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Darby

Windsurfing

Darby In the summer of 1964, a new sport was borne of a vision that Newman Darby had while vacationing on Wyoming Mountain in Pennsylvania. That sport was windsurfing, and it quickly became a multi-million dollar industry.

As a child, Darby had been an avid boater and had even attempted to build a boat when he was just 12 years old. His first try was a failure – it sank. His second attempt at age 14 was more successful. At 20 years of age he came up with the idea of using a hand-held sail system mounted on a universal joint for a small catamaran. He also designed experimental trimarans, or three-hulled boats, and catamarans and kayaks.

Darby invented the first windsurfer, which he called a "sailboard," after watching his girlfriend, Naomi, sail on a boat he had built from ashore. She sailed while standing up, controlling the boat without the use of a rudder. Rather, she tilted the sail to change directions. This was something that had never been done before. Earlier, he had been planning to test steering by his hand-held sail system on a larger catamaran he invented, but after his experience with Naomi on Wyoming Mountain, the pair decided to put the hand-held sail system on a surfboard instead. Newman then built an extra wide stable test hull. Naomi sewed the sail. This become the prototype of the first Darby sailboard.

Also in 1964, Darby and his girlfriend were married, and they quickly began talking with relatives about the idea they had to manufacture sailboards. That year Darby's brother Ken quit his job to help began forming the world's first sailboard business. They called it Darby Industries, Inc.; Ken Darby became the president, Newman Darby was the designer, and Naomi Darby was in promotions.

A series of improvements to Darby Industries' sailboards quickly followed. In January 1965 the company made their first metal universal joint for the mast foot. Later that year a sailboarder named Diane Albrecht impressed Popular Science's photographer by out-running the motorboat he was shooting pictures from. Also in that year, Darby met with his other brother Ronald, who helped him to study the use of other sail rig designs that may be used. Soon after the pair designed a sloop rig for sailboards. The main sail on this sloop rig became the popular three-sided shape.

Later that year, Charles Hawk, a Darby Industries stockholder and sailboard representative from Virginia, wrote up the first patent application papers for Darby Industries. Popular Science published a four page article on sailboarding and that helped ignite a fire that spread the sport's popularity overseas. Hundreds of letters arrived at Darby Industries inquiring about the sailboards, from as far away as India.

Nevertheless, the Darbys phased out their production of sailboards by the late 60s as sales were not going very well. It wasn't until Jim Drake and Hoyle Schweitzer created what they called a Windsurfer in the 1970s that the boards began being mass produced. The duo based the Windsurfer on Darby's original ideas and fully credited him with its invention.

Finally, the fledging sport of windsurfing really took off, especially in Europe. Europeans took up windsurfing in masses, and at a point one in every three households had a board. Dozens of European manufacturers produced their own versions of the Windsurfer. Eventually the sport was even included in the Olympics.

Meanwhile, Darby industries lived on and the company began producing boats, bathtubs and sinks. Newman Darby himself continued to invent watercraft. In the1980s, for example, Darby received a design patent for a one-person sailboat, the Darby 8 SS sidestep hull. His latest project is what he calls the "Windspear." He said the craft is for cruising and paddling, a combination of a rowboat, kayak, and windsurfer with a paddle and fin combination. As of April 2001, Darby lives with his wife in Jacksonville, Fla.

[May 2001]

 

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