pioneer of many wave sailing moves, including the wave-face 360.
  • Josh Angulo (USA): Mark's younger brother and early pioneer of Cape Verde.
  • Thomas Traversa (FRA): PWA Wave World Champion 2014 and winner overall of the RedBull Storm Chase.
  • Jean-Patrick van der Wolde: IFCA Junior World Champion of 2011.
  • Dave Kalama (USA): Although known for his big wave surfing and stand-up surfing accomplishments, he is an outstanding windsurfer and invented the move known as the Goiter.
  • Stephan van den Berg (NED), World Champion 1979–1983, gold medal winner first Olympic windsurfing contest in Los Angeles, California in 1984.
  • Antoine Albeau (FRA): 22 times World Champion in various disciplines: Formula windsurfing, Super X, Freestyle, Slalom, Race, Speed, Overall. Holder of the windsurf speed record (52.05 kn (26.8 m/s)).
  • Guy Cribb (GBR): four times world championships runner-up in the 1990s. 13 UK champion titles.
  • Josh Stone (USA): freestyle pioneer, inventor of spock, PWA Freestyle World Champion in 1999, 2000
  • Ricardo Campello (VEN): a freestyle innovator, he created many difficult moves, PWA Freestyle World Champion in 2003, 2004, and 2005.
  • Kauli Seadi (BRA): pioneered freestyle maneuvers in wave competition. Ranked first in PWA Wave competition in 2005, 2007, 2008.
  • Tonky Frans (BON): One of the best freestylers in recent years. Ranked third freestyle at end of 2009. Won Midwinters Merit Island Freestyle Competition in 2001.
  • Jason Polakow (AUS): PWA Wave World Champion, 1997, 1998. First windsurfer to ride big wave of Nazare, in Portugal.
  • Kevin Pritchard (USA): PWA Wave World Champion, 2006, PWA 1st overall ranking, 2000. Aloha Classic Champion 2016.
  • Nik Baker (GBR): Three-time PWA Wave World 2nd Place, six-time Indoor World Champion.
  • Gollito Estredo (VEN): 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 (GER): PWA Wave World Champion 2011, 2012 and 2015
  • Víctor Fernández (ESP): PWA Wave World Champion 2010 and 2016
  • Boujmaa Guilloul (MOR): 1st PWA event Hawaii Pro wave 2004, 2014 1st AWT Pro Fleet - Starboard Severne Aloha Classic, 9th PWA Starboard Severne Aloha Classic, 2010 ranked 20th overall PWA Wave, 2009 8th Cabo Verde Wave, 2008 ranked 19th overall PWA Wave, 2007 ranked 14th Wave, came 5th in Guincho.
  • Camille Juban (DGE): 2 times Aloha Classic Champion 2011 and 2018. 3 time AWT overall Pro Men Wavesailing champion 2012, 2013 and 2015.
  • Bernd Roediger (USA): 2 times Aloha Classic Champion 2012 and 2013.
  • Frank Ervin: Formula windsurfing lightweight world champion.
  • Morgan Noireaux (USA): 3 times Aloha Classic Champion 2014, 2015 and 2017. IWT overall Pro Men Wavesailing champion 2017.
  • Arnaud de Rosnay (FRA): Photographer, and windsurfing adventurer. Best known for his open-ocean windsurfing exploits, and numerous long distance crossings in conflict areas. Lost at sea in November 1984 in the Taiwan Strait. He created the first speedsailing event in 1981, a 40 km race in Maui. 80 competitors participated in the first event, Arnaud de Rosnay finishing second behind Robby Naish. He is also credited with the invention of Kite surfing (1980) and land sailing (Speedsail 1977), even crossing a distance of 1380 km in the Sahara in 1979.

Top Women

  • Jill Boyer (USA): World Wave Champion 1984.
  • Julie de Werd (USA): World Wave Champion 1984.
  • Clare Seeger (GBR): One of the top female windsurfers in the 1980s. She was also No 1 British Champion for 10yrs and was the first Briton to obtain and overall World Title. Clare won numerous events around the World until finally settling in Hawaii. She was one of the first women who did forward loops, push loops and was the first person to do a double back loop at Ho'okipa,Maui, Hawaii.
  • Lisa Penfield (USA): Freestyle World Champion 1985, multiple Championships from 1981– 1986.
  • Dana Dawes (USA): World Wave Champion 1986, 1987.
  • Nathalie Siebel (FRA): World Wave Champion 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994.
  • Angela Cocheran (USA): World Wave Champion 1989, 1991.
  • Natalie Lelievre (FRA): overall World Champion, 1984, 1985. World Wave Champion 1995, 1996, 1997.
  • Barbara Kendall (NZ): 3 time Olympian representing New Zealand with Gold in Barcelona 1992, Silver in Atlanta 1996, Bronze in Sydney 2000.
  • Jessica Crisp (AUS): 5 time Olympian representing Australia. Professional Overall World Champion 1994. World Wavesailing Champion 1993.
  • Karin Jaggi (GER): multiple PWA World Champion in freestyle, wave, speed competition, 1990s and 2000s. World Wave Champion 1998.
  • Daida Ruano Moreno (ESP): PWA Wave World Champion, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013. Freestyle World Champion 2003–2006.
  • Iballa Ruano Moreno (ESP): PWA Wave World Champion, 1999, 2006, 2007, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018. Twin sister of Daida Moreno.

Youth windsurfing

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).[36] 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 a professional level in both wave and freestyle disciplines. Marcilio "Brawzinho" Browne[37] and Jose "Gollito" Estredo[38] are two windsurfers which both won PWA Champions before reaching the age of 18. Whereas most recently, Philip Köster[39] 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.[40]

In Maui, there is a growing band of young wave sailors, led by Kai Lenny, a multi-sport waterman, and Gustav Häggström (Sweden), who are beginning to gain access to 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."

Robert (Robby) Naish took up the fledgling sport of windsurfing at the age of 11, and in 1976 won his first overall World Championship title at the age of 13.

See also

  • Winter Ice and Snow Sailing Association[41]

Similar sports:


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