Is Windsurfing Making a Comeback? (Exciting Data Trends!)


Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, windsurfing took the world by storm, but then the sport eventually tapered off. Nowadays, the general public has a hard time figuring out how popular the sport of windsurfing really is.

Windsurfing participation rates have steadily increased from 2006 onward. Although it is unclear whether this a definitive indicator that windsurfing is making a comeback to its former 1980s glory, it is certainly a positive sign for the growth of the sport.

There are some really hopeful statistics that may make you reconsider what the future holds for windsurfing. We will analyze these statistical trends in depth to help you draw your own informed conclusions about whether it is possible for windsurfing to make a real comeback.

Windsurfing Participation Trends by the Numbers

There was a recent study released in 2020 that monitored windsurfing participation rates in the United States from 2006 all the way up to 2018. This massive study revealed several intriguing findings about the popularity of windsurfing that contradicted the narrative that the general public had been led to believe. These fascinating results are outlined in the infographic below.

Up until this point, a tale had been spun that the sport of windsurfing was on its last legs. People predicted that windsurfing would eventually sputter out.

This massive study says otherwise. From 2006 to 2018, windsurfing participation did not decline as expected. In fact, it increased. By a lot. 620,000 people to be exact!

In the year 2006, there were approximately 940,000 active windsurfers in the United States. By 2018, that number had risen to 1.56 million windsurfers. If you’re into percentages, that equates to a 66% increase in windsurfing participation.

In addition, there was optimistic participation rates discovered exclusively within the younger windsurfing demographic as well. The Outdoor Industry Association recently published a research study that tracked the windsurfing participation rates of Americans from the ages of 6 to 17. They found that windsurfing participation made a significant jump from 228,000 individuals in 2007 to 610,000 individuals in 2018 (source). That equates to a 168% increase among the younger windsurfing demographic!

This is extremely promising data because it shows that windsurfing is expanding at an exponential rate among the younger generation relative to the general American population.

Put simply, this new data was enlightening. It showed that windsurfing participation is not dying. It is actually growing. As far as how this relates to the prospective comeback of windsurfing, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on that topic. But it is undeniable that windsurfing is exhibiting an upward trend.

If you want my opinion, I believe it is a glass half full, glass half empty conversation. There are those that will say windsurfing will never reach the peak it did back in the day. On the other hand, there are those that say windsurfing is back on the come up and will eventually eclipse the golden 1980s era of windsurfing.

Personally, I still see plenty of people heading out to the beaches, rigging their sails, and enjoying the water on their sailboard. Judging from the numbers, windsurfing definitely looks like it is in a good spot. But I cannot say for certain that windsurfing is prepped and ready for another revolutionary comeback. Then again, that’s just my opinion.

Examples that Prove that Windsurfing Might Be Making a Comeback After All

At the windsurfing apex, the sport was thought to have a signature atmosphere. It was looked at as a subculture. Windsurfing went beyond the realm of sport. People treated it as a a lifestyle. They travelled together in packs, set up picnics on the beachfront, cheered windsurfers on from the peanut gallery upon the crest of seaside hills, and attempted to outdo each other out on the water.

Nowadays, the windsurfing community is under the impression that this characteristic atmosphere has been lost. If they only searched a little bit harder, they would find that the vintage windsurfing fervor is steadily revealing itself once again.

The Homely Gathering of Defi Wind

The gathering of Defi Wind proves that the enthusiasm for windsurfing still exists. There is no other windsurfing event quite like it.

For those of you that do not know, Defi Wind is debatably the largest gathering of windsurfing in the modern world. Windsurfers travel from all over the world to take part in a day of racing that consistently sports well over one thousand contestants year after year.

Defi Wind is a rare unification of vastly different cultures and generations all drawn in by one thing… a love for windsurfing.

In 2019 alone, the Defi Wind of Gruissan formally gathered 1176 contestants. The competition was made up of a diverse background of contestants that had travelled from “five continents, forty-five countries” to experience this massive annual racing day firsthand (source).

One of the most exciting parts about Defi Wind is that it doesn’t strictly appeal to the older generation trying to get a taste of windsurfing’s heyday. A significant portion of the contestants are on the younger end of the spectrum. To be exact, there were “131 [contestants] under 18yo… with a younger participant of 14-years-old” in 2019 (source).

This proves that the windsurfing torch is being passed to the youth and that the future of the sport still burns bright. It does not appear as though Defi Wind is going anywhere anytime soon.

To get a glimpse of why Defi Wind makes a valid case that windsurfing might be making a comeback, click on the video below!

The Red Bull Storm Chase

Furthermore, there are still big name companies that are giving windsurfing their undivided attention. Of these companies, the most renowned name that comes to mind is Red Bull.

Over the years, Red Bull has continued to act as one of the major proponents of windsurfing. They have spurred professional windsurfers on to push the limits of the sport and redefine the line of what is possible versus impossible.

A prime example of this is the Red Bull Storm Chase. Red Bull wanted to prove that windsurfing can be accomplished even in the harshest of conditions. The company wanted to showcase the best windsurfing talent the world had to offer by pitting them against near hurricane conditions. In doing so, they illustrated that windsurfing talent has not dwindled. If anything, windsurfing talent has only progressed and is showing signs of making a full fledged comeback.

Words don’t do this miraculous feat justice, so I provided a video below of a highlight from the Red Bull Storm Chase during a bone jarring storm in Ireland.

Reasons Why People Believe that Windsurfing is Dead (& the Counterarguments Against Them)

To help you thoroughly understand the debate on whether or not windsurfing is making a comeback, I provided some informative points for you to consider. I wanted to offer both perspectives on the subject so that you could form your own personal opinions based on the facts.

Reason #1: A Considerable Number of Windsurfers Switched Over to Kitesurfing

A major reason that many water sports enthusiasts are led to believe that windsurfing is on the decline is the rapid popularity rise in kitesurfing. At the onset of kitesurfing, a great deal of windsurfers defected to experiment with this up and coming sport for themselves.

Of the two sports, kitesurfing is undoubtedly the easier sport to learn. Plus, kitesurfing offers an exceptional amount of air time for those that have a strong desire to know what it feels like to fly on the water. For these reasons, people make the assumption that this trend will only continue and that windsurfing will eventually diminish into nothing. If not complete diminishment, they at least agree that the uptick in kitesurfing will prevent windsurfing from ever reaching its former glory.

Counterargument

Obviously, there are still plenty of active windsurfers out on the water today and the numbers actually show participation is growing, not dwindling.

The influence kitesurfing has had on windsurfing mirrors the initial emergence of snowboarding and the effect it had on skiing. When snowboarding first bursted onto the scene, there was a massive faction of skiers that ditched their skis in favor of the snowboard. Snowboarding popularity skyrocketed and the snow sports community painted this picture that the future of skiing was dim.

Over time, the truth of the matter was exposed. Not only did the future of skiing remain intact, it glowed brighter than ever before. Eventually, the initial wave of skiers that defected to snowboarding returned to the realm of skiing. The popularity seesaw between the two sports leveled out in due time.

This same phenomenon is true of the contest between kitesurfing and windsurfing. The water sports community drew up this narrative that windsurfing was fizzling out because of kitesurfing. Although windsurfing may have taken a temporary hit, the sport has recovered and is expanding its reach.

Reason #2: Managing Windsurfing Equipment Is Too Much of a Hassle to Deal With

Another point of argument for why certain people believe windsurfing will never reach mainstream popularity ever again is the perplexing, overcomplicated nature of the equipment.

People argue that windsurfing equipment has become far too specialized and expensive to appeal to the casual windsurfer. The vast selection and intricate construction of windsurfing gear alienates novices, ultimately squashing their curiosity with the sport before they even make it out to the water.

Many people theorize that this concept was what was responsible for bringing down windsurfing from public grace to begin with. In the world of business enterprise, this phenomenon is known as the Schumpeterian market. In a study conducted at RMIT University in Australia, a team of researchers argued that the “technology-driven competition” of windsurfing led to the equipment “overshooting the capabilities and financial budgets of most users” (source).

Counterargument

The overspecialization of windsurfing technology may have contributed to the undoing of windsurfing, but equipment manufacturers have learned their lesson since then.

Nowadays, modern day windsurfing technology is produced with the beginner in mind, not the top tier athletes. They realize that the largest customer base for windsurfing is the beginner demographic. Manufacturers have adjusted their ways to better accommodate novices in order to sell more equipment and help expand the influence of the sport.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the equipment was too complex for the average windsurfing beginner to handle. Fortunately, new windsurfing technology is far less painful to manage for the casual windsurfer.

For example, it is now possible for windsurfers to be done with rigging in under five minutes. This way, they can venture out on the water while the winds still blow strong. Speaking of winds, that is our next topic of discussion.

Reason #3: Chasing Down Ideal Wind Conditions Can Be a Frustrating Process

Furthermore, people make the argument that windsurfing is dying because of its heavy reliance on ideal weather conditions.

It is not uncommon for windsurfers to make the drive out to the beach when there are heavy gusts of wind, only to have the wind completely die out while you are preparing to head out onto the water.

This is unquestionably one of the biggest drawbacks of windsurfing. Without wind, it is impossible for a person to enjoy their windsurfing outing in earnest. When an individual commits to making the trip out to the sea, they want to know for certain that they will actually be able to do what they set out to do. Even if the weather forecast reads that there will be strong winds, everything does not always go according to plan.

The underlying point here is that windsurfers eventually gravitate toward other water pursuits after having experienced the frustration of insufficient wind on a repetitive basis.

Counterargument

Some people view the elusive pursuit of ideal wind conditions as a negative, while others absolutely adore the chase.

Those that see the chase as a positive argue that it is what makes the windsurfing experience that much more rewarding. It adds another variable to the entire process that makes venturing out on the water and feeling the wind blow glide along your skin all the more worthwhile. People like the element of unpredictability because it spices up the experience. Between the strength, direction, and steadiness of the wind, you can never have the same windsurfing experience twice.

To this point, there may not be much windsurfing in light wind areas. But then again, there is not much snow skiing being done in Arkansas either. The wind definitely props up certain regions more than others, but there are certain spots out there where windsurfing flourishes, even though you wouldn’t expect it to.

A prime example of this is Illinois. Although Illinois is not known for its winds or bodies of water, it still maintains a relatively active windsurfing following. If you want evidence, head over to windsurfillinois.com. There are plenty of members posting their windsurfing experiences and spreading their passion for the sport to others.

Reason #4: Windsurfing Doesn’t Have the Same Appeal to the Youth as It Once Did

Lastly, those that have a pessimistic outlook on windsurfing believe that the sport fails to appeal to the younger generation.

Part of what made windsurfing so alluring in the 1970s and the 1980s is that it was bursting onto the scene. During the beginning stages of anything, people hop onto the bandwagon because they want to be an active part of the new trend. This particularly applies to the youth. They don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to belong to something special.

Now that windsurfing is a couple decades old and its initial buzz has worn off, people argue that there is no draw for the younger generation. They argue that the younger generation does not have the flexibility of schedule, resources, conditions, or commitment to become proficient at windsurfing.

Counterargument

Although it may seem as though the popularity of windsurfing is carried predominantly by the older generations, the numbers actually say otherwise.

After pouring through the data earlier in the article, it is evident that windsurfing is connecting with the youth, contrary to popular opinion. To remind you again of the exact numbers, windsurfing experienced a 168% spike in participation within the 7 to 18 age bracket.

This shows that the younger windsurfing generation is attracted to the experience itself, not the allure of being a windsurfing pioneer. Whether or not this participation spike indicates that windsurfing is making a comeback is hard to say for sure, but it is definitely a good sign.

What Does the Future Hold for Windsurfing?

All of these statistics and debates ultimately lead to the question, “What does the future hold for windsurfing?” No one can predict the future, but I have a few speculations as to where the sport will drift in the upcoming years.

The Innovation of the Windsurf Foilboard

In recent years, one of the major turning points in windsurfing was the introduction of the windsurf foilboard. I know some of you are unfamiliar with the concept of windfoiling, so I will provide a brief explanation.

Windsurf foilboards feature a foil that is attached underneath the windsurf board itself. This foil protrudes outward from the bottom of the board. As the foilboard accelerates through the water, the foil lifts the board up and out of the water until it seems as though the windsurf board is quite literally flying over top of the water.

Many reputable windsurfers have hopped onto this trend, including the original windsurfing king himself, Robby Naish. At the apex of windsurfing, Naish was renowned as the face of the sport. Being a 24x Windsurfing World Champion, this title was rightfully earned.

Thus, the windsurfing community was surprised to witness Naish experiment with the prospect of windfoiling. Initially, windfoiling was seen as a fad. But when Naish hopped onto the windfoil board for the first time, he finally gave the windfoiling movement the credibility it deserved.

To witness Naish experimenting with windfoiling, click on the video below!

As far as what this means for windsurfing, the development of windfoiling may just be the next step in the evolution of the sport. At this time, there are still a great deal of windsurfers who have a hard time coming to grips with this new trend, but there are others who embrace the change.

Only time will tell whether windfoiling will play an integral role in a potential windsurfing comeback.

The Innovation of the Windsurf Stand Up Paddleboard

Another remarkable innovation pertaining to windsurfing is the release of the windsurf stand up paddleboard (SUP).

Lately, stand up paddle boarding has emerged as one of the dominant forms of water recreation across the United States. With a vast array of appealing elements to the sport, it is no wonder why SUP has taken off. I don’t have the time to describe all the attractions here, but you can check out my article 14 Reasons Why Stand Up Paddleboarding Is So Appealing if you’re curious as to why this sport has skyrocketed in popularity.

SUP rant aside, the windsurf SUP consolidates these two sports into one, making it possible to reach a far broader audience in the water sports industry. This may encourage more stand up paddle boarders to try their hand at windsurfing, ultimately increasing participation rates across the board.

I do not know how long the windsurf SUP will stick around, but it is nice to see that water sports manufacturers are doing their very best to keep windsurfing as relevant as possible.

Final Thoughts

It is hard to imagine that windsurfing will ever reach mainstream status like it did back in the 1970s and the 1980s, but with the exciting data trends recently released to the general public, you cannot count out the possibility.

Whether windsurfing reaches this pinnacle again or not, I highly advise you to check out this sport regardless. You should try it out once at the very least just to check it off your bucket list. And who knows? Maybe you’ll find that windsurfing was your long lost water sports passion after all.

Sources: 1 2 3 4 5

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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