WINDSURFING FROM THE BEGINNING
by S.Newman Darby
The sport which the dictionary today calls windsurfing was also known as sailboarding and boardsailing. Basically it is sailing a small surfboard - like sailboat using a hand held sail rig with the mast attached to the deck by a universal joint so that steering and control can be done by tilting the sail and not with a rudder.
This sport evolved slowly over a long period of time. I believe it was not done before 1964 because most experts considered it impossible to sail in this manner. After many years of building and testing experimental boats I began to feel it was possible to sail such a craft.
During the early 1940s I built and sailed a small boat less than 3 meters long. Much of the water was to shallow for a rudder but I soon found I could steer the boat by tipping it. As the boat tilted the sail also tilted. This allowed me to steer and keep it on course. The boat could not turn very sharp this way, but it got me thinking maybe I could design a boat that could be controlled by a hand held sail and not need a rudder, which caused drag.
About 1948 I got the idea of mounting a hand held sail on auniversal joint. I built a small catamaran to test the idea. My catamaran had many problems, but I kept thinking about how to overcome them and experimenting through the 1950s.
I went on designing and building many different types of boats through the 1950s and 60s. Finally about 1963 I decided to try this idea of controlling a boat using a hand held sail on one of the catamarans I built. I sold an article about this aluminum catamaran to Popular Science and they did a 6 page article about it in their Feb. 1961 magazine. But in the article I showed a conventional stayed sloop rig sail arrangement. This catamaran was bigger and more stable than my 1948 catamaran so I thought it would be a good craft to test this hand held sail idea I had in my head for years. When I took my girl friendNaomi Albrecht out on this catamaran we talked these ideas over. She thought the catamaran was to big and complicated and we agreed it may be better to build a small sailboard to see if such sailing was possible.
At that time it was well known by many sailors that the world's fastest mon-hulls sailboats were scows. They also would be the most stable hull shape. So I designed a small scow shaped sailboard, about half the size of the big famous racing scows. Naomi helped me build it and sewed the sail.
We made the first test late spring or early summer 1964. I soon developed a technique of how to sail the craft and then taughtNaomi, her sisters Gail and Dianne, Cliff George and Dianne borrowed the sailboard and taught some of her friends.
This first sailboarding was done an Trailwood Lake which is a few miles from Wilkes-Barre, Pa..
Mybrother ken who was watching all this figured it would be a good item to manufacture and sell. By fall of 1964 we began organizing the worlds first free-sail-system sailboard business. I was the boat designer, artist, and promoter. Naomi helped with promotions and printing sailing instructions. (Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4) Ken got financing and stockholders and was president of the company called Darby Industries, Inc.. The company is still going and Ken is still president.
We started building the first sailboards to sell over the winter of 1964 and 1965. All of our sailboards had the sail rigs attached to the deck of the sailboard by a universal joint, contrary to many untrue stories made up about the Darby Sailboards. There were hundreds of witnesses and movies taken during 1965 to disprove these stories which were made up years later by some writers.
The first publication about the sport was in a small newspaper called the Pittston Gazette, July 1965. I then sold an article about how to build and sail a sailboard to the Popular Science Magazine, which they claimed had 6,000,000 readers. This four page article was published in the Aug. 1965 issue. We advertised do-it-yourself plans, kits and complete sailboards.
A sailboard we built was shown and given away on "Price is Right" national TV. Our sailboards were shown in yatching magazines in the U.S. and over seas, Popular Mechanics, New York Times, and hundreds of small newspapers. It was demonstrated in the Philadelphia Boat Show. Within a year, we began to see adds from other businesses advertising modified versions of our sailboard.
Ken estimates that about 80 sailboards were sold during 1965 and 1966.
I have been experimenting with sailboards ever since and continue to do so in 1997.
I have made sailboard movies, photos, drawings, and some documents with my home camcorder and copies are available. The video is about 1 hr. and 45 min. long. Hundreds of different 8x10 autographed still photos are also available.
S. Newman Darby
8024 Lorain St.
Jacksonville, Fl., 32208