Under overcast skies on a chilly April day, Nevin Sayre skimmed across the waves off West Chop, atop a slim set of hydrofoils.

A former pro windsurfer and longtime youth sailing organizer who lives in Vineyard Haven, Mr. Sayre was practicing with his wing foil for the international Defi Wind regatta in Gruissan, France where, on May 9, he will be inducted into the Windsurfing Hall of Fame.

Mr. Sayre’s son Rasmus, a champion board sailor who also raced with the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School sailing team and in college, is competing in the regatta as well.

Sponsored by a wing foil maker, Rasmus Sayre will race against his father at the regatta — along with hundreds of other wing foil sailors — before attending the hall of fame ceremony with him.

“What a lucky thing, I get to do this with my son,” Nevin Sayre, 64, said, during an interview at the West Chop home that’s been in his family for generations.

Originally a seasonal resident from Washington, D.C., where his father Francis Sayre, Jr. was dean of the Washington National Cathedral, Mr. Sayre learned to sail at the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club and became a keen competitor in club races and regional regattas.

Mr. Sayre was a teenager saving up for a Laser — the swift, streamlined boat that dominated single-handed sailing in the 1970s — when he saw his first windsurfer, at a Cape Cod regatta after the junior sailing teams were sidelined by weather.

At home on the water in Vineyard Haven harbor. — Ray Ewing

“They sent the kids in to go behind the breakwater and drop anchor and put down our sails...and a windsurfer went out. The first one I ever saw,” Mr. Sayre recalled.

Captivated by the speed and maneuverability of the new sailing boards, he quickly scraped up the money to buy his own from Edgartown windsurfing pioneer Platt Johnson.

“I was hooked from the get-go,” Mr. Sayre said.

Racing one-design sailboats for the Tulane and Tufts university teams in the early 1980s, Mr. Sayre was named to the International College Sailing Association’s All-American team four years in a row — still a rare achievement in intercollege racing — while continuing to sail and race windsurfers.

Mr. Sayre joined the professional windsurfing tour after college, racing and teaching around the world.

“Windsurfing was getting so big. All these companies were coming into it. And they would hire the top sailors and send them to events, and that was me,” said Mr. Sayre, who for a time was ranked second in the world in slalom and course racing. 

“How lucky am I to have been paid to go to all every continent [except] Antarctica... and race,” he said.

Mr. Sayre found himself the sole Bay State pro on a tour dominated by sailors from other waters.

“All the other Americans were from Hawaii, or moved to Hawaii, and then there was me,” he said.

“When I was windsurfing as a professional, there was no one here to practice against, so I would race the ferry and [see] how many times I could circle it between the Vineyard and Woods Hole,” Mr. Sayre said.

On the tour, he said, autograph seekers would crowd 10 deep around the rigging area he shared with pros like Hawaiian Robby Naish.

“He was a superstar and, you know, I was just a kid from Massachusetts on the tour,” said Mr. Sayre, who always made sure to include his home state along with his name and sail number when signing autographs for fans.

Hall of Fame induction ceremony takes place May 9. — Ray Ewing

He also met his wife, Swedish windsurfing champion Stina Hellgren (now Stina Sayre), on the pro tour. The two crossed paths several times before the wind died down at one regatta and gave them time to get acquainted, she told the Gazette last year.

The couple have been married for more than 30 years and have raised two children — Rasmus and his sister Solvig — who attended Vineyard schools and became top-ranked sailors in their own right.

Mr. Sayre also founded the Martha’s Vineyard Challenge, an around-the-Island windsurfing fundraiser that raised more than $200,000 for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services over its 20-year history; the last challenge took place in 2007.

Now that Ms. Sayre has retired from her fashion design business on Main street in Vineyard Haven, the whole family gathers for winter sailing trips — most recently in Bonaire in the Caribbean.

“You know how families go on ski vacations? We go on wing foil vacations,” Mr. Sayre said.

After retiring from the professional tour, Mr. Sayre moved into the sailing industry and now runs sailing programs for kids that he calls “Un-regattas,” aimed at making sailboat racing fun for the next generation.

Windsurfing lost its widespread appeal in the U.S. after manufacturers over-marketed it as an extreme sport, Mr. Sayre said. Kite boarding, which Mr. Sayre pursued for a time, is equipment-heavy and hazardous. And both sports rely on high winds to deliver thrills.

Wing foiling is more accessible, Mr. Sayre said. “With foiling, you can get high performance in very little wind and go fast. The foil has so little resistance, so it’s a game changer.”

Wing foiling has no spars to collide with or ropes to tangle, but there’s still a chance of injury if a sailor loses control of the wing in a gust. Mr. Sayre currently has a healing scar on his cheek that looks like a saber cut from a duel.

“I was picking carbon out of my face,” he said ruefully.

Back on the positive side, Mr. Sayre said wing foiling is far easier on sailors’ bodies because the hull is generally riding above the water on the hydrofoil, instead of slamming across the waves.

At this week’s French regatta, held on the Mediterranean coast in an area where the north wind known as Tramontana blows from the Italian Alps, Mr. Sayre and his son are racing in the world’s largest board sailing competition. The wing foil fleet of 400 sailors will race for the first three days, followed by the Hall of Fame ceremony on the fourth day, and then another three days of windsurfing races with 1,500 boards.

These numbers are so large, Mr. Sayre said, that a conventional starting line is impossible. Instead, a high-powered “rabbit boat” streaks across the water ahead of the fleet, tracing a line in the sea to its stern for the racers to cross.

The Defi Wind regatta began May 3 in Gruissan. An English language version of the regatta website is at defiwind.fr/en/.