August 3, 2013
What The Heck Happened to Windsurfing?
At one time I was a windsurfer first and a skier, believe it or not, a very distant second. My dad and I caught the leading edge of the windsurfing phenomenon way back in the 80's when Ken Winner first started doing flared jibes on his longboard, and soon we too were fanatics, learning how to tack, waterstart, and jibe, soon ditching daggerboards for shortboards, chasing wind and speed and waves and always that elusive electric sensation of getting on plane. So what the heck happened?
It's not 100% fair to say that windsurfing died, but from its meteoric rise from obscurity to everybody's-doing-it popularity across the country, it has now largely gone extinct save for a few favored locations—and even there, kiteboarding is probably eroding windsurfer numbers even further. But hey, Neil Pryde still exists, and Maui and the Columbia River Gorge most certainly still exist, and if I lived in either place and I had a garage, I'd still be a windsurfer, too.
From my own experience, I can tell you what killed the sport for me. First of all, I don't have a garage. But beyond that, I do think there is a progression to the sport which ultimately leads to heartbreak. You get good very slowly, but eventually you get a taste of what the sport can offer at its higher levels, and then you go to the gorge, or to Hawaii, and you realize it's pretty much stupid to do it anywhere else.
Okay, not quite true: there are pockets of great wind and water to be found here and there. But the essential point remains: Windsurfing is awesome in the right conditions, and practically a non-sport everywhere else. That fickle wind! How many days did we spend sitting around, waiting for the forecast wind that never showed? Imagine if every time you went to go skiing, you never knew if there would be snow when you got there.
We started conceiving alternate sports and activities to bring with us in case the wind didn't come. Frisbee golf was one. There are easier ways to amuse yourself than packing a windsurfer atop your car, driving an hour or two, and then sitting lakeside all day tossing frisbees at trees and sign posts. Why not just stay home and drink beer instead?
And that's my sense of what killed the sport: people got fed up with being stood up over and over again. Imagine everyone in the U.S. one day deciding to become a surfer, and buying the gear, and spending years learning the sport, and falling in love with it, and then one terrible day waking up and realizing they don't live next to the ocean.
Of course, some of you do live next to oceans, and windy and warm oceans at that, and for you, windsurfing is every bit the fantastic sport it ever was. For the rest of us, I guess there's always frisbee golf...and the memories of those incredible days when it did come together, good friends and summer days, wind in your hair, water spraying across your legs, sail and board streaking across the bay, mile after mile, straight into the setting sun. That's how I'll remember it.
(Mormon Lake, near Flagstaff, Arizona; Waddell Creek, California; Hood River, Oregon; Rocky Point, Mexico; and yes, that was me being eaten by the wave)