Definitive guide to speed windsurfing

Published on December 5th, 2022

Rob Reichenfeld, author of Windsurfing: Step by Step to Success, provides the definitive guide to speed windsurfing:

In February of 1990, the Frenchman Pascal Maka set an outright speed sailing record of 38.86 knots – a windsurfer was the fastest sailor on the water for the first time.

I spoke with Erik Beale, at home in Hawaii, the first windsurfer to crack 35 knots and the first sailor of any craft to break through the 40 knots barrier. Erik’s description of a crash illustrated the forces involved in speed sailing most graphically:

“The rocker line of my board at the time was too straight, and I got pitched at 40 knots. From being fully in control and sailing, I hit the water in not even 2/10 of a second.

Sail GP

“It was like being hit by a barn door at 50 miles per hour. It hit me so hard that the impact tried to pull my vertebrae through my stomach and out the front, tearing all the muscles in my back and requiring three months of re-education.

“They dragged me out of the water, and I thought I was paralyzed. The rig had disintegrated, everything had broken, the spreader bar of my harness was sheared in half, and the webbing was pulled out. The boom was broken in three places, and the mast was broken. The sail was actually okay, as once everything broke, the sail just sort of went floppy.”

I wondered if speed sailors wore any type of protection for this kind of abuse. Erik told me that he felt the only real protection was flexibility.

“I try to do a lot of stretching and yoga because that is the only thing that will stop you from hurting yourself when you hit. If you are like a piece of rubber, then you won’t get hurt, but if you’re stiff and your muscles are tight, then you tear things, you break things.”

The sport has grown from its beginnings in Weymouth, England, where since 1972, the Royal Yachting Association’s (RYA) annual speed week has attracted an amazing assortment of sailing craft. – Full report

Editor’s note: We received an email from Dan Weiss who noted how Rob Reichenfeld’s article about speed windsurfing inaccurately stated that Pascal Maka posted a run of 38.86 knots in February of 1990:

“Pascal’s speed of 38.86 is historic because it beat Crossbow II’s longstanding outright record (500m). However, Pascal posted his outright record of 38.86 in 1986 at Sotovento, Canary Islands. By 1990, Pascal had pushed the outright speed record to 42.91 knots.”

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