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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A windsurfer with modern gear tilts the rig and carves the board to perform a planing gybe (downwind turn) close to shore in Maui, Hawaii, one of the popular destinations for windsurfing.
A windsurfer with modern gear tilts the rig and carves the board to perform a planing gybe (downwind turn) close to shore in Maui, Hawaii, one of the popular destinations for windsurfing.

Windsurfing is a surface water sport using a windsurf board, also commonly called a sailboard, usually two to five meters long and powered by a single sail. The rig is connected to the board by a free-rotating flexible joint called the Universal Joint (U-Joint). Unlike a rudder-steered sailboat, a windsurfer is steered by the tilting and rotating of the mast and sail as well as tilting and carving the board.

The sport combines aspects of both sailing and surfing, along with certain athletic aspects shared with other board sports like skateboarding, snowboarding, waterskiing, and wakeboarding. Although it might be considered a minimalistic version of a sailboat, a windsurfer offers experiences that are outside the scope of any other sailing craft design. A windsurfer holds the world speed record for sailing craft (see below); and, 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.

Windsurfing includes speed sailing, slalom, course racing and freestyle as distinct disciplines.

Though windsurfing is possible in winds from near 0 to 50 kts, the ideal conditions for planing are 15-25 kts, with lighter winds resulting in displacement mode sailing.

Lessons can be taken with a school. 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, gybing (turning downwind at speed), tacking (turning upwind), jumping, and more advanced moves can require lengthy practice.

A windsurfer using short board to perform a small jump.
A windsurfer using short board to perform a small jump.


Illustration from US Patent 3,487,800, issued to inventors Jim Drake and Hoyle Schweitzer on January 6, 1970.
Illustration from US Patent 3,487,800, issued to inventors Jim Drake and Hoyle Schweitzer on January 6, 1970.

Windsurfing as a recreational activity and sport did not emerge until the latter half of the twentieth century. Because of the financial stakes in the manufacture and sale of windsurfing equipment, there has been considerable dispute and litigation between parties claiming the rights to the invention.

Different courts in different jurisdictions have recognized different inventors, clouding any possibility of clear attribution. However, what is clear from the historical record is that windsurfing, as it is known today, owes much if not all to the promotion and marketing activities of Hoyle and Diana Schweitzer, In 1968, in Southern California, they founded the company Windsurfing International to manufacture, promote and license a windsurfer design. Together with Jim Drake, an aerospace engineer, they were the holders of the very first windsurfing patent ever, which was granted by the USPTO in 1970, after being filed in 1968. They also originated the term "Windsurfer," which was registered to them as a trademark by the USPTO in 1973.

The Drake and Schweitzer creation was a surfboard-like board with a triangular "bermuda" sail and wishbone booms, connected to the board via a universal joint. The details of the original designs are available in Drake's whitepaper on windsurfing. Also, the history of the invention is discussed in these interviews with Jim Drake [1] [2]. Despite forty years of subsequent development, this apparatus is remarkably similar to windsurfing equipment in use today, and the word which Drake and Schweitzer coined to describe their invention has become eponymous with the sport itself. There is no evidence that they had knowledge of any prior inventions similar to theirs.

Drake relinquished his patent rights to Schweitzer in 1973. Through the seventies, Schweitzer aggressively promoted and licensed his design to manufacturers worldwide, and the sport underwent very rapid growth in Europe. At the same time, Schweitzer also sought to defend his patent rights vigorously against unauthorized manufacturers. This led to a host of pre-dating windsurfer-like devices being presented to courts around the world by companies disputing Windsurfing International's rights to the invention.

Schweitzer sued Tabur Marine, the precursor of Bicsport, which is still a major manufacturer of sailboards and other marine recreation equipment today [3], [4]. In Windsurfing International Inc. v Tabur Marine (GB) Ltd. 1985 RPC 59, British courts recognized prior art by 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. Intended to be steered by a rudder, it did not incorporate the curved wishbone booms of the modern windsurfer, but rather a "straight split boom". 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.

In 1983, Schweitzer sued Swiss board manufacturer Mistral, which also continues as a major manufacturer of sailboards [5]. However Schweitzer lost the case. The Mistral defense hinged on the work of US inventor Newman Darby, who in the mid-sixties conceived the "sailboard." a hand-held square rigged "Kite" sail on a floating platform for recreational use. Darby's published version did not show any connection between the rig and the board (the mast simply rested in a depression on the board) but it did refer to a "more complex swivel step for advanced riders not shown". He published his "sailboard" design in August 1965 Popular Science magazine. Darby organized Darby Industries, Inc. in 1964 to build what they called sailboards [6], [7] [8]. [9]. However, the "sailboard" never gained popularity, and Darby's company ceased operations by the end of the sixties.

Eventually US courts recognized the Schweitzer windsurfer as an obvious step from Darby's prior art [10]. 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 (see interview with Hoyle Schweitzer).

For their part, Australian courts, in a 1983 patent case reported in "Intellectual Property Reports" 3 IPR 449, attributed the first legally accepted use 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 galavanised iron canoes and hill trolleys which he equipped with sails with spilt bamboo booms. He sailed these near his home on the Swan River in Perth. There is no evidence that any of the later "inventors" ever sighted the Eastaugh craft of a decade earlier on the other side of the world.

It is acknowledged that the Eastaugh, Chilvers, and Darby inventions all pre-dated the Drake and Schweitzer invention. However, the popularization of windsurfing would not have taken place without the efforts of Schweitzer. The prior inventions simply lay forgotten until they re-emerged in legal defenses against litigation by Schweitzer.

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, as equipment became more specialized, requiring more expertise to sail. Now the sport is experiencing a modest revival, as new beginner-friendly designs are again becoming more readily available.

Boards and Gear

In the 1970s and 1980s, windsurfers were classified as either shortboards or longboards. Longboards were usually longer than 3 metres, with a retractable daggerboard, and were optimized for lighter winds or course racing. Shortboards were less than 3 metres 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 primarily 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.

Windsurfing and kitesurfing on the Columbia River at Hood River, Oregon.
Windsurfing and kitesurfing on the Columbia River at Hood River, Oregon.

Modern windsurfing boards can be classified into these 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 different 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 litres 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.

There are many attempts to bridge a gap between two of these categories, such as freerace, freestyle-wave, freeformula, and so on.

Windsurfing in the late evening on a longboard at Sandbanks in the 80s (Poole Harbour, England).
Windsurfing in the late evening on a longboard at Sandbanks in the 80s (Poole Harbour, England).

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, contain more fiberglass, or even have an indestructible molded plastic shell. For more information on construction, see [11].


A windsurfing sail is made of monofilm (clear polyester film), dacron (woven polyester) and mylar. Sensitive parts are reinforced with kevlar mesh.

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 manoeuvrability 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.

The windsurfer in the foreground is using a camber induced sail and is fully planing using the footstraps, while the other is using a rotational sail and is not planing.
The windsurfer in the foreground is using a camber induced sail and is fully planing using the footstraps, while the other is using a rotational sail and is not planing.

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 manoeuvring. 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 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 camber, more low-end power, shifts the center of effort upward and to the front, and may limit speed by increasing aerodynamic resistance.

Different sails are used for various disciplines of windsurfing: wave, freestyle, freeride, race. Wave sails are reinforced to survive the surf, and are absolutely 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 accelerations. Freeride sails are all-rounders that are comfortable to use and are meant for recreational windsurfing. Racing sails, obviously, provide speed at the expense of qualities like comfort or maneuverability.

The size of the sail is measured in square metres and can be from 3m2 to 6.5m2 for wave sails and from 6m2 to 12.5m2 for racing sails, with ranges for freestyle and freeride sails spanning somewhere between these extremes. Learning sails for children can be as small as 1.7m2 and racing sails being up to 12.5m2 large.

Indoor windsurfing

Indoor windsurfing competitions are held, especially in the European winter.

A competition is held annually at the Schroders International Boat show, at London's Excel Centre 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.

Permanent indoor windsurfing facilities are being constructed around the globe including Germany.

Additional equipment

  • Harness
  • Harness lines
  • Joint
  • Wet/dry suit
  • Footwear
  • Helmet
  • Personal flotation device
  • Fin/Skeg


Slalom at the 2005 national championship at the Columbia River Gorge.
Slalom at the 2005 national championship at the Columbia River Gorge.

In windsurfing competitions, there are the following disciplines:

  • Olympic Windsurfing Class
  • Formula Windsurfing Class
  • Slalom
  • Super X
  • Speed Racing
  • Freestyle
  • Wave

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.

Olympic class

In Olympic Windsurfing 'One Design' boards are used. All sailors use 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 Neil Pryde RS:X is the current olympic class which is going to be used for the first time in the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Formula class

Formula racer in San Francisco Bay.
Formula racer in San Francisco Bay.

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, with a maximum length of 70cm and carry sails up to 12.5 m2. Class rules allow sailors to choose boards of different designs, as long as they are certified as Formula boards, and use fins and sails of different sizes.

Large sails in combination with the 'wide-style' design allow planing in very low wind conditions. However, if these requirements are not met, the boards cannot be used and events will not take place, as non-planing sailing is very difficult with this design. Formula boards are used on "flat water" as opposed to coastal surf; but racing is still held in windy conditions involving swell and chop.

Formula boards have excellent upwind and downwind ability, but are not very comfortable on a beam reach unless sail and fin size are reduced. This explains why the course is usually a box with longer upwind and downwind legs, or just a simple upwind-downwind loop.

  • International Race Calendar Formula Windsurfing including results, equipment list, reports, photos and videos


Slalom is a high speed race in a course shaped like a figure of eight. Most of the course goes on a beam reach with floating marks that have to be jibed around. 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.

  • International Event Calendar Slalom Racing with results, reports, photos and videos

Super X

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, body drag or even front loop. The competitors are required to wear protective equipment.

SuperX discipline dissapears at the end of 2006

Speed sailing

Speed sailing takes several forms. The ISA (International Speedsurfing Association) 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 sailors best 2 speeds on the 500m course which is typically open for 2 hrs/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 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. It is not a competition as such but a race against the clock. The current outright (500m course) sailing record is held by Finnian Maynard at 48.7 Knots. Finian also held the nautical mile record which he took from Bjorn Dunkerbeck at Walvis Bay in Namibia in October 2005 in an epic contest with Dunkerbeck and another multiple world windsurfing champion Antoine Albeau. In October 2006 Dunkerbeck improved on Finian's speed of the previous year by over 1 knot. Currently his best nautical mile speed is 41.14 knots. A new record can not be publicly claimed until verified by the WSSRC who has an observer at the event.

With the advent of cheap and small GPS units sailors have been able to organise impromptu competitions amongst themselves as well as more formal competions such as the European Speed Meetings and Speedweeks/fortnights in Australia. See for more information. With over 1200 sailors registered it is possible for windsurfers all over the world to compare speeds. Late October/early November 2006 was a particularly good time for fast speeds. In Namibia, Hennie Bedenkamp was the first sailor over 40 knots for the nautical mile on Oct 31 2006. Later that day Dunkerbeck did improved this to 41.14knots. The next day in Holland, Martin van Meurs achieved a peak gps speed of 46.9 knots. On 11 November Bob Cunningham achieved a peak of 45.2 knots at West Kirby in the UK while in the southern Hemi-sphere Chris Torkler made 44.6knots in Auckland , New Zealand on the 9th and Chris Lockwood achieved 48.9 knots 2 second peak speed at Sandy Point in Australia on the 13th November 2006 with a 500m average of 46.1knots.


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) score higher marks. High scoring moves include; 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).Presently the best freestyle surfer is the Greek Thomas Kampourides.


Wave sailing at Ho'okipa Beach Park, North Shore Maui, a location for many international wave competitions.
Wave sailing at Ho'okipa Beach Park, North Shore Maui, a location for many international wave competitions.

Similar to freestyle (though wavesailing preceded freestyle) except that the stunts are generally performed in surf and points are awarded for how well the waves are ridden. A typical wave contest will score two jumps and two waves. 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.

International stars

  • Robby Naish: one of the first windsurfing champions to gain long-lasting international fame, he dominated the early years of competition in the 1970's and 1980's. 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.
  • Bjorn Dunkerbeck: the successor to Naish, he dominated competition for many years in the late 1980's and 1990's. Twelve time PWA Overall World Champion.
  • Stephan van den Berg, world champion 1980-1983, winner first Olympic windsurfing contest in 1984.
  • Ricardo Campello: a freestyle innovator, he created many new difficult moves, PWA Freestyle World Champion in 2003, 2004, and 2005.
  • Gal Friedman
  • Kauli Seadi: Pioneered freestyle maneuvers in wave competition. Ranked first in PWA Wave competition in 2005.
  • Allison Shreeve Ranked world number 1 in Women's Formula Windsurfing.
  • Karin Jaggi
  • Natalie Lelievre
  • Daida and Iballa Moreno
  • Jason Polakow
  • Federico Framarini
  • Kevin Pritchard
  • Joe Shmoe

Youth windsurfing

Anyone above the age of 3 can start windsurfing with lightweight sails and boards. People from the age of 8-15 can become involved in t-15 windsurfing and can get together with other clubs and race for prizes. There is also freeride sailing where youth sailers can just have fun. There is also the Techno 293 (T293) class for juniors (under 15) competing on a 6.8m sail and youths (under 17) competing on a 7.8m sail. Both classes compete on the Bic Techno 293 (205l volume) . They compete in winds from 5 - 25knts. The current world champion is Ali Masters from Bristol, UK.


Evolution of the world speed sailing record. Initially slower than the fastest sailing craft, windsurfers quickly caught up. The overall record was held by a windsurfer as of 2005.
Evolution of the world speed sailing record. Initially slower than the fastest sailing craft, windsurfers quickly caught up. The overall record was held by a windsurfer as of 2005.

A windsurfer holds the outright World Speed Sailing Record: Irish born sailor Finian Maynard who competes for the British Virgin Islands reached an average speed of 48.70 knots (25.05 m/s or 56.05 mph) over a 500 metre course at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (France) on 10th April 2005 [12]. This exceeded the previous record of 46.82 knots (24.08 m/s or 53.88 mph) set on the 13th November 2004 by the same sailor at the same venue. These performances brought back to windsurfing the record which had been held for over 11 years by the asymmetrical wing-sailed trimaran, Yellow Pages Endeavour.

  • Boards Magazine Speed-Sailing History
  • Complete Chronology of Speed Sailing Records

See also

Similar sports

  • Kitesurfing
  • Land sailing
  • Land windsurfing
  • Surfing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Water skiing

External links

  • Windsurfing spots around the world
  • WOW World of Windsurfing. International project for the promotion of windsurfing to beginners, come-back windsurfers and the media
  • Royn Bartholdi Windsurfing, with descriptions and photos of several dozen windsurfing techniques and freestyle tricks
  • Guy Cribb's technique articles]
  • World Windsurfing and Kitesurfing Directory


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