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Fleet Articles

Growing Windsurfer LTs on the West Coast

Owain Chilton - Fleet 18

November 2023

I learned to windsurf in the UK in the late 80s and moved to The SF Bay Area in 1991. My local spot is called 3rd Ave and it sees more than 100 days a year of winds over 20 mph. With the predictable and consistently high winds, I never imagined I would get back into longboarding so enthusiastically. I’m a regular at the 3rd Ave. beach, sailing my short board and 4.5m sail. You could say I am a dyed-in-the-wool shortboard sailor…

I never intended to get into long boarding but serendipitously I got involved with Fleet 18 in 2009. One Tuesday evening in the Foster City lagoon where the wind is typically 5-10 mph lighter than at 3rd, I was teaching my young son, Cory, to windsurf.  Fleet 18 happened to be racing that evening so we went over to chat and the guys invited me to race with them. I initially turned them down, however Cory was excited and asked me. “Are you going to race Dad? Are you going to? Are you? Are you?” So I thought I’d give it a go and joined in that evening on my original Windsurfer. I finished every race in last place but had a blast doing it. The crew was really welcoming and invited me out to beer and pizza after the racing.


Tuesday evening racing became a regular thing. I was able to borrow a Mistral Equipe and was given an old 7.4m sail. My board speed and board and sail handling were never a problem, but my racing technique was non-existent. I would sail fast in the wrong direction on a regular basis, but gradually I improved my skills and learned when and where to tack. It took me a while but I learned to get stuck in at the start line which is one of the most fun parts of racing.  Soon I was able to get hold of a Mistral Superlight II (the fleet’s standard back then) and a competitive sail and my results began to improve.

Fast forward to about 2017 and Brad Wilson, an expert wave sailor and former dinghy and shortboard racer, got interested and started coming to race with the fleet. He was competitive almost immediately and brought a lot of enthusiasm. He was able to get hold of 8 or 10 Windsurfer LTs and started bringing them for us to use. He even bought a trailer to transport the boards. Brad ran his own mini tour of California and let many folks demo the boards that year. I was hooked the first time I tried one. At the end of the year, a few of the fleet and I were able to buy ourselves a board from him. 

Windsurfer LTs have the look of the original Windsurfer and are super fun to sail like the original Windsurfer, but they are vastly different.  They are wider and more stable, have a planing hull and fully retractable centerboard so they perform well both in sub-planing conditions and in high winds. They have fairly boxy rails and with with the centerboard down point nicely on the upwind legs. The standard 5.7m soft sail is low tech, but much more stable than the “original” pin head sails. The sail has great feel and can be sailed comfortably in over 20 kts.  It is powerful in sub-planing conditions and pumps very nicely. The most striking difference between the LT and traditional racing longboards – think Mistral Superlight, Mistral Equipe, F2 lightning, Fanatic Ultra Cat etc. – is how quickly they tack. Traditional race boards take an age which discourages maneuvers, reducing the importance of reading the shifts in the wind.  Being so nimble, the Windsurfer LT makes racing in small bodies of water in light, shifty, gusty winds a true measure of your racing/sailing skills. A quick tack onto a good lift can make good gains. 


Over the next few years we had a couple of setbacks which has slowed the growth of the west coast LT fleet. The wildfires in Santa Cruz destroyed Brad’s boards (his house did survive!) and then COVID halted the chance of us getting any more boards from Cobra. During this period Fleet 18 continued to race and all comers and all boards were (and still are) welcome. We had a mixed fleet with two main classes: Superlight II combined with Kona 7.4m sails and Windsurfer  LT. 

Early in 2023, Caroll-Ann Alie reached out to me and asked if I was interested in joining the USWCA Board. We are a grass roots organization working to grow the Windsurfer Class in the United States. Caroll-Ann, our President, is leading the charge and she managed to get 10 new Windsurfer LT boards and rigs delivered to the west coast. She led the arrangement and execution of a west coast tour which consisted of four regattas using the charter boards in: Seattle, The Gorge, Sacramento, and Foster City. At each event, we ran races and provided sessions for racing tactics, sailing and handling technique, and rigging tips.

At this time, the Lake Washington Sailing Club in Sacramento has four of the charter boards available for club members to use. Through the summer they run weekly evening races and hold a couple of well attended weekend regattas. Fleet 18 continues to run course races every Tuesday evening from the beginning of April through the end of September.  This 2023 season, we standardized our one design class on the Windsurfer LT and we regularly get upwards of 7 sails on the start line and are hoping for more next year. I currently have two of the charter boards. They are available for people to try and to buy if interested.

Our plan for 2024 is to run another West Coast Tour including some events in SoCal and continue to grow the class. I still love to shortboard, but racing long boards is a fantastic challenge and the pizza and beer afterwards is always the best!

Foster City Lagoon

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