Jun 14

How to Start Windsurfing


Email signup Ad post header
 

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 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.
(video of big monday)
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.

Prevalent wind directions and sources

North-East

The most common wind direction in El Médano is side-onshore from the left. This comes due to the trade winds (Pasat or Aliseos) that hit the island from the north-east. This in itself is a pretty reliable wind direction which would be a great thing in itself. However, there is a nice bonus to having Spains tallest mountain here.
What happens is that all the air that hits El Teide naturally has to go somewhere. Some of it goes over the mountain but the vast majority will compress to go around it. This results in us having more wind in El Médano than in the north of the island.
Therefore it is safe to say that if WindGuru predicts 20 knots, we may expect something more along the lines of 24-25 knots.
The only this ruining this great wind a little bit is that the town on El Médano has expanded bit by bit and every additional building makes the wind near the shore a little bit more gusty and unreliable. However, once you get out about 30-50 metres you will get pretty constant winds with smooth ocean waves.

West Wind

It is pretty rare that we get winds from the west. When this happens the wind is offshore. In these conditions we are extra wary of renting to people who aren’t very experienced.
The thing is that if the wind turns a little bit to come from the north, the big mountain that was such a benefit in the north-east winds, now acts like a wind-shield and blocks the wind entirely. Not a great turn of events if you are just on the tack outwards. Basically the same reason for which there is no wind in Playa de las Américas and Los Cristianos (for those of you who may have been) during the trade winds is what we experiencr if the wind comes too northenly. Even if the wind doesn’t dissappear, we also have to realize that the wind that reaches El Médano from the west has loads of mountains in the way, and one right mext to the bay itself, meaning that it will be pretty gusty.

There is one benefit that this wind however and that is that the waves do no have time to build up and so we have flat water for practicing those planing gybes or the freestyle moves. And if there happens to be a south swell running (or just after a storm) we get some nice, long and tidy eaves rolling into the bay, making for some mini Hookipa conditions. When this happens the bay usually fills up with lots of surfers, kitesurfers and all the windsurfers from El Médano AND El Cabezo since no one wants to miss out on such an epic event.

Waves explanation

One of the biggest hurdles for most people visiting El Médano for the first time is the waves. Not many people are used to having to overcome a decent shorebreak with the beachstart (as well as controlling the kit in the waves) or sailing on the ocean waves. This is something that has to be taken into account but I can also assure you that it only takes a few hours of practice when you know what to do. So if you plan on coming to El Médano, be sure to check out mu posts on how to windsurf through waves and how to windsurf with waves.

Weather

One amazing plus that Tenerife has, and that is the weather. With its subtropical climate, the summers are warm and dry and the winters are not cold. Definitely a shorty for the summer (although I just use my very worn out long suit) and maybe a 3.2 long wetsuit in the winter. As for regular clothing, usually a sweater will do at night, boardshorts and T-shirt with flip-flops during the day regardless of the season.

Surf Centers in El Médano

There has been an increase in the number of windsurf centers in El Médano. Here is the list in order of appearance:

El Medano Spot SCs

Surf Center Playa Sur

Surf Center Playa Sur logo

My dad took this center over back in the late 80’s after getting to know my mum and deciding to stay. They used to do everything themselves and gradually became bigger until today that they have 2-3 windsurf instructors (depending on the season), my sister has taken on the being in the office (I can’t imagine a more appropriate person to be taking care of our guests), and a team of 6 that do everything related to kitesurfing. We are at the very end of the beach, where the kitesurfers launch. We used to be on the other side of the Hotel Playa Sur as we were part of it (hence the name) but moved to where we now get to enjoy the sun until it sets.
The opening times are from 10:30 – 19:30 in the summer and from 10:00 – 18:00 in the winter. We often get asked why we don’t stay open longer. Basically because that is when the lifeguards end their day.
All the kit is Naish. The boards go from 62 litres all the way to 140 litres including wave boards, freestyle boards and freeride boards. With regard to the sails we have from 3.0 m to 7.1 in 0.5 metre steps. Up to 5.7 its all wave sails and upwards its just freeride slalom. We try to get the new kit in every year.
We rent our kit in the following manner: everyone who comes to rent will pick a fixed board. That will be their board and theirs alone for their stay. No one gets to touch it. Should the conditions not be ideal for their board, they can take any of the others qs long as it is nobody elses fixed board. The sails on the other hand are free for all, but since we have 9-10 sails of each sail rigged all the time, there is rarely any shortage. If you want to come here I strongly advise you to book your board in advance, specially in the high seasons (summer, christmas and easter).
You can check out everything on our 90’s style website here.

http://www.surfcenter.el-medano.com/

TWS (used to be OTC)

TWS logo

Harko took over this underground (as in its a pimped cellar, not that its clandestine) from what used to be the El Médano base of the OTC. They have kept the same idea of having a test centre where you can switch between boards and sails as you want as long as they are not in use. In essence it’s: first come, first served.
They are located in the first building after the Flashpoint Bar, Café and Restaurant when walking along the wooden promenade towards the Hotel Playa Sur.
You can check out their website here.

http://www.tws-windsurf.com/

Surf Médano

SurfMedano logo

This centre is right next to the Hotel Playa Sur at the end ofthe wooden promenade. It is where we used to be until the year 2000. Now it is run by a group of russians who took it over from Luca Orsi a few years ago. They rent out a small selection of different brands: Flikka, Novenove and RRD for the boards; and MauiSails, RRD and Point7 for the sails.
Here is their website (it is mostly in Russian).

http://surfmedano.ru/

Bahía Kitesurf

Bahia logo

The newest kid on the block. It is run by Rafa and his wife, two Canarian locals who also own the Bahia shop near the town square. Despite the name which comes from their main business being kitesurf lessons, they also rent windsurfing equipment. All their windsurfing kit is Gaastra. To check out their website follow the link below.

http://www.bahiakitesurf.com/

Shops

When it comes to shops related to watersports there are four main options:

El Medano Spot windsurf shops

El Picacho

El Picacho logo

This one is pretty central to the town. To get to it, the best point of reference is the hotel Médano which has a prommenade leading to the main road that goes from the entrance of El Médano to the harbour wall. About 30 meters before you get to that road you find the El Picacho shop on the left hand side. They are more focused on surfing so the only windsurfing related kit you might get (at a good price though) is wetsuits.

http://picacho.es/

Canarian Surf Fruit

Canarian Surf Fruit logo

This one is the closest to the windsurfing beach.It is right next to the Flashpoint (bar/restaurant,/café). They also don’t really focus on the actual windsurfing kit but more on accesories such as wetsuits and harnesses.

http://www.csf4u.com/

Cabezo Surf Shop

Cabezo Surf Shop logo

This one may be the furtherst away from the El Médano beach but it is by far the most complete for windsurfing. Pretty much anything you might need for windsurfing you can find here. It is on the El Cabezo side of the red square. Basically you just have to follow the road that goes from the bus stop at the red square to the El Cabezo bay and you will find it on the last corner on the right hand side.

http://cabezo.eu/

Godzilla Surf Shop

Godzilla Surf Shop logo

This one is the newest, but also the smallest shop af all the above. Nevertheless, they are also more focused on windsurfing so you can probably see them about harness lines and fins or foot straps. They can be found 20 metres beofre reaching the red plaza bus stop on the right hand side when going from the town entrance to the harbour.

http://www.godzillasurfshop.com/

El Médano, the town

The great thing about El Médano is that it is a pretty small town but in which there are plenty of places to go. This means that everything is withing walking distance. There are plenty of accomodation options to choose from as well as a large range of restaurants and cafés.

Accomodation

My dad created a list on the Surf Center website but the most complete version is in German (the site as grown a great deal and so staying on top of everything in all the languages is nearly a full time job in itself). I have done a more minimalist list here:
(Surf Center unterkunft)

You can also get other options through

Restaurants, cafés, bars, etc.

There are quite a few places to go for food and drinks in El Médano. There is apretty comprehensive list on Tripadvisor which you can check out here. My personal recommendations are Flashopint (surf bar with some incredible burgers), Wairua (amazing and huge italian style pizzas), Hao Ying Ying (Chinese) and La Boheme (creperie).

Alternatives to windsurfing

Windsurfing is a nature sport, and sometimes nature just doesn’t do as we would like. It happens from time to time that the wind just doesn’t come as hoped/anticipated/forcast.
Luckily for us, we are not in the middle of a desert and have plenty of other sports and activities that we can do if it were necessary. Here is a list of the things you can do:

So there it is , my guide to windsurfing in El Médano. I will try keep it as up to date it as I can. If there is anything you think is missing or iincorrect, please let me know in the comments. I want to keep this as updated and accurate as possible so any comments on how to improve it is appreciated.

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

 

Older posts «

%d bloggers like this: