DEWEY BEACH, Del. -- David Buemi could say windsurfing is nothing more than a big surfboard with a sail on it.
But he knows better.
For Buemi, windsurfing is a physical, addictive sport -- one that connects the athlete to the elements more than, say, sailing.
Buemi, 35, of Annapolis has mastered surfboard and sail well enough to compete in amateur national and regional competitions, such as the Tudor/Mistral East Coast Windsurf Championship yesterday.
Buemi placed first in an open class (any size board or sail) division after two days of windsurfing in Rehoboth Bay at Delaware Seashore State Park, about 15 miles north of Ocean City.
Some 90 windsurfers, men and women, competed in a series of races in 12 divisions, some hoping to qualify for the Tudor/Mistral finals in the Bahamas in January 1993.
"It's really a sport for free-thinking people," said Guy Britton, a promotional director for Windsurfing magazine. "It's an alternative sport for people who are individuals. It's also demanding."
Competitors in all but the sport class -- for recreational sailors -- were required to surf twice around a series of buoys, similar to the course in the America's Cup.
From the beach, the windsurfers resembled a sailing regatta.
From a pontoon boat, anchored near the start and finish markers, the thrill of competition was more visible.
Windsurfers maneuvered sails to catch the breeze, gliding along the bay like they were skaters on ice.
Scott Steele, a silver medalist in windsurfing in the 1984 Olympics, directed the race from the boat.
He hoisted a series of white, blue and red flags to begin races and then rattled off numbers from sails as windsurfers crossed the finish.
"There's more people getting involved," Steele said. "Participation [in competitions] has increased the past couple of years."
Steele, 34, lives in Stevensville, Md., and serves as racing director of the Tudor/Mistral series. "There are people here today who are very serious about doing well," he said.
Count his brother, Ron, and his sister-in-law Bonnie, among them. The Annapolis couple finished first in their respective divisions.
"I like the physicalness of the sport," said Ron, 39. "It's like sailing but it's more physically demanding."
Brothers Ron and Scott placed third and first, respectively, in the freestyle competition, in which windsurfers perform tricks on their boards.
The tournament then is not all seriousness.
The regional championship featured activities and events, such as windsurfing workshops and demonstration clinics for the public.
The free lessons attracted Ken and Madsi Sehman of Salisbury.
"I think it's great," said Madsi Sehman, a 34-year-old bar manager. "If I can get up on the board out there [in the water] it will be really neat."
Andy Church, director of sports promotion for Mistral, estimates about 100 people, ranging in age from 6 to 75, took advantage of the free lessons.
"I think the hardest thing for people is to get the courage to go out on the water," Church said. "It also takes a little bit of patience and persistence."
Those attributes were needed yesterday morning when barely a breeze blew, making movement all but impossible.
"We didn't surf very well, especially the heavier sailors," said Olan Kenneally, a 20-year-old college student from Cork, Ireland.
Windsurfing in his first American competition, Kenneally, who is working this summer in Ocean City, placed third in the heavyweight division.
"It was good competition," Kenneally said. "When the wind picked up, the fleet was very close."
Britton said windsurfing is a sport that grew in popularity in the mid- to late 1980s but has since leveled off.
It's a relatively new sport.
Developed in the late 1960s, windsurfing became an Olympic demonstration sport in 1980 and an Olympic sport in 1984.
Susan Simmons of Bristol, Conn., took up the sport in its infancy.
She and her husband, Al, flew in from Bristol and rented equipment to compete in the tournament.
Susan Simmons, 44, who is in her seventh season of racing, came in third in the masters light division.
"I did well enough," she said. "I usually don't do too well in heavy air."
But it was clear Simmons was not windsurfing for just the competition.
"I enjoy the feeling of peace and freedom," she said. "It's a high, I guess."
That's something most windsurfers would say they lift their sails for.