Thousands of windsurfers from around the world flock to North Carolina, because as far as optimum windsurfing conditions go, the North Carolina Coast is hard to beat. With miles of sound water to explore, exceptional wind conditions throughout the year (particularly in the cooler fall and spring months), and the challenging Atlantic Ocean waters, it is easy to see why North Carolina is a veritable Mecca for windsurfers.
Windsurfing, or sail boarding, is a surface water sport using a windsurf board (also commonly called a sailboard), that is usually two to five meters long and powered by the wind pushing on a sail. Although this contraption could be classified as a basic version of a sailboat, windsurfing offers experiences that are well beyond a basic sailing excursion. Windsurfers can perform jumps, inverted loops, spinning maneuvers and other "freestyle" moves that cannot be matched by any boat.
Though windsurfing is possible in winds anywhere from 0-50 knots, the ideal planing conditions for most recreational windsurfers is 15-25 knots, a wind speed that is frequent in North Carolina, particularly in sound waters. In fact, certain coastal regions have earned a place in the windsurfing world with sound beaches that have become favorite universal destinations, like Canadian Hole between Buxton and Avon on Hatteras Island. So named for the thousands of Canadian windsurfers this area attracts each year, in the spring and fall this small sound beach is filled with colorful sails floating across the Pamlico Sound.
For beginners, lessons are offered at multiple homegrown schools, which are as famous as the North Carolina windsurfing beaches themselves. Local water sports companies like REAL Kiteboarding and Kitty Hawk Kites call coastal North Carolina home, and offer a variety of launching points for equipment, rentals, lessons and camps throughout the North Carolina coastline.
With good coaching and favorable conditions, the basic skills of sailing, steering and turning can typically be learned within a few hours. More advanced maneuvers such as planing, carve gybing (or turning downwind at speed), water starting, jumping and other difficult moves can take a bit more patience and practice. This challenge enables windsurfers to always have a new trick or maneuver to master.
Unlike its similar sister sport of kiteboarding, which blew onto the local water sports scene just a decade or two ago, windsurfing has a longer history on the coast of North Carolina, possibly for just as long as the local tourism industries have been around.
A number of different inventors have lobbied to be recognized as the inventor of the sport, and yet today, court cases are still waged on the first windsurfer in the United States. However, many enthusiasts agree that the sport filtered into the mainstream through the promotion of one of the first major companies, Windsurfing International of Southern California, which was founded and spearheaded by Hoyle and Diana Schweitzer. In 1968, they started their company and began to manufacture, promote and license the first windsurfing design. With the help of an aerospace engineer at the RAND Corporation named Jim Drake, Windsurfing International held the first windsurfing patent, granted by the USPTO in 1970, which also led to the first use of the term "windsurfer," registered by the company as a trademark in 1970.
This first design consisted of a surfboard-like board with a triangular "Bermuda" sail and wishbone booms, connected to the board via a universal joint. Forty years later, the modern windsurfing equipment, while it has its superior qualities, is still very similar to Windsurfing International's first board and rig design.
The sport took off quickly in Europe, as the company fought to maintain its patent rights against other companies who had begun to manufacture similar designs. After losing several court cases, their patent expired in 1987. Shortly thereafter, having lost its license royalty income, Windsurfing International ceased operations.
While the legal wrangling took place, however, the sport blossomed in the 1980s, and windsurfing was recognized as an Olympic sport in 1984. Windsurfing has dipped in and out of the water sport world in the two decades that followed, but as equipment becomes more user-friendly, especially for beginners, the sport of windsurfing is still flourishing on the North Carolina Coast.