Windsurfing Basics

You've got the kit, your all rigged up, Right, lets get going !

This section focuses on getting out on the water for the

first time and covers the skills that are fundamental to

becoming a competent windsurfer.

Getting ready to set sail!

The board should be carried to the water first, hold it with your fingers in the daggerboard case and carry it so that it is parallel with the wind direction. The sail is best carried either lightly resting on your head or straight out in front of you with one hand on the mast and one hand on the boom. Beware when carrying the sail on your head or you can end up stretching the sail. Point the clew (the back end of the sail attached to the boom) in the direction of the wind (downwind) and lift the rig by the mast and boom so that the wind gets underneath the sail, that way the wind will do all the carrying for you. Never carry the sail to the shore first as by the time you've got your board your sail may well have blown away! You can also carry both board and sail to the water together if you feel strong enough (and have foot straps fitted), just make sure that they are downwind when you pick them up. Stand in between board and sail; hold the mast with one hand and one of the foot straps with the other.

Right lets get going!

Check out the wind direction, as a beginner never sail in an off-shore wind on the sea or large lake if you have no idea of windsurfing techniques, a gentle wind on the shore will be twice that out at sea and unless there's a rescue boat around you may well find yourself washed up on the beach of the nearest continent (that's if you're lucky)! If you are planning to sail on the sea always check out the tides (refer to the Tides section of this guide) and speak to locals if unsure. It is amazing how far out you can be blown without realising in an offshore wind. If however the wind is on-shore, cross-shore or somewhere in between attach the sail and board together.

A suitable guide to wind strength for a beginner is a Force 2-3 on the Beaufort scale. If it is blowing a force 2 you will see small short wavelets, crests have a glassy appearance and do not break. A force 3, (still a light breeze), and you will see large wavelets, crests begin to break. There may be scattered white horses. Frequent White Horses indicate a force 4 and this would not be a suitable wind condition for a beginner trying to learn.

Uphauling

Once past knee-deep water push the daggerboard down and back to it's vertical position and stand so that board & rig are downwind (the wind is behind you and the rig). Make sure the rig is downwind of the board, stand the opposite side of the board to the rig and push yourself up onto the board and onto your knees, position your hands either side of the mast, take the opportunity to move around a bit on the board to get used to the feel of the board underneath you. When you are ready stand up begin uphauling by bending down and reaching for the uphaul rope, be sure to bend your knees and keep your back vertical to the board, DO NOT bend your back or you will be setting yourself up for back problems in the future.

Video by gusdaver


Using your leg muscles (by slowly straightening your legs) and weight (by leaning back slightly) pull the sail partially out of the water. As the sail starts to come out of the water uphauling becomes easier and you should then work up the rope hand over hand until you reach the mast. Grab the mast with both hands just below the boom this is the "secure position" where the outer edge of the sail is just in the water.

  • number 1 Should you find that the rig is upwind (closest to the oncoming wind) at this point raise the sail above the water and let the wind get under the sail to swing the board round, make slow steady movements or the rig will take you with it as it swings round.
  • number 2 It is worth noting here a "good practice" for falling in the water, if you are prepared for a fall put your arms above your head as you fall, this will prevent you from surfacing from the water only to get knocked on the head by your mast!


Once you have reached the secure position try leaning the sail towards the back and front of the board (whilst holding it over the centre of the board) and turning the board under your feet to experiment with the way the board moves, you will find that leaning the rig towards the back of the board makes the board turn into the wind and visa versa. Keeping the rig over the centre is a matter of balance that will be second nature after a few sessions on the water.

Aim and go!

First find a point to aim for on the water, (preferably a buoy rather than somebody's million pound yacht) that is ahead of you and at right angles to the direction of the wind. Release the mast with your back hand and move your back foot a little towards the back of the board keeping it over the centre line. Move the front foot back so that your toes are almost in line with the mast and point it towards the front of the board, to provide balance.

Turn your body to face the direction in which you want to go then pull the rig towards the board until it is at right angles to the board. Place your back hand on the boom and pull the rig in so that the sail fills with wind, transfer your weight onto your back foot whilst doing so. Finally move your front hand onto the boom - the sailing position! Aim to sail at right angles to the wind towards your goal. This is called sailing on a reach or a beam reach.

Beware! a common mistake of beginners is to grab the boom too quickly!

Stance!

The position you adopt on the board is vital to stability and speed, the head should be up (looking where you are going!), the arms slightly bent (shoulder width apart) and the shoulders parallel to the boom. Your back should be straight and the bottom tucked in (many beginners adopt a going to the loo stance which should be avoided at all costs)!!! The front leg should be straight and the back slightly bent to control the power, feet should be shoulder width apart.


Steering!

Windsurfing is about balancing forces, steering makes use of this. When steering you have to take into account the centre of lateral resistance (CLR), which you can imagine as a vertical line going straight up from the daggerboard.

  • number 1 When the rig's force is balanced over the CLR the board travels in a straight line.
  • number 2 Moving the rig backwards means that the front turns upwind.
  • number 3 If the rig is leant forwards the power of the sail will be forward of the CLR and push the front of the board away from the wind.

How do I change speed or stop?

wind surfing

The power of the sail is controlled by the back hand, pushing this hand out and the clew away from you reduces the power in the sail as less wind is trapped in the sail. Sheeting in (pulling your back hand in and the clew towards the board) gains you maximum power in the sail. As wind increases you can use your body to counterbalance this power by leaning out. To stop release your back hand and grab the mast with both hands, returning to the secure position. If you need to stop very quickly you can lay the rig on the water, however you will then have to uphaul to get going again.

Wind direction and sailing!

There are different terms used for sailing against, across and with the wind, as illustrated below:

Sailing as close as possible to the wind is known as sailing close hauled, if you find that your sail starts to flap when you are trying to sail close hauled you will have entered the no-go zone, lean the rig forwards to bear away from the wind slightly and get yourself back onto a close haul. To sail upwind you must tack, this is explained in more detail below.


Running

Running is a term used to describe sailing when the wind is coming directly from behind and the sail is at right angles to the board. This is the most unstable of techniques and you will need a good sense of balance when sailing on a run! The daggerboard will help with stability but as wind increases the board is liable to tip up, at this point the daggerboard should be retracted.

Tacking

Sailing directly into the wind is impossible so sailing upwind involves tacking, whereby you must sail as close as possible to the wind then turn and proceed in the opposite direction again as close to the wind as possible.

Turning the front of the board through the wind and no go zone is achieved easily by returning to the secure position and leaning the rig towards the back of the board, this allows you to turn the board straight into the wind and beyond. Once you have turned your board through the wind shuffle around the mastfoot keeping your feet near the centre line. You will now be on the opposite side of the board and can transfer your hands back to the boom, then sail off as before. As your technique improves you will be able to do this in one clean movement keeping the board moving and not needing to get into a secure position at all. And when you get even better you will be able to simply throw the sail round hardly losing any speed at all! (see advanced tacking)


Gybing

Gybing involves changing course when sailing downwind. Gybing is basically when you are sailing on a reach and you turn the front of the board away from the wind onto a run (when the wind comes directly from behind) and back onto a reach while the sail crosses the front of the board. To perform a gybe lean the rig forwards towards the front of the board, keeping the sail filled, and steer the board away from the wind. To begin with you will find it easiest to shuffle round the sail holding the mast as in tacking. As you get better you can use the rig to propel you round and your weight to steer the board (see advanced gybing).


Advice!

Practice practice practice! If you practice tacking, gybing, running and steering regularly they will become second nature to you, practice going in and out of shore and getting to and from a particular target. Yes it is fun to go fast but not if you can't get back to the shore or turn properly when you need to, you'd be surprised how many good windsurfers there are out there who still can't master turns properly.


Rules!

When you are nearing any other vessel on the water the one with the wind coming from the starboard has right of way. As a simple rule if your right hand is nearest the mast on the boom you have right of way and if your left hand is nearest get out of the way!! Generally though you should give way to vessels or people that are less manoeuvrable, i.e. swimmers, canoeists etc.