Windsurfing is a combination of surfboarding and sailing. It typically involves a board 8 to10 feet long powered by a wind-driven sail attached to a rig that’s connected to the board via a free-rotating joint. Sail sizes vary based on conditions and the sailor’s skill level and weight. It’s been described by some as a great combination of laid-back surfer culture and the more rigid, rule-based world of sailing. Windsurfers who’ve mastered their craft can perform various tricks and maneuvers that seem more similar to some skateboarding moves than anything usually seen on the water. Though most commonly called windsurfing, it might also be referred to as boardsailing or sailboarding.
After its creation in 1964 in Pennsylvania, windsurfing struggled a bit to solidify its image as a cohesive and coherent sport. In 1984, it was added as an Olympic sport for men, with the women’s side being added in 1992. In Olympic windsurfing, all competitors are required to use the same equipment, and this equipment is designed to handle as many conditions as possible, since competitions have to take place regardless of water or wind conditions. Despite its inclusion as an Olympic event, windsurfing lost some popularity in the mid 90s as licensing battles raged and more specialized equipment meant sailors had to have more expertise to be successful, an aspect that drove many away from the sport. Recognizing the pressure to be more accessible to more people, manufacturers began creating more boards that were designed for beginners. There are quite a few different types of boards available, each designed with a different purpose in mind.
- Freeride boards are designed for comfortable recreational windsurfing on calmer waters. These boards are designed for mostly straight-line sailing with minimal turns.
- Wave boards are lighter, smaller, and more maneuverable. They’re for use by those looking to break waves. Sailors on wave boards like performing high jumps and narrow linked turns.
- Freestyle boards are similar to wave boards, but are wider and are specifically designed for performing acrobatic tricks on flat water.
- Racing longboards are designed for racing.
- Speed and slalom boards are designed for speed and lack significant maneuverability.
Learning how to windsurf is easier now than it once was, thanks to the development of wider beginner boards. Typically, beginners learn to windsurf by starting on a beginner board with a small sail on a shallow lake on a day with very light wind. Though many beginners think such conditions are too far removed from their windsurfing goals, this is the best way to help new windsurfers gain the core stability and balance they’ll need to be successful. It also allows them to learn the basics of sailing and a few techniques they’ll use on open water in a safer setting. The first skills a beginner will need to master include standing on the board while holding and balancing the weight of the sail on one side while the sailor leans to the other; learning how to maneuver the sail to steer the board; and learning how to adjust the pressure on the sail while maintaining balance. Once the basics are mastered (which can be a day or less with a good instructor and a quick learner), time, patience, and practice are the only things standing between you and a great new hobby that combines wind and water in a pretty breathtaking way!