History of Windsurfing

Windsurfing uses a one-person craft called a sailboard

Windsurfer at Ho'okipa Beach Park, Maui jumping on wave

Rick Doyle/Getty Images

Windsurfing or boardsailing is a sport that combines sailing and surfing. It uses a one-person craft called a sailboard that's comprised of a board and a rig.

The Inventors of the Board

The sailboard had its humble beginnings in 1948 when Newman Darby first conceived of using a handheld sail and rig mounted on a universal joint to control a small catamaran. While Darby did not file for a patent for his design, he is generally recognized as the inventor of the first sailboard. Darby did eventually file for and receive a design patent for a one-person sailboat in the 1980's. His design was called the Darby 8 SS sidestep hull.

But by then other inventors had patented designs for a sailboard. The first patent for a sailboard was awarded to sailor and engineer Jim Drake and surfer and skier Hoyle Schweitzer in 1970 (filed 1968 - reissued 1983). They called their design a Windsurfer, which measured 12 feet (3.5 m) long and weighed 60 pounds (27 kg). Drake and Schweitzer based the Windsurfer on Darby's original ideas and fully credited him with its invention. According to the official Windsurfing website:

"The heart of the invention (and patent) was mounting a sail on a universal joint, requiring the sailor to support the rig, and allowing the rig to be tilted in any direction. This tilting of the rig fore and aft allows the board to be steered without the use of a rudder — the only sail craft able to do so."

In a patent abstract, Drake and Schweitzer describe their invention as a "...wind-propelled apparatus in which a mast is universally mounted on a craft and supports a boom and sail. Specifically, a pair of curved booms are accurately connected athwart the mast and secure the sail there between the position of the mast and sail being controllable by the user but being substantially free from pivotal restraint in the absence of such control."

Schweitzer began mass-producing polyethylene sailboards (Windsurfer design) in the early 1970s. The sport became very popular in Europe. The first world championship of windsurfing was held in 1973 and, by the late '70s, windsurfing fever had Europe firmly in its grasp with one in every three households having a sailboard. Windsurfing would go on to become an Olympic sport in 1984 for men and 1992 for women.

The First Woman on the Board

Newman's wife Naomi Darby is generally considered the first woman windsurfer and helped her husband build and design the first sailboard. Together, Newman and Naomi Darby described their invention in their article The Birth of Windsurfing:

"Newman Darby found he could steer a conventional 3 meter sailboat by tipping it fore and aft enough to make turns even without a rudder. This is when (late 1940s) Newman got interested in steering a boat without a rudder. Several sailboats and 2 1/2 decades later (1964) he designed the first universal joint to go along with a flat bottom sailing scow. This sailboard was fitted with a universal joint mast, a centerboard, tail fin and kite shaped free sail and thus windsurfing was born."
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Bellis, Mary. "History of Windsurfing." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/history-of-windsurfing-1992671. Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 26). History of Windsurfing. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-windsurfing-1992671 Bellis, Mary. "History of Windsurfing." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-windsurfing-1992671 (accessed June 3, 2023).