Skate sailing

Sailing and surfing are popular summer sports in the wind dominated Netherlands. And speed skating is the national winter sport. So, for a Dutchman propelling forward on ice skates by means of a sail should not be a strange thought. But reality is different. Though ice sailing with boat like objects is practised in clubs, skate sailing has seldom been seen.

Until I came across the jubilee book of the Stockholm Skate Sailing Club in the spring of 2009 I did not have a clue of it. From the book it became clear that in Sweden this skating discipline is more than 100 years young. As it is in North America I coincidently learned a few weeks later, when I was approached by Richard Friary, an American skate sailor and author of a book describing the sport comprehensively in detail.

I knew about ice sailing but it is quite different from skate sailing. For ice sailing you need a 'boat with mast and sails'. The boat must be flat bottomed and provided with three runner blades, two fixed and one revolving as to make it suitably for steering. This way of moving along in the Netherlands has its roots in the 17th century or earlier when in winter time both people and goods were transported over the ice in the frozen canals by means of sailing sledges.

But skate sailing? I had never heard of it except that I had got a few pictures from around 1900 showing skaters carrying sails on frozen lakes in France and Germany, as the one at the top of this page. It then seems to have been popular by the upper class in those countries.

Skate sailing has much in common with wind surfing. But two main differences should be emphasized. First, the sail is not anchored to something at the bottom. Second, the skate sailor stands at the other side of the sail. The skate sailor keeps the sail between him and the wind; the wind surfer stands between the wind and the sail. The skate sailor leans against the wind. He is pushed forward whereas the wind surfer is drawn.

The skating sail traditionally has the shape of a large kite. It consists of a light frame of crossed poles, draped with wind tight textile. The skater lies the horizontal pole on the windward shoulder at the cross with the vertical pole.  By moving the sail forward or backward and revolving it more or less the skater can regulate his course and speed. Through the years experienced skate sailors have experimented quite a lot with different shapes and sizes of the sails.

Skate sailors need sharp ice skates as to cope with the gradient under which they lean against the wind. Also their ice skates need a certain tallness in order to keep standing at little angles. As the size of the sail that can be carried with also depends on the height of the shoulder over the ice surface some skate sailors use stilts as can be seen in the pictures at the right.

Yet skate surfing is coming up as well. As is the use of delta wings for sails. They make it possible to jump as with kite surfing. I found a Swedish film at YouTube showing spectacular possibilities:

Friary, Richard: Skate Sailing, a complete guide; 1996
Richard, Allan e.a.: Stockholms Skridskoseglarklubb 1901-2001






Skate sailing c. 1900

Ice sailing c.1920.

Making fun c. 1930

Skate sailing c. 2000.
It is a bit hard to see,
but the skater is moving in the direction of the observer. The wind blows from the left and the skate sailor leans against sail and wind.

Two Swedish skate sailors with stilted ice skates.

30 cm (1 ft) high sailing skate
These sailing skates have removable stilts.
The owner can stand maximum 30 cm above ice. Using other lengths he can adjust this tallness.
Thus he can use a larger sail with weak winds and a smaller one when it blows hard.


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