Boardsailing – it’s a feeling called freedom.
Flying across the water, mastering the elements. Exhilarating, invigorating, challenging – just the wind and the water, a sail and a sailor! This is boardsailing, the sport of the ‘Eighties. Derek Watts reports.
It seems a little strange that astronauts were hitting golf balls around the moon before the relatively simple sport of boardsailing got into full swing. Just four years before Neil Armstrong made those historic steps, in the American magazine Popular Science ran a feature on a “sport so new that fewer than 10 people have mastered it.”
That was in August 1965, when a fellow called Newman Darby attached a square-rigger type of sail to a square board. Not quite the equipment to perform a backward loop or any other of today’s radical manoeuvres!
At least it was a start. This prototype was developed by two Californians – Hole Schweitzer and Jim Drake. They hit upon the idea of an articulated rig. In other words the mast was anchored to the board by a flexible joint – support and direction were at the hands of the sailor.
Drake (an apt seafaring name!) described the concept as: One board, one sail, one boom, a mast, a joint, a few strings and that’s it.”
But it was Schweitzer who bought out full interest in the project and filed a patent in the countries where the new craft, the Windsurfer, would find the best markets.
The original patent was for a wind-propelled vehicle. “The invention can be used on watercraft, ice boats and landcraft”, said Schweitzer. “It can be used on small yachts, runabouts, canoes, rowboats and other such craft, but is most advantageously used on small and lightweight vehicles such as surfboards, ice-boats and sleds.”
Schweitzer didn’t leave too many loopholes in his patent application, and he began building a few boards for his friends in a garage. After that modest start, Hoyle learnt a lot about the manufacturing game – but a good deal more about the legal systems of many countries around the world. The latest watersport trend was so successful that within three years there were over 30 European copies of the Windsurfer on the market.
He collected handsome royalties where the patent held sway, and developed his own business to meet the American demand.
Yet it was the Europeans who blazed the boardsailing trail and Schweitzer couldn’t handle all the vast market. He eventually handed the Dutch textile factory, Ten Cate, a licence to manufacture and they ended up with a massive market-share.
Ironically, the United States didn’t really catch the boardsailing bug until the early Eighties. By then the European manufacturers were well set up to start their onslaught across the Atlantic – bringing more courtroom battles.
The sport arrived in South Africa with the docking of the Ned Lloyd Kyoto in 1973. Yachting MP ‘Hoogie’ van Hoogstraten had ordered 10 of the new-fangled boards, which duly arrived at Table Bay docks.
Some teenagers these days battle to master the sport. ‘Hoogie’ learned to sails his new craft after only about three hours practice – at the age of 65!
It was a younger man, Boudewijn Lampe, who first established Windsurfing on an organised and commercial basis.
After a spell in the London fabrics trade, Boudewijn moved to South Africa where he negotiated the African manufacturing rights with Hoyle Schweitzer, built a factory in Brakpan and set up a network of dealers and schools to spread the word. The only word back in 1975 was ‘Windsurfing’ and it’s stuck to this day. But that’s like Hoovering the floor or making a Xerox copy.
Boardsailing is the name of the sport; Windsurfer the trade name for one of the hundreds of makes on the market. A lot has happened since that article in Popular Science.
Boudewijn Lampe, the ‘father’ of boardsailing in this country, is as colorful as the fluorescent green and pink Windsurfers that he manufactures in Milpark.
Some say that Boudewijn eats, drinks and sleeps boardsailing. Maybe this case of water on the brain has something to do with his Rotterdam upbringing.
“We lived on a lake and I fell in four times before the age of five. I think I was trying to walk on water,” says Boudewijn with a smile.
It was while sailing his father’s 98-year-old barge on a holiday back home that Boudewijn discovered the latest sporting craze.
“A Windsurfer swept past me and I was bowled over by this new craft. I just knew I HAD to get involved…” That was in 1975.
Boudewijn was allowed to sign a licensee agreement, paying a royalty on every board made to Windsurfer International. His company, Windsurfer Africa, turned out over 2 000 boards a year, exporting the surplus to Europe, America & Canada. “They probably don’t know it, but the national Red Chinese team is sailing on South African-made boards which were imported via Hong Kong!”
Establishing the only major board factory in the country was not easy and it was sheer determination and a true love for the sport that helped him pull through. This passion allowed thousands of SA sailors to have some of the best years of the lives in the Windsurfing scene.
The country’s total sailboard population is around 30 000 and Windsurfer had more than half of the market share.
Boudewijn, who has won four nationals and competed in 12 world championships and organised one of the country’s few truly international sporting events: The Sante Windsurfer Class world championships at Plettenberg Bay attracted 66 overseas sailors in a total field of 224.
According to Boudewijn, the sport is growing at a healthy rate. “What I call the Hula Hoop effect has worn off. All the people who rushed out to get a board because it was the rage have moved on, and we were left with the real enthusiasts.”
Tips for Board Sailors
- Christmas holidays. Time to break free from the sheltered waters of the Vaal and test a few sailboarding skills out at sea.
That can lead to a few other breaks – like bones, boards and masts. Here’s some advice before you make your ocean debut.
– If you have not sailed on large inland waters in big winds, stick to the lagoons.
– Obtain a weather forecast and don’t even think of rigging your board if there’s an offshore wind.
– Make sure there’s a rescue service available and a friend to watch your progress from the beach
– Hypothermia is the biggest danger if things go wrong. A wet-suit could give you the warmth to survive.
– Check all your equipment and rigging carefully before you enter the surf. Remember the next stop could be Australia! Think of yourself as the Captain of an aircraft – the precautions you take are a measure of how you value your life.
– Wear a life-jacket if you are not a strong swimmer – but remember that in choppy seas it is NOT guarantee against drowning.
– Head back to shore before you’re totally exhausted.
All of these tips are irrelevant if your craft has not arrived at the coast in one piece! Those colourful rubber cords with hoods at each end are OUT. The answer is a quality set of roof-racks, (with wide ‘feet’ that don’t damage your car), and the tough nylon straps available at all surf shops. “Remember you are a missile carrier travelling at around 120 kilometres per hour!” says Boudewijn.