|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.|
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
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.
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.
We pull the sail up until the point where the sail is only just touching the water. As long as the sail still has contact with the water, it has some resistance and gives us something to hold on to. This is especially useful if we are in a location with waves which are going to knock us off balance. This is our base position. Here we will control the board position, making sure that we maintain the T-position. The next step is a sequence of steps. Memorize these three words like a mantra for this moment: Mast. Feet. Boom
- Mast. In one shoulder turn we grab the mast with the front hand just under the boom (if it is more comfortable to grab above the boom, your boom is probably too high). Important at this point is to make sure that the sail comes to us and not vice-versa. If we lean forward, our centre of gravity is no longer over the centre of the board and the sail will pull us forward and down. Later, as we get better, the hand will not go to the mast but directly to the boom.
- Feet. As soon as we have the mast in the front hand our feet must move towards the back of the board. Leaving the front foot in front of the mast does two things. Firstly it hinders you going as far back with your weight as you actually need to. Secondly, it opens the possibility of falling in the water, your foot still on the board and the mast slamming down on your shin. Sounds pretty painful indeed. I haven’t actually seen this happen yet but I was told this and I see a realistic possibility of it happening.
- Boom. Once we are behind the mast-foot we only need to grab the boom with our back hand. I always recommend starting off using only two fingers to pull it towards you because what I have seen time and time again is that everything goes well until we close the sail too quickly and the sudden pull of the wind sending us flying forward. Close the sail softly and start getting used to the power in it increasing and decreasing as we close and open the sail. As we become more familiar with the effects of pulling and letting go we can do this more aggressively but first it is best to go easy on the back hand.
Why not move the feet after grabbing the boom? Mainly because once we have grabbed the boom, we will not be able to move our feet. At least at the beginning. This is for two reasons: On the one hand, once we have power in the sail, you are going to be constantly on the verge of falling over forwards, using a lot of resistance in the toes. This is because the pivot point (or centre of rotation) is the mast-foot which we are going to have between our feet. On the other hand, we are going to be quite concentrated on controlling the power in the sail and will not really have any concentration space left for focussing on the feet as well.
Now to the actual sailing position: There are three main things we want to focus on when windsurfing. These will remain true throughout all our windsurfing life, regardless of our level.
- Front arm straight. This is the most important of the three and can be considered the golden rule of windsurfing. A lot of energy can be saved, and a lot of progress can be sped up if we follow this rule. I will explain in a future post why keeping the front arm straight is so important. For now, just trust me on this and don’t forget it.
- Weight on the back foot. With low winds this one isn’t crucial, but as the wind gets stronger and we sail on any course but upwind, keeping the weight on the back foot becomes more and more important. I will also explain this in a future post.
- Keeping your body straight. I see this one very often. Even people that have been sailing for ages use this “monkey stance”. It has got to be the most ineffective sailing position and least aesthetically pleasing. I insist you keep this one in mind: your front ankle, knee, hips and shoulder should all be in one line. This helps keep your weight on the back foot and forces you to use your bodyweight to counter the pull of the sail. More on the correct body position while sailing.
To this I would add that we want to try and hold the mast so that it is perfectly vertical and our hips facing the direction we are moving in. These two are important but the first three are to be corrected first as we don’t want doing them wrong to become a bad habit. One last thing: Look forward! Just as when we are driving, riding a bike, skating, skiing or whatever, we must see where we are going to avoid collision with others and obstacles 😉
Recap important notes: – Back straight when pulling up the sail. – Sail must come to you, not vice-versa. – The order: Mast. Feet. Boom. – Golden Rule: Front arm straight. – Weight on the back foot. – Keep your body straight. – Look forward
If you want to stop there are 3 ways to do so. Check out this post to see what they are.
The next step will be learning how to turn so that we can sail in both directions without having to get in the water to turn all the gear around.