Sorry, Wikipedia, but you're wrong Otter Tail County man says windsurfing started in Minnesota, not California
Few people know that an 81-year-old Otter Tail County resident claims to be the inventor of windsurfing: standing up while sailing a surfboard. Yet, if you let Al Seltz of Fergus Falls explain himself, it all seems logical if not inevitable: a Minnesota lake, not Pacific wave crests, hosted the very first wind-powered surfboarding.
According to Wikipedia, windsurfing was first practiced around 1967 in California. With no disrespect, Seltz says he started doing it no later than 1960 on Lake Le Homme Dieu near Alexandria, Minn.
"Conventional surfboarding - standing up on a large board - is thought to have been invented by Polynesians uncounted centuries ago," said Seltz. "It is enabled by gravity, which continually entices the board downward from the top of a moving wave crest."
Seltz says that since few Minnesota lakes can produce a surfable wave, it is logical that the idea to use wind power instead of gravity to power a surfboard would occur to someone in Minnesota.
And that would be Lewis A. Whinnery, an Ohio native who came to Alexandria's Bellanca aircraft factory via Martin Marrietta, Atlanta. Making aircraft parts out of fiberglass was his specialty.
"Fiberglass was still a new material in the 1950s, but it and aluminum had revolutionized the pleasure boat industry," said Seltz. "Whinnery's brainstorm, to make a surfboard out of fiberglass, was not a flight of fancy. It was a perfectly logical progression of thought."
Whinnery knew Minnesota's lakes couldn't produce a surfable wave. Thus, his idea of expecting the wind to provide the power was perfectly logical. Many Minnesotans, including Seltz, took to this new sport with great enthusiasm.
"We became fast friends," said Seltz. "I became the expert surf sailor and Lewis became the provider of the sailing surfboards, as he called them. Lewis helped organize Viking Reinforced Plastics, Elbow Lake, to make them."
At first, everyone who sailed a Sail King remained seated.
"It was probably in the summer of 1960 when a brisk wind drove me past the dock where Lewis (Whinnery) was standing," said Seltz.
"Why don't you try standing up?" Whinnery shouted.
On impulse, Seltz tried it. It worked. And the rest, as they say, is history.