Jim Drake, an aeronautical engineer and windsurfing pioneer who co-patented the windsurfer, died June 19 of complications from emphysema at his home in Pfafftown, N.C. He was 83.
“Jim Drake was a down-to-earth, kind and humble genius who worked on high-flying ‘skunk works.’ He was the pivotal innovator for the sport of windsurfing and the only one who kept a lifelong relationship with the sport,” John Chao, the former publisher and editor of American Windsurfer magazine, told Soundings.
Click play to watch home video of windsurfing’s early days.
Chad M. Lyons, a windsurfing pioneer, historian and instructor, says that although Drake was an innovator, he was not the co-inventor of windsurfing, as is sometimes attributed to him.
“The story so many people have been told is that these two California guys invented windsurfing, but there’s another story,” Lyons says.
Newman Darby, a Pennsylvania sign painter and artist and a self-taught sailor, is credited with being the first to conceive of windsurfing and with being the inventor of the first windsurfer. Darby called it “sail boarding” and published his designs for the craft in a 1965 issue of Popular Science Monthly. But Darby did not patent his design.
Two years later, Drake and a partner, Hoyle Schweitzer, built a prototype and tested it off Marina del Rey, Calif. The pair patented their design.
Drake is credited with incorporating an asymmetrical rig and wishbone boom, already used on other sailing craft, to the windsurfer design, according to Lyons. One of many lawsuits that followed introduced a similar design by Englishman Peter Chilvers, allegedly dating from 1958.
Regardless, all sides credit Drake and Schweitzer with being innovators and advocates for windsurfing.
“He was a hugely likeable guy who was forever trying to improve the design,” International Windsurfing Association secretary Ceri Williams, says. “He was an advocate and innovator who was always trying to enthuse people with the sport as it enthused him so.”
For a look at what the sport of windsurfing has become, click here for a collection of videos.