How to Steer + Courses

How to Steer + Courses

So we are now able to windsurf in one direction, maybe even in both. If not yet, you can read up on how to turn in windsurfing. Now we want to know how to windsurf towards a specific point. Before we start it is important to clarify that we will not be using the terms right or left as this will change depending in which direction we are sailing in. We will be using towards the “front or back of the board” and “into/towards the wind” and “away from the wind”.

First we must understand why we move forwards in the first place. When we look at the windsurfer from the side and from the top we see this.

Windsurfing Sail Pressure Points

The sail has a general pressure point. The arrows are forces. The green one is the wind pushing the sail which is our propulsive force. However, if we didn’t have the counteracting force (red arrow) acting through the centre-board (and later on only the fin) we would just drift downwind. Since both arrows are in line, the board stays on course and only moves in the line of the blue arrow. However, if we were to incline the sail forward (or slightly towards the wind), the arrows are no longer in line. This causes a lever which turns the board downwind so that both arrows are lined up again.

Windsurfer Steering - Bearing Away

The same thing occurs when we lean the sail back (or away from the wind). Only that in this case the board turns into the wind as the arrows are disalligned in the other direction.

Windsurfer Steering - Luffing Up


Incline the sail forward to turn the board downwind.

Incline the sail backwards to turn the board upwind.

How to Windsurf - Steering Sequence

Click to see image in full size

Now let’s get to the individual courses

  • Close hauled: This is the course going closest to the wind. If we turn any more into the wind, we stall and lose speed until we stop completely and fall in backwards due to lack of power in the sail.
  • Closed reach: This is anywhere between close hauled and beam reach. We are sailing upwind in any case.
  • Beam Reach: Here we are sailing 90º to the wind direction.
  • Broad Reach: This course includes any angle between beam reach and running. In any case we are going downwind.
  • Running: This course describes going downwind or close to it. We are sailing in the direction in which the wind is blowing.


How to Windsurf - Courses

Knowing how to turn upwind and bear away are essential for when we want to tack and jybe (posts coming soon).

Let me know in the comments if this article was useful.

How to Turn

How to Turn

At some point we need to turn to get back to where we came from. So let’s get down to explaining how to control the windsurf board with the sail from the T-position:

By pulling the sail to the left or right we are able to turn the board clockwise or anticlockwise (when looked at from above). The sail will always try to position itself in line with the wind so when we shift it to the left, the board will turn clockwise so that the sail can continue being in line with the wind. Another way of looking at it is to think of the sail as a stationary object which we are holding on to while we turn the board with our feet: we ca either pull with the left foot and push with the right foot to make it turn anti-clockwise, or pull with the right and push with the left to turn it clockwise.

How to Turn in Windsurfing


Sail over the front vs. Sail over the back

Sail over the front

This method is easier as we do not need to move our feet around the mast. We only need to turn over our own axis. The downside: we drift downwind more.

Sail over the back

This way is a little more complicated as we need to move around the mast with our feet while the sail is pulled over the back of the board (where we were standing a moment ago). The advantage is that we do not lose much gained reach.

Initially I recommend to pass the sail over the back of the board since if we pass it over the front, the board will point downwind and we will lose some gained upwind reach. Once we consistently hold the closed reach course (more on this in the next post) we can sacrifice a little gained reach by passing the sail over the front.


How to Windsurf - 180 turning sequence

Click to see image in full size


A small tip: Always position your feet so they are facing in line with the mast. If you ignore this little detail you will fall in more times than necessary.

This technique is only for turning on the spot. Later on we will replace this type of turning with the tack and the jybe. However, for this we need to know how to steer the board with the sail.