This is a post requested by Jenny. A while back I wrote a post on the differences I saw between windsurfing and kitesurfing. The time has come to compare them to regular surfing. I want to clarify first off that I have tried to be as objective about it as possible. In the end these are all amazing sports which all have their charm and each will attract people differently. I personally see them as complimentary to eachother and will choose one over the other depending on my mood, wind and wave conditions or current fancy. There are periods in which I will consistently choose to do one over the other and then switch.
The times that the wind sports conflict with surfers are not that common as surfing with windy and choppy conditions is not the most pleasant passtime in the world and windsurfing or kitesurfing with little wind is not that great either.
Ease to learn
In terms of speed to learn we have a hard time to define it properly. I will say this: the first few hours of surfing are going to be much more frustrating (in terms of attemps with no results) than in windsurfing or kitesurfing. The main difficulty lies in that you have to stand up on a narrow and wobbly board which will take a lot of attempts to get right. In windsurfing on the other hand you have success experiences pretty early on and in kitesurfing it’s just very technical at the beginning but you can see your progress.
In terns of fitness required, surfing is more challenging than both watersports. In the initial stages windsurfing may seem exhausting but after a few attempts we start to get the hang of using the wind to our advantage, we stop fighting the wind and start to substitute physical effort with applied technique. In surfing however there is no way past having to paddle both to catch the wave and to get back out to the peak. This will cost a lot of energy. In short, surfing is more physically challenging.
Here the clear winner is surfing. To travel to go surfing is much less hassle than both windsurfing and kitesurfing. Windsurfing gear is pretty cumbersome to move around and although kitesurfing kit is much more comfortable, surfing consists of just the board rather than board and kite(s).
IMAGES (windsur and kitesurf and surf board bag)
Surfboards are very light as a heavy board requires more energy to paddle to catch a wave. This comes at the expense of the boards being more fragile than windsurf or kitesurf boards. The result is that we may be stuck on the shore having to look at others having fun on the water because we dinged our board on the reef or on the parking lot.
Again surfing wins. The price of a new surfboard will not usually be more than $750 and a second hand board will tend to be around $300. Add to this the nearly negligible additional cost of a leash and foot pad and the financial barrier to entry are much lower than in the windsports. The cost of the repairs that we have to make from time to time will still be lower than what we accumulate in windsurfing and kitesurfing as you also have to take into account the sails and kites.
Ammount of Accessories
The advantage surfing has over the other two is in the same proportion as running has over, say cycling. A runner just needs to pop on his shoes and go running whilst the cyclist needs to get a bike, helmet, shoes, etc. In the same sense a surfer “just” needs his board and off he goes rather than needing a board, sail, mast, boom and harness.
Apart from the cost of all the additional extra stuff mentioned before, there also is the factor of forgetting items at home. It is a little bit easier to have everything if all you need to remember is the board, a leash and wax rather than a board, sail, mast, boom, mast-foot, mast extension and harness (and I might be forgetting something.
Availability to practice
Depending on where you live you will get more out of one sport or another. If you want waves you have to be at or near the coast. Therefore, if you live inland and near a lake or river you will probably get more time on the water with wind sports. In this sense I would probably insist that these sports are comlimentary rather than exclusive as if there are waves but no wind we will go surfing, with waves and wind it’s more pleasant with windsurf or kitesurf, with no waves and wind it is the same and with no wind and no waves we have a beer on the beach.
This is a tricky one to analyse as it all depends. I would say however that if we are at a familiar spot it is safer in surfing as everything is more predictable. Here things only get hairy if we overestimate our abilities just like in any other sport. When we depend on the wind there is always a series of factors which can turn our fun session into a dangerous situation. The wind may drop, increase too much, change direction and other things which may be forseen by forecasts but there is still a degree of accuracy (or lack of it). The wave predictions on the other hand tend to be more accurate and the consequences of them being wrong are not so dire as we can paddle to where the waves are not so dangerous.
In the end it all comes down to being prepared. Knowing your entry and exit points, the forecast and your own limitations.