The yellow flag on shore twisted in the light breeze as Allan and Linda Levene glided on the smooth water of Lake Thurmond, effortlessly sailing from one shore to another.
On days like this recent Sunday, cruising the lake on a windsurfing board is a peaceful way to spend the afternoon. But when the wind picks up, windsurfers race through the ripples, sails moving in a frantic dance with the wind.
Windsurfing is a sport with an intensity level that varies with the moods of Mother Nature.
Lake Thurmond and Lake Murray northwest of Columbia are excellent for windsurfing, according to enthusiasts. On any windy day, you can find at least a dozen or so windsurfers gleefully sailing them, said Augusta windsurfing instructor Chuck Hardin.
The magic of the sport for enthusiasts lies in its simplicity - it's just you, the water and the wind.
"There's something really special about being on the water by yourself," said Augustan Jack Korn. "It's like you are in control of your own destiny."
Windsurfing, like its cousin wave surfing, lets riders use the elements - specifically wind and water - instead of fighting them. It's the feeling of harnessing those forces that makes windsurfers so passionate about the sport.
"You're just on the water. You're one with nature, and it's so peaceful," said Mr. Korn's wife, Linda. She considers herself an "intermediate shred-Betty," which in lay-terms means a female surfer. "It just feels very heavenlike. I swear I'm with God out there."
The Korns discovered their love of the sport on the first day of a three-day introductory windsurfing workshop.
"We both knew immediately that we loved it, even before we got on the water," she said. "Basically now our lives revolve around windsurfing."
The Korns have been weekend surfers for several years, but anytime the wind is blowing, they're ready to take to the boards.
Roman Kilmenki, a recent college graduate from Aiken who works full time as a waiter, is familiar with the yearning.
"If it's windy and I don't have anything else planned, I'm here," he said before he went gliding on the smooth surface of Thurmond Lake.
Windsurfing requires more finesse and balance than strength, which makes it suitable for all ages and athletic types.
It began in the 1970s with one cumbersome board: the Schweitzer Windsurfer. Since then, the sport and its equipment have evolved.
"Back in the old days, boards weighed 40-50 pounds," said John Chao, editor and publisher of American Windsurfer Magazine. "Today's board weighs about 14 pounds."
Mr. Chao said in a telephone interview from New Hampshire that the sport has enjoyed a recent boom in popularity.
"In the past three or four years, it has become much more user friendly," he said.
As with any other sport, there are risks, but basic safety measures are usually enough to avoid trouble.
Mr. Levene, of Evans, has been windsurfing for about 20 years and has hadonly one mishap. During a trip to south Florida, he rented a rig and headed out to a windy area about 1/2-mile offshore.
When a yacht of bikini-clad women passed by, he raised his hand to wave - not a good idea in strong winds, where both hands are needed to keep control.
"I got slammed off the board and into the sail," Mr. Levene said. "Then the sail separated and the board sailed away."
One of the most important safety rules is to stay with your board. It serves as a flotation device in situations like this.
"So I was treading water 1/2 mile out in the sea," he said. Luckily, another boat came by 45 minutes later and saved him.
Hypothermia also is a concern.
In the Aiken-Augusta area, the windsurfing season runs from early fall to late spring. The warmest months don't provide enough wind to sail often.
Jim Gossage, an Augusta windsurfer, says he goes sailing any time it's windy.
"Earlier this year, I was driving to the lake one afternoon while it was snowing," Dr. Gossage said. "I had to warm up in the car every 10-15 minutes. At the end of the day, my sail was actually frozen to the mast."
It takes wet-suits, gloves and hoods to keep windsurfers warm in winter.
Used equipment is recommended for those just getting started. It may cost as little as a few hundred dollars. A new board, rig and accessories, on the other hand, could easily cost a couple of thousand.
Reach: Lisa M. Lohr at (706) 823-3332.