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 »

Nov 27

Waist Harness vs Seat Harness

Learning how to windsurf with a harness is one of those abilities that opens the door to longer sessions on the water as it save you heaps of energy. At this point you will have to decide on the harness you want to get for yourself. Much like the wetsuit, it is one of those things that you will want to have your own of.

Waist Harness vs Seat Harness

Waist Harness vs Seat Harness

You essentially have two options when it comes to harnesses: a seat harness or a waist harness. Ultimately it comes down to preference. The most important factor to take into consideration is how it feels when you wear it. It should never be uncomfortable, have a single pressure point and much less hurt when using it. The more distributed the force in the harness, the more comfortable it will be to wear and the more fun we will have on the water.

Nevertheless, aside from comfort, each harness type has its advantages and disadvantages. I will break down the pros and cons of each type.

Waist Harness

This is the most common type of harness used for wave and freestyle.

Waist Harness

Pros

  • The main benefit of a waist harness is that it is very easy to get in and out of the harness lines since the hook is higher up.
  • Another benefit is that when sailing upwind, it allows you to turn your body so that you are facing the sailing direction as the harness usually slides around a little. At least for me, this makes for a relaxed body position when sailing upwind.
  • Putting on a waist harness is also faster and less hassle than a seat harness

Cons

  • Since the harness is high up, it is not really compatible with life jackets. In some locations such as Lake Garda where life jackets are compulsory, this may make the decision somewhat easier.
  • When planing, you not only have to keep the legs pushing forward but also remember to keep the hips pushing forward as well so you don’t fall into the monkey stance.
    If you fluctuate much in body size, the waist harness will become too big or too small pretty fast. Since it only stays in place due to a correct fit to your body,if it is too big, it can slide up to your chest pretty fast.
  • If you have a big belly, a waist harness is probably not for you. It is like wearing a belt loosely at the belly button, it will most probably slide up or down and be a nuisance.

Seat harness

Seat harnesses are pretty much made to sail comfortably. All they need is a cup holder. It is a harness mainly for freeriding, raceing and slalom sailing. Anything with long tacks.

Seat Harness

Pros

  • Since the hook is lower on a seat harness, we tend to have an easier time avoiding catapults.
  • Once you are planing, basically all you have to do is push your body away from the board with your legs and lean back. Due to the hook being at pelvis height, we don’t have to focus on pushing our hips forward to keep our body straight.
  • Only this harness works with big bellies since the hook is below the belly and the straps between the legs keep it in place.
  • The straps that go between the legs keep the harness in place so even if it is a little big, it is less likely to slide around than a waist harness.

Cons

  • They are a little bit more of a hassle to get in and out of the harness lines. Since the hook is at hip height, we have to thrust our hips forward more to hook in and out which can result in loss of stability.
  • This is not really a valid point but at 14 I chose a waist harness mainly because I thought a seat harness looked like a diaper :P

Waist Harness or Seat Harness?

So to answer the question: should I buy a waist harness or seat harness? My answer would be:

Waist Harness: For people without a big belly that sail in waves, or on short tacks and do not sail with life jackets.

Seat Harness: For people focusing on sailing with big sails, on long tacks, with life jackets or with big bellies.

Here is a fun article by Boards Magazine on the subject which is not only informative but also a pretty entertaining read.

 

Kite harness

Some people might consider buying a kitesurfing harness. There are two main differences between a kitesurfing harness and a windsurfing harness.
The hook on a kitesurfing harness is more closed meaning that it is harder to get in and out of. For kitesurfer this is perfect as they only hook in once to start, and hook out once to finish. For windsurfing this is less practical as you want to be able to hook out easily if you have to (for example to avoid a catapult).

Kitesurfing harnesses usually have a grip and/or a plastic cord on the back. One is for a second person to hold on to them in strong winds, the second is for the safety leash when they do unhooked tricks. Both are irrelevant in windsurfing.

So, if you are faced with the decision of whether to buy a windsurfing or kitesurfing harness, as long as you can change the hook for a windsurfing harness, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you feel comfortable when wearing it and leaning back in it. Some shops have a rope or harness line setup in which to hook in to and lean back to test the feel of the harness in the windsurfing position.

I personally have a windsurfing waist harness (with a windsurfing hook) that I also use for kitesurfing with no disadvantage whatsoever.

Let me know your thoughts and experiences with harness selection in the comments.

Nov 15

Windsurfing in Lake Garda

Windsurfing Lake Garda

There are a couple of places where you can go windsurfing in Lake Garda. Going from east to west there are the Conca d’Oro beach, Circolo Surf Torbole beach, the Foce Sarca beach and the Pier Windsurf beach.

Windsurfing Lake Garda

Conca d’Oro Beach

A nice family friendly beach where you have a lawn to assemble your kit, a bar and a parking place nearby. The beach is a pebble stone beach but they have a rubber mat there to stop your kit from getting damaged. If you sail far enough from the shore (50-70 metres) the wind is nice and stable as you will be sailing between the beach and the central part of the village.

Starting from this beach you have 3km of pure planing until you get to the Ponale.

Fabio, from waterwind.it, explains that the best wind of all is between the Conca d’Oro and Pier windsurf. You basically have to throw yourself into the water from the rocky coast next to the road.

Circolo Surf Torbole Beach

This place is Fabio’s favourite. Here you also have a nice grassy area to rig your equipment as well as a bar and restaurant for the after-session coffee/beer/lunch. Parking is available nearby so carrying your kit to this point is not too cumbersome. The same as at Conca d’Oro, there is a rubber mat to protect your kit when going into the water which the Circolo Surf Torbole have placed for everyone (when you are not using the beach to get in and out, make sure you put your kit on the racks provided and not on the beach so as not to disturb the other sailors).

If you manage to get over the small beach break you can have some nice rides up to Ponale from here as well.

Foce Sarca Beach

There are a couple of beaches between the Circolo Surf Torbole beach and the Foce Sarca beach but swimmers (from the camping areas) have priority here which is marked by buoys. At the end of the beach is the mouth of the river Sarca where you can find the Segana Surf Centre. Here you also have a grassy area for rigging and some places to get food and drinks as well as racks for the equipment.

If you go to the west end of the beach you have a beach for chilling of for getting started with windsurfing as it is sheltered.
Should you start from here you will have to sail towards the west due to the wind direction and the current of the Sarca river mouth. One thing you should watch out for is to turn around early enough so that you don’t get caught in the windless area close to the shore.

Prevalent wind direction and sources

The Peler

In the mornings the most prevalent wind is from the north. They call it the “Peler”, which blows all year round due to the cold air from the mountains moving to the warm air on the lake. In the south of the lake, intermediate sailors will have a great place to practice due to the wind being around 15 knots and the water being flat.

The Ora

The most common wind is the “Ora” which blows from the south from March to October. The pressure difference in cold air on the lake and the warm air in the mountains to the north is what makes this reliable wind build up around mid-day and last until the late afternoon. On a good day it can blow at up to 20 knots. Just make sure that you keep a distance to the shore so that the wind bouncing off the mountain doesn’t bounce back and eliminate the wind.

Waves

The water is generally flat near the shore where the wind blows off shore and the deeper you head onto the middle of the lake, the more choppy the water is going to get. On the onshore-wind locations you will have a little beach break which requires a little technique to overcome.

Rules and Regulations

Bear in mind that it is obligatory on the whole lake to wear a life vest. The police will fish you out of the water and fine you if you are sailing without one.

Surf Centers at Lake Garda

Circolo Surf Torbole

A private windsurf club which aside from offering lessons and storage facilities also organise various competitions and regattas. You can check out their website below.
http://www.circolosurftorbole.com/

Surf Segana

They are located at the Foca Sarca beach. They offer rental (Fanatic boards and North Sails), lessons, kitesurfing, catamaran and dinghys as well as mountain biking rental and tours. Here is their website:
http://www.surfsegnana.it/en/home.asp

Shaka Surf Center

Located and the Conca d’Oro beach, they offer lessons, rental (JP boards and Naish sails). Here you can check out their website.
http://www.shakasurfcenter.com/index_eng.php

Vasco Renna Surf Center

These guys are located directly behind the Circolo Surf Torbole. Their rental quiver is made up of Fanatic boards and Gaastra sails. The same as the rest, they also give lessons. Here is their website.
http://www.vascorenna.com/

Pier Windsurf

The only surf centre (as far as I know) on the west shore of Lake Garda. Aside from windsurf rental (RRD boards and Simmer sails) and kitesurfing, they also offer accommodation which is quite practical considering that they are quite far from the town of Torbole. Here is their website for info and booking.
http://www.pierwindsurf.it/english/index.php

Shops

Shaka Surf Shop

Not to be confused with the Shaka Surf Centre, these guys are located in the centre of Torbole and offer windsurfing equipment as well as clothing. To check them out you can go here.
http://www.shaka.it/index.php

Surf Planet

I can’t say much about this shop other than that it exists… Also, their website seems to only be in Italian. Anyways, here is their website.
http://www.surfplanet.it/

Torbole, the town

Torbole Lake Garda

Accomodation

In Torbole there are heaps of places for accommodation. Here is a list of hotels taken from trip advisor.

Restaurants, bars, cafés, etc.

As for places for eating out, here is another list, also from trip advisor.

Alternatives to windsurfing

Being such a touristic spot you have the advantage that you also have quite a few alternatives to windsurfing should your hands be full of windsurf blisters, your body tired, your family asking for some of your time or simply no wind. Here are some of the things you can do:

  • Trekking
  • Free-climbing
  • Mountain biking

I personally have never been to Lake Garda but have heard great things about it. This spot guide is a condensed version of the full article by Fabio Muriano over at waterwind.it. Go check out the complete article here.

I want to make this article as complete and helpful as possible so I would be really grateful for any recommendations, suggestions and feedback with regards to any of the sections (spots/beaches, surf centers, shops, accommodation, restaurants, etc.) in the comments below.

 

Nov 04

How to bend your legs to avoid falling in

Here is just a small tip I wanted to give away to start off the month. It has to do with one of the most avoidable falls into the water at the beginner level that I have seen.

Dropping the sail

When we are starting to learn how to windsurf we will be in the first phase of sail control – LINK -. This means that we will be pulled over forwards at the hip. The most typical consequence of this is that we let go of the sail with the mast already inclined over the water. Only then do people tend to let go of the back hand (when they don’t let go of the front hand by mistake).
The problem of letting go of the back hand at this point is that the clew will touch the water and get stuck, thereby pulling the sail out of our hands.
This in itself is not that big of a deal. We just pull the sail out of the water and start again and that’s it. The mistake that I see most people do is remain standing on the board completely upright. The consequence is that the first wave knocks then in the water.

The solution

The reson for the wave being able to make us fall into the water so quickly is that our center of gravity is very high up and once the support (the board) is moved, we simply fall in.
If we bend our legs however, our center of gravity is close to the board and we are less likely to fall in
So remember, when you drop the sail but are not thrown in the water, be sure to bend your legs so that you don’t fall in stupidly and waste energy unnecessarily.

Oct 30

Windsurfing in El Medano

Welcome to my hometown. I will naturally be a little bit biased (OK, very biased) in this review of El Médano as a windsurfing spot since this is where I grew up, learned to windsurf and had the most epic sessions of my life. Even so, I will try to be as objective as possible.

Windsurfing El Medano

Windsurfing in El Medano

Entry and Exit

El Médano is a pretty small spot when compared to so many other places out there. It is a relatively small bay with a pretty restricted entry and exit point. All in all you might have a stretch of 100 metres of beach on which you can try to get through the waves on, and that includes a few moments of unease from kite surf beginners having their kites hovering above your head. The kitesurfers section is exactly downwind of the windsurfing section with no signs or anything. It is just common knowledge that leewards from the bunker is the entry and exit point for kiters. They have their own problems among themselves with beginners and experienced riders having to use the same zone so it’s not like we as windsurfers can complain. Once you are past the shore break however, the water belongs to everybody.

General Sailing Area

Disclaimer: Reading over this breakdown of areas in the bay, I feel like I have painted a pretty scary picture of my favourite spot in the world. Trust me, if you just stay away from the Pigs Bay and remain inside the bay, you will have an amazing here.

The bay is limited by three factors. The first is the downwind area, the place you would arrive at if you have and accident. Here we call it the Pigs Bay. The second is the swimmers zone which is marked by buoys. The third is the outside of the bay, in other words, the open ocean. Aside from these limitations there are two other spots which are good for riding, the harbour wall and El Cabezo.

Pigs Bay

This is the place where the normal winds blow to and in which the current goes. After a certain pony there is no more sand on the shoreline and only rocks. For a few hundred metres these rocks are flat and slippery and just a pain in the neck to get over with the gear. The most likely scenario is that you will ding/small your board, scrape the fin and in general have a bad time. This is the second place I warn people to stay away from, especially if you are not a very experienced sailor. This is a popular zone for kite surfers as you have some decent waves here. For windsurfers on the other hand, the mountain (Montaña Roja) creates a vacuum of wind and therefore unreliable wind. You need a bigger sail than in the rest of the bay and you will very often find yourself without wind. I have had many frustrating moments of being stopped in my tracks, having to balance on the sinker board and just get washed away by a shoulder high wave.
A little bit further, towards the edge of the bay, the rocks become pretty mean. Sharp and with a few sea urchins.

Swimming Area

There is a chain of buoys which marks this area. Depending on how much money the city hall is willing to invest, they may all be there, or not, in different sizes and colours. At the moment of writing this they are yellow and a few are missing. While they are marked for swimmers, it wouldn’t really be necessary. The wind that arrives there is what has passed through the buildings of the town and is very light, gusty and unreliable.

The Open Ocean

The most dangerous area to be in. There are two reasons for which I say this. The first should be a no brainer: if anything happens to you (injury or equipment breaking), it is hard to spot you. For one thing, it is far away, and for another, the waves build up a lot making the moments in which you would be visible more scarce. The second reason is that the current out there does not go into the bay but past the mountain. Right next to the mountain the water compresses and builds up speed. A friend of mine measured it with a motor boat and said that it ranges from 4 to 6 knots out there. I know from first hand experience that even though you are sailing on a close hauled reach, do a perfect tack and sail back on a close hauled reach, you still arrive at the same point you started off on. Not further upwind. This means that if you are out there and you have a problem, no one will see you and you get carried away by the current in no time, direction Florida. The only thing you can do there is swing perpendicular to the current until getting ashore somewhere (no more nice sandy beaches available) and hope that you are missed. So they come looking for you. I don’t like to be a scaremonger but two people were lost in the beginning of 2014, to be found dead 2 days later. El Médano is a relatively safe bay, but only if you stay inside the bay.

The Harbour Wall

If you want to get into wave riding, this is the place. If you take a session to slowly test out haw close you can get to the shore and always stay on the conservative side, you will have a good time here. There is nearly always a decent wave that builds up here. The only time to avoid is from two hours before to two hours after high tide. At that time the waves hit the harbour wall and bounce back forming a backwash that mixes with the original waves and results in VERY choppy water. Good luck gybing successfully in that, let alone riding a wave. In that area the wind is also usually a little bit stronger that in the bay so if yo would sail a 5.0 in the bay, take 4.7.

 

El Cabezo

Where do the pros go when they get bored of the bay and the wall? El Cabezo. More wind, and much bigger waves. Oh, and sharp rocks in shallow water. Yep, El Cabezo is great fun if you know (and I mean KNOW) what you are doing. The waves are powerful and once you land near the rocks, the wind is very unreliable due to the buildings that are downwind (yes, downwind). I personally have only partially lost a fin on those rocks but if you hang around for a while you will get to hear heaps of stories, especially about the Godzilla Rock which is hard to spot in time.

One big downside I see in El Cabezo is the localism that still appears to prevail. If you are just going to ‘try’ to ride a wave, be prepared to have a few ‘hot shots’ sail up close and shout at you. If you are going to go here, you should know how to ride well.

Here is a slightly outdated video which sums up El Médano nicely :)


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