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Windsurfing or boardsailing as it is commonly called, is a combination of sailing and surfing using a single-person craft called a sailboard. Windsurfing boards and windsurfing sail are the basic requisites for a windsurfing expedition.

Windsurfing History

Windsurfing is a relatively young sport with its roots set in the 1940’s. In 1948 twenty-year old Newman Darby came up with the idea of mounting a hand-held sail and rig on an universal joint. In 1968 sailor Jim Drake and surfer Holy Schweitzer got together and this saw the birth of windsurfing in the state of Southern California. They obtained the first patent for the sailboard. The early windsurfing boards measured 12 feet in length and weighed 60 pounds. With origins in the U.S., the 70’s saw Europe firmly gripped by the windsurfing fever. Europeans who have an affinity for individual games rather than team games took up to windsurfing in a big way. One in every three households possessed windsurfing boards and windsurfing sail. The Americans started buying European windsurfing boards and windsurfing sail, a trend that continues to this day. The early 1980’s witnessed tremendous growth in the popularity of windsurfing. The professional World cup tour and Olympic status in 1984 furthered the growth of the game. Currently, windsurfing is one of the preferred water sports offered at many resorts all over the world.

Windsurfing for beginners

Selecting the right windsurfing sail and windsurfing board is essential for effective windsurfing. The ideal windsurfing sail for a beginner would be in the range of 4.0 square meters. Starters would do well to avoid a windsurfing sail larger than 6.0 square meters. Windsurfing boards of 11’ or 12’6” and with minimum 200 liters of volume along with a centerboard and fin are ideal. While purchasing a windsurfing wetsuit, select one with plenty of room in the forearms and shoulder area. Use windsurfing boots to protect your feet from sharp rocks and reefs.
Check out these windsurfing tips:

  • Always stay with the board. In the event of the board and rig getting separated, stay with the board. The board offers flotation and a stable platform for surfers.
  • Be equipped with essentials such as wetsuit, dry suit, boots, sunscreen etc.
  • Keep track of traffic patterns and weather conditions of the surfing site.
  • Learn the international distress signals. These SOS signals are recognized worldwide as signs for help in times of distress.
  • Learn to read the wind before you begin windsurfing.
  • Learn how to use a wind clock. Wind clock helps to establish where you are and the direction from which the wind is blowing.

Windsurfing boards

Windsurfing boards range in size from 12’6” with 250 liters of volume to high-performance boards of less than 8’ with 70 liters volume. All windsurfing boards have a mast and a fin on the underside near the tail. Most windsurfing boards have foot straps to keep the surfer on the board during jumps and high speeds. There are two kinds of windsurfing boards– Long boards and Short boards. Long boards are over 10 feet, better suited for light-wind sailing; they are distinguished primarily by the use of a centerboard. Short boards are under 10 feet long and do not have a centerboard.

Windsurfing Sail

A windsurfing sail is described by its function and size; race sails, slalom sails and wave sails being some commonly used ones. A big windsurfing sail is used in lighter winds whereas a small windsurfing sail is used when the wind is strong. The windsurfing sail is rigged up on masts. Masts are defined in terms of length and bend type. Lightweight carbon is the most desirable mast for beginners and experts alike. The type of sail used determines the type of mast that can complement it.

Windsurfing can be either light-wind sailing or high-wind sailing. The techniques and equipments used differ considerably. Light-wind windsurfing is done using windsurfing boards and windsurfing sail that can support the sailor’s weight while he or she is not moving. This kind of windsurfing takes place in winds of approximately 10 knots and under. Light-wind windsurfing is an easy, low-energy and leisurely activity. High-wind windsurfing on the other hand is more geared towards competition. Here the wind ranges from 15 to 25 knots. The player is required to exercise quick reflexes and high agility.

Some common forms of windsurfing are:

  • Cruising – It involves cruising across a lake or between two selected points, on a simple sail merely for the pleasure of the sport.
  • Freestyle – Freestyle windsurfing is more of a crowd pleaser. Here, the surfer attempts tricks and maneuvers like turns, rail rides, sail spins etc, in order to attract crowd attention.
  • Slalom sailing – This is the most popular form of high-wind sailing. Slalom sailing is done using slalom windsurfing boards at a speed of up to 40mph. It is the high speed that makes it most exiting.
  • Bump-and-jump-sailing – Advanced surfers break out on bump-and-jump windsurfing with small windsurfing boards and windsurfing sail. Jumps, spectacular speeds, turns, loops and crashes characterize bump-and-jump-sailing.
  • Wavesailing – Wavesailing is the most spectacular and highly athletic form of windsurfing. Wavesailing is done in high winds when there are open swells breaking parallel to the beach with wind blowing across the beach or sideshore.

World cup windsurfing and Olympic windsurfing are two highly popular windsurfing events. They attract participants from across the world.

World Cup Windsurfing

Top professionals compete in World Cup windsurfing. World Cup windsurfing has three disciplines of competition:
1.Course racing – where surfers work their way around a modified triangle.
2. Slalom racing – a downwind M-shaped course.
3. Wavesailing – a subjectively judged, style competition.
The winner is determined on the basis of tactics, skill, speed and board handling capabilities.

Olympic Windsurfing

The first Olympic windsurfing game was held in Los Angeles in 1984. Olympic windsurfing is known as longboard racing and is more like yacht racing. Olympic windsurfing is an one-design race in which all surfers use identical equipments. The sailors go around the course pitting their board handling skills and speed against each other.
There are a number of key teams that are getting geared to participate in the Olympics at Athens in 2004. Among the key contenders are Betsy Allison (USA), Melanie Dennison (Aus), Gal Friedman (ISR), Nick Dempsey (GBR) and Jon Paul Tobin.
There are many windsurfing associations that work towards promoting the game. These associations organize windsurfing competitions and offer teaching and training at every level. They strive to bring about stability and uniformity in the game and improve the level of competition.

International Windsurfing Association (IWA)

The IWA was set up in the year 2002 at Boot, Dusseldorf in Germany. IWA strives towards providing a centralized administration for windsurfing. It represents and promotes windsurfing through competitions at national and international level, enables knowledge sharing with competitors, manufacturers, press and media – thereby establishing a corporate identity for the game worldwide.

International Mistral Class Association (IMCO)

IMCO is situated in the UK and is the official Olympic board for windsurfing. IMCO has around 100 active members and is responsible for conducting and managing competitions at club, regional, national and international level.

Student Windsurfing Association (SWA)

The student windsurfing association has been established to represent the needs of student windsurfers. Apart from windsurfing racing, the association also organizes recreational sailing and teaching. The SWA strives towards providing an united front for student windsurfing thereby making it accessible to beginners and students. SWA offers active sponsorship for students to organize and participate in windsurfing events.


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