A Local Beginning to the Sport of Windsurfing: The Thrill of the Ride

Filed in On The Lake, Recreation by on March 1, 2014

Photo Courtesy of www.iwindsurf.com

Photo Courtesy of www.iwindsurf.com

This summer as you zip across the lake in your fishing boat or lazily float along on your family pontoon, keep an eye out for the windsurfers. You’ll see them when the wind is strongest, leaning out over their boards, carefully controlling taut sails. There’s a freedom and energy that comes from being that close to the water, using only the wind to push you along.

Al Seltz, 79, of Fergus Falls, can tell you all about it. After all, SEltz says he was likely one of the first in the world to stand up on a small sailing surfboard, thus creating the sport of windsurfing.

“We were excited because it was so much fun,” he says. “It was a new dimension of an old sport.”

Seltz’s historical moment dates back to the summer of 1960. He was 29 and spending nearly every weekend in his hometown of Alexandria. Seltz became acquainted with businessman Lewis Whinnery,  president of Viking Reinforced Plastics, a maker of sailboats, in nearly Elbow Lake.

Seltz, a longtime lover of water sports, quickly taught himself to sail using Whinnery’s boats on Lake Le Homme Dieu in Alexandria. he met up with a few friends regularly to enjoy the waters on the new boats.

Humble about his athletic skills, Setlz simply says, “I suppose I saw what people were doing and did it myself.”

The boats were designed for one or two seated passengers, but at some point that summer, Whinnery suggested Seltz try standing.

To their surprise and joy, it worked. And, boy, did it work. The new position changed he center of gravity on the boat, allowing the surfer to harness more of the wind power. With a rope in one hand to control the sail (for speed) and a rope in the other for the tiller (for steering), it took a fair amount of skill, but the payoff was tremendous.

“As we gained skill and confidence, we became more daring,” he says. “We’d look for heavier and heavier winds. We didn’t go sailing unless the wind was strong enough to stand up. Sailing while sitting down wasn’t even fun anymore.”

Seltz’s business and windsurfing skills soon landed him a job as a sales manager of Viking Plastics. He spent the first half of 1961 traveling Minnesota and beyond, selling the Viking and Mark IV sailboats. With one boat on his car roof and two more on a trailer, he attended boat shows and visited marine dealers. Sadly, the company folded later that year.

The experience didn’t taint Seltz’s interest in windsurfing. Even 50 years later, he still enjoys looking back on that summer and wondering if he really did invent windsurfing on Lake Le Homme Dieu. He’s run across claims of its creation in California in the mid 1960’s – more than a few years after he and a couple buddies were already making waves of their own.

“It’s about community loyalty,” Seltz says, “about being able to claim the lake, town or country where something was invented, where things were done first. Out of community loyalty, I’d like to help Alexandria hail itself as the birth place of windsurfing.”

This summer, Seltz and his wife, Connie, will be enjoying Minnesota lakes with their children and grandchildren. Their son has a little sailboat at his cottage on South Turtle Lake near Underwood. Seltz says maybe this year he’ll take it out or, then again, perhaps not. He doesn’t need to windsurf again to remember it as clear as yesterday.

“It’s a thrilling sport,” Seltz says. “All you hear is the gurgling of the water and the hiss of the wind. There’s definitely something thrilling about that.”

 

by Amanda J. Peterson, a freelance writer in Moorhead.

 

 

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