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.