Alberta & BC Rockies Windsurfing

Windsuring on an ocean wave

[ Background | Equipment | Where ]


Windsurfing regatta on open water Windsurfing evolved as a sport in the 1970s, when smaller lighter sails were put on surfboards, offering the trills of sailing at a very low cost, and in a package transportable on the roof of a car. When the original patent expired in the mid-1980s, a wider variety of sailboards were produced, and athletes began pushing the envelope, performing flips, and going as fast as 80 km/h (50 mph). This multi-million dollar industry became an Olympic sport at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games. The best way to learn windsurfing is to start on land, learning to control the sail and maintain your balance. Then you progress to shallow water in a light wind, and steadily progressing to deeper waters and stronger winds. Windsurfing can be done on the open sea, or on a tiny lake with any wind above a breeze. (In Canada, hardcore windsurfers continue into the winter as long as the ice remains thin).

Windsurfing combines the board from surfing with the sail of a small sailboat, hinged on a flexible mast pivot. Because there is little hull below water, and therefore little water resistance, speeds can be very high. To windsurf, you should be fit and agile, and have a good sense of balance (though this takes some practice). Improvements in boards and sails since the 1990s have made this sport much easier to learn.

Safety tip: sail when there is an onshore wind (toward the shore) or you can get blown out and have great difficulty getting back. IMPORTANT: you must wear a life jacket! It's the law.


For windsurfing, you'll need a "board". There are many types of boards on the market, though the most common one is the flat board. This type is fairly stable and made by most manufacturers (some common brands are JP, Mistral, Starboard). New windsurfing boards cost from $1200-$2400, though used boards can be found for $500. More experienced windsurfers may consider a specialty board like a "fun board", an Open-Class Division 2, or a "sinker". These have special designs and options to maximize speed and manoeuvrability, for an extra few hundred dollars.

A windsurfer (in this part of the country) will also need a "wet suit", which might cost $100 to $500. This thin foam rubber outfit traps a thin layer of water inside the suit, which is easily warmed by your body. Tighter wetsuit keep you warmer.

Cold weather or cold water windsurfer consider it worthwhile to invest in a "dry suit". A dry suit seals up sound your ankles, wrists, and neck. It keeps your body both dry and warm, and costs $300 and up. In cold weather you'll also need gloves ($25-$40) and footwear ($40-$60). The Windsurfing Shop (276-2477) in Calgary has a wide selection of summer water sport equipment and offers instructions and does repairs.


The most popular place for windsurfing in the Alberta Rockies is the shallow but incredibly windy Lac Des Arcs, just east of Canmore. Further north is Abraham Lake, between Saskatchewan Crossing and Rocky Mountain House, and Brule Lake north of Jasper.

In BC, Windermere and Columbia Lakes are also popular and have warmer waters than their Alberta brethren. All these lakes are glacier-fed and are cold, so wet suits or dry suits are strongly recommended.

If you are interested in beginning windsurfing, get lessons and then the proper equipment appropriate to your skill level.

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