Difference Between Windsurfing And Sailing

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As someone who loves to sail, I am often asked: “What is the difference between windsurfing and sailing?”. I can understand why this question comes up – from a distance, these two activities might look similar. Both involve harnessing the power of the wind to move across the water. However, they are two entirely different sports with varying techniques, equipment, and challenges. In this article, we’ll dive deep into the differences between windsurfing and sailing.


What is windsurfing?

Windsurfing is an adventure sport that involves standing on a surfboard and holding onto a triangular sail attached to a mast. The sailor stands on the board with their feet in foot straps while they position themselves to catch the wind. Unlike sailing, which is often done with a group of people, windsurfing is a solo sport.

The sport of windsurfing was first developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s in California. This new sport quickly gained popularity all over the world. It initially used materials like laminated wood and Mylar for the sails and polyester foam for the boards. In recent times, the boards have become more stable, lighter, and stronger, incorporating materials such as carbon fiber and epoxy resin.

Windsurfing is not just a sport; it is also competitive. The sport is part of the Olympics and has its own world championships.


What is sailing?

Sailing is the art of controlling a boat’s movement using sails, rigging, and/or an engine. Unlike windsurfing, sailing is usually done with a human crew consisting of a skipper and several crew members. The skipper is responsible for steering the boat, navigating, and making decisions that help move the boat forward. The crew works together to perform tasks such as raising and lowering sails, trimming them, and adjusting the boat’s position on the water.

Sailing has a rich history dating back to over 5,000 years. It was initially used for fishing, trading, and exploring new territories. It wasn’t until the 17th century that sailing transitioned from a utilitarian activity to a recreational sport. Today, millions of people worldwide take part in the sport of sailing.


Differences between windsurfing and sailing

1. Equipment

The biggest difference between windsurfing and sailing is their equipment. Windsurfers use a specialized board designed to float and harness the wind’s energy. The sail is made of polyester or vinyl and is attached to a mast that stands upright on the board. Sailing boats, on the other hand, are bigger and require a large sail and rigging system attached to the boat.

2. Steering

The way both sports are steered is different. In windsurfing, the rider steers the board by tilting the sail and moving their weight on the board. In sailing, the skipper uses a tiller to move the rudder and steer the boat.

3. Crew

Sailing boats require a crew to trim the sails, steer the boat, and make decisions. Windsurfing, on the other hand, is usually a solo sport. It’s possible to windsurf in a group, but since each windsurfer has their own equipment, it’s not necessary to sail in a team.

4. Speed

Windsurfing is a faster sport than sailing, and windsurfers can reach higher speeds because of the nature of their boards and sails. However, cruising on a sailboat is often a relaxed activity compared to the adrenaline-fueled sport of windsurfing.

5. Level of Difficulty

Windsurfing is a sport that requires a lot of practice and skill to master. Beginners usually struggle to balance on the board and control the sail’s movement. Sailing, on the other hand, has a more gradual learning curve.

6. Weather Conditions

Both windsurfing and sailing are weather-dependent. The wind is the source of power needed to propel both boats across the water. However, windsurfing requires a stronger wind than sailing. Typically, windsurfers require wind speeds of around 15-25mph, while sailors prefer wind speeds of 5-15mph.



Windsurfing and sailing are two different sports that each have their own appeal. Windsurfing is faster, smaller, and more individualistic. Sailing gives a team experience, happy and relaxed cruising, and is better suited to weaker winds. Both sports are excellent for developing physical fitness, coordination, mental wellbeing, and the opportunity to explore places inaccessible by land. How you choose which to try may depend on where you live or where you want to travel. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, windsurfing may be the way to go. If you’re looking for a more relaxed, social activity, sailing is likely your best bet. Regardless of which you choose to pursue, both of these sports offer endless possibilities for adventure and fun.

Josh Mitchell

Josh Mitchell

"I live and breath boardriding"

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