Windsurfing (also known as boardsailing) is a sport that evolved from a desire to combine the exhilaration and the freedom of movement inherent in surfing, with the precision and the techniques of wind powered sailing. In a remarkable historical development, three groups have at one time or another laid claim to the invention of the windsurfer. Peter Chilvers of Great Britain developed a prototypical windsurfer in the late 1950s, Pennsylvania inventor Newman Darby first published his designs for a windsurfer in the early 1960s, and Californians Jim Drake and Howard Schweitzer had independently designed and patented their craft, featuring an articulated mast and featuring a u-joint attachment between mast and board in 1968.

The windsurfer became a very popular recreational device, as it was very portable and less cumbersome to transport and assemble than a conventional sail boat. Windsurfing is also not particularly restricted to any particular type of water body, as a windsurfer is nimble enough to navigate larger rivers, lakes, and oceans. With the rise in the popularity of the windsurfer rose the number of opportunities to race these craft. Racing brought significant

The Sail Melbourne 2005 Formula Windsurfing World Championships, Melbourne, Australia.
technological developments to both the boards and the sails used by elite and recreational competitors. A modern windsurfer can attain speeds of over 50 mph in the appropriate winds.

The world wide popularity of windsurfing prompted the formation of various national and international windsurfing organizations. The International Sailing Federation (ISAF), is the world body responsible for the convening of world championships in various windsurfing categories. Windsurfing has been an Olympic sport since 1984.

A windsurfer is a very simple type of boat. A standard windsurfer is constructed with a mast, a sail, and a board. The board has foot straps built into its surface to provide the surfer with a stable base upon which to maneuver the craft, and all boards are equipped with a skeg, a type of fin positioned on the rear that provides additional stability to the craft while it is being steered. Some models of windsurfers are equipped with a daggerboard that functions much as a keel operates in relation to a sailboat, as a stabilizing force to counter the force of wind, which might otherwise send the windsurfer sideways. The upper portion of the windsurfer is the sail, mast, and boom, a wishbone shaped attachment fixed perpendicular to the mast, the primary means used by the windsurfer to control the craft.

The U-joint is the hardware component that is critical to the function and the maneuverability of the windsurfer. In many ways, the u-joint is what distinguishes the windsurfer from any other sailboat, as the surfer can manipulate the mast in any direction, permitting the windsurfer to be turned quickly in any weather.

There are two basic types of wind sailing boards. Long boards are approximately 10 ft (3 m) long, and sufficiently wide that the sailor can stand on the board when the board is at rest and remain afloat. This type of stable board is popular among persons learning how to windsurf. The predominate competition board in use today is referred to as a short board, with a length of less than 10 ft, but a significant width, featuring large fins at the rear of the board and no daggerboard.

Sailing a windsurfer requires the application of many of the principles involved in sailing a boat. When the wind is directly behind the intended path of travel of the windsurfer, the sails of windsurfer can be positioned to perpendicular to the path of the wind, thus capturing the maximum wind effect. When the surfer intends to travel in a direction generally into the wind, the windsurfer can be tacked in the same fashion as a sailboat, where the sail, positioned at approximately 45° angle to the direction of the wind, operates as a foil, creating two different wind speeds on each side of the sail. The result is the creation of high pressure and low pressure effects on the sail, and the windsurfer is pulled in the direction of the lower pressure. Tacking will take a windsurfer along a zig zag path across the surface of the water.

A windsurfer can also jibe to steer the craft, when the wind is from the rear of the windsurfer. The boom is maneuvered from side to side to permit the maximum amount of wind to be captured the sail. The surfer changes body positions during both the tacking and jibing techniques to balance his or her body weight with the effect of the wind to keep the craft on an even plane. The windsurfer design is such that the craft will readily plane in the water in relatively light winds (some models will plane in winds of less than 12 mph (20 km/h). The board can plane is achieved when the nose and forward portion of the windsurfer rises above the water surface, reducing the friction between the bottom of the board and the water. It is for these reasons that the windsurfer is the fastest of all sailing craft.

While windsurfing is usually raced as a competitive event on marshaled courses, it has an extreme sport edge. Many windsurfers seek out the worst wind and weather they can find to challenge themselves to conquer the elements and to attain the highest speeds possible. Other windsurfers have taken on extreme endurance challenges, such as windsurfing around the British Isles, or sailing the huge waves that form off the island of Maui in the Hawaiian Islands.

SEE ALSO Sailing; Sailing and steering a sailboat; Surfing.