The early years – sailboarding
The birth year of windsurfing is 1948 which makes the sport an elderly lady! In 1948, Newman Darby, a 20 year old American, created a floating platform which looked more like a catamaran than a windsurfing board on which he mounted a sail.
He kept improving his innovation and by 1964, he had developed a universal joint, which he used to connect the mast of the rig to the board, which now had a dagger board, a tailfin (to steer it around Trailwood lake, Pennsylvania) and a kite shaped sail.
He called his invention sailboarding after he wrote an article in 1965, but he never patented it. In that time he and his brothers were manufacturing the boards in their own company Darby Industries.
The surfer and the engineer – when waterskiing became windsurfing
In the mid sixties Jim Drake, an aircraft engineer had this idea of some kind of a water ski which floats when you could stand on it, and which would be driven not by a boat but by a wind filled kite which could steered by hand. After brainstorming on his idea, he found out that the kite was not the best solution for his idea, he was now thinking towards a sail which could steered by hand as well.
He discussed this with Hoyle Schweitzer, who was his neighbor and happened to be a surfer. Together, they developed a board suiting their purposes. After also designing a sail and a boom, they went to the ocean to test their invention. It took a few improvements to this initial invention – e.g. inventing the first ever uphauling rope to help get the heavy wet sail out of the water – but then they decided: this new sport works. They called their design “the windsurfer” and patented it in 1970.
Hoyle went on to market his invention internationally while Drake dropped out. He couldn’t see the potential of the windsurfer and solt his rights to Hoyle for 36,000 USD, a sum he most probably came to regret later: Hoyle became very successful selling his sailboards – by the end of the seventies, 1 of 3 European families had a windsurfer at home!
This is also the birth of the first windsurfing companies, some of which are still in business today: Mistral, for example, or F2.
The late 70ies and early 80ies were the climax of the windsurfing boom. By 1984, windsurfing had become Olympic. The first ever windsurfer to win a goldmedal was Dutchman Stephan van den Berg.
Stephan van den Berg later switched from the Olympic contests to the funboard contests which are now known as the PWA (Professional Windsurfers Association). On the Olympics in Barcelona, Spain in 1992 women competed for the first time in windsurfing and the first female to win gold was Barbara Kendall from New Zealand.
More windsurfing companies emerged and the board and sail designs started to diversify. With more and more athletes wishing to compete and have their own professional association representing their interests, the PWA – professional windsurfing association – was founded in the early 1980ies.
Windsurfing has reached all age groups – children, grown-ups, best agers… according to the German watersports association VDWS, windsurfing beginner’s course are made by anyone between 5 and 75. And the good news: despite a decline (saturation resulting from the birth of other trend sports such as kite surfing, rock climbing, rafting etc.) in the 90ies and around the millenium, windsurfing has experienced a constant growth in the past four years.
There are mainly two reasons for this development. First of all, it’s better accessibility: whereever people go on their holidays these days, it is quite likely they will find a fully equipped windsurfing school at their beach resort which offers a comprehensive course and a wide range of different rental equipment. Second of all, it’s the material itself – compared to 20, 30 years ago, boards and sails have become much lighter and are therefore much easier to deal with even for leight-weight women or children.