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Windsurfing

The Basics



Most people decide to learn to windsurf on a Caribbean type vacation, warm weather and water. And for good reason, you're going to spend a lot of time in the water. It's much nicer when the water is warm and clear.

No one just steps onto a board and sails off. People with surfing and sailing experience will master the sport faster, but it seems everyone must take their 50 to 100 falls. But, once you get the hang of it, it is a great feeling.

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to participate in the sport casually. You don't have to become a speed junkie. However, speed is one of windsurfing's high points, getting the board up on a plane and flying across the bay. If you find you like to cruise around on lighter wind days, it's possible on a longboard. Though often this choice is made for you. The predominate wind strength in your area will most likely determine what type of windsurfing you do.

First Day Out

As in most sports, it's worthwhile to take a lesson to start instead of learning from a friend. The instructor will have a proper learning sailboard, which has a very buoyant board and a small light sail that is easy to maneuver. (A board's buoyancy is an aspect of a board's volume. The more volume, the more buoyant.) Your instructor will review the basic concepts and give you tips to mastering each learning step. They will also be there to help if you get into trouble.

If you haven't already realized, windsurfing is sailing. It is basically a surfboard with a sail attached. Much of the terminology and theory will be the same between sailing and windsurfing, though the experience and skill set is quite different. You will need to review the basics of sailing, including wind direction and the points of sail.

As soon as you're up and sailing, your next skill to learn is turning around (tacking or jibing). On a beginner board, you typically learn to tack first. However, you'll also need to learn to jibe. On the shorter boards you will primarily be jibing. This is because the board is unstable for a longer time during a tack and therefore more difficult to control.

When you're learning, your feet, knees and back get the abuse. Protect your feet, be careful of your knees, and keep in mind the proper posture for picking up heavy items. You'll spend a lot of time pulling the sail out of the water (uphauling), which is exhausting. To limit the weight of the sail and make pulling up the sail easier, make sure the sail is rigged properly. When the sail is not as tight and flat as it should be, it acts like a bucket. So every time you pull up the sail, you are hauling up gallons of water. When the sail is flat it cuts through the water, spilling the water off the sail.

For your first day out, you only need the windsurfer. However, there is some basic equipment that will really help. You'll want to protect your feet from the gear that is attached to the top of the board. Dive booties or water shoes work well. You can usually find water shoes at a beach shop. String bikinis won't stay in place, and you won't have any extra hands to adjust it. Wear an athletic cut swimsuit that stays put. A life jacket or personal floatation device (PFD) can be a handy item. But if it's not cut for full movement, it could hinder your efforts. You'll want a PFD designed like a vest with wide armholes. It's a good safety precaution and a reassuring comfort.

Intermediate Windsurfing (A Little More Sailing and A Little Less Swimming)

Several skills need to be reached before you're ready for a shortboard. The water start will be mandatory, since the board won't be buoyant enough for an uphaul. You'll also be working on perfecting your jibes. Though this seems to be an area for constant improvement. Frequently changing wind and wave conditions mean no jibe is the same. You'll also begin to utilize the foot straps.

As you start to advance you'll want to get better equipment. A good sail will immediately improve your ability. A better board might take a little getting used to, but will soon pay-off too. A different board takes time to adjust to. The balance, turning effort, and weight positioning will be different for each board. An intermediate will want a slalom board or a mid-sized convertible board with a couple of different sails for different wind strengths. For more information about boards and sails, see our windsurfing equipment page.

The other piece of equipment you'll want to get acclimated with sooner than later is the harness. The harness allows the weight of your body to counteract the pull of the sail, instead of using your arm muscles. Since you no longer need to hold the sail up, you can concentrate on trimming the sail. It can also be quite entertaining learning to use a harness. It's not uncommon while mastering the harness to be launched over the sail and into the water.

Full Flips Off The Top of Waves

Several years ago there was a prize for the first person who could do a 360 flip off a wave, now it seems old hat, everybody is doing it. (OK, not everybody). But it gives you an idea of how quickly the sport is evolving.

At this level of experience, windsurfers are using the latest in technology and the newest equipment, if not actually developing the equipment. The windsurfing industry has been a driving factor in the development of sailing technology. Many of the recent inventions in sail shape and materials were first designed for windsurfing. The big-money sailboat racing circuits are adopting these advances.

There are a lot of women that are into windsurfing, more than most sports. However the expert women windsurfers rarely get the recognition or exposure of the male windsurfers. Hopefully we can help change this.

Don't's

  • As a beginner don't windsurf in the ocean with an offshore breeze. Find a location where the wind blows towards the shore. This will ensure that you will be pushed back to shore, and not away from it.
  • Don't take weather and water conditions lightly. On a windsurfer you are highly exposed to the elements. Learn and understand all the weather and water conditions that can effect you.

Tricks

  • There aren't a lot of tricks as a beginner, just advice like keep your knees bent and be patient.
  • The uphaul line should be long enough for you to stand up straight and should be made of elasticized material. Use height and leverage to hoist the sail. Keep arms straight and against your hips, bend your knees and lean back, push up gradually with your legs. Don't try to force the sail up too quickly. Be very careful of your back.
  • Make sure your learning board is plenty buoyant. This makes the board easier to balance on.
  • A wetsuit will protect your legs and knees from the fittings and fixtures on your board, which can be painful if you hit them. It will also provide you with some additional buoyancy since neoprene floats.

Safety

  • Wear a comfortable life jacket that doesn't restrict your movement.
  • Always go with someone else. Someone on shore should be keeping a look out for you, especially when you're learning.
  • Review weather and water conditions. Make sure there's not a current going out to sea. Check the tide chart. Most areas have a significant tide. Tides change direction and strength throughout the day. Make sure you know when it will change and when the strongest tides will occur.


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