Jim Drake, co-inventor of the Windsurfer, dies at 83

June 20, 2012 | Windsurfing
Jim Drake: the co-inventor of the Windsurfer and father of modern windsurfing

Jim Drake, the co-inventor of the "Windsurfer" and father of modern windsurfing, has passed away at 83. The North American aeronautics engineer improved the early design by Peter Chilvers and Newman Darby.

In the 1970s, Jim Drake and his partner Hoyle Schweitzer submitted the patent for their "Windsurfer" design, based on Newman Darby's techniques.

They credited him for their version of the sailboard.

Jim Drake learned from Darby's developments and upgraded the board and rig layout, as well as the universal joint, which stands modern and is used all over the world.

Drake was born in California in 1929.

Thirty-five years later, he was trying to develop a kite-powered surfboard that would allow him to sail down the Potomac River.

Later, he meets Hoyle Schweitzer - a keen surfer - and they decide to build and test their first models in Marina del Rey.

After falling several times, he knew he had to introduce the uphaul. Watch a historical video documenting these water tests below.

By 1967, they had already named it "Baja Board," but, interestingly, it was a Public Relations professional who found the perfect word for their sailing concept.

"I have the perfect name for it! The Windsurfer!" the PR yelled.

Name accepted.

A Bright Future

In 1973, Jim Drake sells his half of the patent to Windsurfing International, owned by Hoyle Schweitzer, for $36,000.

The windsurfing business grows and becomes very popular in Europe during the 1980s.

The US courts decide that the "Windsurfer" is strongly inspired by Peter Chilvers and Newman Darby's prototypes, and Schweitzer closes his Windsurfing International.

Jim Drake's contribution to the sport of windsurfing is decisive.

"I have an optimistic view about the sport (...)," Drake once said.

"The one that's brought on by the media is the picture of the sport as being this athletic circus trick of jumping waves and whirling around this great wide ocean."

"Well, that's simply not what the sport is. Just not at all. It has much more broad application and pleasures to it."

"Because people who are athletically inclined but not as superbly coordinated as Robby [Naish] can enjoy the sport in many regards without having to ever get airborne."

  • Dutch environmental activist and windsurfer Merijn Tinga, also known as the "Plastic Soup Surfer," has made an audacious journey from Oslo to London, braving the North Sea's currents and winds, to call attention to the pervasive problem of plastic pollution.