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.
(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
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
Several years ago there
was a prize for the first person who could do a 360º 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.