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Surf’s Up In The Bluegrass

While sitting on a beach during a Florida vacation, I was mesmerized by a young man on a sailboard out in the surf. He was effortlessly weaving and turning like an artist painting brush strokes on the water.

He made it look so easy I convinced myself that I could do it, at the age of 53, not just in Florida but back home in Kentucky. Would any of our lakes have conditions windy enough to support this? Is anyone even familiar with it in Kentucky? These were questions I set out to answer.

The common term for this sport, which uses techniques of both surfboarding and sailing, is windsurfing. I’ve seen videos of windsurfing hot shots “tacking and jibing” at incredible speeds and even jumping waves, making their sailboards roll and fly into the air. But that’s where my knowledge ended until I got some lessons from Roy Massey, who owns a windsurfing shop near Fort Myers, Florida.

The fact that this fellow is in his 40s was encouraging to me. He made a point that was even more encouraging. “Many of my students are older men and women, some in their 80s. They love it,” he said. That’s all I needed to hear.

I waded out into a bay and climbed on one of his boards. He patiently coached me and other students about how to balance on the board and turn the sail to harness the wind, which can change direction at the drop of a hat. After more falls than I can count, I finally pulled up the sail and stayed aboard. I made a wake in the water as I sailed out into the bay.

Granted, I’ll never want to take on too much wave and wind. I’ll leave that to the 20-year-olds. But windsurfing gave me a sense of exhilaration and freedom that’s hard to put into words.

The next phase of my windsurfing mission was on the lakes of Kentucky. Austin Bates of Lexington is a young man who spent part of his childhood vacations learning watersports in Florida. He particularly loves windsurfing. He agreed to give Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake a try. Sailing is common on these giant man-made lakes, but not windsurfing.

On a breezy summer afternoon, Austin assembled his board and sail, and immediately began tilting the rig and “carving” the board across the waters of Lake Barkley. He sailed at a nice clip for a couple of hours, and afterward gave the big lakes high marks for windsurfing. Nearby Kentucky Lake was even windier that day and perfect for an advanced windsurfer.

So, at least two of our lakes and possibly Cave Run Lake, which also is known for good sailing conditions, are ripe for this little-known sport in Kentucky. For more information, type “how to windsurf” in the search mode of your Web browser and plenty of material about equipment and advice will pop up.

As for me, I’m still deciding, but who knows? I just might keep at it until I become one of those senior citizen windsurfers in their 80s. It’s great exercise and more fun than playing bingo.


There are many variations of sailboards, some with wider boards for more stability, and different size sails to fit the needs of the sailor. Beginner boards are typically designed for stability with a small sail so that they are easy to control. Start out in calmer conditions with a moderate breeze.

First learn how to control the sail, before learning how to get back on the board after you have fallen off.

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