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Sailboarding and Windsurfing: What’s the Difference?

What is Windsurfing and Sailboarding? They are actually the same thing—you surf the wind while sailing on a board, but there’s a lot more to it than that. In this article, we cover sailboarding’s beginnings all the way up to the modern day sport.

Windsurfing Sailboarding

If you take a sailboat and a surfboard and add them together, what would you get?

That would be called windsurfing or sailboarding. But here’s a secret: they are both the same thing!

Known more commonly as Sailboarding for legal reasons (we’ll get into it later) It put it simply, this sport combines the best of both worlds: borrow a surfboard from the surfing world, and a sail from the sailing world, and you’ve got sailboarding. Quite Ingenuitive, isn’t it?  In this article, you’ll find out everything you need to know about sailboarding, so let’s get into it!


What is Sailboarding/Windsurfing?

The story starts in 1964, when a sign painter by the name of Newman Darby, who was a passionate boater, invented the world’s very first sailboard. He is internationally known as the founding father of the sport of sailboarding, and passed away in St. John’s Florida at the age of 88 in 2016. 

Sailboarding is the original term, as you stand on a board that is connected to a mast and sail. Harnessing the power of the wind, you’ll glide across the surface of the water, with the highest recorded speed of 42 mph reached in 2020 Nicolas Goyard.


“Sailboarding is sailing with a difference: you get all the fun of handling a fast, responsive boat, and have the fun of spills without the work of righting and bailing out.” — Newman Darby,


While sailboarding is the original name of the activity given by the founder himself,  windsurfing is the more popular term in modern times. 


Why Two Names?

Simply put, sailboarding is surfing the wind. There’s a constant back and forth if windsurfing is more fitting or sailboarding (or even boardsailing), with people firmly planted on one side of the argument or the other.

This question is the key arguing point: What is at the core of the sport? Is it that you are “sailing” on a board, or riding the wind, it’s a bit of both, of course, with is why there are various arguments for the correct name to windsurfing, as you are literally “Surfing the wind” and “sailboarding” as you are sailing the sea on a board.  To add to the confusion, there have been various legal battles over the term. No one ever said that athletes weren’t passionate people. 

As sailboarding/windsurfing/boardsailing started to turn into its own sporting industry, there were several people and corporations that attempted to claim the word “windsurfer” as a trademark. The term was trademarked in the USA and other locations, but quickly it was no longer accepted in other countries as the term was considered “too descriptive”.

 Shortly thereafter, it lost it’s legal foothold in the USA as well, but with ongoing legal arguments, hobbyists, and athletes alike continued to use sailboarding and boardsailing as the chosen name of the sport. No one wanted to be sued for using the trademarked name, and the alternative names gained popularity. 


The Rise of Windsurfing 

As the years passed after the terms “windsurfing” and “Windsurfer” were no longer trademarked or registered, they became used more and more by the general population of people within the water sport world, and the dilemma on the proper name for the sport continued to gain ground. Some fans believe that windsurfing is a recreational sport done in any type of body of water with wind power, and sailboarding is only done with wind in lakes. 

Another aspect of this sport is that it can be thought of as a wind sport more than a water sport, due to the fact that it basically allows you to surf without waves using wind power. It certainty is a multidimensional sport that encompasses several different ideas and ideologies of other sports into one!

As you can see, there are a lot of opinions and back and forth on the matter, but it doesn’t stop people from enjoying the sport and developing communities around it. Regardless, the term “windsurfing” is more popular these days due to the fact that it instantly brings to mind surfing, and the cool factor of surfing is something that attracts people to its sibling, windsurfing. 


Where can you start Windsurfing?

Since it is so similar to surfing, you can windsurf nearly in all the same locations as you can surf. You’ll need to check local regulations, but most places in popular surfing destinations allow windsurfing, or there will be a designated area nearby that allows windsurfing. Places popular for water sports like Hawaii, California, Florida, Costa, South Africa and so many others offer the perfect Sailboarding experience for those looking to dip their toes into the sport, or for more experienced sailboarders looking for the next thrill of adventure. 


Check out Sailboarding’s Cousin: Kitesurfing!

If you thought that sailboarding was the only wind/water sport combo out there, think again. Sailboarding is similar, but distinctly different from its cousin, called Kitesurfing. Also using a surfing type board, the person standing on the board is holding onto a handle attached to a kite, allowing you to harness the wind in a different way and zip across the water.  Be sure to look at our kitesurfing article here!


Now that you have the basis of what sailboarding/windsurfing is, there’s nothing stopping you from experiencing the thrill of speeding across the water’s surface while letting the wind pull you in the direction you want to go. Ready to start? The first step you can take is looking for local windsurfing lessons or regular surfing lessons, and from there you’ll be unstoppable. 

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