Jun 14

How to Start Windsurfing


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Disclaimer: I believe I should strongly advise you to get an instructor to teach you how to windsurf. Especially if it’s going to be your first attempt ever at windsurfing. Windsurfing is a very technical sport and you can make a lot of mistakes and go through a lot of frustration if you try to learn on your own or strain a friendship if you accept having a friend teach you. All the material I give away is intended mainly to serve as a refresh so you can correct any bad habits that might have sneaked in throughout the unsupervised sessions and hindering your progress.

 Safety

Windsurfing is a sport that is done in a potentially hostile environment. This means that before we hit the water it is important that we must take the time to ensure that we will be getting back to shore. There are many thorough articles on safety out there and I will write one myself shortly. For now keep in mind these checklist items:

  • Check your windsurf gear to make sure it isn’t faulty and breaks while on the water
  • Avoid windsurfing in offshore winds (if you do, keep close to the shore, if possible where you can still stand)
  • Don’t go windsurfing alone. If there are others on the water they can get help if need be
  • Wear clothing that will keep you warm if you need to swim for at least an hour

Check out the safety recommendations at learntowindsurf.com or check out my post on safety in windsurfing for more info.

 

How to Windsurf

Now to the actual learning how to windsurf:

Before we start, we must first determine the direction of the wind and adjust the board and sail position accordingly. The board and sail will be put into the T-position. This means that the board will be set out 90º to the wind, and the sail 90º to the board pointing downwind.

How To Windsurf - T Position

Now with one foot on either side of the mast-foot we grab the up-haul and making sure we stand up straight start pulling up the sail. Why the back straight? The sail can be anywhere from 2.5 to 6m2 big, maybe even bigger. All that surface is filled with water which makes it very heavy. Trying to lift this through our back instead of the legs can and will hurt your back. Pressing up with your legs is a simple way to avoid pulling a muscle or doing other serious damage to your back. This factor is usually something we forget about quickly, especially as we get tired. Try not to forget! The easiest way to pull out the sail is to stand up straight and to turn our shoulders and move up the up-haul line with our hands until the mast is in our reach with the next shoulder turn. Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 26

Windsurfing in Waves

One of the biggest hurdles for beginners coming to El Médano is the ocean swell. Getting through the beach break is hard enough (which I have explained here) but windsurfing in waves and getting back to the beach is usually a big problem.

Windsurfing with waves neutral

What is the problem?

You see, the swell comes into the bay in the same direction as the wind, side onshore. This means that when we are sailing away from the beach, the waves come from the front. Not much of a problem as we have the whole length of the board as well as our stance to reduce the impact of the waves. When returning however, the board is positioned so that the wave comes from the side, even a little from behind. What happens then is that the wave hits the board from the side and pushes it along about 0.5-1 meter (2-3 feet). For us this is like someone pulling a rug from under out feet: our feet get pulled away with the board and our shoulders are thrown backwards.

The solution

There is a simple solution to this rug-pulling effect: sheet in with the sail. In other words, do as you would do if the wind suddenly dropped. Sheet in to get more power in the sail so that you get held/lifted up with the wind. A very important thing to remember is KEEP THE FRONT ARM STRAIGHT. I have written before on the importance of keeping the front arm straight and this is one of the occasions in which it is VITAL to focus on keeping the front arm straight. Our instinct will be to pull both arms close to the body as in ony other situation, if we are falling backwards or want to pull ourselves up, we bend both arms. In this circumstance, we must force ourselves to do the counterintuitive: bend only the back arm and keep the front arm straight.

Windsurfing with waves during
For me it is always a key moment of joy the first time that a student manages to overcome the urge to bend the front arm as is rewarded by the wind keeping them up.

That’s only part 1 of the problem, now comes part two

Once the wave has gone through from underneath us, the board goes back down on the back of it. This means that the rug is now pulled (to a lesser extent) in the other direction causing our shoulders to lurched forward.

The solution

It’s simple, just the opposite of part one: sheet out. Basically take power out of the sail. This way, since our shoulders are already leaning back, we will not be pulled over forwards uncontrollably.

Windsurfing with waves after

Note: I am not saying you have to let go of the back hand completely. We don’t want to lose control of the power in the sail. Of course, if we react a little too late, we will have to let go rather than allow the sail to pull us over into the water. The idea is to just reduce the power in the sail by, let’s say, pulling less.

A constant task

These two movements will have to be done constantly, alternating between one and the other as the waves come at you non-stop. You will probably have a breather from time to time if the wave set has gone through (for ocean swell).

Windsurfing like this is not the problem, the problem is getting into the windsurfing position

As I tell every student of mine, once we are in the windsurfing position, counteracting the motion of the waves is not that hard to get the hang of as it is the same type of sail control that we need anyways in on flat water, just more exaggerated. The real problem is getting into the basic windsurfing position. I have explained how important it is to internalize the mast, feet boom sequence in my first post on how to windsurf.
Essentially, as long as the sail is touching the water, we have some resistance on which to hold on to and once we have both hand on the sail (one on the mast and one on the boom or both hands on the boom) we have control of our body position through the wind powering the sail. The problem is the split second in between these two stages.
As soon as the sail leaves the water, we are only dependant on our balance, which in the waves is not that easy to maintain. Therefore, our objective must be to overcome this balance phase as quickly as possible and get into the basic windsurfing stance. I describe the correct process in my first post on how to windsurf.

Look at the wave!

This may seem either like common sense or as something irrelevant but let me tell you, very few people actually do this. Once I actually get them to do as I say, they are able to see the wave and know at which moment to pull out the sail without getting hit by a wave in the most inconvenient time possible.

I hope this short guide to coping with waves has been helpful and that next time you get the board pulled away from under you, you at least know what is going on and (at least in theory) know what to do about it. It then just becomes a matter of learning to pull or let go in the correct moment and the correct amount.

Have you had trouble with waves making life difficult for you when windsurfing? Has this guide been useful to you? I would love to know how you get on.

Sep 28

The 3 Stages of Windsurfing Sail Control

Over the years I have been able to differentiate the 3 stages of sail control that people go through in windsurfing before one can say that they have control of their sail. I call them the step-dance, the hula-hoop and the windsurfer. They basically describe how you react to the changes in your body position that is affected by the wind and waves. I will go through these to help you determine at which stage you are at and what you need to do to get to the next level.

Level 1: The step-dance

This is the first stage. This stage describes the most natural reaction we have to getting pushed or pulled around as is the case on a windsurf board in the early attempts. Every change in our body position is corrected by moving our feet around. So if a gust hits us we get pulled forward and to compensate that displacement we move one foot or another. Good thing that we start off with a big, wide board. Overcoming this stage is the greatest limiting factor to being able to move to a smaller board.

Level 2: The hula-hoop

Once we learn to feel the changes in the sail pressure and our body position sooner we no longer need to move our feet. However, while we keep the feet in place, we still haven’t got the reaction to a gust or a lull down fast enough and so we move the hips either forward or backward to maintain the centre of gravity over the buoyancy of the board. In this stage we are still using the sail only for forward propulsion and not yet for stability.

Level 3: The windsurfer

The final stage and the way we should be windsurfing. People that have reached this level are easy to spot as they show no hectic movements on the board. As the gust hits them the simply sheet out in time to release some of the wind pressure in the sail so that they don’t get pulled over. They may even lean back with a straight body and sheet in to use the extra power.

So there you have it, the three stages of sail control that I have been able to differentiate. It is one more aspect that I can point out to students to show them that they are progressing when they feel that they haven’t improved. If you have any other subtle differentiation that you have noticed I would like to read of it in the comments.

Sep 23

How to Windsurf – the Tack on a Sinker Board

 

 

One of the most elegant maneuvers if done right is the fast tack. A smoothly carried out tack on a sinker board wth an upright body position throughout the move is pretty impressive, especially in waves. When the pros do it, it looks like they teleport onto the other side in the blink of an eye. Let’s have a look at how it is done.

IMG_8856

First off, I think it is important to remember that this is a move that we should tackle step by step. Just because you are able to plane and gybe on an 80 litre board, doesn’t mean that you should be trying to learn the fast tack on it. Start with bigger boards and move down. It may seem like a nuissance to have to go back to 120 litres on a day that you would be able to sail on 100 litres but trust me, the extra volume will forgive you a lot more of the many mistakes and missteps that you are going to undoubtedly make during the first 50 attempts. Only once you have it down on bigger boards does it make sense to master it on the next size down. This small piece of advice, when followed, will save you a lot of frustration. Trust me.

That’s my two cents out of the way, let’s talk technique.

Speed

We are trying to get through the wind on a board that sinks when not planing. This means that we must do most of the footwork while we are planing. Make sense? Good, let’s move on.

Luffing up

At speed we will move the front hand close to the mast and the front foot in front of the mast foot. Just like with the beginner board tack, we want to set ourselves up so that the ammount that our feet have to move is as small as possible. The steps we need and the further we need to move our feet, the more time we will require. Time during which the board slows down and sinks.
Make sure that your weight is over the front foot. As we turn into the wind we will be trapped on the old side of the sail if the weight is on the back foot. Keeping the weight on the front foot will keep the board horizontal (so we dont lose speed due to the back of the board being pushed down) and it allows our feet to change position under our body. If our body weight is offset from where our feet hold us over the board, we will topple over as soon as we try to move our feet.

Small tip:

n chppy water or waves, be sure to choose a moment just after the wave or chop. This will provide you with a moment of weightlessness during which you can move on to the other side of the sail without having your board be pushed around under you.

Get on the other side of the sail

Before the board is in the wind, jump on the other side, the back foot replacing the front foot and the hands getting on the other side of the boom as quickly as possible (it is important to keep the clew close to the water so that the feet have more space to move).
Speed is key here. The faster we get on the other side, the more steady the board will remain. When I get asked about the secret of the fast tack I always reply: Fast feet!

Continue a little on the lee side

We can remain on the lee side for a few metres, mainly to get our balance sorted out. This time frame will get reduced naturaly as we get better. Although I admit that one of the things I find elegant about the fast tack is continuing on the lee side for a second or so before going through the wind but that’s just my opinion.
To achieve this it is important to keep the front arm straight and controlling the power that is pushing us up only with the back hand. If we need more power we can always bring the front arm closer and bend our knees but it is very hard to get the sail down again once we are vertical on the board with the sail pushing against us horizontally as opposed to us laying on the sail and the wind pushing us upwards. The second scenario provides us with a greater buffer to react to gusts, etc.

Turn through the wind

Push with the back hand while keeping the sail low (try to push the clew along the water surface. If the sail is pushed into the wind with the sail too high we will just bear away and get pushed over by the sail.

Bear away on the new side

As the board turns through the wind we can bring the mast forward and sheet in on our side to bear away on the new tack

Start planing again

Be ready to sheet out or lean back as the board bears away, pushing with the front foot into the board and pulling the back on the board under your body with the back foot. This will make the board bear away and once it is on a broad reach get the board planing again.

Sinker board tack

To recap.

  • Start by planing
    Luff up into the wind with the front foot in fron tof the mast foot and the front hand close to the mast
    Keep your weight over the front foot
    Get on the other side of the sail
    Make sure you are stable on the new side by controlling the power with the back hand and keeping the front arm straight
    Turn through the wind by pushing the clew towards the wind while keeping it close to the water
    Bring the mast over the front of the board and sheet in to bear away on the new side
    Push into the board with the front foot and pull the back foot under your body to start planing again

 

Sep 15

How wide should the foot straps be?

 

I don’t know how many feet I have looked at in the last few weeks. No, I don’t have a foot fetish… sorry to disappoint :)

No, it was because I was asked if the foot straps were the right size. So here is my take on how big/wide the straps should be.

Foot Strap Screw Placement

When you put your foot in the straps, the sides should be touching. Not too tight as you want to be able to get in and out easily. Also, you don’t want them too wide. I have seen many who have them too wide and to make up for them being too loose they have to set them up very tight so as to only allow the toes to fit.

Foot Strap Width

You want about half your foot to fit in the strap. The idea is to be able to get in and out easily when you want but also to stay in securely when you need it. The consequences of them being either too wide or too narrow are both very unpleasant.

Too wide

Foot strap too wideFoot strap too wide

If the straps are too wide we risk two things. The first is not that problematic: being pulled out in a catapult. The second is pretty dangerous as if the strap is too wide we can end up with the entire foot slipping through the foot strap be it after a sideways landing of a jump or too much pressure on the back foot in choppy water. In that case I would definitely prefer a spin out.

Too narrow

Foot strap too smallFoot strap too narrow

If the straps are so tight that we barely get our tows in we lose a lot of control over the board on one hand, and lack of security against catapults on the other. The first is due to the fact that we can’t lever the board with our foot to keep in flat as we could with a wider foot strap. The second come front it being really difficult to resist the pull of the sail with only our toes as opposed to the whole foot. It is like wanting to do pull-ups with only your fingers instead of with the entire hand.

Ultimately the straps should fit around the foot nice and snug. As a rule of thumb, place your hand in the strap and have it fit loosely. This is a good width to start off with. I would begin with the straps being a little too tight and try going wider and wider after each tack until you find the width that you feel the most comfortable with.

Hand in Foot strap

Correct foot strap width Correct foot strap width

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 11

Rules of Right of Way in Waves

A while back I wrote about the rules of right of way in windsurfing. While those rules apply for 99% of occasioins, Once we get into spots with waves the rules change. In this case we have to know who has priority since the end result can easily be an injury or broken equipment that could have been avoided.

IMG_9138

Coming in on the wave has priority over those sailing out

If toy are sailing out towards the wave and there is someone riding it, it is up to you to get out of the way. The person on the wave is more predictable as they only have one direction to go to stay on the wave: down the line. The best way to get out of the way is to bear away downwind. For one thing it provides us with speed, which means we get more clearance between us and the person on the wave. It also means we can jump if we wanted to. Secondly, usually the wave breaks upwind meaning that if we luff up to avoid the wave rider, we most likely have to sail into the foam which will slow us down and fall prey to the next wave in the set.

Exceptions

There are exceptions to every rule so here are some. We need to always keep in mind that common sense should be applied at all times. If the person sailing out has no wind to make an evasive maneouver it is on the wave rider to avoid the collision.

The one closer to the peak of the wave has priority

When two people are on the same wave the rule has been taking from surfing where the one closer to the peak has prefference. That person has made a better evaluation on the wave and has found the point where it starts to break, the best place to surf it.

Don´t be in the waves if you are not going to surf them

As a closing note, I don’t mean to sound like a wave hogger but there is nothing quite as frustrating as following the rules and giving away a beautiful wave to someone who just sails along it as if there were no wave. With this I mean, not riding the wave but just “running away” from the wave. If you are just going to be sailing back and forth, don’t do it in an area where others want to actually ride waves. It just shows a lack or respect towards other sailors who go out of their way to find waves only to have to watch a good wave go unridden. Waves are rare in the sense that you only get 4 – 7 in a set and sometimes these sets can take quite a while to arrive. This means that there are a limited number of waves you are going to have lining up just right on all of your tacks during and hour or two hour long session. In the same way that if you are learning how to do a power gybe you would find it annoying if there were always someone practicing the water start in the only spot with flat water and constant wind. Not a great example but you get what I mean.
If you want to get into wave riding, do so in waves that are for your level so that you can at least attempt to ride the wave you are sailing in and work your way up bit by bit from there.

Ultimately, as with the standard rules of right of way, it is all about common sense and common courtesy. The rules are there to make the experience safer and more enjoyable. If you mess up (like made a mistake, didn’t see the other rider, or thought you would make it, etc.) just apologise and if you are on the receiving end of such a mistake, accept the apology.

Aug 30

How to get a windsurfing mast unstuck

Every couple of weeks, usually towards the end of the day, we get a windsurfer walking up to the center desperate to get a few strong hands together to help him with his mast that just wont come apart.

Storing a full length mast or driving around with one is a nightmare. On top of this we usually don’t find out about the stuck mast until we are going to head home at the end of the day which is usually when there are less people left to help us on the beach.

Why does it get stuck?

Before we put the two pieces together, grains of sand and dirt can get on the surfaces where they join. When we try to get them apart after a session on the water we notice that they are stuck. Even if we put the mast together completely clean, in the water there is sand, mud and dirt which gets in through the slot where they connect.

Prevention

The best solution is preventing the mast from getting stuck in the first place. We do this by keeping the shaft and the inside of the mast clean, prefferably with soapy water and a clean cloth right before putting it together. Once the two pieces are together, put duct tape (or equivalent) over the point where they join. This will prevent any sand getting in on the water.

NOTE: I have no experience with camber sails but from what I have read this duct tape solution doesn’t work for cam sails. Check out Rogers post towards the end.

To get the mast unstuck

That’s all nice to know but what if you already have the problem? That is probably why you are reading this post in the first place. Well, do not dispair, there are a couple of tricks that you can apply.

Lubricants

Puring soapy water or oil over the opening and letting is settle in a little bit can loosen all the dirt inside. In order to get it as far in the mast as possible, bend the mast in various directions so that the liquid can seep in properly. You will properly have to do this a couple times.

Bending the mast

To bend the mast, find two points that are a little bit elevated and bounce the center of the mast as much as you can. After 15 minutes of this you can give it another try.

Two booms of doom

Another sneaky solution is to attach a boom on each side of the joint and to use the extra lever to turn the pieces in opposite diretions. This techique is criticised as it is said to possible damage the mast. Therefore the next method is suggested.

Tug of war

Get as many strong hands onto each side of the mast as you can find and have everyone turn the mast ends in opposite directions (as in each side turing clockwise or both anti-clockwise). If it doesn’t work in one direction don’t immediately dispair. Try out turning it in the other direction for a couple of senconds and switch back to the other side and alternate a few until it comes apart. Usually 3 or 4 attempts will do the trick if not less.

Separate stuck mast

As a fun anecdote, my dad once won a crate of bubbly on a bet that he could get a mast apart. To be fair he had 28 windsurf teacher apprentices who all got together, fitting as many hands on the mast as physically possible and after two attempts of everyone turning counter-clockwise and them clockwise they finally got it apart to the crunching of sand grains.

Other methods

There have been heaps of discussions on forums providing ideas and suggestions. In one they talk about the “Sword in the Stone” (of King Arthur) equivalent of masts. Another one that is interesting is to fill the mast top with water from a hose.

Aug 24

How to flip a beginner board easily

One thing that happens almost at least once per lesson is that my student is pulled by the sail more than expected, rather than letting go holds on to the back hand and is forced to step towards the rail with one foot. This sinks the rail and ends ups tipping the board over and falling in.

This leaves them in the water and with the board upside-down. I have seen endless combinations of how people have tried to flip the board back the right way up. From the correct and effortless way to completely inefficient passing through only managing through raw strength. Here I will explain the ways to avoid and the best way to do it.

How not to do it

Push upwards from the water

Board Flipping 6

This is the least efficient way as we are trying to lift a heavy board around a large axis against its buoyancy without having solid ground under our feet. Thats a bit of a mouthful to say that all we really do is push ourselves underwater since we sink easier than the board.

Rotating the board with the arms like a steering wheel from the bow or stern

Board Flipping 5For those strong enough this one has worked. It is still by far not efficient since we waste a lot of energy just for this petty task.

The correct way

Here is how to do it properly:

  • Turn the board so that the mast is at 90° to the board
  • Go to the center of the board (at the position of the mast foot).
  • Get onto the board (yes, on the bottom side of the board)
  • Grab the far end and put your knees onto the close end
  • Lean backwards onto your knees, pulling the far end towards you util the board has turned

Board Flipping 1

Board Flipping 2

Board Flipping 3

Things to avoid in the correct way

Do not try to turn it towards the mast

Board Flipping 4If the mast is in the way, no matter how heavy we are leaning onto our side with the knees, the board will not turn. Also, make sure the mast really is at nearly 90° to the board. If it is in line with the board it will make turning it more difficult than it has to be.

Don’t let go of the board before it is turned completely

When we have turned it more than half way, some consider the job done and just let go. I recommend to hold onto it until it has flipped over completely with us under water and then just pulling ourselves to the surface that 0.5 seconds later. By letting go of the board you lose control of its position with respect to you. This means that it can either flip back into the wrong position or even worse, keep turning towards you faster than you expected and hit you on the head. Just hold on all the way.

A tip for the correct way

As in all aspects of windsurfing, we want to see how the wind can help us save energy. In this case this occurs if the mast is pointing into the wind. In this instance, when we lift the far rail, the wind pushes against it from the other side, making it flip over easier and faster. This is a useful tip for the lighter sailors like children.

Aug 18

Use Suncream!

I have written on this subject before the summer in my post “Avoid Sunburn!” but since this is a pretty important subject I wanted to remind you all by sharing this video that has gone viral recently.

WEAR SUNSCREEN!!!

Aug 14

Where should the foot-straps go?

Most people who get a new board will be stuck when it comes to screwing on the foot straps. There are plenty of options to choose from but the correct one depends on our level and the conditions.

First steps

When you start with the foot straps I recommend putting them as far forward as possible. Since we are doing the transition from having our feet near the mast foot to putting the feet into the straps further back, we want to make the difference between these two stances as similar as possible.

Foot Strap Position

Big boards (slow planing)

In the initial phases of windsurfing in the straps we will still be standing pretty upright even while planing. For this case it is good to have the straps pretty centred so as to keep the pressure into the board more over where most of the volume is. Planing slowly with the straps close to the rails will only sink the boards side and slow you down even more.

Big boards (fast planing)

As we pick up speed, the fin will start to act as a foil and begin to lift the board out of the water which then tilts downwind. If we have the feet in the foot straps close to the centre of the board we will not be able to avoid this. Therefore, as we begin to achieve high speeds consistently (and have the board lift up every now and then) we know we have to put the foot straps closer to the rail.
Just a small note here: when you get into the straps in this set up, try to do so before you start planing. The straps on the side will force out feet to be close to the water and it will happen every now and then that the heel catches the water. The faster you are going, the more it will trip you up and the more likely you will have a pretty little catapult.

Small boards

Usually the small boards are used in choppy conditions or in waves. Personally I have always felt more control over the board with the straps closer to the centre in these situations. Especially when wave riding where you have to put pressure on the downwind rail while in the straps of the upwind rail.

More control

For more control ver the board in general i recommend putting the straps further apart. This creates a large lever for us to control the board with our feet.

 

I hope this has given you a bit of a better insight as to where you want to put the foot straps. Naturally our body size and weight will have an impact on where we will feel most comfortable and in most control over our board so you will have to try out different options to see what works for you. However, these guidelines should give you a better idea of what you need to change instead of shooting in the dark. For more tips and tricks from Boardseeker Magazine and pro riders check out their page here.

Let me know how you get along in the comments or if there is any other observation you think should be included.

 

Aug 07

Where should the mast foot go?

Mast Foot Position

This question has and is plaguing a lot of intermediate level windsurfers. It gets a lot of debate thrown at it and is often given as the reason for some maneuver not working or the windsurfing experience being unpleasant. Let me try to shed some light on the matter.

There are mainly two reasons for which we might put the mast-foot further forward or backward. Both are related to board handling. Here they are:

1. Beginner to intermediate planing: up until the point where we are just getting the hang of planing, the mast-foot position will determine how easy it will be for is to bear away from the wind and how mich effort we have to put into going on a close haul -LINK-. The further forward the mast-foot is, the firther forward the whole sail will be, and with it the sails pressure point. By moving the mast foot forward we are in essence moving the sails pressure point away from the fins (or skegs) pressure point which makes it easier to bear away from the wind. This is a good trick for those who have trouble with the board turning into the wind when they get into the foot-straps.
2. Advanced (fast) planing: once we are planing at high speeds we will be at a level where we no longer have to make use of small adjustments to the mast-foot position in order to get going or feel comfortable while sailing. At that point we need to find the position which give the most speed and the most control for the conditions. When we position the mast-foot towards the back we are able to get more speed (at least according to slalom racers, I still haven’t found the physical explanation for this) whilst the further forward we position the mast foot, the more control we have over the board as the pressure of the sail is transferred into the board further forward, keeping the nose down. Therefore, on flat water the mast-foot will do better more towards te back whereas in choppy conditions, putting the mast-foot further forward will provide us with more control.

We shouldn’t forget that these are only guidelines for gaining more control over the kit when sailing. Our size will also have an impact on where we will feel the most comfortable so try out different positions for each sail size in different water conditions and see which is the one that offers you the most enjoyable windsurfing experience.

I hope this helped. Let me know your experiences with testing various mast-moot positions.

 

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