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. This method of controlling the board's direction is called the free-sail system.
The sport combines aspects of both sailing and surfing, along with certain athletic aspects shared with other board sports like skateboarding, snowboarding, waterskiing, wakeboarding and kitesurfing. Although it might be considered a minimalistic version of a sailboat, a windsurfer offers experiences that are outside the scope of most 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, wave sailing, superX, and freestyle as distinct disciplines.
Though windsurfing is possible in winds from near 0 to 50 knots, the ideal planing conditions for most recreational sailors is 15-25 knots, 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, carve gybing (turning downwind at speed), water starting, jumping, and more advanced moves can require lengthy practice.
Windsurfing, as a sport and recreational activity, did not emerge until the later 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 at the RAND Corporation, 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. A sailing craft utilizing two surfboards supporting a frame, sailing rig and steering mechanism was patented by Michael Kiefer in 1966.
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 http://www.windsurfing-academy.com/information_bank/history/interview_with_jim_drake.asp http://www.americanwindsurfer.com/MAG/BACK/7.3.4/drake.html. 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.
Windsurfing International created the Windsurfer 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. Later Windsurfing International produced other development board sails, so as not to be left behind with the quickly evolving sport.
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 http://www.bicsportboats.com/bicsport.php?lang=us, http://www.bicsport.com/. 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 http://www.mistral.com. 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 http://windsurf.mediaforte.com/darby/index.html, http://www.computerknowhow.com/darbyweb/ http://invention.smithsonian.org/centerpieces/ilives/darby/darby.html. http://americanhistory.si.edu/archives/images/d8625-3.jpg. 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 http://americanhistory.si.edu/archives/d8625.htm. 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 galvanized iron canoes and hill trolleys which he equipped with sails with split 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.
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.
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 becoming available.
Boards and GearIn 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 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.
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 liters in volume, and about 240 to 250 centimeters in length, with widths frequently in excess of 60 centimeters. Freestyle boards began to diverge more noticeably in design from wave boards in the early part of the 2000 decade, as aerial tricks (the Vulcan, Spock, Grubby, Flaka, and related New School maneuvers, almost all involving a jump-and-spin component) became the predominant part of the freestyle repertoire, superseding Old School moves, in which the board did not leave contact with the water. These boards also incorporate a fairly large amount of fore and aft rocker (curvature from front to back) to make leaving the water (jumping) easier.
- Slalom boards: Shortboards aimed at top speed, rather than maneuverability or ease of use.
- Beginner boards: (sometimes called funboards or barges) 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.
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 fibre, kevlar, or fibreglass 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 http://www.boardlady.com/anatomy.htm.
A windsurfing sail is made of monofilm (clear polyester film), dacron (woven polyester) and mylar. Sensitive parts are reinforced with Kevlar Spectra or Polyester mesh.
Two designs of a sail are predominant: camber induced and rotational. Cambered sails may have multiple camber inducers, plastic devices at the forward ends of battens that cup against the mast. They help to hold a rigid aerofoil shape in the sail, better for speed and stability, but at the cost of maneuverability and generally how light and easy to use the sail feels. The trend is that racier sails have camber inducers while wave sails and most recreational sails do not. The rigidity of the sail is also determined by the number and composition of battens.
Beginners' sails often have fewer battens, if any, 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.
CompetitionsIn windsurfing competitions, there are the following disciplines:
- Olympic Windsurfing Class
- Formula Windsurfing Class
- Super X
- Speed Racing
- Windsurfer One Design
Olympic classIn 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 classFormula 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.
SlalomSlalom 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.
Super XThis is a fairly new discipline in windsurfing competitions, a cross between freestyle and slalom. The competing sailors are racing on a short downwind slalom course, have to use duck jibes on all turns, and are required to perform several tricks along the way, such as jump over an obstacle, spock or even front loop. The competitors are required to wear protective equipment. SuperX discipline disappeared at the end of 2006.
Speed sailingSpeed sailing takes several forms. The ISWC (International Speed Windsurfing Class) organizes (under the umbrella of the ISAF) competitions in locations known for good speed conditions. The events are made up of heats sailed on a 500m course. The average of each sailor's best two speeds on the 500m course, which is typically open for 90 minutes per heat, is their speed for that heat. Due to this structure, 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. 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 the world tour winner is crowned. The world champion and the continental champions are crowned in separate one-off events.
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. Since March, 8th 2008, the outright (500m course) sailing record is held by Antoine Albeau at 49.09 knots (90.91 km/h - 56.49 mph) who beat previous record by Finian Maynard at 48.7 knots. Manyard 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. 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. In the meantime, the french trimaran Hydroptere improved that speed again to almost 42 knots.
With the advent of handheld GPS's, sailors 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. See www.gps-speedsurfing.com for more information. With over 2000 sailors registered, it is possible for windsurfers all over the world to compare speeds.
Late October and early November 2006 was a particularly good period for fast speeds. In Namibia, Hennie Bedenkamp was the first sailor over 40 kts for the nautical mile on Oct 31 2006. Later that day Dunkerbeck did improved this to 41.14 kts. The next day in Holland, Martin van Meurs achieved a peak gps speed of 46.9 kts. On 11 November Bob Cunningham achieved a peak of 45.2 kts at West Kirby in the UK, while in the southern hemisphere Chris Torkler made 44.6 kts in Auckland, New Zealand and on the 9th and Chris Lockwood achieved 48.9 knots 2 second peak speed at Sandy Point, Australia on 13 November 2006 with a 500m average of 46.1 kts. On 18 January 2007, Dutch sailor, Martin van Meurs went on to increase his (max 2 sec) speed to 49.4 kts at West Kirby UK.
Speed sailing shares a fierce (but good-willed) rivalry between the sailing disciplines, particularly kitesurfing - where (as of early 2008) kitesurfing has achieved unofficial speeds in excess of 50 kts.
FreestyleFreestyle 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 (windsurfing)), Eslider, Flaka.
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.
WaveSimilar 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 going out and two wave rides coming in. A good heat would consist of a clean forward rotating jump, a backward rotating jump, a long slashy wave ride and a trick on the face of the waves such as a goiter or wave 360.
- Robby Naish: one of the first windsurfing champions to gain long-lasting 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.
- Bjorn Dunkerbeck: the successor to Naish, he dominated competition for many years in the late 1980s and 1990s. Twelve time PWA Overall World Champion.
- Stephan van den Berg, world champion 1980-1983, winner first Olympic windsurfing contest in 1984.
- Josh Stone: freestyle pioneer, inventor of spock, PWA Freestyle World Champion in 1999, 2000
- Ricardo Campello: a freestyle innovator, he created many new difficult moves, PWA Freestyle World Champion in 2003, 2004, and 2005.
- Kauli Seadi: Pioneered freestyle maneuvers in wave competition. Ranked first in PWA Wave competition in 2005, 2007 Wave World Champion.
- Karin Jaggi: Multiple PWA World Champion in freestyle, wave, speed competition, 1990s and 2000s.
- Natalie Lelievre: Overall World Champion, 1984, 1985.
- Daida Moreno: PWA Wave World Champion, 2000-2005, Freestyle World Champion 2003-2007.
- Iballa Moreno: PWA Wave World Champion, 2006 and 2007. Twin sister of Daida Moreno.
- Jason Polakow: PWA Wave World Champion, 1997, 1998.
- Kevin Pritchard: PWA Wave World Champion, 2006, PWA 1st overall ranking, 2000.
- Nik Baker: Three-time PWA Wave World Vice-Champion, six-time Indoor World Champion.
- Ricardo Winick: Neil Pryde RS:X 2007 World Champion and Panamerican Games gold medalist.
Windsurfer One DesignIn the last few years there has been a resurgence in the original One Design class.
The One Design has been around for over 30 years and is still the favorite board of many elite windsurfers. It can be used from calm conditions to heavy winds. Racing is typically in triangle arrangement with a windward-leward leg. The rig consists of a fiberglass mast and a 6 square meter mylar sail.
Youth windsurfingA windsurfer holds the outright World Speed Sailing Record: French sailor Antoine Albeau reached an average speed of 49.09 knots (90.91 km/h - 56.49 mph) over a 500 metre course at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (France) on 5th March 2008 beating previous one by Irish born sailor Finian Maynard who competes for the British Virgin Islands who reached an average speed of 48.70 knots (25.05 m/s or 56.05 mph) at the same venue on 10th April 2005 http://www.sailspeedrecords.com/500.html. 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.
- Updated List of Speed Sailing Records, Speed All Time Ranking
- Boards Magazine Speed-Sailing History
- Complete Chronology of Speed Sailing Records
- Video footage of Antoine Albeau setting actual overall speedsailing world record on March 5, 2008
- Video footage of Finian Maynard setting previous overall speedsailing world record on April 10, 2005 courtesy of AdventureImagery.com
- PWA: Professional Windsurfers Association
- ISWC: The International Speed Windsurfing Class
- IWA: International Windsurfing Association as cooperation of ISAF windsurfing classes
- Royn Bartholdi Windsurfing, with descriptions and photos of techniques and freestyle tricks
- World Windsurfing and Kitesurfing Directory
- Windsurfing News Provider
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