Windsurfing mistakes you should avoid

Windsurfing mistakes you should avoid

Recently I read an entertaining article by Boards Magazine on the common mistakes windsurfers make. While all the things on that list are correct (board shorts have no business being worn over the wetsuit) I personally have a different list which I think is more relevant to windsurfing technique and progress. Here is my list of what I consider to be the most common windsurfer mistakes. (more…)

The Advantages of Windsurfing – Why is Windsurfing Awesome?

The Advantages of Windsurfing – Why is Windsurfing Awesome?

There are heaps of reasons why I would say that windsurfing is the best sport ever. All you have to do is ask any windsurfer “Why windsurfing?” and they will give you 20 minutes worth of explanations of what makes windsurfing great.

I have compiled my own list of the advantages of windsurfing which I think should convince you to take it up or at least try it out. (more…)

Windsurfing vs Kitesurfing

Windsurfing vs Kitesurfing

Windsurfing vs Kitesurfing

It occurs very often that I have to hear how windsurfing is better than kitesurfing (or vice-versa), that kitesurfers are just a nuisance (or vice-versa), etc. That is not what I intend to talk about in this article. I think both sports are a great way to have fun on the water (personally I do both and think that badmouthing one or the other is juvenile as these sports can coexist perfectly and share the water without any problems). I will dedicated a whole other post on surf rage and where that comes from. Here is a fun clip illustrating what happens from time to time.

Working at a surf center I often get asked the same question: Which is better, windsurfing or kitesurfing? I usually give a rather quick answer to this as usually there are other people waiting to be attended. However, I thought I would break it down a little more to provide a more complete answer for those not knowing which of these to choose.

Transport

At the Surf Center Playa Sur we also offer storage of both windsurf and kitesurf gear I keep having to witness how burdensome windsurfing gear is. Usually the board bag with one (or two) boards and 3 sails will weigh around 30 kg and has to be dragged around the airport and ends up being a big of a hassle when added to the standard luggage we are taking with us. Kiteboarders on the other hand will have their one board under their arm and one kite over each shoulder or just a long bag the size of a large set of golf clubs. Kitesurfing turns out to be less of a hassle overall.
Kitesurf Kit 20131211-000131.jpg

 Equipment cost

The gear for both windsurfing and kitesurfing both cost roughly the same. When new they can be anywhere within the 1000€ to 2500€ range. An in used condition the gear will be somewhere around the 500€ to 800€. The difference comes in the life of each piece of kit. In general windsurf kit will last somewhat longer before it needs to be replaced. A kite (especially the lines) will need to be replaced after about 3 years whereas a windsurfer can easily last 5 to 6 if maintained well (ie. not leaving the rig laying out in the sun for longer than need be, etc.)
Buying used kit is a little bit more tricky in kitesurfing as the integrity of the lines must be checked carefully and the leading edge must be tested to ensure there are no slow leaks. For a windsurfer it is pretty easy to evaluate the condition of a board and sail.
The gear for kitesurfing is more fragile than windsurfing gear. Tears and holes will be much more frequent due to wear in the mite material than in windsurf cloth because it is much thinner (for less weight).

Learning

The two learning curve for each sport are pretty different. For kitesurfing you have to spend a couple of hours on the beach to learn how to handle the kite, then do a few sessions of body drag through the water and only then is it time to try to get on the board. This usually adds up to around 9 hours which is where you are at a point where you can continue to practice without supervision. For windsurfing this is different. I usually spend 15 to 20 minutes on the beach teaching my students what it is they will have to do on the water.From there it is off to the water.After around 2-3 hours with flat water, 4-5 in waves, my students are usually at a point where they can sail back and forth alone.
Now comes the main difference. A kitesurfer after about 20 hours will be riding with a speed and technique similar to that which he will be sailing in 2 years. A windsurfer on the other hand will have a more gradual and constant improvement throughout that time.
I have heard so often how kitesurfing is the sport that people turn to that are unable (or too impatient) to learn how to windsurf.
Windsurf vs Kitesurf learning curves

Physical requirement

Kitesurfing is less challenging. There is no denying that. The quadriceps get some working on but that is about it. People who take on windsurfing will be challenged more and will see their stamina increase with each session as the body adapts to the new requirements. The running joke among windsurfers is that kitesurfing is for girls and pensioners, basically referring to the physical condition required.

Independence

While it is technically possible to launch and land a kite on ones own, you need a certain level of experience to be able to do so as getting the procedure wrong can end pretty bad indeed. Usually therefore it is at the very least “strongly recommended” to have a second person on the beach to launch or land your kite. The problem mainly comes that it is also dangerous to launch someones kite while flying your own so two kitesurfing buddies will have to some interesting (and dangerous) juggling if they want to go kiting simultaneously). For windsurfing this is not the case as you are quite independent in that sense.
That being said, just for general safety it is wise to go on the water with others around who can lend a hand in case of injury, equipment malfunction or any other precarious unforseen situation.

Locations for sailing

There are two types of locations which are exclusive to one sport or the other
The first is shallow water. As a windsurfer you are in big trouble if you are cruising along at speed and the fin suddenly touches the ground. It can result in a very spectacular and possibly painful catapult indeed (and possibly some board repair). On a kiteboard you don’t have this problem since you are only skimming the water surface.
On the other hand, if we are at a spot where the shoreline is lined with tall structures such as trees or lamp posts it is rather tricky and very dangerous to go in as a kiter since if the lines get caught in them, kitelooping along the ground and crashing into stuff ensues. Windsurfers have less trouble as all they have to deal with is the immediate surrounding.

Safety

This is where the two sports have their greatest discrepancy. Ever since kitesurfing has hit the beaches I have been seeing a continuing increase in accidents. My explanation is that since kitesurfing is easier/faster to learn than windsurfing, a lot of people the are not physically and psychologically ready to do an extreme sport start to do an extreme sport. The thing is that as long as nothing goes wrong, it is a fun sport which gives the sensation of speed and planing pretty easily. The problem arises when something out of the ordinary occurs. In that case, circumstances can turn dire pretty fast which lead to serious injuries. Since many kitesurfers have started to kitesurf at a level way beyond their experience, when things go wrong they don’t know how to react and are unable to reduce the consequences,.The trouble is that these consequences do not always affect only the kitesurfer but also anyone up to 200 metres downwind of them. Windsurfers on the other hand have only 5 metres to worry about, 20 if they are jumping.
Also the severity of the accidents in kitesurfing is greater. While it is true that i have seen windsurfers with dislocated shoulders, sprained ankles, broken legs and cracked ribs. Usually these are few and far between. Admittedly they tend to occur on the water and the rescue is a bit of a hassle but even then you have the option of getting on the board to save energy, be more visible and lose less body heat.

Conclusion

From an objective point of view, kitesurfing offers many more advantages over windsurfing except for when it comes to safety, and there it is far behind. This is also an aspect which I don’t see being eliminated from the sport. The long fragile (but very dangerous) lines combined with the immense power that can be generated by the large surface of the kite will always be a hazard, regardless of technological improvements. This is the reason this sport is an extreme sport.
Combine this with the fact that it is easy to learn and that the minimal physical requirements for kitesurfing and you have a dangerous combination. People that are not suitable for doing extreme sports will start to do extreme sports. And the worst part is that they are not aware of the possible risk they are putting themselves in.
I am by no means trying to say that no one should do kitesurfing. I just think that it is not made clear enough to students how to go about learning it safely and practicing it responsibly. Most of the accidents that happen are due to bad decision making and irresponsible riding (like going onto the water in unreliable offshore winds or practicing or showing off tricks near the shore or in areas with a lot of people).
As for the sensation, kitesurfing is a fun sport. I started to use it as an alternative to the low wind days where 5.7 m sails were no longer enough. For me personally, having to sail with 6.0 m or more was too much of a hassle and with a kite takes less physical effort to handle regardless of its size. As a windsurfer kitesurfing is really fast and easy to learn so it was a nice addition to broaden my range of conditions in which I can have fun on the water.

 

How to Windsurf – Planing

How to Windsurf – Planing

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.

Planing windsurf board

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.

Planing upwind

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.

Physics of Windsurfing

Physics of Windsurfing

Why do I need to know this? Well, although you can probably windsurf by following the indications of an instructor, if you are going to try and learn how to windsurf on your own, understanding thow the sail words will save you a lot of trail and error and frustration and improve our technique so that you can get the most out of the sail enjoy the full range of what is possible in windsurfing especially in terms of speed, the powerjybe and the bottom turn.

How the windsurf sail works

The sail works like the wing of an aeroplane. Funny thing is that I have had students that had taken plane flying lessons have the workings of a wing explained as: “working the same as a sail”. So, let’s explain how a wing/sail works shall we?

Here is a video that explains thie workings of a wing nicely if you can keep up with the speed at which he speaks.

First, let’s pretend the sail is a rigid flat surface. The best comparisson I have is comparing it to sticking our hand out of the window of a car (if you have never done this, you didn’t have a childhood)

When we stick out hand out horizontally, the wind generated by the car hardly affects us.

If we now tilt our hand slightly so the little finger (trailing edge) is lower than the thumb (leading edge) the hand starts to get rise. In other words it generates an upwards force called lift.

However, there is a second force, a sideways force called drag. As we continue to tilt our hand, the lift reduces and the drag increases. Eventually there is going to be more drag than lift and the hand will just be blown sideways rather than up. The same occurs with our sail.

Angle of Attack of the Windsurf Sail

Naturally just a small angle of attack of the sail to the wind only offers very little surface for the wind to generate any sort of force on whereas too much surface (from a too large angle of attack) will result in too much drag. We want to find the sweet spot between getting the maximum lift and generating only as much drag as absolutely necessary.

Relative Wind

So now we know how important it is to find the best angle of attack of the sail to the wind. As we start to sail we only have to take into account the true wind.(blue arrow) As we start to move we start to feel another wind component which we will call the board wind (red arrow – in sailing it is called the boat speed).

Wind Components on a Windsurfer

If we combine these two wind components we get the wind we feel: the relative wind (green arrow). Depending on which course we are on and the speed we are going at we will get a different relative wind. Since our sail must be positioned at the perfect angle with respect to the relative wind, we must constantly be modifying the sails’ angle of attack to get the maximum speed the wind and sail can allow us.

Here is the relative wind as we build up speed..

Wind Components on a Windsurfer at different speeds

And here is an example of how the relative wind varies at the same speed on different courses.

Wind Components on a Windsurfer on different Courses

I hope now you get an idea how to get the most out of your sail. Now a small change in how the sail is built to get the most out of the wind.

Sail Profile

Now let’s look at the profile of a sail and the air flow along it.

Air Flow over a Sail

Air Flow of a wind/sail – Courtesy of Wikipedia

As you can see, the curve of the sail causes the air particles on the lee side to have a longer way to go than the ones on the windward side.

According to Bernoulli’s Principle this difference in speed creates a difference in pressure, the top side (our leeward side) having less pressure and the underside (our upwind side) having more. Since the pressure acting on our side of the sail is greater than the pressure on the other side, lift is generated and we move forwards.

These two components of lift generation (angle of attack and sail shape) are what makes up move. Understanding this will help us get the most out of our sails in terms of speed and early planing.

I hope this has explained how your windsurfing sail works. For an fun video going through exactly this subject you can check out Surfertoday.com and their post “How does a Windsurfing Sail Work?” If you have any questions, feel free to let me know in the comments.