Why do we call a windsurf board a windsurfer?

March 25, 2022 | Windsurfing
Windsurfer: is it a board, the equipment, or the person who windsurfs? | Photo: Windsurfer Class

It is one of the classic questions that has been asked consecutively since the dawn of time. So, why is the windsurf board often called windsurfer?

"I'm rigging my windsurfer."

The sentence above sounds weird to native and non-native English speakers, but it's common among windsurfers and sailors.

So why do windsurfing enthusiasts - and sometimes outsiders - refer to the sailboard or the whole set of windsurfing gear as "windsurfer"?

Isn't the windsurfer the person who windsurfs?

"The sport of windsurfing was popularized by the creation (and marketing) of the Windsurfer brand," explains Robert Reichenfeld, veteran windsurfer and author of the book "Windsurfing: Step by Step to Success."

"As the sport grew, trademark protection led 'Windsurfer' to sue anyone who created a similar product and used the name."

"So other manufacturers decided to call their boards' sailboards,' the sport' board sailing' or 'sailboarding' and the participants' boardsailors.'"

"In France - a country quick to take up the sport - they were 'planches à voile' (sailboards) and 'veléplanchistes" (sailboarders)."

"Clearly, for a European dreaming of California or Hawaii, while sailing around their local reservoir, 'windsurfing' and 'windsurfer' sounded much cooler, so the names stuck."

"As for how something can be simultaneously a sport, and participant in a sport and a brand name, well that's just how the English language evolves, not necessarily due to strict rules, but more how it's used."

The Windsurfer is one of the many brands that became generic names - like Xerox, Google, Kleenex, Taser, Super Glue, Zipper, Jet Ski, Hula-Hoop, Band-Aid, Velcro, Yo-Yo, Popsicle, and more recently Google.

Is there an official guideline or a correct way of referring to the windsurf board and/or sailboarding kit? Not exactly - it varies from person to person.

Similar confusion surrounds the words sailboarding and windsurfing. Do they mean the same thing?

A Simplified Guideline

Peter Davies, experienced sailboarder and windsurfing coach, also has a personal approach to several terms associated with the sport.

Here's his contribution to making it simple to understand:

"'Windsurfer' is originally a brand name and is used commonly to describe the equipment package: 'I'm grabbing my windsurfer and going for a session.' And It is also used to describe a person: 'I am a windsurfer, therefore I am,'" underlines Davies.

"'Windsurfing' is used to describe the sport as a whole: 'I'm going windsurfing today.'"

"'Windsurf' is the shortened form of windsurfing and windsurfer. It has many uses. For instance: 'I'm going for a windsurf,' 'The windsurf classes will be racing today,' 'My windsurf board is a Jimmy Lewis speed needle.' 'I am a windsurf instructor.'"

"'Sailboard' is a name created to get around the Hoyle Schweitzer patent. It is also an old-school brand name. For me, it is less cool and not used in speech as much as 'windsurfer.'"

"'Boardriding' is another attempt at avoiding the use of 'windsurfing,' probably due to the patent."

"'Boardhead' is someone who is a windsurfer," concludes Peter Davies.

In conclusion, the brand Windsurfer became simultaneously the name given to the windsurf board, the whole windsurfing kit, and the person who windsurfs.

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