Is Windsurfing an Extreme Sport? (Full Details)


Windsurfing has been popular for many years, but beginners tend to be a bit worried about the extreme nature of the sport. Whether you’re interested in the intensity or the easiness of the learning curve, you’re in the right place. Some people go slow, while others seem to be fueled by the adrenaline-pumping nature of the activity.

Windsurfing is considered an extreme sport since it involves a certain element of danger, a high level of physical exertion, fast-paced movement, and plenty of special gear to take part in. However, many windsurfers take it slowly and enjoy it as a leisurely pastime.

Throughout this article, you will learn a great deal about why the general public generally perceives windsurfing as extreme. As a bonus, you will even get to hear some of the challenges that go along with labeling certain sports as extreme instead of other sports.

Why Windsurfing Is Largely Considered an Extreme Sport

A sport must fulfill some specific criteria for it to even qualify as an extreme sport. Windsurfing checks off practically all of the items on this list. The explicit ways that windsurfing meets the extreme sport criteria are discussed in greater detail below.

High Degree of Risk

The number one factor that people consider when labeling a sport as extreme is the amount of risk involved. To be considered an extreme sport, there has to be an element of danger present.

Although many windsurfers treat the sport casually, there is no shortage of danger once a windsurfer moves past the beginner stage. Injury risk skyrockets once a windsurfer decides to take the sport more seriously. To pull off miraculous feats on the water, windsurfers must push the limits of both themselves and their equipment. Some windsurfers can come out on top when they push their limits like this. Unfortunately, other windsurfers are not so lucky.

It is extremely challenging to slice through the water at high speed while still retaining control over the sailboard. There are too many variables to bear in mind at the advanced level. Windsurfers must pay close attention to sudden changes in wind direction, the choppiness of the waves, their own body positioning, and nearby windsurfers.

For this reason, these athletes risk disaster every time that they take to the water. As windsurfers continue to push their limits with maximizing speed and performing freestyle tricks, the margin for error only grows slimmer. Any small mistake may result in a potential bruise, cut, sprain, or fracture at the advanced level of windsurfing (source).

High Level of Physical Exertion

In addition, the sport of windsurfing is very physically demanding. You must actively engage virtually every muscle in the body to hoist the sail in the proper position and propel the board forward.

For instance, windsurfers must utilize their arm muscles to keep constant tension on the boom (the portion of the sail that windsurfers grip onto) to keep the sail upright. They also must use their leg muscles to maintain proper balance and absorb the shock of oncoming waves as the sailboard glides across the water.

Even the neck muscles are put to good use as windsurfers have to crane their neck sideways to always focus their eyes in the direction that they are moving.

The windier the conditions, the more physically taxing this sport becomes. This is because it is much more challenging to preserve control over the sail when the wind blows in powerful gusts.

The only issue is that a great deal of wind power is needed to plane on the water at high speeds. If you are unfamiliar with what the term planing means in windsurfing, check out my article What is Planing in Windsurfing? (Definition & Examples). Every windsurfer wants to test how fast they can go on the water at some point. This speed calls for a substantial amount of physical effort.

Even in low wind conditions, windsurfing can take a physical toll if a person rides out on the water for too long. This is because windsurfers are in a perpetual battle against the elements for control over the sailboard. As a result, one little lapse in activity can result in an involuntary plunge into the water.

To put it simply, this extensive use of the body definitely meets the fitness criteria for extreme sports.

Fast-Paced Movements

Furthermore, windsurfing is founded upon rapid, fast-paced motion. There is rarely ever a dull moment.

Windsurfers must be extremely reactive to the conditions around them, or they risk being catapulted off the board. They cannot afford to take their sweet time when there is a rogue wave or a sudden wind gust. These adjustments need to be made on the fly. If their body stance or sail position is slightly off-kilter, there will be consequences to be paid.

Aside from a heavy emphasis on reaction speed, windsurfers also reach unbelievable speeds when conditions are prime. Recreational windsurfers get up to 17 to 25 knots (20 to 29 mph) when planing across the water. But, trust me, these speeds feel a whole lot faster when you are actually out in the thick of it. And these are only casual windsurfers!

Expert-level windsurfing athletes can tackle an entirely different realm of speed. If you want to see some proof for yourself, check out the video below to see high-speed windsurfing at its finest.

If you’re like me, you are probably wondering what the speed record is in the sport of windsurfing. To date, the fastest windsurfing speed ever recorded is 53.27 knots (61.37 mph). This record is currently held by Antoine Albeau (source).

There is no denying that windsurfing is a high octane pursuit. This is just further evidence that supports the idea of windsurfing as an extreme sport.

Specialized Equipment

Another characteristic of extreme sports is the tendency to have specialized gear optimized for maximal speed and the prospect of danger. Windsurfing passes this part of the criteria with flying colors.

It is certainly possible for a windsurfer to have a thrilling experience with subpar gear. However, equipment does play a major factor in how well a rider can go after their personal windsurfing goals. If a person is serious about taking their windsurfing skill set to the next level, high caliber, individualized equipment is a must.

For example, if a windsurfer wants to unlock their potential when it comes to pure speed on the water, it is a smart idea to invest in a sleek, lightweight board. A sailboard that is too heavy will have a hard time gliding across the top of the water.

Riders will have a much easier time reaching their speed aspirations with a well manufactured, small board. Believe it or not, these slight adjustments in board dimensions can make a noticeable difference in velocity.

Many other pieces of specialized windsurfing equipment are just as important as the board. The board is just one piece of the puzzle. The sail, mast, boom, fin, and daggerboard structure also contribute to how well a rider can handle more challenging conditions.

Even accessory equipment is available to provide riders with the slight edge they need to get a little more speed and control over the sailboard. The most notable pieces of accessory equipment include the harness and foot straps.

The harness provides an alternative means for a windsurfer to retain control over the power of the rig. For those who do not know, the rig is the sail, mast, boom, base, and base extension when assembled as one entity. Rather than holding onto the boom with their hands, they hook their harness up to the boom. This way, their body weight does all the pulling for them.

The foot straps keep the rider positioned towards the rear end of the board. This also assists with providing an adequate counterweight against the rig’s power since it allows the rider to position themselves out and away from the board. This out-and-away position allows riders to handle the most amount of wind possible.

In essence, these equipment accessories channel the rider’s body weight into driving the sailboard forward without coming at the expense of control or overexertion.

Why Is It Difficult to Definitively Say That Windsurfing is an Extreme Sport?

Certain individuals have a hard time coming to grips with definitively labeling windsurfing as an extreme sport. This is mainly because there really is no clear-cut definition of what an extreme sport is.

The Vague Definition of Extreme Sports

This is because the criteria used to draw the line between extreme and non-extreme is vague at best. In addition, there is no quantitative way to measure danger. Consequently, what may involve a high degree of risk for one person may be perceived as a low-risk activity to another person. It all has to do with perspective.

This element of subjectivity results in a large grey area. From my own perspective, the definition of an extreme sport has two distinct facets.

The first facet is founded upon the basic idea of sport. A sport must demand a particular skill set to avoid poor execution of the activity.

The second part of the definition has to do with the extreme nature of the activity. An activity should only be considered extreme if the participant is at risk for severe physical harm if the activity is executed poorly.

Combining these two ideas, I define an extreme sport as the following:

extreme sport: a skill dependent activity that may severely injure the participant if performed poorly

Applying This Definition to Windsurfing

If we go by this definition alone, windsurfing only really qualifies as an extreme sport for advanced-level riders.

Windsurfers that are just beginning to grasp the fundamentals of the sport are not at severe risk for physical harm. When beginners make a mistake, the thing that gets injured most is their pride. Any injury at the novice level is typically limited to bruises.

The risk for injury comes when windsurfers decide to kick the speed up a notch or attempt sophisticated airborne tricks. During these movements, a windsurfer can put a tremendous amount of strain on their body. If this stress is placed on the wrong area at the wrong time, there can definitely be some physical harm done.

Aside from the physical risk of windsurfing, there is no debate that this sport requires skill. It takes a hefty amount of time and energy to master the art of planing across the water in a controlled manner. In addition, constantly having to adjust to the changing conditions of the wind and water is no cakewalk.

This is in stark contrast to an activity like bungee jumping, for example. Although bungee jumping may nail down the extreme nature required of extreme sports, there is no skill involved with this activity. All you have to do is jump and let gravity do its work.

With windsurfing, the participant has to employ their skills to perform the activity correctly. Otherwise, they will end up flopping around in the water with a miserable look on their face.

If you have doubts about the presence of skill and danger in windsurfing, check out the video below of Thomas Traversa maneuvering hurricane conditions with windsurfing skill alone!

The Bottom Line

Most people say that windsurfing is an extreme sport, but it can be enjoyed as a leisure pastime like all other water sports. If you want to head down to the ocean a few times each month for some fun, then you’ll have a good, safe time doing so. However, you can also compete and try out fast winds, high waves, and other risky but exciting situations.

Remember that you should always start slow before you get involved in the extreme part of the sport. For example, by visiting beaches during days with low wind, you can learn the ropes beforehand.

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Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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