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Windsurfing History

Windsurfing History

 Windsurfing is amazing because it encompasses two rather different water sports: surfing and sailing. Surfing is great because it offers loads of excitement, while sailing is great because it gives you a sense of tranquility. Thanks to windsurfing you no longer have to choose between the two. If you want thrills and excitement, go windsurfing; if you want calm, quiet sailing, go windsurfing as well.

But how did windsurfing came to be? The idea behind it is pretty basic, but who came up with it?

It seems that in 1948 a young man from Pennsylvania came with the idea of a free sail system (it consisted of a handheld sail and rig mounted on a universal joint that was meant to control a small catamaran). That young man’s name was Newman Darby, but since he did not patent his invention, we cannot be sure if he is indeed the creator of windsurfing. Darby’s sailboards were never a big hit anyway. His company had to cease production by the end of the sixties simply because the sailboards were not selling.

In the 1960’s Hoyle Schweitzer (a surfer) and Jim Drake (a sailor and aerospace engineer at the RAND Corporation) got together and came up with the idea of putting a free sail system on a surfboard. In 1968 Schweitzer founded the company Windsurfing International in southern California with the aim of manufacturing, promoting and licensing a windsurfer design. They filed for patent the same year. The patent was issued to them on the 6th of January 1970. They called their patented sailboard a “windsurfer”. It weighed 60 pounds or 27 kg and was 12 feet or 3.5 m long. They were made of polyethylene.

In 1973 the United States Patent and Trademark Office registered the term “windsurfer” to Schweitzer and Drake. The same year Drake relinquished his patent rights in favor of Hoyle Schweitzer.

In the U.S. of A. the sport became an instant hit. Windsurfing dealt away with one of the major impediments of surfing: the lack of waves. Thanks to windsurfing people no longer had to wait for waves in order to go surfing – the sail meant that you could use wind power to move across the surface of the water. In Europe the Tencate Corporation took out a license to produce windsurfing equipment. Pretty soon the sport gathered quite a following in Europe as well. According to Tencate they eventually ended up selling more boards in Europe than other manufacturers in America. According to statistics, one in three households had purchased a sailboat in the late 1970’s.

The first windsurfing Championship was held in 1973.

In 1976 a legal fight broke out between Hoyle Schweitzer and Newman Darby. Up to this point none of them had any idea what the other one was doing. Newman Darby argued that in 1965 he had published an article on windsurfing. The article was published in “Popular Science” magazine and it presented the manner in which to make a windsurfing board, the different sail positions, and how to steer the board. Millions were spend in court.

Throughout the 1980’s Schweitzer’s legal battle continued – he sued Tabur Marine (the predecessor of Bicsport); he sued Mistral (a Swiss board manufacturer). In 1987 all the legal fighting ended as Schweitzer’s patent expired. Legally speaking, Drake and Schweitzer’s “windsurf” was predated by other (Eastaugh, Chilvers, and Darby) inventions. But it was Drake and Schweitzer that made windsurfing popular, that brought windsurfing to the masses. All the other inventions were quickly disregarded and only came back into focus after windsurfing was already a popular sport.

In the 1980’s Darby filed for patent for a one-person sailboat.

In 1984 windsurfing became and Olympic sport and one could take part in the Los Angeles Olympic Games – if you were a man that is. Women had to wait until 1992 to get Olympic recognition.

In the 1990’s the sport was flourishing. Europe in particular seemed to have a special interest in the sport. European produced equipment was selling incredibly well, even on the American market. Nowadays the windsurfing market is not doing so well. Due to a considerable decline in sales, most European producers have shifted their production to Thailand (75% worth). Chances are that the sandwich board you bought was not made in Europe, but in Thailand.

Setting speed records is part of windsurfing history. Let’s see who set them and when:

  • - Derk Thijs in 1977 reaches a speed of 17.1knots (that’s 31.66 km/h)
  • - Clive Colenso in 1979 reaches a speed of 19.2 knots (that’s 35.5km/h)
  • - Jaap van der Rest in 1980 reaches a speed of 24.45 knots (that’s 45.2km/h). The following year he beats his own record by going 25.2 knots.
  • - Pascal Maka in 1982 reaches a speed of 27.82 knots or 51.5km/h.
  • - Fred Haywood in 1983 reaches a speed of 30.82 knots.
  • - Pascal Maka in 1986 reaches a speed of 38.68 knots.
  • - Erik Beale in 1988 reaches a speed of 40.3 knots.
  • - Thierry Bielak 1993 reaches a speed of 45.34 knots.
  • - Finian Maynard in 2003 reaches a speed of 46.24 knots. In 2005 he beat his own record by going 48.7 knots.
  • - Antoine Albeau in 2008 reaches a speed of 49.09 knots or 90.91 km/h.