If you look back over the history of surfing and windsurfing, they share the commonality of having started life as long-boards, relative to the evolutionary path they ultimately followed. Whether it has been contemporary tongue-depressor Malibu surf boards or that of the ancient Hawaiian’s long planks, original surfboards were long and so too, original windsurfing boards.
Downsizing ultimately came about due to performance improvements of riders, who simply demanded high performing sticks to ride upon. Surfers wanted to shred rather turn gracefully and there was an ever growing rise of riders, happy to ride less than perfect shore-break, where the short board worked better. Young surfers were shredding and acrobatics became common place moves for high end riders.
Ultimately the surfing industry realized the errors of its ways in killing off an area of interest and origin and reverted back to offering up long boards and the nurturing of a new generation of young ‘Mal’ riders so as to fill in the gaps of the sports diversity and indeed originality.
So too this is how the sport of windsurfing went as the sport morphed from back yard to big business, from a mellow sailing sport to a high wind wave sport with all the trimmings. Of course if your kit could fit in the back of your VW Polo, then this was a bonus, being as you could dispense of using a roof rack and of course you had the added security of it being within the car. Today however, the VW Transporter is the wagon of choice so as you fit out racks internally and even throw in a mattress.
Through all this high tech, high performance evolution, there has been a price to pay and it’s a significant one. The inescapable hydrodynamic truth remains, longer boards give you what short boards never will and it remains a great shame the sport and its riders, have become the ultimate losers in having rejected, or perhaps having being denied such designs.
Long boards offer a different type of sailing experience, notably that of distance sailing in relative comfort and to this end, windsurfing should not simply be about sailing within a small area intensely, when there’s so much water to explore and take advantage of.
The most iconic Mistral board for distance sailing, remains the Pan Am board, 14’ of pure sailing bliss and of around 230L. Robby Naish hailed it as being ‘magic to handle’ only lacking concave sections and chunkier rails to elevate it to another level of control on a broad reach. The Pan Am was essentially an enormous ‘Gun’ which featured forward of the mast, a rounded (displaced) hull section for reduced drag at low speeds to encourage early planing. It was a thing of beauty.
An old school long board of this nature provides a diverse range of performance, from cruising to flat out long-hauling over deep ocean waters, hooked in and blasting towards the horizon. Add a back pack, travel between islands and enjoy a huge range of wind strengths with a just a handful of sail choices. Mix with this the challenge but advantages of sliding mast track, multiple foot straps and centreboard, it commands attention and a close relationship that is wildly fulfilling and a genuine lifetime partner and investment.
Unlimited SUP boards also offer experiences and speed gains over distance which seem only to be recognized by a few devotees. For some unlimited riders, there is no other board to own or ride and while such craft are a big investment, they offer something that transcends the normality of performance. If a super short SUP surf board ridden well, offers unsurpassed levels of performance, so too it is with unlimited SUP boards regardless of all the road blocks offered up; too long to store or transport or too expensive.
We hear this all the time, but when you meet mountain bikers who spend €15,000 on a bike, you have to put cost and performance into some frame of reference and appreciate these iconoclastic design items represent the zenith of the sport at an entirely different end of the spectrum of appreciation.