What is the Difference Between Surfing and Windsurfing?

Surfing and windsurfing may seem similar at first glance as both involve riding waves, but there are some key differences between the two watersports. Understanding how they vary will help determine which one is best for your skill level, athletic abilities and preferred conditions.

Equipment Used

Surfing only requires a surfboard to ride waves, while windsurfing involves a sail, mast, boom and foot straps attached to a surfboard-like platform called a sailboard. The sail harness and mast allow windsurfers to catch the wind to propel themselves unlike surfers who rely solely on wave momentum.


Surfboards are specifically designed for ocean wave-riding with components like sharp noses, rear fins and rocker. Sailboards are not as finely tuned for wave-catching and have universal mounts to install the mast base.

Sails and Masts

Windsurfing sails come in various sizes matched to wind strengths. Detachable masts connect sails to boards. Surfing has no sail components.

Wave vs. Wind Power

Surfers wait for waves and catch rides by paddling into swells and waves break. They use wave energy alone. Windsurfers harness wind power through sails to propel on calm waters as well as waves.

Ability to Tack and Gybe

Windsurfers can redirect the sail using maneuvers called tacking and gybing to sail in different angles relative to the wind. Surfers are limited by wave direction.

Learning Curve

Surfing requires balance but no sail knowledge. Windsurfing adds challenge of learning to control rigid sails in dynamic winds. Surfing is easier to pick up initially but both sports take years to master.

Location Versatility

Surfing dependent on surfable waves only available in coastal regions. Windsurfing possible on inland lakes/rivers too if breeze exists.

Fitness Level

Surfing fitness mainly involves paddling strength. Windsurfing combines this with athleticism needed to body drag and lift sail in gusty winds.

Comparison Table of Surfing vs Windsurfing

EquipmentSurfboard onlySailboard, sail, mast, boom
PropulsionWave powerWind and wave power
ManeuverabilityLimited by wave directionCan tack and gybe sail
Learning CurveEasier to startSteeper initial learning
LocationCoastal regions onlyAlso inland lakes/rivers
FitnessPaddling strengthPaddling and wind strength

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better for beginners?

Surfing is simpler to pick up initially just using a board without sails. Windsurfing adds complexity of rigging and sailing basics.

Can you surf and windsurf the same equipment?

No, surfboards are designed for ocean wave-riding only while sailboards have mounting hardware needed for masts incompatible with surfing waves.

Which has more gear/maintenance costs?

Windsurfing equipment like sails, masts and booms require more expenses and repairs compared to basic surfboards.

Can conditions be shared between the two?

Both sports can be enjoyed on the same ocean waves. Windsurfing also allows flatwater use when surfing waves are absent.


While surfing and windsurfing share similarities of riding water skimming boards, there are profound differences in equipment used, power source relied on, techniques required and adaptability to locations. Understanding these variances between the two watersports is key to determining which may be a better initial introduction or long-term recreational activity based on individual skill level, fitness and available conditions.

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