The controversy surrounding the first windsurfer class world champion

The windsurfer class hosted the US National Championships in 1972 and 1973.

The first world championship, a combined US national and world championship, took place in August 1974 at the North American Sailing Center on Association Island, New York.

Bruce Matlack, the sailor who won the US Nationals in Mission Bay in 1973, has sparked controversy by claiming that the 1973 event was really the first ever world championship and that he is the first world champion because two Europeans and one Tahitian participated.

The Windsurfer Class Association does not recognize this claim.

Although this has been pointed out to Mr Matlack and his supporters many times, Mr Matlack remains true to this claim, including threatening and intimidating communications to writers and filmmakers when they correctly refer to the 1974 event as the first ever World Cup.

The windsurfer class never considered the 1973 event a world championship.

The official windsurfer class schedule, trophies and t-shirts designate the 1973 event as US Nationals.

The post-race results were featured in many publications, including the official class publication known at the time as “Windsurfing News” as US Nationals.

The windsurfer class yearbooks all cite the 1974 event as the first ever world championship.

After the 1973 Nationals, a Nationals Nostalgia event was held in Mission Bay for several years. Copies of all records of these elements exist.

Bruce Matlack’s claim

I was only aware of Mr Matlack’s claim to be the first windsurfer world champion when I ventured on Facebook during the Covid pandemic.

When I saw the claim, I knew it was false.

In the summer of 1974, I was a staff member at the Association Island North American Sailing Center, where we ran high profile events for many different classes.

I still vividly remember the excitement we got at the first World Championships for this new boat that most of us had only seen in pictures.

In the Facebook exchange in 2020, Mr Matlack and some of his friends claimed that Windsurfing International and the Windsurfer Class Association have changed the level of the event by agreeing to pay the airfare for the top two of the first European championship.

They also claimed that the organizer told the Europeans that the event was going to be a world championship.

That may or may not be true, but even if it were true, it is irrelevant.

Only the International Class Association has the authority to change the level of an event.

If the class had done so, the results and yearbooks published below would have called the event the World Cup, not the US National Championship.

The young class would have had every incentive to call the 1973 Nationals the World Cup to add to the class’s prestige as they worked hard to gain followers.

His claim has been fully debunked by Mr. Matlack’s own words, as quoted by a friend and ardent defense attorney of Mr. Matlack’s claim and not denied by Mr. Matlack.

The friend said Mr. Matlack told him when he arrived at the 1973 event he learned that two Europeans were coming, he asked the event organizer Diane Schweitzer (US Sailing National Hall of Fame Inductee) what would happen when a European gained US citizenship.

The friend quotes Mr. Matlack as saying that she was “stunned” by the question, which of course means that she had not thought of it beforehand and therefore possibly no announcement of a change in the event level could be made beforehand.

And of course if the event had been changed to a World Cup, there would have been no reason to be stunned.

August 1974, Association Island, New York: Skipper meeting for the first windsurfing world championships, chaired by Diane Greene |  Photo: Dick Lamb

The 1973 Windsurfer Nationals – Not Worlds

This conversation led to the event being referred to as the 1973 Windsurfer Open National Championships in the official class publication “Windsurfing News” in the race report below.

Other publications simply printed the results as the 1973 Windsurfer Nationals.

In order for a world championship to be legitimate, the class association must notify all national class associations and sailors in good time prior to the event by means of an advertisement and provide a listing in the official class schedule.

Advance notice ensures that everyone who wants to compete at world-class level has the opportunity.

The International Class, as will be clear, never intended the 1973 event to be anything other than the U.S. National Championship, and all official shows that the event was conceived, conducted, and the results at that time as the U.S. National Championship and in 1973 the subsequent official class published yearbooks.

I checked with two former NASC employees who I’m still friends with, and they too remember the billing of the 1974 event as the first ever windsurfing world championship.

1973 National Women’s Champion Susie Swatek confirmed that she remembered the 1973 event as the U.S. National Championship – she would have had every incentive to claim it as a World Championship if it were true.

Additionally, in an email in 2020, the promoter told me in no uncertain terms that the 1973 event was US citizenship and not a World Cup.

Mr Matlack claims to have published evidence in magazines that he was the first world champion.

He points to a listing in a 1976 edition of Windsurfer that incorrectly labeled the 1973 event Nationals / Worlds.

This was clearly an accidental mistake as the only combined US national and world championships in class history was the 1974 event.

The 1973 Nationals lasted two days; the 1974 combined event lasted six days.

All of this published “evidence” results either from a simple mistake, or from Mr. Matlack’s claim that he has watered and fertilized over the years, or the result of a mistake.

The adage that a lie travels the world before the truth can put its boots on is particularly apt in this case.

I asked Mr. Matlack and his supporters on Facebook to provide concurrent written evidence to support their claims.

They didn’t provide any.

I also asked them if they would be willing to have each of us bring our cases to members of the National Sailing Hall of Fame (NSHOF) who serve as judges.

I did not get an answer.

He threatened to post a derogatory video about me regarding the nomination and induction of Hoyle and Diane Schweitzer into the US Sailing Hall of Fame.

When I asked him to publish this document alongside his evidence so that readers could form their own opinions, he made no reply.

Yearbooks and media reports

The following is the documented basis for the 1973 event, which is US citizenship and not a World Cup.

Below is the racing schedule from the Windsurfing News, the 1973 US Nationals in Mission Bay on May 13-14. October 1973 announce:

1973 US National Windsurfer Championships competition

The results are published below in Windsurfing News, a newsletter from the Windsurfer Class Association.

Note that the description mentions that two Europeans and one Tahitian participated and that the event was the 1973 National Open Championships:

1973 U.S. National Windsurfer Championships results in 'Windsurfing News'

The trophies can be seen below – the Memorial Glass and the Women’s National Championship Trophy, awarded to Susie Swatek in 1973.

In 1973, the overall winner of the men was awarded an identical trophy, but it was not found.

It’s hard to read, but it says Windsurfing Women’s National Championship and was awarded to Susie Swatek.

1973 US National Championships windsurfers trophies

The press release and post-race results were published as the 1973 Nationals:

MotorBoating, March 1974: the news with the results of the 1973 US National Windsurfer Championships

The Windsurfer Class Yearbook lists the 1974 World Championships on Association Island as the first ever World Championship:

1982 windsurfer class yearbook

1982 Windsurfer Class Yearbook: News and results from the first 1974 World Windsurfer Championship

The US National Sailing Hall of Fame recognizes 1974 as the first windsurfing world championship.

The following is from the writing of world-renowned sailor, author, and sailing commentator Gary Jobson for the induction of Hoyle and Diane Schweitzer into the U.S. National Sailing Hall of Fame:

“The first world championship in 1974 took part in 89 sailors on Association Island on Lake Ontario.”

“I ran an Advanced Racing Clinic there this summer and was fascinated by this strange, fast vehicle.”

“The class continued to grow, and the second World Cup in 1975 brought 135 participants.”

The official history of the Windsurfer Class, as published on the European Class website, states:

“The Original Windsurfer was a rigorous design that sold over 400,000 units – still the greatest sailing class of all time.”

“The first world championships in the windsurfer class were held in 1974.”

“Two years later, in 1976, in Nassau, Bahamas, 456 participants attended the one-design sailing event ever.”

“Here a 13-year-old Robbie Naish from Hawaii won the overall title. Naish would dominate the sport for the next few decades.”

Even Wikipedia is right:

Wikipedia: the list of the official windsurfers One Design world champions

It is ironic that the photo used by Mr. Matlack, which allegedly shows him receiving the 1973 World Cup in San Diego, actually shows the US Nationals trophy.

As you can see, it’s identical to the Women’s Nationals trophy above.

Bruce Matlack with the trophy of the 1973 US National Windsurfer Championships

Mr. Matlack deserves credit for winning the US Nationals twice (1972 and 1973) and finishing second in the first World Cup.

However, one would have to suspend disbelief completely to believe Mr. Matlack’s claim to be the first world windsurfer champion.

The overall title and the appointment as first windsurfer world champion belong to Matt Schweitzer from California / Hawaii for the men and Bep Thijs from the Netherlands for the women.

I hope Mr. Matlack will stop his shameful farce.

Words from Dick Lamb | President of the International Windsurfer Class (1976-1983)

About Gloria Skelton

Check Also

What Tiny Fossils Tell Us About a Giant Extinction

NOVA and paleontologist dr Emily Bamforth Band together to investigate questions that have plagued paleontologists …