Thirty years ago, when windsurfing was a relatively new sport, the Wasatch Front had several stores that catered to windsurfers. For a modest sum, sailors could buy a long, heavy plastic board complete with a mast, boom and sail and head off to one of several lakes.
Rick Heninger, president of the Utah Windriders Association, remembers those days well.
"It was more of an outing," he said. "We would carry those big boards down to the shore and wait for the wind to blow, and if it didn't, we just had a nice day at the beach."
Today you can't buy a board in Utah without going to the Internet, and sailors are more likely to be cruising at speeds nearing 40 miles per hour during storm conditions in some remote corner of Utah Lake.
Now, Heninger says, the Internet has "changed everything."
In 1996, a group of avid windsurfers formed the Utah Windsurfers Association and, two years later, one of those founding members, Dimitrije Milovich, radically changed Utah windsurfing by establishing a Web site to help sailors predict where the wind would be blowing.
Milovich was asked to set up a colorful windsurfing rig for the backdrop in a scene for an episode of "Touched by an Angel" and was given $250 for the use of his gear.
He decided to put the money back into the sport and paid one of the Web designers at his company, Radius Engineering, to set up and host the UWA Web site. With the advent of kiteboarding and snowkiting, the organization has since evolved into the Utah Windriders Association (www.utahwindriders.org).
More than 500 sailors regularly log onto the Web site, where they find a daily forecast of "Where to Ride" from weather guru Craig Goudie along with current wind readings from Utah's favorite sailing spots and many other weather resources.
The Web site also contains a "wind log" for sailors to post conditions after sailing, a calendar of events, a place to buy and sell gear, instruction and lessons for beginners, safety guidelines and a list of Utah's favorite sailing sites.
Gone are the days of simple "outings."
Like the tornado chasers, sailors go where it is blowing hard and do so with a great deal of accuracy.
"Windsurfing is so much more user-friendly now. What took me 15 years to learn, I see people learn in a year," says Heninger.
Nowadays, the boards are wider and lighter, and beginner boards have soft foam decks. The new shapes help with stability, planing and speed particularly in Utah's variable wind conditions.
Because sailors follow the wind, often they sail in remote spots.
"At mile-marker 19 on Utah Lake," Heninger said, "you are more likely to find shotgun shells than sea shells, and the UWA has spent many hours picking up broken glass and burned pallets. And every year the kiteboarders haul a truckload of garbage from their favorite site at South Sandy Beach on Utah Lake."
Keeping access and improving the environment is one of the stated missions of the UWA.
Twelve years ago, Rush Lake (near Tooele) was one of the best windsurfing spots in the country. The shallow water and its location in windy Rush Valley was ideal in setting up perfect waves. Now the lake is usually dried up but can still be a favorite spot for kiteboarders who will sail there in the spring with as little as 8 inches of water.
"Losing Rush Lake was like Michael Phelps losing his pool," recalls Heninger. "It was as good of wind as the Columbia River Gorge."
The UWA has been aggressively trying to make certain it doesn't lose access to some of Utah's other prime sailing areas, particularly Utah Lake.
"Sailors generally have to do a balancing act over dangerous rocks at the Provo Boat Harbor, where there is no convenient access for swimmers or sailors," said Heninger.
He also points out that Saratoga Springs Marina on the west side of the lake has done a great job with rest rooms, showers, a grass rigging and a launch site.
"Utah Lake is one of the most underused and neglected resources in Utah," Heninger said.
Other favorite sailing spots include Deer Creek Reservoir (which actually hosted the National Windsurfing Championships in the 1980s), Grantsville Reservoir in Tooele County and Sulphur Creek Reservoir just over the border near Evanston, Wyo.
Kiteboarding and snowkiting
Kiteboarding is a relatively new sport where the sailor rides a wakeboard and is pulled by a kite, often achieving spectacular leaps and stunts through the air. Nationally, the ratio of windsurfers to kiteboarders is about 3 to 1.
Several years ago, Jacob Buzianis, a 32-year-old Salt Lake City resident, was visiting his brother, Micah Buzianis, a professional windsurfer in Hawaii. With his snowboarding background, Buzianis was intrigued with kiteboarding and quickly caught on to the sport, but what really captured his imagination was the possibility of what could be done on snow.
"In Utah, there are all kinds of terrain, and snowkiting is different every time you go," says Buzianis. "There is powder, fast snow, steep slopes and big air."
He explains that because of the little resistance of snow, as opposed to water, it is easier to get around, and you don't need as much wind. For Buzianis, now a professional snowkiter, Utah is the premiere spot in the world, particularly above Fairview Canyon on the Skyline Drive. Up there, he claims, the good kiters are getting air over 100 feet on a regular basis and you can go "as big as you want."
Kiters use the same sails and rigging for snow and water but simply trade their wakeboard for a snowboard (or skis). Five years ago, the UWA Web site had very little traffic from kiteboarders and snowkiters. But now, there is as much activity in the wintertime as in the summer months.And for Heninger, after 30 years of riding the wind, it is still "one of the greatest sports to take you out of daily stress and put you in the moment while being in tune with the wind, water, balance and speed."