What is Windsurfing?
Windsurfing is a fun boardsport that combines the power of wind and water to glide on the waves. A windsurfer uses a sailboard consisting of a sail rig and long, semi-thick board with fins to help guide it. There are several advanced disciplines of windsurfing which include fast-paced styles like course racing or big wave riding. Keeping your knees bent and a grip on the steering boom, you can ride your sailboard on any body of water with space and wind.
Windsurfing can be traced back to the 1950s, when Jim Drake, a sailor, and Hoyle Schweitzer, a surfer, joined forces on the California coast. They designed and patented their sailboard design and called it the Windsurfer, giving the sport its name. Windsurfing grew in popularity in America and Europe in the 1970s, with the first ever championship competition held in 1973. Over the decades, a number of disciplines have evolved to include focuses on speed and acrobatics.
People windsurf all over the world in any body of water with sufficient wind, whether it’s the ocean, lakes, rivers, or even indoor pool settings. Some beaches will have rules against windsurfing in a swimming area, so be sure to check up on local regulations.
It’s important to match your sailboard to your environment. For example, boards used for windsurfing out on the ocean have heavier, sturdy sails to withstand the stronger wind and water, as more lightweight rigs designed for gentler waters are difficult to control.
The assembled setup of the board and sails used in windsurfing is called a sailboard. Pieces like the mast, boom, and sails allow the sailboard to harness and control the wind. Make sure to match your equipment to your size, environment, and skillset. A thinner, high performance board that gives experienced windsurfers great control will be difficult to maneuver for beginners. Optional accessories like a wetsuit or windsurfing shoes are great for colder waters, whereas accessories like the harness allow skimming. Beginners should also consider a life vest.
Here is the essential windsurfing equipment you should have:
Freeriding is the most popular style of windsurfing, the objective being to enjoy the ride. There are also competitions across the more advanced disciplines. Speed-focused styles such as slalom have course racing, where windsurfers compete to cross the finish line first. Competitions in freestyling or wave surfing allow windsurfers to show off their creativity and acrobatic skills with tricks in front of judges who award points based on finesse and mastery of a trick.
Rules and Regulations
Every windsurfing tournament will have its own set of rules to adhere to, but it’s important to know the universal safety and right of way rules before heading out to the water. Observing who has the right of way will ensure you avoid needless accidents on the water. Properly handling your board will also allow you a smooth, painless ride.
Here are the most important windsurfing rules to know:
- Keep a 3 mast distance from swimmers and surfers
- A leeward surfer (travelling downwind) has right of way over a windward surfer (travelling upwind)
- A surfer travelling perpendicular to the shore (or starboard) has right of way over a surfer travelling parallel to the shore (port track)
- Keep the boom at about shoulder height for proper control, and bend at the knees rather than waist
- Never take your sailboat out in excessive winds or thunderstorms
There are many styles of windsurfing to master and enjoy. Freeriding, or plain windsurfing back and forth for pleasure, is the style all beginners start with to learn proper posture and control of the sails. Freeriding is the most popular form of windsurfing, but many enjoy more advanced disciplines like wave riding or freestyling, including performing jumps and tricks with the board. Others like slalom or hydrofoiling focus on speed and racing, with special lightweight sails designed for acceleration.
Here are the most important windsurfing strategies you should know:
- Wave/ Big wave
- Speed sailing
Windsurfers have a colorful vocabulary to describe their sport. A lot of the terms you might hear come from surfing and sailing culture in particular, as windsurfing has always combined these elements.
Here is the common lingo and slang in windsurfing:
- Gear gazing: Looking too much at your hands, feet or equipment rather than focusing on where you’re going, leaving you prone to accidents.
- Boom: The bar you use to control the sails with.
- Jibe/gybe: Directing the nose of the sailboard away from strong winds to turn.
- Tack: Directing the nose of the sailboard towards the wind to turn.
- Carve: To turn sharply while planing.
- Catapult: When you’re harnessed in and flung into the water along with your board setup.
- UJ/Deck plate: The base of the mast connecting the mast to the board.
- Planing: When your board skims the top of the water at a fast speed.
- Spinout: When the fin at the bottom of the board loses its grip on the water and causes you to lose direction.
- Stack/Stacking it: When you crash really hard.
There’s no shortage of incredible athletes who practice windsurfing. Windsurfers come from all kinds of ethnicities and athletic backgrounds, with some like Dave Kalama focusing on acrobatic stunts while others like Björn Dunkerbeck specializing in racing. From longtime legends like 24 time World Windsurfing champion Antoine Albeau to rising stars like Liam Dunkerbeck, windsurfers always put on an inspiring and thrilling show.
Here are the most famous windsurfing players you should know:
- Peter Boyd
- Antoine Albeau
- Arrianne Aukes
- Dorian van Rijsselberghe
- Björn Dunkerbeck
- Sarah-Quita Offringa
- Dave Kalama
- Liam Dunkerbeck
Around 1.5 million people worldwide are part of the windsurfing community, and there are many organizations to support them and stage events. Broad-scoping organizations like the International Funboard Class Association (IFCA) or the International Windsurfing Association represent windsurfers. Still, there are regional groups for just about every part of the world.
Here are the most popular windsurfing leagues you should know:
- International Windsurfing Association
- International Funboard Class Association (IFCA)
- International Mistral Class Association
- European Freestyle Pro Tour (EFPT)
- US Windsurfing
- UK Windsurfing Association
Events and Competitions
Windsurfing has exciting events held worldwide. Its competitions span all disciplines, from wave riding and freestyle acrobatics to high speed slalom racing. Windsurfers might compete to show off creative stunts, win short-length spring races, or win course races with turns and loops.
Here are the most popular tournaments in windsurfing:
- RS:X Windsurfing World Championship: Representing the RS:X strain of slalom, the RS:X Windsurfing World Championship is the most formidable race in windsurfing.
- SWA Wave Series: A freestyle-focused event where surfers show off their stunts.
- PWA World Windsurfing Tour: An event where you can train and race with some of the world’s finest windsurfers.
Windsurfing became part of the Olympics when a men’s division was added in the 1984 summer Olympics. A women’s division followed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Olympic windsurfing competitions include slalom racing competitions as well as stunt-based freestyle competitions where surfers compete for points from judges. To ensure a fair challenge, all windsurfers use the same standard windsurfing board.
Should I know how to surf before I windsurf?
Balancing skills from surfing may help, but it’s not necessary to know surfing before windsurfing. Windsurfing has its own stances, involving balancing your body with the sails on the board.
How should I stand on the board?
Keep your feet shoulder width apart, with your front foot pointing to the nose and your back foot across the board behind it. To avoid strain, grip the boom at shoulder height and keep your knees slightly bent. A proper stance can help you avoid back pain or injury.
What kind of windsurfing board should I start with?
Beginners should stick with larger boards, which are more buoyant and stable. They don’t offer as much control as a smaller sailboard made for speed and precision, but they’ll stay afloat more easily.