When looking at the history of windsurfing, one quickly realizes how young the sport really is. Windsurfing emerged around the mid-20th century. There have been sailing boats before this, and naturally wind power has been used to steer ships on the seas since the dawn of human sea travel, but the sport itself was not established until recently.
S. Newman Darby
S. Newman Darby is seen as the father of windsurfing. He first conceived of the design in 1948
using a sail held by hand and a rig on a universal joint. Although he did not patent his design, he was the first to maneuver his sailboard around the Chesapeake Bay, in 1965. He did not have the money at the time to patent his design, caught between his life as an artist and trying to raise a family. His wife, Naomi Darby, was one of the first woman windsurfers and also helped him design the first sailboard. Darby passed away recently at the age of 88.
Jim Drake and Hoyle Schweitzer
Five years later, aeronautics engineer Jim Drake and Hoyle Schweitzer patented their design for a sailboard later trademarked as a Windsurfer. The breakthrough came with their invention of a universal joint which allowed the sail to be attached to the board for flexible movement.
These early windsurfing boards measured 12 feet long and weighed about 60 lbs! Rather than being made of wood like Darby’s models, they chose to use lighter polyethylene boards.
“When Schweitzer and his wife first introduced their Windsurfer at boat shows in the early ’70s, some practical jokers outfitted the sailboard with a huge steering wheel and a portable toilet.”
They entered mass-production in the 1970s and with Schweitzer’s marketing efforts, it soon became extremely popular in Europe. The first world championship was held in 1973 and it became an Olympic sport in 1984 for men and in 1992 for women. It was said that almost every European had a board and sail if they were near the water and the 1980s was a momentous year for windsurfing. However, the 1990s was met with difficulties: shortboards began dominating, boards less reliant on winds were excluded from competitions now requiring minimum wind speeds, and there was a lack of tutors to teach newcomers.
However, this is quickly changing in the 21st century as windsurfing experiences a newfound resurgence with the development of new equipment, wider boards, improved sails, and easier learning. We are currently amidst a windsurfing revolution of sorts. There’s plenty more windsurfing history to be made in the coming decades. And with so many people interested in knowing all about windsurfing, there are some good times ahead.
If any of you all interested in a detailed documentary on this topic, I suggest you watch Wind Legends which includes interviews of athletes and inventors behind the the history of windsurfing.