Windsurfing: is there a future for professional sailors? | Photo: Carter/PWA

What is the public image of windsurfers and windsurfing as a sport? How can the windsurfing industry grow and how can professional sailors get increased salaries?

Windsurfing, as a sport and industry, is in a peculiar situation. The world's most popular windsurf brands are forced to expand their product range to other sports so that they can remain profitable and still be able to sponsor professional sailors.

The small windsurfing industry is definitely not in the same financial dimension as that of golf or tennis. But the issue is not economies of scale or a chronic problem behind water sports. Bodyboarding is feeling it, too.

Competitive sailors get a trip to Hawaii, cheap accommodation and the occasional meal; the very best professional windsurfers are commonly on a rather tight monthly salary and awarded a ladder-based provision, depending on how they perform in competitions.

Windsurfing has an obvious link to surfing. Telling an employer or a new friend that you are a windsurfer will likely raise some preconceptions of you as a person.

Surf movies traditionally portray the surfer as an easy-going, long-haired male who mainly cares about shredding the next wave, and hanging out with his friends on the beach.

Unfortunately, there's still a pot-smoking beach bum image of surfing that exists in media and in the community. Is this big picture causing impact in other water sports? Why is there money in surfing and not in windsurfing? Could there be an image problem with windsurfers?

"Perhaps if the windsurfing image was more like a white-collar worker activity, such as golf or tennis, it would bring more money into the sport and improve how the community generally looks at us passionate sailors," considers Henrik Beyer author of "Health & Fitness for Windsurfing."

The extreme side of windsurfing is certainly the main picture media is spreading. Focus is on risking lives, coolness and shaka signs, just like in surfing. Should it be like this?

"In tennis, the 'coolest' thing that has happened to the sport is still the attitude of John McEnroe. Should windsurfers put 'uncool' collars on t-shirts and refrain from using colorful flowers on board shorts?" asks Beyer.

The point is that while other sports flourish, the windsurfing industry is tough business, and professional windsurfers are certainly not set for life financially after their career ends. Something needs to change. Is it a question of image?

Interestingly, we could also ask: is the image of windsurfing impaired by other water sports such as surfing? Would the sport itself, and sailors, benefit from changing into a more conventional image?

Would that increase sales and salaries within the industry? What would a white-collar windsurfer look like? Would any windsurfing brand dare to venture out into the deep waters of conventional sports?

Windsurfers - recreational, amateur and pro - and industry professionals hold the key to these questions. What's your opinion?


Words by Henrik Beyer