Windsurfing — a little practice is all it takes

A windsurfer at Caballo Lake, a favorite haunt for “wave riders” Photo by Ed Conley.
A windsurfer at Caballo Lake,

Is windsurfing a popular sport in this desert land of ours? Travel only as far as Caballo Lake on any breezy day and you can witness a dozen or more windsurfers (also known as boardsailors), sporting wide smiles on their wind-blown faces, as they glide seemingly effortlessly over the white capped waters.

Most of these sailors are members of the Southern New Mexico Windsurfing Club, a prestigious group of aging baby boomers who escape the pressures of work by heading to the lake for an afternoon of adrenaline mirth. You might even catch me there. Windsurfing, for those not in the know, is the solo sport of sailing while standing on a kind of surfboard while manipulating a sail attached to a pivoting mast. Windsurfing has been around since the 60s, the brainchild of two Southern Californians - one a sailor, the other a surfer. The duo patented the new hybrid sport, dubbing it windsurfing, and the board, a Windsurfer, which was the only equipment massed produced in the early 1970s. But by the late 70s, windsurfing was hot in Europe . . . one in every three households had a “sailboard” stashed in their garage. So turned on by the sport were Europeans, they began producing their own versions of the craft, which Americans then, as they do today, consider unmatched. The number of windsurfers grew enormously in the 80s, both in Europe and the United States. Today, windsurfing is well ensconced. Pros participate in the World Cup and in the Olympics.

I learned to windsurf from my later-to-be husband Ed, 16 years ago in my native Michigan. My first day on the water I felt like a four year old learning to ride a bike. My knees trembled uncontrollably, my teeth chattered, and my heart thumped in my ears. Worse, the threat of drowning loomed. I never much liked watersports. I wasn’t into getting wet, unless it was a bubble bath or a hot shower. But to impress my boyfriend, I said, “Yes” when he offered to teach me how to “ride the waters.”

Three hours of lessons that first day left me numb and exhausted. I spent a lot of time in the water - not on the board. Most of my fears were, however, misconceptions. First, I assumed that windsurfing would be hard to learn, but it’s not - certainly no more difficult than learning to ride a bike. After my second lesson, I was cruising. In two weeks I was freestyling - making turns and doing sail spins, albeit awkwardly. Today, I’m satisfied with cruisin’. I gladly leave slalom sailing (high-wind), bump-and-jump-sailing (high winds, choppy waters) and wavesailing (high winds and open swells) to the pros.

Second, I was convinced that you had to be strong, almost Herculean to master the sport. But that too is a fallacy. Rather, windsurfing requires finesse, not muscles. (And women possess more finesse than men do, as everyone knows.)

Third, although windsurfing may appear perilous, it’s not. It happens to be one of the safest activities around. In fact, windsurfing doesn’t even rank on the National Sporting Goods Association list of dangerous sports. Don a lifejacket and you’re ready to rip.

Fourth, you don’t need a graduate degree to learn how to “rig” (putting the sail, mast, boom and board together). A little practice is all it takes. Nevertheless, rigging is my least favorite part of windsurfing. Fortunately, Ed does it with finesse, which is one of the reasons I married him.

Yep, there’s no other sport quite like windsurfing. It’s fun; it’s exhilarating. It combines the titillation of surfing with the serenity of sailing. You can sail alone or amongst throngs of comrades. More important, you need not be daring, muscular or 20 to “do it.” Just ask me.