First Windsurfing Experience – Legend Bruce Matlack

How do you start windsurfing before the sport really existed?

Bruce Matlack is a legend in windsurfing. He was one of the first windsurfers in the world. He won many competitions and he just sent us his story of how he discovered the sport. 


Words by Bruce Matlack:

Windsurfing may not be the best sport in the world, but it is the one I fell into love with by accident and have stayed with for fifty years now. So let me go back to my day of discovery – A day in the late summer or early fall of 1969 – I was 25 years old…

In the fall of 1969, in Santa Barbara, California, I nearly lost my life offshore in a sailboat accident and the discovery of windsurfing changed the rest of my life thereafter.


I was out on the table-top cliffs of Santa Barbara City College having lunch, taking in an expansive ocean view when I looked down towards Ledbetter beach below to see a small sailing vessel foundering in the surf. A couple of others seemed to be intently looking on. I hopped on my motorbike and raced down the hill, ditching my classes, to render assistance and resolve my curiosity. I was shocked to see what appeared to be a tandem size surfboard with a sail rig attached such that it would fall down if not held up by the sailor. Immediately this apparatus made sense to me as I had in the past, attempted to surf launch a lateen rigged, Sailfish flattie. I took note that this flexibly attached mast would not break in the surf as it had plenty of give compared to my rigid, cotton sailed, sailfish rig with steel metal spars. I had had the tortuous experience of breaking its mast, spars and sail on this same beach in the past. With a crew, we would sail that sit down flattie to windward, so we could surf the giant Pacific Swells back to the beach. Once we were able to bear away off the wind, my crew would carefully stand up, hanging outboard to windward on a makeshift trapeze rope, while I tried to steer down the wave faces without stuffing it.


It was loads of fun, but I could see that this sailing surfboard vessel that magically appeared on the beach this day required no ballast, crew or trapeze and was light enough for real speed, surfboard maneuverability, and most importantly survivability in the surf zone. I had to have one, but roto-molded, plastic Windsurfers were not available yet-only custom glass “Baja Boards”. Diane Schweitzer, the wife of the free-sail system co-developer, was there for the purpose of teaching her first proposed dealer, Bob Peffley, how to “Do it standing up”! “The boat Doc”, as he called himself was one of the many Santa Barbara Harbor characters who lived in the marina on a houseboat. Why Diane had chosen to teach a first timer in the surf is a mystery to me today, however, at the time that’s how I figured it was done. She left the board with its teak boom and sail number 22 with Bob on his houseboat. I jumped through scheduling hoops to try it out at my first opportunity. Finally, I climbed aboard the rig off the houseboat at the marina and sailed away, downwind, to the closest surf break, which was the sand bar just inside the harbor entrance a half kilometer away. I rode a couple of small waves, then sailed to windward back into the marina without ever falling. I weighed 57 kilos and had tremendously good balance. I was hooked! That had to be one of my most memorable windsurfing moments. That first free sail glide and surf sail adventure. I have never forgotten it.


Bruce won the first Worlds trophy in 1973 in Mission Bay, San Diego.







Authors: Oda Johanne

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