The Original Windsurfer

15 Oct

What happened to windsurfing?

Kiteboarding is now all the rage, but kiteboarding isn’t doing for the world what windsurfing did back in its heyday. Before this last Olympics I heard that windsurfing was going to be replaced by kiteboarding, but I was relieved to find out this wasn’t the case: kiteboarding was just entering as an exhibition sport. Windsurfing was still in, albeit called RS:X. Then I had to look up what an RS:X is: It’s a windsurfer.

Back in 1967 my dad’s former roommate from Pomona College co-invented, and later co-patented what would be called the Windsurfer. Hoyle Schweitzer and Jim Drake came up with the idea of combining surfing and sailing, but it was Hoyle who founded Windsurfing International, and the Schweitzer family who promoted the sport and brought it out of its inception. My dad, Seymour, became one of the first Windsurfer dealers, in Newport Beach, and still probably holds some kind of record for teaching the most people how to windsurf…definitely a record for getting the most crusty old traditional sailors to give it a try.

It was our family sport. My earliest memory is playing in the sand at Bahia Santa Maria, Baja California, while various Beeks, Schweitzers, Waltzes, Swateks, and Parduccis raced on the first generation of windsurfers, with teak booms. By the time I was old enough to pull the sail out of the water (a fateful day, also at Bahia de Santa Maria) windsurfing was exploding…but we didn’t know it.

Our tribe migrated around the Southwest for regattas most of the year: Long Beach, Mission Bay, Newport Harbor, Huntington Lake, Pyramid Lake, Castaic Lake, and Bahia de Santa Maria every Easter and Thanksgiving. We almost always camped. The windsurfing tribe, in hindsight, looked like a nascent version of Burning Man. The Schweitzer’s big van was always the anchor tenant, but the Waltze’s VW bus and my dad’s Ford lease car du jour (he worked for Ford for 23 years) were always stuck in the sand nearby. The Schweitzers always had wooden planks for getting cars unstuck.

Schweitzers, Waltzes, Demonds, and Parduccis, on the beach at Bahia Santa Maria

Then one day the crowd changed. Our little band of Southern California windsurfers was joined by Sven from Sweden, Jorg from Germany, Toro from Japan, and Dario from Italy. They’d all come to race against the best. Unbeknownst to us kids, the original tribe had been outnumbered tenfold around the world. In Europe the idea of a fully-functional sailboat that could be carried on top of a car led to an explosion of the sport. Soon there was competition in manufacturing sailboards, and years of legal battles. At the world championships in 1974, where my dad won the heavyweights, it seemed there were as many Europeans as Americans. And a few years later a punk kid from Hawaii named Robby Naish began his domination of the sport that lasted most of my lifetime.

It wasn’t just the fun and convenience. Something about Windsufing embodied the Zeitgeist of the seventies: independence and individual freedom, with strong counter-culture overtones. It put a sailor closer to nature–just inches above the water, and often in it. It was the poor man's sailboat, which had never existed before. A windsurfer sailor didn’t need yacht clubs, a fancy home, or a lot of money. He just needed a patch of sand to set up his rig and he was off into the sunset…until he’d crawl back into his tent on the beach.

By the eighties it was everywhere: The Sunkist orange soda commercial, the Frosted Flakes commercial ("They’re Great!"). A 14-year-old Clark Beek even windsurfed in a TV commercial for Nature Valley Granola Clusters, with my big speaking part (“Alright!”) which kicked me into the higher pay scale, and netted me enough money to buy my first car. In 1984 it became an Olympic sport, in Los Angeles, right where the sport began.

We flew to Maui every summer to stay with the Schweitzers, and saw revolutionary developments every time: Wave jumping, harnesses (and getting “launched” until we learned how to use them properly), the RAF (Rotating Asymmetrical Foil AKA Not Normal), Mylar sails, and then the biggest development of all, the water start. With the water start you didn’t have to stand up on the board to pull up the sail, meaning the board didn’t have to be big enough to float body weight, meaning the birth of the short board and serious speed. The world sailing speed record, tandem boards, professional sailboarders…there was no telling where it was going next.

But alas, windsurfing's days as everyman's sport are gone.  Some say it’s because you can’t buy a cheap sailboard package anymore. In its heyday you could buy a cheapo sailboard for less than $500, then move up once you decided you were hooked. Those in the know will be quick to point out that the top of the sport is still moving up: windsurfers keep going faster, equipment keeps getting better, and back in the day we couldn’t have dreamed of the moves they’re pulling in the surf these days. Check out this guy:

 

 

Maybe the times have just changed…dang kids and their video games. I, however, will always go back to Bahia Santa Maria (we've got a shack on the beach now) and sail my original Windsurfer through the shallows at high tide.

Ted, the youngest Schweitzer kid, has put together a great website, Original Windsurfer, which chronicles the first ten years of the sport. For me it’s like reading a family scrap book. There are debates as to who actually invented the sailboard (it turns out there were sailboard-like-prototypes clear back in the forties), and to what direction the sport could have taken at various times, but I think everyone agrees that if Hoyle and Diane Schweitzer hadn’t packed their young family in that van and carted them all over creation to promote the sport—in the most fun, sharing, Tequila-around-the-campfire kind of way—the sport would have never grown beyond a silly contraption you’d find in the back of Popular Mechanics.

…and I doubt kiteboarding would have followed.

Comments

  1. Mark Patterson

    I have a bunch of original Windsurfer One Design sails for sale. Price depends upon condition, but I have the full spectrum. I have daggerboards, skegs, T universals and associated other stuff to keep you on the water. Text me at 314-322-4861 Mark Patterson

  2. Tarit Tanjasiri

    I am a mid 80’s windsurfer lucky enough to experience the original and the high wind evolution of the sport. It was and still some of the best parts of my life. Best yet, to know the Schweitzer family, lived my young adult life sailing in Maui in the late 80’s and to have met some of my best friends in this sport.

    Tara & Ted. Miss you guys always. My Tara is now 20 years old in College, who knows what her name would be now if I had not windsurfer.

  3. Clark Beek

    Thanks, Tom. We’re headed back to Bahia de Santa Maria in November. It might be a little chilly, but looking forward to rigging up the old girl. Her only original Windsurfer bits at this point are the board and the daggerboard, but I still love cruising through the shallows.

  4. Tom

    This was an interesting read. I saw an article in Time Magazine in the early-mid 1970’s and we found one dealer where I was from who had one board for sale. He also sold pet food. My mom bought the board for our family and we were hooked. I sailed and raced one designs in two world championships and countless national and regional events before racing Olympic class Division II and ultimately sailing on the then world cup called the PBA in 1989/1990. I still windsurf and so do my kid as it’s been a part of my life for more than 40 years. Thanks for writing this article, it brought back some wonderful memories.

  5. Kathy S. Smith

    I have an old sailboard that I have not used in 30 years. It has a teakwood boom (I used to love the feel of it compared to the metal). It has been hanging up on the side of the garage all of this time. I took some lessons with it at Mission Bay Sailing Center in San Diego many years ago. Too old and out of shape to use it now.

    Anyone interested? Want to clean out the garage. North San Diego area.

  6. Jay

    Hi all, I’m looking for an original design sail for my old board. Does anybody have one they would like to sell?
    Thanks,
    Jay

  7. Mariko

    I am looking for a sail for a one design original windsurfer. Do you know of a web site or place that has sails in the US? I want to see prices and colors and purchase from web site.

  8. Alice Ahrens

    We have an original windsurfer sale and mast Number 180 with the teak wish bone and in great shape and was wondering if you would like to buy it.

  9. Kit Datson

    Have been an instructor since 1985. Well, my back has finally gone, not from windsurfing, but because of injuries sustained in Afghanistan. Having sold some equipment lately, I ran across an original teak boom and sail I had stashed. Wondering if anyone knows the value of these. I would not want to sell to just anyone because of their significance.

  10. Clark Beek

    Hi Mike, My dad, Seymour, was in town last night. He remembers you from Mission Bay.

  11. Mike Oddi

    Hey Clark,

    Sure we met. I ran most of the district events in California from 1978 to 1983. If you ever went to an event in Mission Bay, we probably put it together. Your post really struck a cord. Those were great times and fantastic people. I still have my original Windsurfer and the universal still works. However, I wish I was taking it to BSM. Have fun.

  12. Clark Beek

    Hi Mike, Then we would have met back then. We never missed a Bahia Santa Maria regatta during that era, and we, or at least my dad, would have raced in the 1981 championships. Speaking of which, I’m off to Bahia Santa Maria on Friday! We’ve got a little shack on the beach, with my original windsurfer (less universal, for which I’ve substituted a modern one) is waiting in the rafters. The original bay is almost completely closed off now: the sands have shifted so much that it’s only a bay during the highest tides. I can’t wait! Cheers, Clark

  13. Mike Oddi

    Completely agree. Learned how to sailboard from my UCSB sailing coach in 1976. Moved to San Diego two weeks later and went to watch a regatta where Hoyle and Diane took the Windsurfer off my car and convinced me to participate in the race. I became the first San Diego fleet captain and thanks to Diane, starred with Dick Lamb, Glen Taylor , Trisha Walsh and a few others in a TV commercial for Labatts Beer that helped pay for college. I spent Easter week and Thanksgiving at Bahia de Santa Maria and started a Windsurfing school at San Diego Sailing Center. As the District 1 chairman, I got to host the 1981 National Championships in San Diego and later went on to head up the International Windsurfer Sailing where I had the privilege of working for Hoyle and Diane directly and traveled throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada and the Hawaiian islands. I even got to be Sam the American Eagle at the 1984 Winsdurfer Olympic Exibition Event. I look back at those days and consider it an honor to have worked for a husband and wife team that transformed the lives and created lasting memories of times gone by for so many people. I will always be in their debt.

  14. Garsha Robinson

    I was introduced to windsurfing in 1980 ~ married the instructor
    Mark Robinson, owner of West Coast Water Sports, Clearwater, FL
    Mark windsurfed with Rhonda Smith, Ken Winner, Cort Larned, the Aguera brothers, Robby Naish, to name some of the “originals”

    Our children tried, but not until their 20’s did they both
    Get into the sport
    Our daughter Mariah (because “they call the wind Mariah”)
    sails and teaches currently in Aruba along with paddle
    board stand up Yoga !
    Evan is currently the trail blazer Kitesurfing & teaching
    Advancing into competition (sponsor looking) in Brazil. Windsurfing is now a 2nd generation family lifestyle ! THANKS to you

  15. Dave Terry

    Thank you Hoyle for the greatest sport I’ve ever experienced. We were all pioneers of a microcosm and you were our leader. May God continue to bless you and your awesome family.

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