Windsurfing: a wind and water sport that can be enjoyed in the waves | Photo: Carter/PWA

Sailboarding and windsurfing: why are there different names for a single the same sport?

In 1964, S. Newman Darby not only invented the sailboard, but he also opened the way to a new wind and water sport - windsurfing.

Sailboarding is the original term used for describing the outdoor activity in which someone stands up on a board that is connected to a mast and sail.

Harnessed by the power of the wind, the sailboarder glides across the surface of the water.

A few months after revealing his innovative invention to the world, Darby said that "sailboarding is sailing with a difference: you get all the fun of handling a fast, responsive boat, and have the fun of spills without the work of righting and bailing out."

So sailboarding is, in fact, the original name for what we now call windsurfing. However, things have changed over time.

Wave sailing: an exciting way of enjoying windsurfing | Photo: Carter/PWA

Today, there's a healthy debate on whether to use the word windsurfing or sailboarding and boardsailing. The discussion focuses on what's at the core of the sport: the fact that you ride the wind, or the fact that you sail on a board, and not in a boat?

In other words: is it all about surfing the wind (windsurfing) or sailing with a typical board (sailboarding/boardsailing)?

Windsurfer and Windsurfing: Two Words That Became Generic

When the sport was building its own industry, there were a few attempts to claim the word "windsurfer" as a trademark.

Although the term was registered in the United States for a few years, it lost legal acceptance in many countries because the expression was considered too descriptive.

A few years later, the registration ended up losing validation in the United States, too.

But while the legal disputes were still underway, participants preferred to use sailboarding and boardsailing to describe their favorite new sport.

No one wanted to receive a prosecution letter from a corporate lawyer, so they avoided the use of the words "windsurfer" (product: Original Windsurfer) and "windsurfing" (company: Windsurfing International).

Raceboard: one of the first windsurfing classes | Photo: Creative Commons

However, as time passed by, the words "windsurfer" and "windsurfing" fell into generic use, and the trademark registrations were no longer valid.

Naming dilemmas are not new to sports. Rollerblading and inline skating also raised similar doubts. Rollerblading was the name chosen by Rollerblade USA to describe inline skating sports, but the name stuck and coexisted alongside the official name.

There are windsurfing fans who support the idea that windsurfing is a recreation sport that you do with wind and waves in any body of water, while sailboarding is something you do with just wind, for example, in closed bodies of water like lakes.

Windsurfing tends to sound cooler because of the immediate association with its older brother, surfing. And it can also be interpreted as the wind sport that allows you to go surfing - in a broader sense - without the need of waves. All you need is a gentle breeze and water.

Interestingly, the word "windsurfer" has problems in itself. Why? Because it is widely used to describe the person who windsurfs, but also the whole equipment. And that can cause confusion.

The truth is that today, the term sailboarding is less used, and mainly preferred by older sailboarders. Windsurfing is by far the most popular name - 60 to 1, according to Google Trends - and nearly everyone understands it.

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