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 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 :)


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.

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