Sailboards, or windboards, are used in windsurfing and have gone through periods of popularity and obscurity. Classic longboards are no longer popular, while contemporary shortboards are optimized for different types of windsurfing and made from lightweight materials.
Sailboards, also known as windboards, are used in the sport of windsurfing. They are similar to a surfboard in appearance, with a high sail that the rider hangs on to and uses to steer the craft.
Sailboards were first invented in the early 1960s, although they weren’t patented or popularized until 1968. As a sport, windsurfing has seen many periods of relative popularity and obscurity. During the 1970s and early 1980s, sailboards were quite popular in both the United States and Europe. In 1984 windsurfing became an Olympic sport, and in the same period windsurfing has seen many technical changes. By the 1990s these changes in equipment had led to a dramatic decline in the number of enthusiasts, more specialized boards making it much more difficult for newcomers to learn to windsurf. Towards the end of the 20th century, however, a wider range of sailboards led to a resurgence in their popularity.
Classic sailboards were designed to cut through the water as they sailed. These boards, called longboards, are no longer popular except among a very small population of windsurfers. Longboards top out at 3ft (3m), with a small daggerboard for sailing upwind.
Most contemporary sailboards are of the type once referred to as shortboards. These boards are less than 9 feet (3m) long and built to glide over the surface of the water rather than cut through it. Planing produces much higher speeds than cutting through the water and this exciting method of sailing is part of what has made windsurfing so popular in recent years.
The different types of sailboards are often optimized for different types of windsurfing. Beginner sailboards, for example, are usually much heavier and wider than other boards, which makes them sturdier. Racing boards, on the other hand, are built solely for the purpose of reaching extremely high speeds in excess of 40mph (65km/h), at the expense of handling.
Contemporary sailboards are made from a wide variety of substances, usually by blending a number of lightweight and strong materials including Kevlar®, PVC, fiberglass, carbon fiber and thermoplastics. Beginner boards are generally made from stronger and heavier materials, which give them a better chance of surviving impact, while more advanced boards are much lighter but extremely fragile. The sails are meshes of PVC, mylar, polyester and small amounts of Kevlar®.