A sunny day, a light breeze, and a sailboard can be one of life’s great combinations. Tens of thousands of people spend their summers gliding across a local lake or shoreline using nothing but the wind to propel them. What was once a fringe activity, with few retailers that sold the necessary equipment, has grown into a multi-million dollar industry in just a few short decades. Most of this equipment can now be purchased through local sporting goods stores across the country, and what cannot be found locally can be easily found online.
The history of windsurfing begins in the early 1970’s. There are examples of people trying similar activities prior to this time, some more successful than others. However, it was the inclusion of the universal joint that hooks the sail and mast to the board that would eventually result in windsurfing as we know it today. This universal join is what allows the sail to be pivoted quickly and decisively, and in any direction. This small innovation made it much easier to steer the board as well as making it easier to adjust to the direction of the wind. It also made it easier for the rider to switch from one side of the sail to the other with a minimal amount of effort. Today, these joints can be found on just about every board sold throughout the world.
The materials that are used to manufacture a sailboard have also evolved over the years. The original boards were primarily made from wood, a material that was well suited due to its flotation properties. However, wood is also exceptionally heavy, especially if it becomes water logged. This can cause any number of problems ranging from issues with maneuverability to just being a pain to carry from the car to the water. To solve these issues, manufacturers began to search for other materials, and polyethylene became the material of choice. This particular material is not only lightweight, but is also easy to shape and is exceptionally water resistant. Switching to this synthetic material was a major step forward in the evolution of the sport.
There were other innovations that would also revolutionize the sailboard. Many manufacturers began to experiment with differently sized boards and found that a shorter length could have some distinct advantages. The main advantages is that a shorter board was much more maneuverable and was also easier to learn to ride. The addition of foot straps also had an impact on the sport, as they allowed for more aggressive turns and eventually led to a variety of tricks that could be performed. Changes in sail design have led to sails that are much lighter and more stable than their older counterparts.
While the popularity of windsurfing saw a bit of a decline in the early 1990’s, over the last few years it has seen a bit of resurgence. New, wider boards have made it easier than ever to learn how to ride, and more and more lakes are being opened to the activity.