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Old School Windsurfing: When the Boards Were Small and the Sails Were Bright

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Compared to surfing, which has been around for thousands of years, windsurfing is a young sport. It first popped up in 1948, not in Hawaii or Fiji, but in Pennsylvania, when Newman Darby stuck a sail on a board, called it a sailboard and cruised down the Susquehanna River.

It was in the 1970s and 1980s that the sport really took off and found commercial and popular success. Today, windsurfing is a complicated affair; riders wear harnesses on specialized boards and pull off amazing tricks. But some long for the simpler days, when windsurfers took to the waves on short, simple boards.

Robby Naish, who won his first windsurfing World Championship title in 1976 at the age of 13, once called the sport "surfing's ginger-haired cousin." Naturally, the sport really took off in places like Hawaii, the ancestral home of surfing.

But it wasn't restricted to the Pacific Islands. Shacks Beach in Puerto Rico, now known as one of the best windsurfing spots in the world, drew enthusiasts like Serge Griessman as early as 1984.

Like surfers, windsurfers form floating communities anywhere big waves can be found. The waters off of Diamond Head in Oahu, Hawaii became a popular spot in the mid-1980s.

In 1980, the first annual Windsurfing World Championships were held in Tihany, a peninsula on Lake Balaton in Hungary. Later locations included Spain, Japan, South Africa, and San Francisco.

Windsurfing became an Olympic sport in 1984, but declined in popularity in the 1990s. Boards became increasingly specialized as racing, slalom, and freestyle categories evolved. Meanwhile, kiteboarding, with its simpler equipment and bigger airs, became increasingly popular. It's incredible to see what the sport's champions can do with some wind and waves these days, but it's always fun to look back a few years and remember the guys and gals who turned the unexpected combination of surfing and sailing into a high-flying reality.

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