Windsurfing’s Rapid Global Diffusion: The Evolution of a 1970s Technology-First Sport

Oakley, Ben (2024). Windsurfing’s Rapid Global Diffusion: The Evolution of a 1970s Technology-First Sport. The International Journal of the History of Sport (early access).



There has been considerable academic interest in what has been variously labelled new, lifestyle or, as used here, technology-first sport. This category of participatory sport covers a wide range of activities – among them windsurfing. Like some other sports initially relying on the development of technological equipment, it spread across the world from California. Technology-first sport is positioned as a useful lens, and this is applied to windsurfing showing the value of exploring a sport’s development from this perspective. Distinctive elements of windsurfing’s early history are explored that relate to its rapid growth being intimately linked to technological evolution, intellectual property battles and globalisation processes. The genesis of the sport is contextualised in terms of favourable Californian circumstances and the trajectory of the American plastics industry at the time. Its diffusion across 1970s Europe featured intense technological and market competition which created a rapid evolution of the sport before consolidation. Distinct periods of evolution from 1970 to 1990 are evaluated. These include diffusion processes and the influence of national socio-political factors as it spread to Eastern Europe and to China. A final reflection of the present-day technology fragmentation of windsurfing further reinforces how use of a technology-first sport lens has value.

Plain Language Summary

The early history and development of windsurfing into a boom sport of the 1980s and how this connects to technology, a time and place and the US plastics industry.

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