Enlarge Surfing Newman Darby
Antoine Martin performs an aerial 360 manoeuvre at Ho'okipa, Hawaii. Martin is a rider.
Camille Juban at the Aloha Classic on Maui's North Shore in 2019. Juban is also a rider.

Windsurfing is a surface water sport that is a combination of surfing and sailing.[1] It is also referred to as "sailboarding" and "boardsailing", and emerged in the early 1970s from the surf culture of California. Windsurfing had gained a following across North America by the late 1970s[2][3][4] and had achieved significant global popularity by the 1980s.[5]

Windsurfing is a recreational sport, most popular at flat water locations around the world that offer safety and accessibility for beginner and intermediate participants.[6] The sport has two distinct interest groups, namely Racing and Riding, with many participants embracing both.

Professional World Titles are awarded for the overall winners from elite World Cup events around for Slalom, Wave and increasingly Foiling and Freestyle.[7]

Amateur World Titles come in many forms with many differences classes and disciplines of windsurfing equipment.[8] The major titles include course racing disciplines such as the original Windsurfer Class,[9] the high speed long board Raceboard Class,[10] the faster shorter board Formula Class,[11] and the Olympics that will use the new Windfoiling Class for France in 2024.[12][13][circular reference] Amateur world titles are also offered for highest speed racing known as slalom.[14]


The enormous popularity of the sport in the late 1970s[2] and 1980s led windsurfing to be recognized as an Olympic sport in 1984 as a demonstration sport that year.[15] That same year saw the first international professional tour and the first year of the Aloha Classic event at Ho'okipa on Maui's north shore.[16] The Windsurfing boom continued into the 1990s with the Professional side of the sport becoming immensely popular across global media. Windsurfing had a larger global media presence than Surfing during these years. This popularity attracted significant sponsorship deals which in turn further promoted the sport with extensive paid advertising.

The world's top riders like Robby Naish, became wealthy and very famous athletes.[17][18]

Windsurfing's popularity across global media saw a decline toward the end of the 1990s. This has been attributed to many possible problems within the sport including licensing battles, equipment becoming too specialized, requiring excessive expertise, the splintering of Windsurfing into various niche groups around the world and splintering of the fundamentals as constant reinvention of technology challenged what it was to be 'a windsurfer'. On top of these internal issues there was a coinciding drop in major sponsor support. This was, in large part, caused by the steady introduction of international bans on cigarette advertising during the 1990s. Cigarette industry advertising had become the dominant source of sponsorship support during the early and mid 1990s boom years for the professional level of windsurfing. With the internationally legislated withdrawal of these large companies, the money spent on promoting the sport and paying for add space declined steeply. Windsurfing was unable to find replacement sponsors at house high levels and so gradually receded from public view across global advertising and media generally.

After some lean years in the early 2000s, the sport has seen a steady revival.

The sport of Windsurfing is one of constant re-invention, innovation and of pioneers in water sports generally. With the advent of kitesurfing, created by windsurfers, many avid windsurfers took up the similar sport for some variety after many years on the traditional windsurfer style equipment. More recently 'foiling' has become a major new interest among many windsurfers. As of 2019, longer, wider boards that are easier to sail are coming back and engaging a new generation. The sense of what it is to be 'a Windsurfer' or 'a surfer' is also changing as watermen like Kai Lenny break down barriers between sports.

The inventors

Illustration from US Patent 3,487,800, filed by inventors Jim Drake and Hoyle Schweitzer on March 27, 1968
Darby sailboard, Popular Science, 1965

Windsurfing, as a sport and recreational activity, did not emerge until the latter half of the 20th century. Long before this modern moment, there were small scale sailing craft that have used wind as the driving force, many of them sourced to the Polynesians who have been riding the wind and waves for centuries. Early accounts suggest island peoples were undertaking day trips over oceans standing upright on a solid board with a vertical sail.[19] In the early 19th Century, people in logging communities around western Lake Michigan were purportedly fixing sails to logs as part of log float control and for recreation.[20]

In 1948, 20-year-old Newman Darby was the first to conceive the idea of using a handheld sail and rig mounted on a universal joint so that he could control his small catamaran—the first rudderless sailboard ever built that allowed a person to steer by shifting his or her weight in order to tilt the sail fore and aft.[21] Darby filed for a patent but lacked the funds to resubmit. However, he is widely recognized as its inventor as well as the first to conceive, design, and build a sailboard with a universal joint.[22] In his own words, Darby experimented throughout much of the 1950s and 1960s and it wasn't until 1963 that an improved sailboard with a conventional stayed sloop rig sail arrangement made it more stable than the one built in 1948.[23] S. Newman Darby created his first product for a wider market in 1964 that he called the "Darby sailboard"[24] on the Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania, United States. While Darby's "sailboard" incorporated a pivoting rig, it was "square rigged" or “kite rigged” and was subject to the associated limitations. The sailboard was operated with the sailor's back to the lee side of a kite-shaped sail. Darby's article stated that " can learn to master a type of maneuvering that's been dead since the age of the picturesque square riggers" He began selling his sailboards in 1964.[25] The main focus of his “Darby Industries” was to sell plans such that any school age child could build one for under $50. Rather than building personal wealth, his focus was to introduce youth to the sport of sailing in even very shallow water.[26][22][25][27][28][25] A promotional article by Darby was published in the August 1965 edition of Popular Science magazine.[29] Darby died in 2016 reportedly feeling pleased with the recognition he received for having played a key role in the start of windsurfing.[30]

Twelve-year-old Peter Chilvers is also cited for inventing a kind of sailboard in 1958.[31]

In 1964, during a discussion on water sports, RAND Corporation aeronautical engineer Jim Drake and his former Rockwell International boss Fred Payne, discussed options for creating a wind-powered water-ski which would allow Payne to travel on the Potomac River.[32] That night they developed the idea of a kite-powered surfboard. On later reflection, Drake didn't like the integrity of the idea and dismissed it. There were already a number of sailboard designs available, and Drake was concerned about the integrity of a design needing taut wire close to a human body to keep the sail upright.[32]

Drake mentioned the idea to surfer Hoyle Schweitzer who wanted to develop it, but Drake was still unsure of how to control and steer what he envisaged in a design concept as a surfboard with upright sail design, whereby the sailor stood upright on the board holding the sail.[32]

The technical problem was that most boats steer by varying the angle of attack in the water between the centerboard and the rudder, and Drake's question came down to simple operation of how a standing person could control both the power of the sail as well as the direction of the craft.[32]

In 1967, Drake reflected on early 17th century based sail ship control. Rudders then were weak and ineffective, mostly used for trimming course. Hence with multi-masted boats, the sailors would trim the upper sails on the forward and rearwards masts to steer the ship.[32]

Dismissing the idea of a design with two upright sails, Drake decided to move the sail by rotation, as moving it linearly would require a mechanical system. Experimenting with a rotational design which became the concept for the universal joint, whereby the angle of attack of the sail to the board could be varied to allow control of both power and direction. Drake finished the design by using an earlier, but for them, failed invention of East Coast racing sail, and added a wishbone boom.[32] It is widely agreed that the 1960s, Jim Drake was the first to solve many problems of getting the board to sail effectively. Drake died 2012 leaving behind a great and lasting contribution to the sport that he loved.[33]

The sport clearly had more than one early pioneer, but it was Hoyle Schweitzer, the savvy Californian surfer, who was the first to be successful in marketing the sailboard and creating a modern global sport from a grass roots group of innovators.[31] With Drake, he founded Windsurfing International and went on to build an empire around a sport that he brought to the world stage. Were it not for Schweitzer's personal drive and ambition, the world would not know windsurfing as a major global sport.

Windsurfing International

On March 27, 1968, Hoyle Schweitzer (a surfer) and Jim Drake (a sailor)[34] filed[35] the very first windsurfing patent, which was granted by the USPTO in 1970.[36] This combination of a surfer (rider) and a sailor (racer) would go on to define the sport in more ways than they could possibly imagine at the time.

The early windsurfing boards were made of foam in the garages of Schweitzer and Drake, with the booms, tees and daggerboards handcrafted in teak. Hoyle sub-contracted the manufacture of the teak items to boat builder Ennals Ives in Taiwan, but the quality and costs of transportation brought other issues.[37] One of the early customers was Bert Salisbury, and the first international shipment of a container of boards went to Sweden.[37] Early customers also included Lufthansa pilots who had read about the board, who simply included one as personal luggage on their return journey from Los Angeles International Airport.[37]

To ensure the quality of the product and handle marketing, in 1968 Hoyle and Diana Schweitzer founded the company Windsurfing International[38] in Southern California to manufacture, promote, and license a windsurfer design. The jointly owned patent was wholly licensed to Windsurfing International.[32] Working in a factory unit in Torrance, California, Hoyle, who had previously built personal surfboards in his garage, was unhappy with the durability of the early "Baja Board." He therefore developed a new mould, based on an old Malibu surfboard design that Matt Kivlin had developed, which the company sub-contracted for mass manufacture to Elmer Good.[37]

The company registered the term "windsurfer" as a trademark at the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 1973, launching the craft 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.

In 1968, Hoyle offered Drake a buy out of his half of the patent, and it was only when Hoyle pointed out ownership of the company that the relationship between the pair began to fall apart. Having returned to California, in 1973 Drake sold his half of the patent to Windsurfing International for the sum of $36,000.[32]

The equipment consists of a board usually 2 to 2.5 metres (6 ft 7 in to 8 ft 2 in) long, with displacements typically between 45 and 150 litres (9.9 and 33.0 imp gal; 12 and 40 US gal), powered by wind on a sail. The rig is connected to the board by a free-rotating universal joint and consists of a mast, boom and sail. On “short” boards The sail area generally ranges from 1.5 to 12 square metres (16 to 129 sq ft) depending on the conditions, the skill of the sailor, the type of windsurfing being undertaken and the weight of the person windsurfing. On long boards, upon which the sport was first popularized -sail areas and board lengths are typically larger and the athleticism required is much less.


Through the seventies, Schweitzer aggressively promoted and licensed the Windsurfing International design and licensed the patent to manufacturers worldwide, mainly through competition and the publication of a magazine.[37] As a result, the sport underwent very rapid growth, particularly in Europe after the sale of a sub-license sold to Ten Cate Sports in the Netherlands.[32] In 1975 Ten Cate Sports sold 45,000 boards in Europe.

At the same time, Schweitzer also sought to defend his patent rights vigorously against unauthorized manufacturers. This led to a host of predating windsurfer-like devices being presented to courts around the world by companies disputing Windsurfing International's rights to the invention.[39]

In 1979, Schweitzer licensed[40][41] Brittany, France-based company Dufour Wing, which was later merged with Tabur Marine – the precursor of Bic Sport.[42] Europe was now the largest growing market for windsurfers, and the sub-licensed companies – Tabur, F2, Mistral – wanted to find a way to remove or reduce their royalty payments to Windsurfing International.

Tabur lawyers found prior art, in a local English newspaper which had published a story with a picture about 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. This board used a universal joint, one of the key parts of the Windsurfing International's patent. They also found stories published about the 1948 invention of the sailboard by Newman Darby and his wife Naomi in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.[25]

In Windsurfing International Inc. v Tabur Marine (GB) Ltd. 1985 RPC 59[43] with Tabur backed financially by French sailing fan Baron Marcel Bich, British courts recognized the prior art of Peter Chilvers. It did not incorporate the curved wishbone booms of the modern windsurfer, but rather a "straight boom" that became curved in use. The courts found that the Schweitzer windsurfer boom was "merely an obvious extension". This court case set a 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. Schweitzer then sued the company in Canada, where the opposition team again financially backed by Bic included Chilvers and Jim Drake, and Schweitzer lost again. After the cases, no longer obliged to pay Windsurfing International any royalty payments, the now renamed Bic Sport became one of the world's larger producers of windsurfing equipment, with an annual production of 15,000 boards.[42]

There is no evidence that Schweitzer or Drake had knowledge of any prior inventions similar to theirs. Drake accepted in retrospect that, although he can be credited with the invention, he was "probably no better than third," behind mid-west based Newman Darby and Englishman Peter Chilvers.[32] The battle over the origin story of the sport would go on to cause much legal grief for the global sporting phenomenon for much of the 1980s.

In 1983, Schweitzer sued.[40][41] Swiss board manufacturer Mistral[44] and lost. Mistral's defense hinged on the work of US inventor Newman Darby, who by 1965 conceived the "sailboard": a hand-held square rigged "kite" sail on a floating platform for recreational use.[25]

Eventually US courts recognized the Schweitzer windsurfer as an obvious step from Darby's prior art.[45] 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.[37]

In 1984, Australian courts determined a patent case: Windsurfing International Inc & Anor -v- Petit & Anor[46] (also part reported in 3 IPR 449 or [1984] 2 NSWLR 196), which attributed the first legally accepted use of a split boom 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 in a sitting position and not as a windsurfer standing up, near his home on the Swan River in Perth. The judge noted that, "Mr Eastaugh greatly exaggerated the capacity of his galvanised iron canoes to sail to windward" and that, "There is no corroboration of Mr Eastaugh's experiences by any other witness. Neither of his brothers or his father was called".[47]

It is acknowledged in the courts that the separate Eastaugh (1946–1949), Darby (1965) and Chilvers (1958) inventions pre-dated the Schweitzer/Drake patent (1968).[32]

By the late 1980s the sport was massive and in the midst of a full blown marketing and legal battle between the original market in the US, and the exploding European markets.[5] This epic legal battle laid the ground for a still running rivalry between the European and American hemispheres.


Windsurfing International claimed trademark rights with respect to the word "windsurfer". While this was registered in the United States for some years, it was not accepted for registration in many jurisdictions as the word was considered too descriptive. Registration was ultimately lost in the United States for the same reason.

The Schweitzers initially chose the word for its descriptive quality. Unfortunately they immediately set out diminishing its value by naming their company "Windsurfing International" and even referring to themselves and their own children as "windsurfers". History would reveal that this nomenclature from Schweitzer did indeed become the universally accepted way of describing the sport, the participants, and the equivalent.

As the word was rejected as legally registrable for patent purposes in a number of countries, lawyers advised that to be successful the word would have to be used as a proper adjective. They realised that this required a number of generic nouns to which the adjective would apply: sailboard, boardsailing, planche a voile, segelbrett and so on. The rearguard action was ultimately unsuccessful and arguably created considerable confusion which hampered marketing efforts in later years. Today the word windsurfer is completely dominant around the world. Schweitzer's vision of the sport is complete and now fulfilled, despite an agony process that he and his company had to endure.


The numerous patent and trademark disputes disrupted the sport during the 1980s and into the early 1990s. These disputes did not occur until well after Windsurfing International, its licensees, class associations, retailers, schools and owners had built the sport to a successful commercial basis. That success brought imitation and then the legal disputes described above.[48]

The launch phase with 'Windsurfing International' saw a comprehensive development of infrastructure for a new sport and dramatic sales growth. The foundation of the sport was laid down in this way by Windsurfing International and this extraordinarily clear vision has provided the sport with its powerful and demonstrated endurance.

Darby is now largely recognised as the 'original inventor', while the massive growth of the sport is largely attributed to Schweitzer with his elegant refinement of the craft from a surfing background and his savvy business investment strategy. The sport of Windsurfing now honours both these individuals as the founders of the modern sport.


Windsurfers are often classified as either shortboards or longboards. Longboards are usually longer than 3 meters, with a retractable daggerboard, and are optimized for lighter winds or course racing. Shortboards are less than 3 meters long and are designed for planing conditions.

While windsurfing is possible under a wide range of wind conditions, most intermediate and advanced 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 kn (6 m/s) if rigged with an adequate, well-tuned sail in the six to eight square meter range. The pursuit of planing in lower winds has driven the popularity of wider and shorter boards, with which planing is possible in wind as low as 8 kn (4 m/s), if sails in the 10 to 12 square meter range are used.

Modern windsurfing boards can be classified into many categories: 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 stiff, 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, containing more fiberglass.[49]


Modern windsurfing sails are often made of monofilm (clear polyester film), dacron (woven polyester) and mylar. Areas under high load may be reinforced with kevlar.

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 create a rigid aerofoil shape for faster speed and stability, but at the cost of maneuverability and how light 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.

Rotational sails have battens which protrude beyond the back aspect of the mast. They flip or "rotate" to the other side of the mast when tacking or jibing, hence the rotation in the name. Rotational sails have an aerofoil shape on the leeward side when powered, but are nearly flat when sheeted out (unpowered). In comparison with cambered sails, rotational designs offer less power and stability when sailing straight, but are easier to handle when maneuvering. Rotational sails are usually lighter and easier to rig.

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 a grommet at the clew. Most shape is given to the sail by applying a very strong downhaul, which by design bends the mast. The outhaul tension is relatively weak, mostly providing leverage for controlling the sail's angle of attack.

The sail is tuned by adjusting the downhaul and the outhaul tension. Generally, a sail is trimmed more (flatter shape) for stronger winds. More downhaul tension loosens the upper part of the leech, allowing the top of the sail to twist and "spill" wind during gusts, shifting the center of effort (strictly, the center of pressure) down. Releasing 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; less outhaul results in more draft, providing more low-end power, but usually limiting speed by increasing aerodynamic resistance.

The disciplines of windsurfing (wave, freestyle, freeride) require different sails. Wave sails are reinforced to survive the surf, and are nearly flat when depowered to allow riding waves. Freestyle sails are also flat when depowered, and have high low-end power to allow quick acceleration. Freeride sails are all-rounders that are comfortable to use and are meant for recreational windsurfing. Race sails provide speed at the expense of qualities like comfort or maneuverability.

The size of the sail is measured in square meters and can be from 3 m2 to 5.5 m2 for wave sails and 6 m2 to 15 m2 for race sails, with ranges for freestyle and freeride sails spanning somewhere between these extremes. Learning sails for children can be as small as 0.7 m2 and race sails up to 15 m2.

Associated Equipment


A sailboard will move, depending on wind conditions and the skill or intentions of the rider, in two entirely different manners, with two different displacements; it will either sail or hydroplane (referred to as "planing"). A sensation likened to low-level flying may be experienced by the hydroplaning windsurfer.


Learning to windsurf is now easy with the development of wider, high volume beginner boards. The transition time from beginner to intermediate is now 2–3 weeks of daily sailing. Beginners, start on a large board with a tiny triangular sail in light wind in an area of safe flat water.


Windsurfing is suitable for children as young as 5, with several board and sail brands producing "Kids Rigs" to accommodate these short and light weight windsurfers. In some countries, organisations exist to provide entry into the sport in a semi-formal or club-style environment (i.e. The RYA's Team 15 scheme).[51] Robert (Robby) Naish took up the fledgling sport of windsurfing at the age of 11, and in 1976 won his first overall World Championship title at the age of 13.[citation needed]

Light winds

The board moves through the water – much like a sailing boat does – using an extendable centreboard (if available) and fin or skeg for stability and lateral resistance. The centreboard is retracted at broad points of sail, again similarly to a sailing boat, to allow for jibing control. In these conditions windsurf boards also tack and jibe like a sailing boat.

Directional control is achieved by moving the rig either forward (turning away from the wind) or aft (turning towards the wind). When jibing, the clew of the sail is let around and allowed to rotate out and around the mast.

Fall recovery: The rider climbs onto the board, grabs the pulling rope (uphaul), makes sure the mast foot is placed between his/her two feet, pulls the sail about one third out of the water, lets the wind turn the sail-board combination till he/she has the wind right in the back, pulls the sail all the way out, places the "mast hand" (hand closest to the mast) on the boom, pulls the mast over the center line of the board, places the "sail hand" (hand furthest from the mast) on the boom, then pulling on it to close the sail and power it.

Strong winds

Ideal sail size (m²) for different wind speeds and rider weights (recreational level). The red values indicate sail sizes that are unpractical or not available.

In planing conditions a harness is typically worn to more efficiently use the rider's weight to counter the force in the sail. As the wind increases, the rider continues to sheet the sail, the fin generates more lift, and the board gains speed, transitioning onto a plane. The volume of board in the water (displacement) decreases, and the rider moves rearward, stepping into the footstraps for improved control. When planing, the board skims on the surface rather than displacing water as it moves. Planing can be achieved at different wind speeds depending on the rider's weight, sail and fin size, wave conditions, and rider ability. With modern equipment planing can normally be achieved at a wind speed of around 12 kn (6 m/s). The transition from displacement motion to planing requires a jump in energy, but once planing, water resistance decreases dramatically. This means that it is possible to continue to plane, although the wind has dropped below a level that would be required to transition to plane. A board in plane can be much smaller than a board moving by displacement (thereby gaining an advantage in gear weight and board control). Lateral resistance to the wind is provided by the fin alone (generating more lift at higher speeds) and a centreboard is no longer used (smaller boards do not have one). A fin generates lift, transferring a strong load to the board, and so is usually constructed of carbon fiber for accurate shape and strength. A low-pressure area develops on the windward side of the fin, which can lead to cavitation, leading to a sudden loss of lift, called "spin-out" (equivalent to "stalling" in flight terminology). Ideal planing conditions for most recreational riders is 15–25 kn (7.7–13 m/s) of wind, but experts can windsurf in much windier conditions. Planing is considered one of the most exhilarating aspects of the sport.

Steering is mainly achieved by putting rider weight pressure on either the left or the right rail (edge) of the board. Jibing is done at full speed (a so-called "carve jibe", "power jibe" or "planing jibe"), whereby the rider continues to apply pressure on the inside rail of the turn, leaning into the turn much like a snowboarder making a toe-side turn. Pressure is released from the sail as the board speed turns downwind, allowing for the sail to be jibed. Tacking is still possible, but at these conditions has become an advanced maneuver, because it requires quick movements and good balance. A heel-side turn while planing (called a "cut-back") is usually only executed in wave riding.

Water-start: In strong winds it is difficult to uphaul the sail (pulling it out of the water while standing on the board) so waterstarting is necessary. This is done (while water treading) by positioning the mast perpendicular to the wind, lifting the luff out of the water to allow the wind to catch the sail, and then having the sail pull the sailor onto the board. As the sail becomes powered, it is then trimmed to bring the rider, board, and sail back onto a plane. Occasionally a rider may be unable to waterstart if the wind has dropped. If this happens the rider can wait for a gust and "pump" the sail to get back on the board. If this becomes hopeless uphauling the sail will be necessary.


Long-board classes

Olympic class

Sailboarding has been one of the Olympic sailing events at the Summer Olympics since 1984 for men and 1992 for women. Olympic Windsurfing uses 'One Design' boards, with all sailors using 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 current Olympic class, the Neil Pryde RS:X was used for the first time in the 2008 Summer Olympics and 2012 Summer Olympics. For 2024 the new Olympic Class windsurfer will use advanced foil technology.[52]

Formula class

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 has the principal characteristic of a maximum 1m width. They have a single fin of maximum length 70 cm and carry sails up to 12.5 m². Class rules allow sailors to choose boards produced by multiple manufacturers, as long as they are certified as Formula boards and registered with ISAF, and use fins and sails of different sizes. With the sail, fin and board choices, the equipment is able to be tailored to suit sailors of all body shapes and formula windsurfing presents one of the fastest course-racing sailing craft on the water. Formula Windsurfing is popular in many locations around the globe with predominantly light winds and flat water.

Large sails in combination with the 'wide-style' design allow planing in very low wind conditions as well as control and usability in high winds and bigger sea conditions. Non-planing sailing is very difficult with this design and racing is only conducted with a strict 7 kn (4 m/s) wind minimum in place. Formula boards are used on "flat water" as opposed to coastal surf, but racing is still held in windy conditions involving swell and chop. In 2008, a Formula Windsurfing Grand-Prix World Tour began, with events in Europe and South America complementing the single-event World Championships as a professional tour for the Formula class.

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

Raceboard class

Raceboards are longer windsurf boards with a daggerboard and movable mast rail allowing the sailor to be efficient on all points of sail. Excellent upwind ability is combined with good reaching and even downwind ability typically sailed in an Olympic triangle course. Whilst in decline in manufacture since the advent of shortboard course racing (which evolved into Formula) there remains some models in production and most notably the IMCO One Design remains popular amongst amateur racing clubs.

Short-board classes


Slalom is a high-speed race. Typically there are two sorts of slalom courses.

Slalom boards are small and narrow, and require high winds. Funboard class racing rules require winds of 9–35 kn (4.6–18 m/s) for the slalom event to take place.

Ocean Slalom Marathon

There are 3 major Ocean Slalom Marathons in the world: The Defi-Wind in France, The Lancelin Ocean Classic in Western Australia, and the Hatterass Marathon in the USA.

Super X

This discipline is a cross between freestyle and slalom. Competitors race on a short downwind slalom course, must duck jibe on all turns, and are required to perform several tricks along the way. Competitors are required to wear protective equipment. The Super X discipline was short lived and is now largely unpracticed; it reached its peak in the early 2000s,


Speedsailing takes place in several forms. The ISWC (International Speed Windsurfing Class) 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 sailor's best 2 speeds on the 500m course, which is typically open for 2 hours per 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 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 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. The current 500m record (for Windsurfers) is held by French windsurfer Antoine Albeau.[53] The women's 500m Record is held By Zara Davis, from England, also in Luderitz. The Men's nautical mile record is held by Bjorn Dunkerbeck and the women's mile record is held by Zara Davis both set in Walvis Bay Namibia

With the advent of cheap and small GPS units and the website, Speedsurfers 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.[54] With over 5000 sailors registered it is possible for windsurfers all over the world to compare speeds.

Speed Sailing Records Date Sailor Location
53.27 kn (27.4 m/s) 5 November 2015 Antoine Albeau Luderitz, Namibia
52.05 kn (26.8 m/s)[55] November 2012 Antoine Albeau Luderitz, Namibia


"In 1990 indoor windsurfing was born with the Palais Omnisports de Paris – Bercy making its spectacular debut. It was during this first indoor event that Britain’s Nik Baker, from the south coast, flourished and went on to add a whopping x6 Indoor World Championships to his name".[56]

Indoor windsurfing competitions are held, especially in Europe, during winter. Powerful fans lined up along the side of a large pool, propel the windsurfers. Indoor competition disciplines include slalom style races and ramp jumping competitions.[57][58] It is extremely dangerous because the pool is barely one meter deep and is surrounded by concrete.

World Champion Jessica Crisp has had arguably the worst injury in the history of the indoor events when, during a warm up session jumping the ramp, she snapped her leg and had to have emergency surgery in a French hospital. This was at the height of her professional career and fame across Europe.[59]

The most famous indoor champions include Robert Teriitehau, Jessica Crisp, Robby Naish, Nick Baker, Eric Thieme, and Nathalie LeLievre.[60]



Wave sailing took off during the rapid development of windsurfing on the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Maui. It can be seen as comprising two distinct (but related) parts, wave riding and wave jumping.

A typical wave contest will score two jumps going out and two wave rides coming in. A high scoring heat would consist of a double clean forward rotating jump, a high one foot backward rotating jump, a long wave ride with flowing bottom turns, radical top turns, a series of aerials and a 360 aerial manoeuvre on the face of the waves such as a 'goiter', 'taka', wave 360, planing forward or clean flowing back-loop. Depending on the conditions at the location, some competitions will focus more on jumping while others focus more on the wave-riding aspects.

The most famous wave riding locations on earth include: Ho'okipa on the north shore of Maui, Diamond Head on Oahu, Klitmøller in Denmark, Pozo and Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Cabo Verde off the north west coast of Africa, Moulay in Morocco, Margaret River in Western Australia, Pacasmayo in Peru, Topocalma in Chile, and Omaezaki in Japan.

The World Cup Wavesailing competitions crown the professional world champions each year.[61] One of the most prestigious events in the windsurfing world is called The Aloha Classic at Ho'okipa Beach on the north shore of Maui, Hawaii.

Year: Men & Women Professional World Wave Champions Aloha Classic Champions
1983 Robby Naish (USA) -
1984 Robby Naish (USA) Alex Aguera (USA)
Jill Boyer (USA) + Natalie Siebel (GER) Debbie Brown (USA)
1985 Pete Cabrina (USA) -
Shawne O'Neill (USA) -
1986 Robby Naish USA) Robby Naish (USA)
Dana Dawes (USA) + Natalie Siebel (GER) Kelby Anno (USA)
1987 Robby Naish (USA) Robby Naish (USA)
Dana Dawes (USA) Kelby Anno (USA)
1988 Robby Naish (USA) Mark Angulo (USA)
Natalie Siebel (GER) Dana Dawes (USA)
1989 Robby Naish (USA) Robby Naish (USA)
Angela Cochran (USA) Angela Cochran (USA)
1990 Björn Dunkerbeck (ESP) Rush Randle (USA)
Natalie Siebel (GER) Angela Cochran (USA)
1991 Robby Naish (USA) Robby Naish (USA)
Angela Cochran (USA) Angela Cochran (USA)
1992 Björn Dunkerbeck (ESP) -
Natalie Siebel (GER) -
1993 Björn Dunkerbeck (ESP) Jason Polakow (AUS)
Jessica Crisp (AUS) -
1994 Björn Dunkerbeck (ESP) Björn Dunkerbeck (ESP)
Natalie Siebel (GER) Barbara Kendall (NZ)
1995 Björn Dunkerbeck (ESP) -
Nathalie Le Lievre (FRA) -
1996 Patrice Belbeoch (FRA) -
Jutta Muller (GER) + Nathalie Le Lievre (FRA) -
1997 Jason Polakow (AUS) -
Nathalie Le Lievre (FRA -
1998 Jason Polakow (AUS) Jason Polakow (AUS)
Karin Jaggi (SWI) -
1999 Björn Dunkerbeck (ESP) Nik Baker (GBR)
Iballa Ruano Moreno (ESP) Jennifer Henderson (USA)
2000 Francisco Goya (ESP) Francisco Goya (ESP)
Daida Ruano Moreno (ESP) Angela Cochran (USA)
2001 Björn Dunkerbeck (ESP) Tony Garcia
Daida Ruano Moreno (ESP) -
2002 Kevin Pritchard (USA) -
Daida Ruano Moreno (ESP) -
2003 Josh Angulo (USA) Example
Daida Ruano Moreno (ESP) -
2004 Scott McKercher (AUS) -
Daida Ruano Moreno (ESP) Motoko Sato (JPN)
2005 Kauli Seadi (BRA) Alex Mussolini (ESP)
Daida Ruano Moreno (ESP) Jennifer Henderson (USA)
2006 Kevin Pritchard (USA) Josh Angulo (USA)
Iballa Ruano Moreno (ESP) Iballa Ruano Moreno (ESP)
2007 Kauli Seadi (BRA) -
Iballa Ruano Moreno (ESP) -
2008 Kauli Seadi (BRA) -
Daida Ruano Moreno (ESP) -
2009 Josh Angulo (USA) -
Daida Ruano Moreno (ESP) -
2010 Victor Fernández (ESP) -
Daida Ruano Moreno (ESP) -
2011 Philip Köster (GER) Camille Juban (GDL)
Daida Ruano Moreno (ESP) Junko Naghoshi (JPN)
2012 Philip Köster (GER) Bernd Roediger (USA)
Iballa Ruano Moreno (ESP) Junko Naghoshi (JPN)
2013 Marcilio Browne (BRA) Levi Siver (USA) + Bernd Roediger (USA)
Daida Ruano Moreno (ESP) Junko Naghoshi (JPN)
2014 Thomas Traversa (FRA) Morgan Noireaux (USA) + Boujmaa Guilloul (MOR)
Iballa Ruano Moreno (ESP) Iballa Ruano Moreno (ESP)
2015 Philip Köster (GER) Morgan Noireaux (USA)
Iballa Ruano Moreno (ESP) Iballa Ruano Moreno (ESP)
2016 Victor Fernández (ESP) Kevin Pritchard (USA)
Iballa Ruano Moreno (ESP) Sarah-Quita Offringa (ARU)
2017 Philip Köster (GER) Morgan Noireaux (USA)
Iballa Ruano Moreno (ESP) Sarah Hauser (NCL)
2018 Victor Fernández (ESP) Camille Juban (GDL
Iballa Ruano Moreno (ESP) Sarah Hauser (NCL)
2019 Philip Köster (GER) Antoine Martin (GDL)
Sarah-Quita Offringa (ARU) Sarah-Quita Offringa (ARU)


Wave riding

Wave riding is a form of surfing with the extra speed and power afforded by the sail. It is strongly connected to its roots in surfing in style and culture. It involves the rider performing a series of bottom turns, top turns, and cutbacks whilst riding an unbroken wave back to the shore. Top wave sailors are able to incorporate aerial moves into their wave riding and will use overhanging wave lips to launch themselves out in front of the wave in spectacular giant aerials.

Wave jumping

Wave jumping involves stunts of varying levels of difficulty which are performed after the rider has jumped from the peak of an unbroken wave. These are commonly referred to as aerial moves and include both forward rotation and backward rotations. The rider and his equipment rotate, doing single & double rotations and jumps where the sailor contorts his or her body and equipment. Recent innovations have included combining moves whilst airborne and, for the first time in 2008, one professional sailor, Ricardo Campello, has made attempts at a triple forward loop during a 2008 PWA competition.

Big wave riding

At the most extreme end of the sport is big wave riding which means riders on waves faces over 30 feet high. The most popular place for this is on the north shore of Maui at place called Pe'ahi to the local Hawaiians, and known as JAWS to the rest of the world. The biggest waves here can be up to 60 foot faces. It breaks only in the winter months from late October to March. Other famous big wave locations include Nazaré in Portugal. Famous contemporary big wave riders include Kai Lenny, Marcilio Browne, Robby Swift, Sarah Hauser, Jason Polakow, and Robby Naish. The inaugural Big Wave Challenge annojunced the first ever winners in this category on April 10, 2020.[63]

Storm riding

The most famous storm riding event is known as The Red Bull Storm Chase. It occurs only when there is a massive storm forecast with winds over 60 knots and giant waves over 20 feet. It is an invitational event and is extremely dangerous. The most recent winner was West Australian Jaeger Stone.


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), 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), Eslider, and Flaka. The latest freestyle windsurfing has been well documented in the film Four Dimensions. 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.

Big air

Competitors compete to see who can record the highest jump or maneuver. A 3D accelerometer is worn to measure and record heights of the jumps. Xensr is a manufacturer of 3D accelerometers and promoter of the Big Air competition. It is a popular discipline on the Columbia River near the town of Hood River, Oregon, USA.

International stars

Top men

Top women

See also


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