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 and their post “How does a Windsurfing Sail Work?” If you have any questions, feel free to let me know in the comments.

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.