SierraDescents.com

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)

— August 3, 2013

Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents

Matt D August 4, 2013 at 8:19 pm

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.

You just described my first two winters in California :(

Scott August 5, 2013 at 2:29 am

Oh man, Matt D beat me to it. I had exactly the same thought, that's what a lot of SoCal BC skiing is!

Robert August 5, 2013 at 1:04 pm

That's why I gave up on (wave)surfing in Nor Cal. I probably spent 2-3 hours driving/watching the surf for every minute of actual time spent riding a wave. The return on investment kinda stops making sense after a while. :-/

brad brown August 8, 2013 at 3:45 am

fast forward 5 years, Andy writes "What The Heck Happened to Paddle Boarding"

brad brown August 8, 2013 at 3:48 am

Oh yeah Jalama Beach in Santa Barbara County is a pretty reliable location

langley August 17, 2013 at 2:01 am

Ajax comments -- BAM!!!!

dan June 7, 2015 at 2:33 am

Nah. Live in gorge and quit windsurf because after a decade and still can't jibe or footstraps, what's the point?

MD March 25, 2022 at 8:57 pm

The point is to have different sports for different conditions. I live in Oregon. NorCal, South Oregon and Gorge are windsurf paradises. I learned to kitesurf when I realized I could sail in less windy areas, so I could drive less and spend more time on the water. But still I windsurf because when it's over 30 knots, kiting isn't safe (or fun to me) and windsurf shines in high winds and is more fun. And if it's below 12 knots folks start to foil, and if it's below 7 knots people surf or paddle board if flat. The end.

All that being said, yeah, windsurf requires more gear and bigger cars. I love that I can go kiting with my convertible, no way with windsurfing :)

Érico December 5, 2022 at 7:41 pm

Windsurf history sounds somewhat like what happened to hang gliding. Boom from 70's through 80's and 90's and then paragliding came in, while all experienced pilots were looking for topless gliders, high performance. New pilots switching wings way too fast and getting hurt with hot ships. Wings getting expensive.

Maybe the new generation of beginner and intermediate gliders will change things. As well as older pilots stepping back to those gliders.

Simon January 18, 2023 at 4:11 pm

Some truth here but also quite an Ameri-centric view. Windsurfing is still hugely popular in Europe. They are not blessed with Maui's warm side-off winds and decent surf but most of the sport's progression in the last couple of decades has come from there. I think the biggest reason for the death of windsurfing in the US was that the equipment and scene never catered for the youth - so there was never a new generation to come through

Pez May 5, 2023 at 5:11 pm

Well I am just taking up windsurfing on the south coast of England. I don’t want to and will never be surfing 10 m waves in a hurricane but it still love it, like someone else said once you have got where you want to be in one sport the try another then you can choose which ever works in the conditions you have weather it be foil , kite, kayak or whatever as long as your having fun at the beach

Edward Koenig November 28, 2023 at 5:36 pm

From Long Island NY at 12 I was bodyboarding, surfing at 18, windsurfing at 22 and I spent 6 years finally getting on a plane strapped and doing jibes. My dream was to go wave sailing but it was too tricky. At 31 in 2005 I tried kitesurfing. I sold everything else except my surfboard, and bought Best kitesurifng equipment when they came out with their Waroo line. Life has never been the same. In those early days I would see 15 kites at my local spot. It's died down a lot. I moved to New Smyrna Beach Florida last year at 51 years old to start enjoying life more while my kids enter highschool. I kitesurf WAY more, work when I need to, but always wonder why I'm the only one out kitesurfing. Ther is a small group here, maybe 5 to 10 core guys. But there should be so much more. These sports are expensive. At least with surfing you can go on a used $400 board. But just like windsurfing, you need a $800 board, $600 bar, $1300 kite (x 3 for different winds), $150 harness, and I am always a prisoner to the weather and winds.

But when it all comes together I feel like a GOD. Superman on water. And everyone on the beach is hooting and hollering. When I land my kite and start packing up I always have at least one person tell me what fun it was to watch.

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