Windsurfing versus kitesurfing

I was recently told that kitesurfing was far easier to learn than windsurfing, and privately I disputed this theory vowing to check it out when I next had some time in front of a computer. So here I am, checking it out, to find that everyone including Wikipedia  says “The sport has a considerably steep (i.e. longer) learning curve when compared to other so-called “extreme” sports, like snowboarding, freeride mountain biking or kitesurfing.”

In fact, Wikipedia goes even further with this wonderful analogy: Learning to windsurf can be compared to chess in that there are many pieces moving in different directions which you have to keep track of. After a few goes most finally catch on. Whereas learning to kite board is more like learning checkers.

So, I was wrong. It’s harder to learn to windsurf than kitesurf…

Although you can teach yourself to windsurf, it is adviseable to get a lesson. The thing about teaching yourself is that you will undoubtably pick up some bad habits and they will be very difficult to get rid of later.

So how does windsurfing compare to kitesurfing speed-wise?

In the old days, when the windsurf boards were huge and heavy and the sails enormous, it was very difficult to get high speeds out of a windsurfer, but despite this, in 1983, Fred Haywood became the first Windsurfer to go over 30 knots, an incredible achievement for those days.

Nowadays, with the lighter boards, smaller sails, improved designs (see previous article: hi-tech materials catapult windsurfing into the space age) much greater speeds can be achieved. The Fanatic Belgian Speed Week are just coming to an end. Held in  France, the trials have had a challenging week with varying wind conditions. Results are not yet out, but we’ll keep you up to speed as soon as they are…

The challenge in the past has been to see who would be the first to break the elusive 50 knot barrier – the holy grail of speedsailing. Would it be a sailboat, a windsurfer or even, possibly, a kitesurfer?

It was Sebastien Cattelan who did it first, and did it kitesurfing. Subsequently, and most recently, Rob Douglas broke the record again with an astonishing 55.65 knots (103.06 km/h)… at the Luderitz speed trials in Namibia, and again it was kitesurfing that claimed the victory.

Hydroptére, the fabulous experimental sailing hydrofoil, briefly reached 56.3 knots (104.3 km/h; 64.8 mph), in 2008, but capsized shortly thereafter and so the result cannot be counted. She is on record for sustaining a speed of 52.86 knots (97.90 km/h) for 500m in 2009.

The windsurfing world is not far behind. The 50 knot barrier still holds firm, but not necessarily for long. Irish born sailor Finian Maynard, competing for the British Virgin Islands, reached an average speed of 48.70 knots on a windsurfer over a 500 metre course at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (France) in 2005.

The current world record is held by Antoine Albeau, who, in 2008, reached 49,09 knots, (90,91 km/h), on the canal which was specially built for record attempts at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in the Camargue, South of France. At the age of 36, Antoine Albeau dominates the sport. He has 11 world titles to his name and an innumerable collection of national titles. Along with Bjorn Dunerbeck, he is the most titled European windsurfer.

But it will take some time before a beginner is windsurfing like this! The first thing a beginner must master is  balance and core stability. Then he needs to acquire a basic understanding of sailing theory, and learn a few techniques before progressing from board sailing to windsurfing. Which takes us back to where we began – get a lesson, it will speed up your progress!

Once this sport is mastered it can be enjoyed, even at an advanced level, for many years and then at a more sedate level for considerably longer still.

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7 Responses to “Windsurfing versus kitesurfing”

  1. Paul
    2011 | 28 April at 06:06 #

    Tried windsurfing last summer…Trying out kite boarding/surfing this summer…I’ll let you know

    • lolajones
      2011 | 28 April at 08:41 #

      Fantastic Paul, thank you. We love getting feedback and opinions. If you haven’t already booked somewhere to go, I highly recommend these guys Tantrum Kitesurf in Tarifa: We’ve just come back from there and they’re terrific. What’s more, they offer far more kitesurfing time than any other company I’ve come across at a very respectable price… Good luck and look forward to hearing from you again.

  2. wishitwaswindy
    2012 | 17 February at 16:11 #

    Both can be hard to learn given the circumstances. Most kites need a good launch area. a windsurfer can be dropped in anywhere. The big difference in learning is core stability and flexibility. Not crucial in kiting, but a windsufer is more like a bike. The board is stationary for a moment before it starts moving. You need to balance quickly and trim the board to get it going.

  3. Mike
    2012 | 7 June at 05:31 #

    I’ve tried windsurfing and it was difficult. I got up and going in both directions on the first day after an hour lesson but jibing felt impossible. I’ve taught myself to kite surf and can now keep upwind- this has taken over 30 hours. Kite surfing goes wrong very quickly and I’ve suffered a pulled groin, twisted knee a broken toe and must have drunk litres of filthy seawater. I’d say windsurfing is a bit safer and that in the time it takes you to keep upwind and jibe on a windsurfer you could be jumping with a kite. Plus the fact your kite gear will easily fit in a car / plane. I will still learn to windsurf- kite loops look too extreme for me now there’s a baby on the way.

    • gavin
      2012 | 8 June at 13:17 #

      Hi Mike

      Thanks for your comparison. Hope you don’t break or twist too many other body parts :D. And congratulation with the baby on the way, hope that goes smoothly for you.


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