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History of Windsurfing - Early Development (USA)

(extract from the NZWA Instructors Handbook)

The beauty of the sailboard as a yacht is undoubtedly its apparent simplicity. It did not just happen, rather it evolved through a working of ideas and had to be invented before it could even be designed.

In 1967 in Pacific Palisades, California, a group of surfer/skier/sailors were wrestling with the idea of developing a craft which would combine the best of all their three sports. As a surfer/skier, Hoyle Schweitzer (at that time a computer analyst) wanted to be freed from the limits of a breaking wave, while maintaining the speed and exhilaration of wave riding. As sailors, his colleagues sought to be unencumbered from the machinery of yachting; the trailering; the rigging with its lengthy list of necessaries (stay wires, sheets, blocks, cleats, spreaders, diamonds, vangs, travellers etc) and the two to five person launching process. Clearly the sailor and surfer were interested in something more than both of their individual sports offered. They collected their ideas trying to fashion out of them a feasible sailing craft that would have all the desired characteristics; a one-person sailboat with simplicity of design, easily transportable, maneuverable and stable while under sail, and with ultra-light displacement, allowing the system to become an extension of the sailor.

In the early stages Schweitzer and his engineering partner Jim Drake, visualised the helmsman as seated or in the prone position, but since it was to be used in the surf this posed more problems than it solved. Eventually, they broadened the possibilities by having the helmsman standing up, leaving one major problem yet to be resolved, how to steer the boat. Utilising one of the most basic principles of yachting, the designers realised that if they could create lee helm (to sail off the wind) and weather helm (to sail higher into the wind), they could effectively steer their rudderless boat.
They agreed that in order to change the boat’s balance they must alter the center of effort of the sail plan or the center of lateral resistance of the hull. To make the mast moveable fore and aft, they constructed a pivotal joint at the mast step. Wishbone booms were attached to the mast to facilitate the handling of the rig.

In late 1967 a prototype - the first of many - was built and displayed, unfortunately it was never to hit the water. The SKATE as it was called, exposed a very obvious problem. With a mast, sail and centerboard pivoting only fore and aft, the board could heel uncontrollably leaving the sailor in a very precarious position. After reworking the problem, the designers joined the mast to a fully pivotal universal, whilst doing away with the notion of a moving centerboard. The compromise worked, and although many prototypes would follow, the basic concept of a free-standing sail system controlled by angling the sail to the wind and supported by the sailor himself had been realised.

Patents for the free-sail concept were drawn up and the developmental stages of a production model commenced. BIG RED, the last model in a series of eight, proved to be the fastest, however it weighed in at a rather bulky 31kg, leaving its maneuverability awkward, and far from the hoped-for ease in handling. By shaving down its size from 4.5m to 3.6 x 660mm, 4.skg were shed and the first production model emerged. After the Baja Board and several other pre-production refinements were tested, full production was begun in 1969, The hull, initially hand-moulded fibreglass, advanced to a rotationally moulded cross-linked polyethylene plastic shell filled with polyurethane foam (for flotation and strength).Plastics proved to be far superior to fibreglass with their characteristic resilience and toughness.

The Windsurfer sail was designed by Jim Linville and Art Ellis of North’s Stanford, Ct. Loft. Ten prototypes were drawn before the original "Windsurfer" design became standardised. The sail sleeves over a 4.2m laid fibreglass mast, which acts as a shock absorber while under pressure from wind gusts. After several yews of reshaping and remoulding ideas into a practical and efficient sailboard the trademark WINDSURFER was coined. From conception through to realisation, the Windsurfer Sailboard has preserved its integrity as a craft of simplistic design allowing it to be sailed by "feel", more than most yachts. Its materials and construction techniques compliment the design as well as allowing consistency in production, These factors combined with its low cost, stimulated great interest in the young sport.

The early sailors sought to match one sailor’s skill against another, rather than racing one machine against another. Eventually the class formed an Association to formulate this principle (and others) and to see that it was adhered to. The Constitution (adopted in 1976) put down guidelines that would serve as the objective for the Windsurfer Class Association; to keep each Windsurfer Sailboard as equal as possible by rigidly maintaining, without deviation, the one-design features of the Windsurfer Sailboard for class racing’.

The initial interest in California gradually spread across the United States. Windsurfer Sailboards had not been on the water long before sailors decided that they were well suited to racing, being light and fast and responsive to close tactical maneuvers. The local groups of enthusiasts rounded up for casual weekend races. As with their yachts, racing the Windsurfer Sailboard became a learning experience for the sailors. Not only were they improving boat handling but they also improved their sailing technique. A class of competitive and eager sailors was in the forming. Those who were of the competitive sense wanted to protect the Windsurfer Sailboard as a one design class.

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