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Windsurfing, an aquatic sport born in the 1960s, combines sailing and surfing. Also known as sailboarding or boardsailing, windsurfing employs a board-and-sail device—basically sailing a small surfboard using a hand-held sail rig with the mast attached to the deck by a universal joint. Unlike sailing, no rudder is involved; instead, steering and control are done manually by moving or tilting the sail while the rider stands on the board gliding on the water's surface. Unlike surfing, there is no wait for waves. Wind and waves are harnessed by maneuvering a board eight to twelve feet in length and weighing fifteen to forty pounds with a mast connected by a universal joint, a single Marconi-type rig (a triangular sail attached directly to the mast), and a wishbone boom. The universal joint makes a windsurfer a unique sailing craft. This special piece of equipment allows the mast with its sail to rotate throughout all angles of the vertical relative to the board itself. Speeds over forty knots can be reached.

History of Windsurfing

S. Newman Darby first introduced the Free-Sail-System Sailboard to Americans in a 1965 Popular Science magazine article that informed readers how to build and sail a sailboard. Just outside of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the evolution from small rudderless sailboat (less than three meters long) to sailboard took place over a twenty-year period. Early designs included aluminum catamarans with a stayed sloop rig sail arrangement and a small flat-bottom sailing scow. Darby and his brother Ken started building and selling the first sailboards with universal joints in 1964. Approximately eighty were sold in the first full year of production (1965–1966). The Darby Sailboard was featured at the Philadelphia Boat Show in 1965 and as a prize on the popular American game show The Price Is Right. However, Darby's system was aerodynamically inefficient and difficult to use. Sailboarding would not catch on until others perfected the design.

In 1968, the first patented windsurf board, the Windsurfer, was introduced by two good friends, Jim Drake and Hoyle Schweitzer. Both from southern California, Drake was an aeronautical engineer and a sailor, while Schweitzer was a businessman and a surfer. The sport spread rapidly from California, throughout the United States and North America, Europe, and Australia.

Olympic Status

In the early 2000s, windsurfing (called "boardsailing" in Olympic jargon) was one of the eleven yachting events recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Windsurfing was a demonstration sport at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games and an Olympic event at each Games since. In 1992, separate contests for men and women were included.

All competitors use the same supplied Olympic boards selected by the International Olympic Committee based on the sailing conditions at the competition site. However, sailors often find the chosen equipment frustrating and unable to meet the demand of the competition. Timing of the selection was another problem. Early on, Olympic boards were selected within one year of the competition, leaving little time to train specifically on the equipment. Since the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain, the Olympic choice has been announced four years in advance; this fact, along with the inclusion of women, spurred a significant growth in Olympic windsurfing globally, as evidenced by the 1996 Games in Atlanta, when medalists came from all corners of the world, not just sailing nations.

Formula Windsurfing

In an effort to be more representative of the sport of windsurfing, proposals are being made to change the equipment in the 2008 Games. Arguments are being offered for Formula Windsurfing, which would replace the one design class. Formula Windsurfing is supported by the Professional Windsurfers Association, the International Funboard Class Association, and the International Board-sailors Association, who would oversee the format. As of 2004, sailors were required to use the Mistral One Design board. Formula Windsurfing would give greater flexibility by allowing sailors to choose any one production board and three production sails. Formula racing allows sailors to adjust for wind speeds, body weight, and personal style. In addition, speeds would increase, pumping the sail due to low winds would be limited, and top windsurfing professionals would compete in the Olympic Regatta.

Under the one design class, top athletes have not been able to devote necessary time to train on the Olympic equipment. Proponents of Formula Windsurfing believe that the change would better promote windsurfing in several ways: the media would promote the faster and more exciting sport, design and equipment development would increase, and interest in the sport would rise. Also, the declining popularity of windsurfing offered another reason to make the switch. Other windsurfing advocates warned that staying close to their sailing roots in the yachting fraternity offered protection to an otherwise vulnerable Olympic event. If sports were to be eliminated, sailboarding might be putting itself too far out on the extreme limb if Formula Windsurfing was introduced to the Olympics.

According to the National Sporting Goods Association, windsurfing participation in the United States plummeted by 71.4 percent between 1995 and 2000. While more than a million people windsurfed during the height of the sport in the mid-eighties, in the early 2000s approximately 200,000 Americans windsurfed at least once each year. The United States was not seeing the resurgence of popularity that Europe was experiencing; instead kite surfing was gaining enthusiasts.

The Modern Professional Windsurfer

Several professional associations sanction competitions involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize monies. More than 500 professional sailors (men and women) compete in dozens of class competitions throughout the world. Major players in professional windsurfing include the Professional Windsurfers Association, National Windsurfing Association, International Funboard Class Association, International Boardsailing Association, and National Boardsailing Association. These groups work together to promote windsurfing and offer opportunities for their members to compete on the most elite level.

Professional competition in modern windsurfing includes course racing, slalom, freestyle, and wave sailing, with competitions held throughout the world. Racing is divided into two types: upwind (course racing) and downwind (slalom) competition. Racing includes an imaginary start line and a marked course where sharp tactics and tuned equipment are necessary to succeed. It is a nonjudged event where the winner is determined by the amount of time needed to complete the race. Freestyle competition is very open: during a five-minute heat sailors can perform tricks, jumps, and wave rides to earn points for style, diversity, technical skill, and overall impression. The wave competition is the most spectacular spectator sport. The eight-minute heats include a number of double and combination jumps, rotations, wave rides, back loops and push loops. A point system is in place on the professional level, and sailors earn world ranking.

See also: Beaches, Extreme Sports, Surfing, Swimming


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Sterba, James P. "Windsurfing Wipes Out On Wave of Own Hot Air." Wall Street Journal 227, no. 117 (June 1996): B9.

Wertheim, L. Jon. "Where Have All the Windsurfers Gone?" Sports Illustrated 95, no. 9 (September 2001): A4.

"Windsurfing." In The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. Edited by Paul Lagasse, Lora Goldman, Archie Hobson, and Susan R. Norton. New York: Columbia University Press.

Yahoo! Internet Life 8, no. 5 (May 2002): 85.

Zeugin, Michael. "Wind Riders." New York State Conservationist 58, no. 1 (August 2003): 8.

Jill Vasquez Mills

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Windsurfing (also known as boardsailing) is a sport that evolved from a desire to combine the exhilaration and the freedom of movement inherent in surfing, with the precision and the techniques of wind powered sailing. In a remarkable historical development, three groups have at one time or another laid claim to the invention of the windsurfer. Peter Chilvers of Great Britain developed a prototypical windsurfer in the late 1950s, Pennsylvania inventor Newman Darby first published his designs for a windsurfer in the early 1960s, and Californians Jim Drake and Howard Schweitzer had independently designed and patented their craft, featuring an articulated mast and featuring a u-joint attachment between mast and board in 1968.

The windsurfer became a very popular recreational device, as it was very portable and less cumbersome to transport and assemble than a conventional sail boat. Windsurfing is also not particularly restricted to any particular type of water body, as a windsurfer is nimble enough to navigate larger rivers, lakes, and oceans. With the rise in the popularity of the windsurfer rose the number of opportunities to race these craft. Racing brought significant technological developments to both the boards and the sails used by elite and recreational competitors. A modern windsurfer can attain speeds of over 50 mph in the appropriate winds.

The world wide popularity of windsurfing prompted the formation of various national and international windsurfing organizations. The International Sailing Federation (ISAF), is the world body responsible for the convening of world championships in various windsurfing categories. Windsurfing has been an Olympic sport since 1984.

A windsurfer is a very simple type of boat. A standard windsurfer is constructed with a mast, a sail, and a board. The board has foot straps built into its surface to provide the surfer with a stable base upon which to maneuver the craft, and all boards are equipped with a skeg, a type of fin positioned on the rear that provides additional stability to the craft while it is being steered. Some models of windsurfers are equipped with a daggerboard that functions much as a keel operates in relation to a sailboat, as a stabilizing force to counter the force of wind, which might otherwise send the windsurfer sideways. The upper portion of the windsurfer is the sail, mast, and boom, a wishbone shaped attachment fixed perpendicular to the mast, the primary means used by the windsurfer to control the craft.

The U-joint is the hardware component that is critical to the function and the maneuverability of the windsurfer. In many ways, the u-joint is what distinguishes the windsurfer from any other sailboat, as the surfer can manipulate the mast in any direction, permitting the windsurfer to be turned quickly in any weather.

There are two basic types of wind sailing boards. Long boards are approximately 10 ft (3 m) long, and sufficiently wide that the sailor can stand on the board when the board is at rest and remain afloat. This type of stable board is popular among persons learning how to windsurf. The predominate competition board in use today is referred to as a short board, with a length of less than 10 ft, but a significant width, featuring large fins at the rear of the board and no daggerboard.

Sailing a windsurfer requires the application of many of the principles involved in sailing a boat. When the wind is directly behind the intended path of travel of the windsurfer, the sails of windsurfer can be positioned to perpendicular to the path of the wind, thus capturing the maximum wind effect. When the surfer intends to travel in a direction generally into the wind, the windsurfer can be tacked in the same fashion as a sailboat, where the sail, positioned at approximately 45° angle to the direction of the wind, operates as a foil, creating two different wind speeds on each side of the sail. The result is the creation of high pressure and low pressure effects on the sail, and the windsurfer is pulled in the direction of the lower pressure. Tacking will take a windsurfer along a zig zag path across the surface of the water.

A windsurfer can also jibe to steer the craft, when the wind is from the rear of the windsurfer. The boom is maneuvered from side to side to permit the maximum amount of wind to be captured the sail. The surfer changes body positions during both the tacking and jibing techniques to balance his or her body weight with the effect of the wind to keep the craft on an even plane. The windsurfer design is such that the craft will readily plane in the water in relatively light winds (some models will plane in winds of less than 12 mph (20 km/h). The board can plane is achieved when the nose and forward portion of the windsurfer rises above the water surface, reducing the friction between the bottom of the board and the water. It is for these reasons that the windsurfer is the fastest of all sailing craft.

While windsurfing is usually raced as a competitive event on marshaled courses, it has an extreme sport edge. Many windsurfers seek out the worst wind and weather they can find to challenge themselves to conquer the elements and to attain the highest speeds possible. Other windsurfers have taken on extreme endurance challenges, such as windsurfing around the British Isles, or sailing the huge waves that form off the island of Maui in the Hawaiian Islands.

see also Sailing; Sailing and steering a sailboat; Surfing.

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windsurfing, also called boardsailing or sailboarding, water sport that employs a board-and-sail device and combines elements of sailing and surfing. The sport was developed in the United States during the 1960s by the Californians Jim Drake, a sailor, and Hoyle Schweitzer, a surfer, and became popular in the 1970s. Essentially, a sailboard is much like a surfboard to which a sail has been attached by a universal joint, thus allowing full manual movement of the sail. By standing on the rudderless board and maneuvering the sail the windsurfer harnesses wind and wave to glide along the water's surface. The sport spread rapidly from California, throughout the United States and North America, Europe, and Australia. There is variation in modern sailboards; they now generally range from 8 to 12 ft (2 to 4 m) and weigh between 15 and 40 lbs (7 to 18 kg); some have attained speeds of over 40 knots. Types of modern windsurfing include racing, freestyle, slalom, and wave sailing, with competitions held throughout the world. The sport has been an Olympic event since 1984, and has had separate contests for men and women since 1992. Kitesurfing or kiteboarding is a variation on windsurfing that emerged in Hawaii in the 1990s; in it, a parachutelike airfoil (the "kite" ) and a board are used, and aerial maneuvers are performed.

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wind·surf·ing / ˈwindˌsərfing/ • n. the sport or pastime of riding on water on a sailboard. DERIVATIVES: wind·surf v.