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).


The two main pieces needed for windsurfing are of course a board and a sail, although a number of accessories are standard equipment as well. As a rule of thumb, smaller boards and sails are used to reach higher speeds. Take into account that windsurfing equipment has been the subject of rapid developments over the past years, seriously improving user friendliness. Although it is quite possible to buy second hand pieces, carefully consider buying them if they are 3 years old or more, as you might miss out on new developments that make windsurfing easier. Of course, this is especially true for beginners.

Buy or rent?

Anyone who is serious about windsurfing will soon desire their own gear, as it will best fit their needs. The choice between different kinds or sizes of sails and boards depends on the sailor's weight, skills and preferences, making it quite worthwhile to purchase pieces that match your interests. However, keep in mind that real beginners will take their first lessons on a beginner's board, which is more robust and designed to help you find balance. Therefore, consider renting at least your board and sail for your lessons (often the materials are even included in course prices). If you're at all serious about picking up the skills, you'll soon enough progress to higher levels, requiring different boards. It often pays off to discover your basic interests and preferences before making large investments in equipment you might have to abandon quickly as you develop your skills.

Basic pieces


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.


Exotic Maui is known for its fierce waves

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.

North America

South America



Asia & Oceania

Stay safe

Compared to other extreme sports like rock climbing or snowboarding, windsurfing has a smaller chance of injury since falling into the water is generally much less hard on your body. That being said, windsurfing is not at all without risk. You will often be at open water and especially more experienced sailors will reach high speeds and move among high waves. Therefore, always use your common sense and take safety precautions and official warning signs seriously. If you're a beginner, take lessons from an experienced instructor, stay in shallow waters and as in all extreme sports: don't take on challenges you're not yet ready for.


Check your travel insurance policy before engaging in windsurfing activities and make sure that they are covered. In some cases you will have to purchase additional coverage or even a specific insurance. Plenty of insurance companies have specialized packages for extreme sports in general or even windsurfing in particular. Take into account not only your potential personal expenses (medical treatment abroad can be expensive), but also liability, theft or damaging of your equipment.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, August 29, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.