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Is boardsailing the same as windsurfing?

Yes, years ago, Windsurfer was a trademarked and patented name and the rest of the country was left with finding a suitable substitute. (However, the Germans and French among others either challenged or ignored this legal distinction and the sport and manufacturers both blossomed there.) While, it might seem that boardsailing (not to be confused with bored sailing) sounds like an activity carried out with a 2x4, it refers to a sail board, like a surf board, that sails. Our club, one of the oldest in the country still carries on the historic legacy of this legal dilemma. Don't worry, almost all our members refer to us as "the windsurfing club."

What is the windsurfing (and kiteboarding) like in Atlanta?

For those just learning to windsurf, it's a summer sport. Warm water temperatures and fresh water lakes make cruising on a long or wide board fun and comfortable (no wetsuit required). The occasional windy day in the summer will let those with big sails/shortboards get in a planing session but usually you can count those on 1 hand from July to August.

For the more experienced windsurfer, the season really goes from September to May (yes, through the winter). Sail ranges from 4.5-9.5 will be used with maybe a couple of days requiring something smaller. See When is it windy in Atlanta? Most of our short board sailing is done with 5.5-7.5 sails. Adequate neoprene (ie a good windsurfing-specific wetsuit) is a must to get the best out of local conditions. Anything above freezing is fair game for a few, and most of the full-time crew will show up if temperatures are in the mid 40s or above.

There are a number of lakes around Atlanta from 30 min to an hour away. Lake Lanier is our best local spot, followed by Allatoona Lake and Lake Juliette. Lanier has options for all wind directions. The smaller lakes generally work better only on specific wind directions because of their shape.

Drive a bit further around Georgia and you might catch a breeze Atlanta misses. For example, trips to West Point Lake and Clarks Hill Lake (Augusta) can be rewarding. All are man-made, Georgia has no natural lakes.

Further away, you have your choice between the Gulf and the Atlantic. Mobile Bay, The Panhandle, Jacksonville, Tybee and St. Simons Islands and Charleston are all 5-6 hours away and provide everything from flat water cruising to wave sailing. If you are willing to go further, Tampa/St. Pete and Cocoa Beach and about 12 hours away are the North Carolina Outer Banks and the Florida Keys, some of the best windsurfing in the US. Club members organize formal and informal trips to the more popular spots. If you need more information about places to windsurf or kite, see our Windsurfing Sites Guide.

What is the windsurfing like in the Southeast?

Southeast windsurfing can vary from some of the world's best conditions (for all abilities and interests) on Hatteras (11 hrs away) to the more limited inland. Inland southeast windsurfing tends to be a September-May sport (see below). Gulf Coast spots (5-8 hrs) can be chilly in the winter on the Panhandle to more moderate towards Tampa/St. Pete with good wind for most of the year. July and August tend not to have good seabreezes because the Gulf warms up so much. East Coast (5-7 hrs) spots have a little cooler water but more consistent conditions. It can be windy any time of year. Fall, winter and spring can bring stronger winds (15-35 or more) and the occasional tropical system can make things really interesting. Seabreezes tend to be consistent even down to central Florida in the summer. On both the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic coast there are locations for both flatwater and wave sailing, and for levels from beginner to expert. Obviously, the Atlantic coast has the better waves from Central Florida, northward. Hatteras is renown for its wave sailing.

When is it windy in Atlanta?

We often get the comment from newcomers or former sailors:

"I went to Lake (fill in the blank) last July and didn't see anybody there. I figured nobody windsurfs in Atlanta."

This is the equivalent of saying, "I visited Aspen in August and didn't see anybody snow skiing. The Southern shortboard season really goes from Labor Day to Memorial Day. This is the time of year when the jet stream dips far enough south to bring in strong cold fronts and their west and northwest blows. During the summer you might get the odd front, or more likely a tropical disturbance which might bring wind from any direction depending which way the low pressure passes Atlanta. And yes, some of us really do sail year round.

Typically the year might go something like this:

  • Jan-Feb: Hard core season. As long as the temperature is above 35-40 and the winds greater than 10-12 mph (a 10-15 or solid 15 or more forecast), there is a good chance you'll see folks (men and women) out sailing. Obviously, weekends and sunny days are preferred. Sail sizes range from your biggest to the very few 4.0 and less sessions (and we do mean very few). For what you need to windsurf during cold weather: What kind of wetsuit should I use
  • March-Early May: Classic cold front sailing (W or NW winds) with the occasional low throwing in a NE day. As spring progresses, more SW winds appear and more often preceeding a cold front. Beware a forecast of 10-15 on a hot spring day while the water is cold. The water forms a barrier layer just above and the wind will skip right over the lake. Smaller lakes like Lake Juliette have less of a problem with this.
  • Late May-Aug: While early summer might still bring in a cold front, winds tend to be more moderate with 10-15 mph as a good day. This is the season that the foils or wide boards/big sails were developed for. Beach trips are recommended. The occasional tropic disturbance might bring in some wind, sometimes from a daffy direction like SE but it depends on the season. This type of weather occurs from July-Oct. If you really want to get the most out of this time period and planing is your thing, we strongly suggest you get as wide a board and big a sail (9.0 and up) as you can stand/afford. The recent 85-100cm boards need hardly a whitecap to get going and will double the amount of days you sail in the summer.
  • September-Dec: Classic sailing. As the temps cool, the winds increase. But the water will still be plenty warm, even through Christmas. Cold fronts will reappear and you'll be dusting off the small sails (4.5-6.5) after the summer storage (if you weren't lucky enough to go to Hatteras in May or June. Don't put up the big stuff, though. There tend to be a lot of good 10-15 days during this time. Winds will be SW, W, NW and NE depending on the weather system. SW, W and NE tend to be steadier, NW can be extremely gusty especially later in the season.

Note: While it is tempting, we urge great caution in sailing the breezes preceeding a summer thunderstorm. Not only does the wind have a tendency to drop right before it hits (stranding you in the middle of the lake) but holding a fifteen foot lightning rod in your hands is a very frightening and dangerous experience.

How can I learn?

We strongly urge that you get instruction. Speaking from personal experience, windsurfing can be almost frustratingly impossible to learn by yourself. With proper instruction, you can be sailing around within an hour. Also, proper equipment is vital. A board that is too small or a sail that is too big and heavy, can make the experience positively painful. The success rate of those who take lessons as beginners is probably 10 times higher than of those who don't. Before you buy your first sail, board or wetsuit, get instruction.

The best way to learn is to go some place with great conditions, great instruction and great equipment. Club members Chris Voith (404.386.8505) and Chris Pyron (404.396.1542) offer instruction in the Atlanta area.

Further from home, both North Beach Windsurfing (St. Pete)and Calema Boardsailing (Merrit Island/Cocoa Beach)in Florida offer great instruction in pleasant locations. They both have a variety of programs and are accessible even when its too cold here. Club members have had success at both spots. ABK Sports tours the country with three day clinics for all levels. They usually hit the Gulf coast in the spring and Hatteras in the fall. Several club members are alumni and can vouch for them.

For more exotic trips Aruba and Bonaire, in the Caribbean, and Cape Hatteras, in NC, fit the bill. The former are more tropical, while Cape Hatteras can be more affordable. Aruba used to be the premier Caribbean spot but development has encroached on the windsurfing areas and Bonaire has taken the mantle with multiple windsurfing centers. All three offer vast expanses of water shoulder deep or less so those formative first experiences are comfortable. Cape Hatteras is the East Coast center for windsurfing, served by a great number of shops and clinics. Check out our links for a variety of Hatteras pages.

Online tutorials have become vastly better in the last few years. Here are some of our favorite instructional channels on Youtube. They have topics from beginner to expert

A more thorough list of video tutorials: Video_Tutorials

Lastly, club members are a great resource. The club's better sailors are always happy to answer a question or assist you. Post a question in our forums. In Atlanta, there are no "attitudes". We want you to sail fun and safe.

Do you have to be strong to windsurf?

One of the most popular misconceptions about windsurfing is that you have to be strong. This notion especially deters many women and older folks. With appropriately sized equipment and proper instruction, it requires only modest fitness. Women, children and older folks have found that with the proper gear and instruction, they can have as much fun as anyone else. (We imagine that only testosterone-ridden young bucks windsurf.) There are quite a few sailors in their sixties, seventies and even eighties who enjoy windsurfing. As well, elementary school aged children also "shred". This can be a remarkably gentle and universal sport.

What kind of wetsuit should I use?

The biggest danger in windsurfing is hypothermia. Even on a mild spring day you can chill quickly. You, of course, will be likely to be wet and in the wind, which gets worse as the board accelerates. If the wind is blowing 10-15, a shortboard can travel from 15-25 mph. Being wet in 70 degrees with a 25 mph wind blowing over you can chill you quickly. Even if you don't get cold, you'll be burning energy better spent in having fun. In the colder windy season, hypothermia has fatal consequences. If you should break something, swimming in 1-2 foot swell in 50 degree water is a lot harder than it looks.

For the cold natured, you can really only sail late June through September in just your bathing suit. If it's breezy, a shorty doesn't hurt but isn't necessary. A shorty is required in May and late September-early October on warm days. On cooler days, you'll want some sort of full suit. October through April demands full suits and even more on the colder days- booties, gloves and a hood. Even if you think you won't need the stuff, you'll sail a weekend in October, and the next weekend you'll want to go out, even if it's a bit colder. This process repeats until you hit your personal limit or spring arrives. It's not like we intended to sail in January when we started windsurfing.

If I only had to own one I'd get a 4/3 or 5/3 semi dry titanium wetsuit . I own a Neil Pryde but Bare and O'Neill both have good reps. This will cover you almost year round. they cost from $280 to $350. The titanium (really flecks embedded in the neoprene) really makes a difference. The latest zipless styles are reputed to be supercomfortable but a little awkard in getting off. Fans of them say they are the most comfortable they've used and are worth the two minutes aggravation when taking them off.

Some folks like dry suits, the (I think) Bare that has a loose top and neoprene bottom seems nice. The problem with drys is twofold: 1) you're screwed if you get a leak (such as a fin cutting it or ripping a seal 2) They really aren't dry because of body condensation. You'll pay $300-400 for a real dry suit- a good brass zipper. Recently, some windsurfers have been raving about Kokotat drysuits which are usually worn by kayakers.

If the air temp is below 55 you should have a hood with you. You can wear it around your neck if you are too warm but a wet cold head makes the best wetsuit useless in no time at all. Hypothermia is the only real danger to windsurfing here. Cold head- no fun. Warm head- sail all afternoon. It's like a heater. You can wear a fleece cap by itself or under the hood. They really help, too.

Good booties are nice, too. They won't run too much. Also, for those below 50 degree days, palmless neoprene mittens work great. They allow you to grip the boom but keep the fingers warm. They run about $20-25. Don't get the cheap fisherman's neoprene gloves. You can't get a good grip on the boom and your forearms will cramp within minutes. I have a pair lying somewhere on the bottom of Lanier.

Also, remember you can layer inside a good wetsuit. A layer of polypropylene underwear or a fleece cap can extend the wetsuit. A thin shorty underneath virtually eliminates the cold flush you get when water trickles in the zipper of a semi-dry or steamer. Don't get it too snug, your arms need room to expand as you grip the boom and flex those muscles. Also of recent appearance are fleece liners for kayakers and divers. REI carries Mysterioso fleece tops and bottoms which can also work alone in early summer, even. Warm even when wet, they add significant warmth to your suit, short or long.

DON'T get a cheap wetsuit, one of those $79 jobs from Sports Authority. Windsurfing wetsuits are made with a nylon lining only on the inside (Nylon I) as opposed to both sides (Nylon II). tThe cheap ones have Nylon II which holds water on the fabric on the outside of the suit. The evaporative cooling as the wind blows across the suit makes the suit almost useless. Their seams are also less watertight (much less) and stick up (overstitch) instead of being flat and smooth (blind stitch and sealed). Moreover, the arms may not have the room your muscles need when they flex. Few things are more painful than trying to hold on to a boom when it feels like you have torniquest around your biceps and wrists.

You get what you pay for. I've sailed in January with air temps in the mid 30s with my 5/3, poly turtleneck, dry boots, hood, fleece cap and mittens. I've worn the same suit in Oct and early May. It ain't fun being cold. Dress appropriately and enjoy yourself. Being cold also makes you expend more calories which shortens your session. (Don't use this as a way to diet. Being in the middle of the lake, shivering and weak, is a silly way to lose a quarter of a pound.)

Last note: before you do something foolish like order from a catalogue from Minnesota, check the local dealers. Quite often, they know of the hot deals, close-outs, etc. They can save you money.

Where can I rent windsurfing equipment?

For various reasons, while the sport in the Southeast is strong, shops have had a tough time making money selling, and even, moreso, renting equipment. Most sailors have their own and used equipment is cheap enough to make the rental market limited. Also, since waterfront property inland is at a premium, shops can't locate on the water like they do in coastal locations.

At present I don't know of any rentals on the Atlantic between Daytona Beach (Sandy Point Progressive Sports) and Hatteras. On the Gulf, there is North Beaching Windsurfing in St. Pete Beach. At present, I don't know of anyone renting on the Panhandle, AL or MS. Let me know if you know of other shops that do rent.

Are there legal restrictions on windsurfers in GA?

Mind you, this isn't a legal advice website but...

In Georgia, windsurfers enjoy a double distinction: for purposes of PFD and registration laws, we not considered a "vessel" subject to those regulations. You don't need to wear a life jacket. Of course, use common sense. If you are a weak swimmer, going alone or offshore where rescue is difficult, are learning to waterstart or have other limitations, you may find one useful. It's a personal choice. However, remember that if you, your board and your rig separate from each other, it's the board that floats. Don't ever give up your board to try to fetch a sail, make shore, etc. When falling, always try to hold onto the boom so that the board doesn't shoot away from you as you fall. If you are separated from your board and rig, swim quickly for it before wind and waves get the opportunity to carry it away from you.

There are situations where a full CGA approved PFD makes things more difficult and part of the reason our community lobbied for the exemption years ago.

  • In breaking waves, where you need to be able to duck dive yourself or the rig under a breaking wave
  • When using a large sail where falling under the sail, the PFD forces you against the sail and makes it difficult to swim out from under it.

For navigation, we enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as other small sailcraft. Again, exercise caution. Just because you know the rules, doesn't mean the ski boat does. Rules mean little when you get hurt (except for your heirs). Also know that as a manueverable vessel, we give way to powered vessels in certain cirmcustances such as channels, etc. You may be required to stay clear of swimming areas on certain lakes.

The relevant regs

Georgia Code OCGA § 52-7-3 (22.1) "Sailboard" means any sailboat whose unsupported mast is connected by a swivel or a flexible universal joint to a hull similar to the hull of a surfboard.

(25) "Vessel" means every description of watercraft, other than a seaplane on the water or a sailboard, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water and specifically includes, but is not limited to, inflatable rafts and homemade vessels; provided, however, Code Section 52-7-18, relating to rules of the road for boat traffic, shall be applicable to sailboards.

The inland rules of the road

Rules of the road (Inland version)

What ever happened to the original windsurfer?

Update: The Wally lived on in production in Australia and has been re-invented as the Windsurfer LT, a modernized version built by Cobra International and badged under a number of board brands.

As we mentioned above, once upon a time in America, there was only one kind of windsurfer available, the trademarked "Windsurfer". Hundreds of thousands were sold and by the mid '80s they began to disappear. Was it global warming? Did a giant meteorite come down and wipe them out as possibly happened to the dinosaurs? Correspondent Scott Carter of the LA Windsurf Club wrote in the windsurfing newsgroup:

Back to Windsurf History 201, Windsurfing International went out of business in early '87. Hoyle Schweitzer refused to modernize his designs, construction and equipment. One Design faded away because the board no longer filled a niche. Once an individual learned how to windsurf- he/she wanted to have more fun in more wind. You could not do that with a One Design - like the ol' Hobie Cat, it was designed for another era. Jim Drake invented it and Hoyle Schweitzer built and sold it. Europeans made the sport popular world wide. The Hawaiians and Californians and Europeans each had a hand in re-defining the various improvements along the way.

They no longer exist. Here's part of the reason why:

Two gentlemen who made and designed boards for them in the early '81, showed Hoyle how a board could be made light and strong with Epoxy. Gary Seaman (Gary's Father built the first catamarans for Hobie Alter) and Bruno Boursier ( of Rio Vista, CA area) were those two men. They told me this story. Hoyle had a chance to make all of us, epoxy boards (a stronger, lighter material that's the basis for most high performance boards today) 5 years before F2 did, and he wouldn't allow the boards to be made. He wanted OneDesign (the original board) only. He thought he could control the market. So did the Russians. Moral: 'Market Forces' rule everything.