Pumping in windsurfing is a technique that is not really talked about much. Many people do it intuitively, others can’t seem to get the hang of it, and the rest have no idea how to explain it properly. I was only made aware of this recently and noticed that even in the vastness of the internet there is not much information on pumping. So here goes:
I like to break pumping down into four types as the techniques varies on the wind available to us and the purpose of pumping.
Pumping in near zero wind
In my post on how to get back if the wind drops, I describe how to move the sail in a way that pushes the mass of air to the stern, thereby pushing the board forwards. Then moving the sail forwards with the sail surface in line of movement to reduce the surface causing drag
Pumping in low winds
One of the most fun parts of my beginner lessons is getting back to the beach at the end. No, not because I am desperate to end the lessons but because it gives my students the chance to ride a wave with a windsurf board. There is very little else that will get a beginner hooked to windsurfing than the sensation of gliding down a wave (except for when I pull them so that they start planing, which is basically the same sensation). There is however a very important element to riding a wave with big boards which will make or break the ride and that is making sure that the board does not dive underwater with either the nose or the leeward rail.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Since its inception in the 1970’s windsurfing kit has come a very long way. Those triangle sails with wooden masts and booms. Heavy 4 meter boards with a keel. Nothing like the lightweight boards out of composite material and sails with a rigid profile of today. However, this big transformation of the last 40 years is something that has kept going until recent years.
Since the turn of the milenium, boards have changed in shape and size. They used to be measured more in length as they tended to have the same proportions regardless of discipline. Nowadays, aside from the fact that the disciplines have caused variations in the proportions of the boards, the trend has also become to make the boards shorter and wider. This has become a hurdle for many windsurfers who have been away from the sport for a couple of years and want to get back into it. The technique for sailing has changed and what used to be the norm doesn’t quite work anymore. Here are some tips on how to make the change to a more modern board.
It helps to remember that, as the older boards were longer, the distance from the fin to the mast foot was greater. This meant that the sails pressure point was relatively far forward which would cause the board to bear away easily. To read why, check out my post on steering. When we switch on to newer/more modern boards, we will find that they tend to be shorter and wider. In being shorter, the distance from the mast foot to the fin is less. This causes the pressure point of the sail to be further back with the same body stance and sail dimensions.
A side note, the materials and details of the sails have varied (read improved) over the recent years by becoming lighter, more durable and offering better handling. The general dimensions however, like mast length and boom length, have not changed much in the last 15 years. The biggest change in this regard has occured in the boards sector. This means that while the location of the sails pressure point and out body position remain the same. The fact that the distance from the mast-foot to the fin has changed is what throws us off.
So, in short, the reason why the more modern boards tend to luff up so much is that the pressure point of the sail is now further back with the same body position.
How to do we solve this?
There are two ways to solve this issue. The first is to lean the mast forward more to get going. This will probably mean moving further forward with your feet as this will not require you to alter your body position as much. The problem comes when we start to pick up speed and start planing. This is when we start to lean back and move our feet backwards to get in the footstraps.
Try to focus on keeping the sail in its position when you move your feet back. This may feel akward at first as it will mean our arms and upper body are now forced to be in a different position with respect to the lower body than we are used to. You may feel that you are constantly just about to be catapulted. A solution is to not think of it as leaning the sail forwards but more like positioning the mast towards the wind (due to us leaning towards the wind to hold the sail power) and actively pushing into the mast foot with our front hand, thereby pushing the board nose away from the wind (like when bearing away for the beachstart). This will take some practice but with a little body tension we manage to lever the board away from the wind with our front hand and the back foot.
You can even try to do this with the back foot already in the foot-strap and with the front foot just behind the mast-foot and make a lever with the two while using the new sail position to hold your body up and generate the propulsion.
The other trick is to move the fin and the mast foot as far apart from each other as possible. This causes the sails’ pressure point to be further forward with respect to the fins point of resistance in the water which in turn helps to bear away from the wind.
I hope this has made sense to you and that it helps you when you next try to cope with one of those pesky new boards that try to luff up all the time. If you have any questions just let me know in the comments.
Every windsurfer has had one, and it becomes the fear of every harness user, especially at the beginning. They can be painful and dangerous. If you don’t know what I am talking about, here is a video compilation showing us that it happens to the pros.
Now admittedly we won’t be having such extreme impacts since we are not going as fast or with as much power as these guys so I hope I haven’t scared anyone away from the sport.
I will first talk about how to avoid getting catapulted and then on the best reaction you can train yourself to do if you are already flying through the air.
Preventing the Catapult
There are a few alterations to our kit and body position that we can apply:
Learn to read the wind and waves
Most catapults come through being caught off guard by a gust or wave. Learning to read the wind changes on the water and the way the chop forms will help you massively to see what is coming at you.
Go down a sail size
I used to love sailing way to overpowered. To the point that if I didn’t do at least 2 catapults in one session I wasn’t satisfied. That phase has passed thankfully but it shows that a good way to reduce your likelihood of catapulting is to get good at planing with a smaller sail.
Long harness lines
If we have too short harness lines, the reaction time available to us when something changes unexpectedly is very small. With practice we become better and it becomes more comfortable to control the sail with short lines. Until then go for longer lines which give you a bit more leeway, more range to move the sail without moving your body and greater ease to hook out.
Slalom sailers use big fins firstly to avoid spin outs from the massive sideways pressure but also to get lifted out of the water and have as little surface friction as possible. In other words, a long fin can make your board lift out of the water at high speeds (my beginner boards lift out when planing down a wave with the centre-board out). If we know how to control this there is no problem but since that probably isn’t the case, make sure your fin is not so big as to lift the board out of the water uncontrollably.
Have the foot in the back foot-strap
One of the main reasons that I recommend putting the back foot in the straps first is that this is the strap that avoids catapults more than anything else. Only having the front foot in the strap is useless as it is the pivot point over which we rotate in a catapult.
Pull the front arm close
As you notice you are being heaved forwards, pull the front arm in to take the power out of the sail. If you catch it early enough this will allow you to fall back backwards into the correct and stable position.
Push against the wind with the back hand
This can go in combination with the previous one, although I would only recommend it if you already have a little experience in lee-side sailing or some other form of sail control on the lee side of the sail.
Last Second Solution
At some point you will catapult. That’s just the way it is. Sooner or later you will be flung over the board and land with a crash or a splash. It is up to you and how you will react which one it will be and if the splash is going to hurt. The two things we want to avoid during a catapult is hitting the board with the mast or our body, and also avoid coming to a sudden halt on the sail (especially the mast).
The only real solution in this case is to sheet in as hard as we can and push the mast away from the wind. What this will do is make the sail turn downwind and let us rotate around with it so that we land in the water and ideally under the sail. This, incidendally, is also the second step to learning the front loop. I would recommend practicing this motion unhooked a few times so that you get a feeling for the motion and build up the reaction before you need it for real.
I hope this has been useful to help you prevent catapults. If you want to read more about them here is an interesting post on catapults.
Spin out: the situation in which the flow of the water along the fin breaks off causing the board to slide sideways or at an angle to the sailing direction.
So there you are, planing along, flying over the water and enjoying the sensation of speed when suddenly the aft end of the board slides away from under you. The result of a spin out will vary depending on the circumstances. While just cruising it will just be a nuisance which is corrected with a little bit of technique. When wave riding it is mostly what we aim for in a cutback to get big spray, hence the reason for small fins and/or multiple fins. On the bottom turn it might cause a more precarious situation ending in a faceplant followed by a nice and thorough wash of the wave. And in slalom sailing, a spin out might result in a coma in the worst case scenario although most likely it will just cause a big splash and a scare if it isn’t avoided or corrected in time.
Why does spin out occur?
The reason for a spin out occurring is that the sideways force transmitted from the sail, through our body and onto the fin is so great that the flow of water breaks off and the back of the board is pushed to the side.
How can I avoid spin out?
There are several things that we can modify. First, in terms of equipment, it’s all about the fin. The length and angle of the fin as well as its relation to the sail size determine both the amount we can go upwind and the likelihood of a spinout.
Another deciding factor is the amount of pressure we put on the back foot and therefore on the fin.
How do I recover from a spin out?
Once the board has given way, leewards, we can correct it by putting pressure on the mastfoot with our bodyweight while pulling the back foot back to put the fin back in line of our movement, ie. in line with the flow of water.
If the fin spins out upwind (like during a gybe or a bottom turn) there isn’t really much you can do besides hope you don’t wreck your kit.
Hope this helps avoid or correct those spin outs you’re having. If you want some more information on spin outs check out this post by Tom von Alten.