By and large around the world, the sport of windsurfing has drastically declined in popularity to the point that many people consider the sport to be “dead”.
This claim isn’t entirely true – there are pockets of vibrant windsurfing scenes around the world, but by and large the windsurfing trend does look like that of a dying breed.
Further proof of the decline of the sport is that windsurfing is being removed from the 2024 Olympics and being replaced by windfoiling.
But what happened? Why was windsurfing so popular in the 1990’s and seemingly died off overnight?
I don’t believe there’s just one reason, but there are a combination of many reasons why windsurfing has fallen out of fashion (and is unlikely to make a comeback).
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Reasons Why Windsurfing is Dying
Too Weather Dependent
The truth is not many areas around the world can support many days of consistent high winds that make windsurfing a fun sport. People got sick of lugging all of their gear to the beach, only to sit around and hope the wind picks up enough to get out on the water. Especially back in the day when you didn’t have surf smart watches to monitor the winds.
This is why windsurfing has become so concentrated to just a few beaches across the US. If you take a look at the Google Trends, you’ll see the top windsurfing spots pretty easily.
There’s Hawaii, Hood River (Oregon), Lake Champlain (Vermont), and the Gulf region of Texas.
This dependency on strong winds is the main reason why windfoiling is growing in popularity so quickly. You can windfoil in light winds – much lighter than you could ever go out without a foil, meaning more days on the water.
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Getting starting in windsurfing is just very expensive, and there aren’t many local shops around where you can go try the sport or that offer rentals.
To get started windsurfing you’ll need a board, mast, boom, quiver of sails, harness, and other miscellaneous gear which is likely going to add up to at least $2,000.
Storing all of this gear and transporting it also becomes a massive pain! The boards and masts can be quite long. Many windsurfers use a van or pull-behind trailer of some sort to get their gear to the beach which becomes another expense.
Competition from Kites and SUPs
Other watersports have come in and taken over many of the young riders that might have been windsurfers in the past. Kitesurfing seems to be the main culprit. It just looks so much more extreme and cool from the observer when you’re doing massive jumps, spins, and loops.
The boards are also smaller and there’s much less gear to carry around, along with less time sitting on the beach rigging things together. Kites can also work better is less wind than a sail.
Standup Paddleboards also grew in popularity and are attractive as a sport you can do with any amount of wind or waves.
The Learning Curve
Windsurfing is pretty hard to master, there’s a long learning curve with a limited amount of “fun” to be had without surfing larger waves. Some people windsurf for years before they can do a proper jibe. Compare this with other sports like surfing and kitesurfing where people can advance to more fun aspects quicker and with less work.
Learning to properly rig up your kit on the beach and know what sail you need can also be part of the frustration.
Not Dead Everywhere
While that’s a lot of negatives about windsurfing, it’s worth coming back to re-emphasize that windsurfing isn’t dead everywhere and doesn’t really show a sign of truly going away for good. There are still companies in the space and enthusiastic communities around it.
The real “threat” to windsurfing is actually windfoiling. Riding a foil lets you surf with much less wind, much more consistently. It solves one of the biggest problems of windsurfing, while admittedly adding to the cost and space requirements – though you do get to use much smaller sails.
While I won’t say windsurfing is dying, I do think it’s evolving into windfoiling and eventually windsurfing will make up a small minority in comparison.
6 thoughts on “Why is Windsurfing Dying? [5 Reasons]”
Windfoiling IS windsurfing.
This piece is written completely from the point of view of someone who happens to prefer shortboards and waves. It’s also utterly wrong. It’s simply untrue to claim that “there’s a limited amount of “fun” to be had without surfing larger waves”. Among the people I sail longboards with, there’s a former national kitesurfing champion, an Aloha Classic wave winner, a World Cup women’s wave champ, and many others. It’s utterly silly to claim that these people are finding the fun of longboards and flat water “limited”.
Number one reason why the sport has shrunk is this silly and one-eyed attitude that the sport is limited. If you open up your eyes and get away from the feeling that there’s limited fun in light winds and flat water, suddenly the factors that caused the sport to die shrink.
I was in my 30’s when, in the mid 90’s, I got into windsurfing. As a lot of people do, I started with cobby old garage sale gear, but progressed enough that I considered buying newer and better gear. And what I ran into – from sailers to retailers – was generally a cliquish culture that played info close to the vest and discouraged newcomers. It was a different era with no social media. At more than one point I ended up saying in frustration “If this attitude doesn’t change, the sport will die.” It may not have been THE reason, but it was A reason, and a big one – sucks to be right.
Fortunately now there are YouTubers with vision, who share the knowledge essential to keeping the sport alive, what with all the competition out there: I spent last year living on the English Channel and aside from upping my windsurfing game big-time from the light/variable nonsense on Cape Cod and lakes in the Northeast, the culture there was very welcoming and informative. Plus I got to check out anything that could have a foil installed on it: windsurfers, kitesurfers, wingfoilers, entire sailboats. Too bad cost of entry is what it is.
No doubt windsurfing has declined in popularity since the 90’s but the equipment we have these days just makes it even more fun. Windfoiling gets us out in lower winds, so works better for the Olympics but it’s not so different and just another way to enjoy windsurfing. When it’s windy, give me a board with a fin any day.
As to why there’s been a decline, there are probably two main reasons. Sales have mostly moved online, meaning brick and mortar shops have not survived and they were the ones introducing new participants. The equipment became more specialized and expensive, dissuading beginners from taking it up. Wind foiling doesn’t change this dynamic at all.
I understand data is difficult to come by, but using Google Trends to show a decline since 2004 can be misleading. In 2004, George Bush was using negative adverts of John Kerry windsurfing in the US electoral campaign. This will have strongly skewed the data. Do a Google Trends search on Windfoiling vs Windsurfing in the last 5 years and it suggests there’s virtually no interest in Windfoiling, which we know is not true.
Articles such as this do nothing to promote wind sports. I don’t think windsurfing is dying. It has seen a decline as new wind sports have appeared but it still has its place. Windfoiling does not increase the take-up of wind sports, for it’s largely just competent windsurfers that will try it. Maybe you should be asking if windfoiling is dying because of wingfoiling. The truth is though, there are a whole lot of new ways to have fun on the water and that should be celebrated.
The activity that SHOULD be dying is writing this stupid article, AGAIN… in 2021? when WS just had its best year in a good while. This exact topic had been covered this exact way about fifty times since 2005. YAWN. You could at least point out that boosting on a kite uses as much skill as a plastic bag caught in a breeze. And to hell with the olympics too. BBAY4LiFe!!!
There are still allot of passionate Windsurfers out there, as there are Sailors, Surfers , Stand up paddle boarders all water people , I think to use the title you have ”Windsurfing is dead” is pretty understandable on a Wind foil Zone website , ”Whats your favorite ice cream ”
Water sports are evolving, The Olympic Windsurfer (Bic techno) as well as a few of the other classes should have been put to the sword many years ago, nothing against the he Techno but it is not universally sailed in mass around the world, Well done to the Wind foiling association.
FYI outside of the US the Windsurfer LT has had a large resurgence of non Super hero water people
-mainly through well organised inclusive events and word of mouth.
I sail , surf, Windsurf and Kite and in time I will evolve into a Spoiler ( a Joke by some of us older farts down at the beach. ) as a sponsor to your site Lip Sunglasses must be pleased at your brash insensitivity to a the larger market of passionate water people.