Flying over the water is an amazing feeling. One that I try to have every student of mine experience in their first lesson with me, which isn’t too hard considering that in El Médano we tend to have 20 knots and I am pulling them behind me with an elastic rope. Once you have felt what windsurfing can be, or rather, what windsurfing is all about, you are hooked. It is an amazing feeling and yet one that many people haven’t gotten the hang of properly despite advancing to more complex maneuvers. Even if it consists of only sailing back and forth, windsurfing consists mainly of sailing back and forth with some sporadic maneuvers in between. Learning to plane comes somewhere between learning to use the harness (making it easier to hold the power in the sail required to start and continue planing) and the foot-straps (which are only really useful to use when planing). You can start planing hooked in or hooked out of the harness depending on how well you can cope with the sudden increase of power in the sail and how well you react to gusts, waves and choppy water.
I can start planing on a 100 l and 5.7 when many others are struggling on their 130 l and 6.6. This is purely because of technique. Sure, having a bigger board and bigger sail helps, but the correct technique makes up for much more. Make sure you spend some time working on your planing technique and your suture sessions will be much more enjoyable as the range in which you can start to have fun on the water will be much larger.
First off, what is planing?
When we start to windsurf, the board sits in the water and begins to move through it much like a container ship would. However, as we pick up speed the boards lifts out of the water and we start to bounce over it like speedboats do. To get more technical, planing is when we are sailing (or gliding) over the water rather than pushing through it and the water that leaves the aft end of our board does so in a laminar cut-off fashion and not in a turbulent stern-enclosing way.
How to se start to plane? Very easy, by going fast enough. Sounds easy right? Many people will have experienced planing at some point or another when they start to use bigger sails and actually use the power that can be generated by them. However, we want to be able to plane with the smallest sail possible since the larger sails get, the more cumbersome they are. Holding the plane once we start windsurfing fast is not too difficult if we have a good grasp of the relative wind generated by our boards movement. The difficult part is starting the plane.
How to start planing
Check out the video series by Peter Hart
To get our board out of the water we need speed. Better yet, a surge of speed. How do we go about this? By generating a surge of power in the sail and transmitting that power into the board. Let’s look at this step by step.
– Stand upright: do not bend your knees or bring your bodyweight down. Your entire body weight should be used to lean into the wind to counter the pull of the sail once the wind hits without getting catapulted forwards.
– Change the course: Again remembering the wind forces in the sail, if we turn from the beam reach into the broad reach suddenly, the area of the sail will suddenly be creating only lift (because the board is meant to go nearly entirely in the direction of the wind) as the drag force is also going where we want to go.
– Shoulders away from the mast: As explained in the video you need to grab the boom a little further away from the boom with your front hand and lean far back with your body in order to get as much sail surface available to the wind and as much weight back to resist the pull AND to be able to generate a horizontal push on the board with your foot on the board instead of a vertical one with your weight.
– Keep your body tension: The less energy that is lost in this crucial moment the better. We must keep our body tense for these few seconds because if we allow our body to be slack, the pull of the sail will not be transmitted into the board but will be lost and we will have to start over again. Keep your upper body and front leg in a straight line so that you can…
– Push forwards with your front foot (pointing towards the bow). Focus on keeping your hips pushed forwards as letting them go back as their shoulders get pulled forwards is what I have seen many people fail in.
And now to top it all off, we need to do all this in one smooth and fluid movement and not in a jerky way.
Continuing to plane
So now we have managed to start planing. How to we keep it? I say focus mainly on your sail position with respect to the relative wind. Read my post on the physics of windsurfing if your haven’t already done so to read up on the importance of this and how to go about it. With strong wind we will usually find the correct position easily (or the mistakes are compensated for more) but in light winds, the wrong angle of attack on the sail can kill your plane.
One of the most asked question regarding planing I get is this: how to I sail upwind? The problems are usually that people turn in to the wind too fast and slow down quickly or get a spin out.
The solution to both these problems is a correct body position. While on a beam reach we might still get away with the basic body position I explained in my post on how to windsurf once we start to use smaller boards, this will no longer work. This is because the board will sink easier and because we will most likely be using smaller fins despite generating much more sideways force due to planing.
What we need to do is shift our weight from the back foot on to the front foot and put pressure on the mast-foot while leaning the sail to the back of the board. This may seem like a mouthful but is the most compact way of solving the problem.
We lean the sail back to hold the closed reach, we transfer the weight onto the front foot to avoid a spin out (the back foot in the strap of course, don’t want you making a catapult because of some chop) and the pressure on the mast-foot is to transmit the power of the sail into the board to keep the speed.
I have included a video of me explaining the technique to planing as a bonus to those who purchase my e-guide which you can check out here.
Pulling out the sail to start windsurfing is for beginners. Real windsurfers do a beachstart by just stepping onto the board from knee-deep water and gliding away. However, it isn’t as easy to learn as it looks. Anyone who has given it a try for the first time will have noticed that there is more to just putting your foot on the board and getting up (although it actually is just that once you know the technique).
The beachstart, like the waterstart is predominantly technique. The beachstart (when done correctly) consists of 95% technique and 5% wind. The 5% is actually just so that the sail doesn’t weigh us down. The main components in terms of technique are the same for the beachstart as for the waterstart so it is important to get the beachstart technique right to avoid creating bad habits which will later have much more negative impact when we move on to the waterstart.
So let’s get to it. First off let me describe the beachstart as simply stepping onto the board the same way we would get on to a high step: by putting our foot on the centre of the board and leaning our shoulders forward so that our body’s weight centre is over the board and then push ourselves up with the leg. As you can see, in theory we don’t need wind in the sail to do this. That being said, let’s break the theory down a little bit more.
First of all, board position. Before we try to get on the board we must have the board set up on the correct course. It should be somewhere close to the beam reach (90º to the wind) or sightly more downwind. The reason for this is that if the board is pointing too far upwind the wind will be acting against us. Then again, if the board is pointing too far downwind we can have too much power in the sail so that we can no longer hold it or get catapulted over the front.
In order to get he board into the correct position we must learn to control the board through the sail. The control of the board for the beachstart and waterstart are different to how we steer while windsurfing. In this case we need to use pressure on the mastfoot through our sail control to position the board correctly rather than lean the sail forwards and backwards. Let me explain.
We always want to control the board through the sail. There should be no need to touch the board with our hands… ever. The only time we touch the board is when we put our foot on it. To make the board turn downwind we must push with the mast hand towards the mast foot. When we want the board to turn upwind we must pull the mast to the wind (or towards us as we are going to be standing upwind). We can also use the back hand as a lever if we push in the opposite direction than the front hand (pushing to the mast foot or pulling towards the mast top, always without adding wind power to the sail).
An important note: Do not pull down with the back hand when controlling the board as it will make the board try to sail away or pull the sail down backwards. Use two fingers. We only want to make sure the wind comes under the sail pulling it up slightly and not heaving us up uncontrollably or pushing us down.
So much for the board positioning, which is what I have found to be the most challenging part of the beachstart due to waves and current. Although if you are learning this in flat and clam water you might find it easier. For those wanting to learn how to beachstart in waves and sail through breaking waves I will write a post on that in the future.
Doing the Beachstart
Now it is time for the actual getting up on the board. As I mentioned earlier, the beachstart is like getting up on a high step. In order to achieve this maneouvre there are three main components in our body position that we must apply.
1. We must stand close to the board. It is easier to get on the board if the distance of our weight displacement is 40cm rather than 80cm
2. Now we put our back foot on the board. Some people have been told to put the front foot on the board but I explain why this is wrong in another post.
3. Keep the front arm straight. This one is absolutely crucial. By all means avoid bending your arm as doing so will greatly hinder your progress. Read more about this in my post The Golden Rule Of Windsurfing.
4. Lean forward. Get your body over the board. This is another aspect you want to get right. Avoid trying to get on by thrusting your hips forward over the board. The only this this will do is to leave your shoulders (and therefore much of your weight centre) upwind of the board. This is good when we are sailing and want to counter the pull of the sail. However, for the beachstart we WANT to be pulled forwards by the sail and onto the board.
So to recap:
– Board 90º to the wind
– Step on like on a high step
– Stand close to the board
– Front arm straight
– Back foot on centreline of the board
– Shoulders forward keeping the boom horizontal
– Close sail only as much as necessary
– Normal windsurfing stance
Before heading into the water and giving all this a shot I would first practice all this on a simulator. The simulator is not going to move around as much (if it does it is usually because you are pulling too much with the back hand when positioning yourself). It allows you to get a feeling for what the motion should look and feel like. This allows you to be able to be familiar with the final component of the beachstart already so that all you have to focus on is the board control.
That is all for the beachstart for now. Please let me know in the comments if this post is useful to you, if you have any questions or if you think it is missing anything.
Once we have figured out how to use the harness properly, we will have had more than a few catapults and silly lunges over the lee side due to not hooking out in time and not having anything to stop us from flying over forwards. It is time to learn how to use the footstraps.
Be it to avoid getting pulled off the board or to keep the board under control when jumping off a wave, the footstraps are a crucial component to windsurfing with speed.
A prerequisite to using the footstraps usually is knowing how to plane when windsurfing. The main difficulty we are faced with is the actual position of the footstraps on the board. They are much further back than our basic windsurfing stance. This means we have to learn how to sail with our feet towards the back of the board and compensating for the weight at the back with the sail position and pressure on the mast foot (I will get to that in a moment) and for this it is easier if we know how to plane.
The sail pressure point further back and the centre of gravity further back cause the board to slow down and shoot into the wind.
Up until now we have gotten used to a certain body position that feels comfortable for the ideal sail position. Now we must get used to a new body posture that has the feet more towards the back.
How to learn to use the footstraps
My recommendation is to start off with no footstraps and get used to sailing with your feet gradually further back until you are able to sail as comfortable as possible with your feet where the footstraps would be without losing control (like having the board shoot into the wind).
How to stop the board from turning into the wind with the feet in the footstraps?
This is a question I get asked a lot and a problem I need to correct very often. Think of it this way. As we move our feet back we tend to keep our body position with regard to the board the same as always. However, this means that we are bringing the sail to the back of the board. This means that not only are we moving our weight further back (which causes the back of the board to sink more and thereby cause more resistance and slow us down) but moving the sail back which causes the board to luff up. These two components cause the board to turn into the wind uncontrollably.
So, what to do? We can do two things. The first is to consciously lean the sail forward. This is a motion we are already used to but it also has a disadvantage, it means we have to lean forward, putting a lot of weight on our front foot, meaning we are more prone to getting catapulted. Also, this technique is hard to apply if we are hooked in the harness.
So let’s look at the second option. We must apply pressure on the mast foot. It may sound strange but keep reading. The idea is to push/pull downwards with our front arm in line of the mast towards the board. What this does is cause the board to receive a sideways force on the front which keeps it on course. This method doesn’t require the sail to be leant so far forward that we lose control and it helps keep the board flatter on the water so we don’t create so much resistance.
Think of it as trying to get your front arm elbow to the mastfoot while holding on to the boom.
Now comes the actual getting into the footstraps. I have a theory that differs a little from what is usually taught. Most people are shown to put the front foot into the strap first and then the back foot. I agree with this … when sailing on flat water.
However, when we are sailing in waves or choppy water, my recommendation is to put the back foot in the footstrap first and then the front one. I will write a future post describing why but for now I will just say that the back foot in the footstrap is the one that stops us from doing a catapult.
Putting the back foot in the footstrap is not so difficult and so the change in body position will not be too big other than standing with a wider stance. The difficult part is putting the front foot is the strap as it is usually the one we are pushing into the board with and that is stopping us from being pulled over forwards. The trick is to push down and onto the mast foot with the front hand as we lift up the front foot to make up for the missing pressure of the foot.
That’s all I have on windsurfing with the footstraps. Let me know your thoughts.
My previous post on harness sailing focussed soley on the practical aspect of using the harness lines. In this post I want to give a little more insight on how to put the harness lines in the correct position.
The whole idea behind using the harness is that we relieve our arms of having to hold on. This means the harness lines should be set up so that we can technically windsurf without holding the sail with our hands. How do we do this?
Remember in my post on steering that we have a general pressure point of the sail. If our harness lines are set up to be in line with this point, we don’t need any other correcting forces (holding on with our hands). This is the reason why some people sail with their harness line clips right next to each other rather than 10-15 centimetres (4-6 inches) apart.
Some people like to put the harness lines slightly forward of the pressure point, others prefer to put them slightly behind. This depends on if they are sailing overpowered or if the wind is gusty, etc. In the end we don’t want to sail with one hand but without hands so I say, take the two minutes time to position them correctly. Here is a very insightful article by Guy Cribb on where the harness lines should be. I don’t completely agree since I believe that one should not need any hand to hold the sail. The hands in my opinion should be only for control.
How do we adjust the lines?
The best and most accurate way to determine the position of the harness lines is to connect the sail to the board and set it up upright on the shore, as close to the waterline as possible (so the wind is as similar to what we get on the water as it gets). Set the boom in the correct position and hook into the harness lines.
DO NOT stand on the board when you do this. Stand next to it.
I have seen so many people adjust the harness line position standing on the board with the fin sticking in the sand taking all the weight of the windsurfer and all the load of the sideways force from the sail. The fin can snap. Apart from this “minor” material consequence, the position is awkward and not too accurate.
The ideal would be to use a simulator as it is flat on the ground (like it will be on the water) and we can set up the harness lines in relation to how our body will be positioned on the board. As I mentioned before, this is not the case for when we stand on the board with the fin, so DON’T DO IT!
The correct way to position the harness lines on the beach
How long do the harness lines have to be?
This question is the subject of a lot of debate. Some say they have to be as long as the elbow to the wrist. Others include the whole forearm. I say the harness line length varies depending on the sail. For small sails (3.4 to 4.7) where we will be sailing a little bit more agile and the sail reacts quicker, the lines should be short (I like to have 22 cm) and for large sails (anything above 5.7) they should be longer (mine are 26 or 28 cm) so that we can really lean into the wind since we are not going to be doing much more than sailing back and forth on relatively flat water.
In the end much of it is up to your preferrence and before you go for a specific length just because someone told you to, try out a few different lengths in different winds/different sail sizes to find out what suits you best.
Once we are sailing back and forth we need to consider that we are indeed not the only ones on the water. In order to avoid collision we must abide by the rules of right of way of the sea. First we will look at the hierarchy of the different vessels on the water. The ones on top have more priority whereas the ones towards the bottom need to get out of the way (according to boatus.com).
Vessels not under command
Vessels restricted in their ability to manoeuver
(freighter that take ages to turn)
Vessels constricted by draft
(freighter in a channel)
Fishing vessels engaged in fishing, with gear deployed
(windsurfers & other sailing boats)
Power driven vessels
Basically, the ones that have more difficulty in manoeuvering are the ones who have priority.
Now that we have established whom we need to avoid and who needs to act to get out of our way, lets see how the rules apply withing the sailboat category:
In the first two rules, one person will not be able to see the other. We must keep in mind that the responsibility of avoiding the collision is always going to be of the person that can see the other. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Overtaking person needs to avoid collision
When two windsurfers going on the same tack, one behind the other and the one behind is going faster with the intention to overtake. As the person that is in front is looking forwards (as they should) they are not going to see who is coming up behind them. So it is on the person that is going to overtake them to avoid collision. And no, shouting to get their attention to make them get out of the way does not make you exempt from this obligation nor is it good form to do so.
Downwind over upwind
Again, two windsurfers sailing on the same tack. The one going that is downwind is going to have a hard time seeing the one upwind. Therefore, the one sailing upwind has the obligation to change his course if the one downwind decides to bear into the wind. If the one downwind can continue on the closed haul course, so can the one upwind. That being said, if you are going to bear into the wind, make the small effort to turn your head to avoid any scares or close calls.
Port bow over starboard bow
This is the only rule for which a call had to be made in terms of priority as both people are in the same situation. Two windsurfers are headed toward eachother on different tacks. Both can see eachother and effectively one must get out of the way. Which? Instead of using technical terms, let’s just put it this way. The one with the left hand nearer to the mast must change their course to avoid collision.
However, the one with their right hand closest to the mast has the obligation of staying on their course. They cannot go changing their course as they please as it makes the decision difficult for the one whi must get out of the way to decide on which way to avoid into.
In the end, it all comes down to common sense and common courtesy. Don’t be a nuissance on the water and try to play fair when having to share the water with others. If in doubt on what to do you can just stop or turn around. More than once have I had to hit the brakes due to the other not knowing the rules and changing course when they shouldn’t or simply being arrogant dicks and ignoring all rules. Most of the close call have been when two people decide they can both still arrive upwind of the predicted collision point and so not have to bear away.
As a small side note, these rule apply to when we are sailing on “flat” water. That is to say, not in breaking waves. When we are sailing in breaking waves where people are riding the wave and jumping around, the rules are a little different. I will write a post on that in the future. However, these are the ones that will count 95% of the time so abide by them.
Once we have reached the point where we can consistently windsurf back and forth without arriving downwind from our starting point and where we tend not to fall very often, we are going to want to have longer sessions. This means we need to find a means of not getting tired. It’s time to learn how to use the harness.
What is the harness?
The harness is made up of a hook and the clothing part which fixes it in place in the region of the stomach or pelvis (this depends on whether it is a seat harness or a waist harness).
We use the harness to hook into the harness lines which are fixed to the boom. These will either be fixed or if adjustable length harness lines depending on preference. Important as a prerequisite to try to use the harness lines is that we already be used to sailing with a correct body position.
If we are not used to sailing with our hips forward and shoulders back, standing with a straight body, and instead get used to using the monkey stance, we will have trouble feeling comfortable in the harness as our body position will be completely different and we won’t be able to relax and feel in control. This is why I insist on the correct body position in my first post on how to windsurf.
How to use the Windsurf Harness
To hook into the harness lines it is important that we don’t alter the sails angle relative to the wind. We don’t want to sheet in as we try to hook in as we don’t want to get pulled forward at the exact moment in which we are “attaching” ourselves to the sail and are at our most vulnerable in terms of stability.
The idea is to bring the boom closer to our body by bending both arms simultaneously, preferably bringing our elbows down to our side (the higher the elbows are during this movement, the more energy we will be using and the less control we will have over the gear). At the same time we lean our pelvis forward, only enough for the hook to reach the lines. It isn’t necessary to touch the boom with our chest only to make sure we get in. If anything, going to far can hinder you as often times we separate from the boom again without having come near the harness line.
Sailing in the harness
This part is the one that takes some getting used to. Since the whole idea is to reduce the amount of energy we need to hold the sail, We want to practice to just lay the hands on the boom as if we were laying them on the keys of a piano and lean the sail forwards and backwards to stay on course. Don’t use your thumbs and attempt to have only your fingers or even only your fingertips touching the boom on the inside. Apart from using only the fingertips, try to focus on only pulling with one hand at a time: the back hand when we need more power in the sail because we are falling backwards, and the front hand to open the sail if we have too much power in the sail and get pulled to far forward.
How to hook out
There is a reason I advised you to only use one hand at a time while sailing if you are hooked in. The reason is that using both hands is the way to eject. Basically, by pulling the boom closer with both hands brings the harness lines closer to our body, taking away the tension in them that kept them in place, and gravity doing its thing to cause the harness lines to fall out of the hook.
It is important that when we try to hook out we focus on only bringing the boom closer and don’t move our body. The most common error is to bring the boom close but simultaneously thrusting our waist forward which causes us to hook out alright. However, the problem comes when we un-arch our back to get back into the basic windsurfing position. What I have seen time and time again is that in the moment that people bring their hips back into place, the harness hook cones back down, right into the harness lines again, completely undoing the whole effort and even making the situation more dangerous as we probably ejecting for a reason, like being unstable or wanting to do a manoeuvre.
I recommend spending a while on the simulator, getting the technique down in a controlled environment before you venture out onto the water. You want to get the feeling for how far you really need to bring the pelvis forward and fine tune the relation between arm bending and pelvis lunging when hooking in; learn to relax and practice using the arms only for positioning of the boom rather than holding on when hooked in; and building the reflex motion of getting out of the harness when you feel out of control.