How often do I get the question by parents?: At what age is it advisable to start windsurfing?
It is somewhat difficult to properly answer this. Of course there is a lower age limit. Mainly this is given by learning capability of the child and its weight. I personally was standing on a windsurfer at the age of 4 with my dad sitting on the front of the board. However, it has to be said, owning a surf center lends the opportunity to choose the best days to do this, which are rare in El Médano.
Here are a few things to take into consideration when thinking of teaching your child how to windsurf.
First of all, a 5 year old might will have a somewhat shorter attention span than an adult. Add to this that they will also get tired faster and you have to gauge how long he has fun and when you are pushing the limit.
Also, explaining the concepts of the wind (relative wind for example), etc. is tricky when you are dealing with such a young mind. Therefore the initial stages might be possible to transmit through show and tell and intuition but once more technical aspects which require understanding are required, we reach an obstacle.
That being said, children do have the wonderful ability to learn physics feats pretty fast. In conditions that are not unfavorable, as child will get the hang of windsurfing very fast.
The age also influences how impressionable they are by danger. It is important that they are aware of the dangers that can arise without instilling so much fear as to make they abstain from the sport. As I said, finding the correct balance is difficult with young minds.
In windsurfing, the real deal begins when we start to lean backwards into the wind and let the sail hold us. This is fair enough for and adult to apply that weights over 60 kg. For us it is no problem to slowly get used to the wind holding us despite gusts and waves as the impact is not THAT great. For a child however, they have to start with very small sails which start to get flung about by the wind when being pulled out of the water, pulling the child with it. Also, when the wind is not constant, the gusts destabilize the equilibrium of the windsurfing child a lot more than an adult.
It isn’t until the waterstart (and to some degree the beachstart) that we use the wind to lift us out of the water. Up until that point we are forced to lift the sail up with the up-haul rope. This means that we have another limitation since as we progress we will use bigger and bigger sails. This implies that they will also get heavier and for a child there comes a moment in which the sail is simply too much too lift. Add to this the wind pushing down on it and you have a child that will get tired very quickly.
Even for the waterstart you would have trouble as with small sails the lever that can be applied through the boom onto the board is very small (the same goes for the arms range of the small kid) meaning that control over the board through the sail, be it for the beachstart or the waterstart, is more challenging than for an adult.
Due to their size, waves are relatively much bigger than for an adult, and the wind variations are much greater. All in all we want as flat water as we can get it and as constant wind as possible. This may be the conditions we want anyways but for children it is just that more important.
I am all for getting children motivated for this awesome sport early on. They are fast learners and will be really motivated if you gauge their stamina limit right. I would say a good age to start is between 5 and 7 and weighing over 30-35 kg each of these aspects (learning capacity and weight) leaning on the other..
It has to be remembered that until a certain weight is achieved, the process will be limited to big volume (relative to their size of course) and small sails. You can reduce this limit with very lightweight kit (mainly sails) and choosing the right spot to learn. It will be a long term investment but if you go windsurfing once or twice a year in the holidays the progress limitations will hardly be noticeable 🙂