Windsurfing, also known as sailboarding, funboarding or wave-sailing, is a popular sport activity involving a sail and surfboard to move above the water. Although it is a recognized Olympic sport since 1984, it mainly remains a non-competitive past-time in coastal areas. Obviously, windsurfing distinguishes itself from traditional surfing primarily through the use of a sail and the great dependence on wind. While modern boards have greatly increased the possibilities of other forms of surfing too, the arise of windsurfing first allowed boarders to ride extremely large waves. Apart from the ability to master extreme waves and reach high speeds (with records of over 90km/h), windsurfers can also perform a wide range of freestyle moves, including jumps and spinning manoeuvres.
Although the first known windsurfing board was developed as early as 1948, it was not until the eighties that popularity of the activity took a flight, making "sailors" or "board heads" (as windsurfers are usually called) a common beach sight. Although that popularity dropped somewhere in the nineties, a small revival seems to be taking place and plenty of destinations in the world offer a variety of windsurfing facilities.
It's easy to see that windsurfing combines characteristics of both traditional surfing and sailing. Although the sport requires the development of specific techniques, traditional surfing skills can make learning a bit easier. Many sailors in fact have pretty decent surfing skills too.
Although wind conditions are a determining factor in windsurfing options, the right equipment allows sailors to move in wind speeds from near 0 to about 50 knots (>90km/h). Beginners will usually take their first steps in very light winds of under 10 knots. Recreational sailors without professional gear generally prefer winds of 15 to 25 knots, which are perfect for skimming over the water (planing).
There are two basic ways to move forward on a sailboard. When moving in minor winds (<10 knots), the body of the board slides through the water using a fin and centreboard to maintain stability. This movement is very similar to the way a boat would make its way in still waters and is called "sailing". To steer, the board head moves the rig backward and forward, lowers the tail and/or shifts his weight to a particular side of his board.
In stronger winds, the board no longer slides through the water, but starts skimming over the surface. This is called "planing", and allows the sailor to move forward at high speeds. For many sailors, planing is the most fun part of the sport. On top of the steering techniques used for sailing, the sailor will now also shift the rig and carve the water by pressuring an edge of the board. This way, the sailor can make tacking and jibing manoeuvres, much like a sail boat would in strong winds.
Skilled sailors can engage in a range of disciplines and competitions, including freestyle, slalom, speed surfing and wave sailing.
For many, learning to windsurf may seem a tiring matter at first. Finding some balance and mastering the basic ways of steering in light winds will not necessarily take long, but the huge boards, tiny sails and low speeds that beginners will deal with can be a bit disappointing. Compared to other extreme sports, engaging in the more "fun" parts of the sport (e.g. planing at high speed) may require quite a lot of practice.
Fortunately, plenty of windsurfing schools exist in most suitable areas and equipment for beginners has been greatly improved in recent years. And of course, those that persist are rewarded with great water sports opportunities, for recreational or competitive activities.
The basic conditions needed for windsurfing are rather simple. Any place with a large water surface and a good deal of wind in principle allows for windsurfing activities, resulting in a vast list of destinations and a range of places claiming to be the "capital of windsurfing". However, the best destinations combine strong winds and great waves with gorgeous scenery, delightful climates and ample facilities.