Pumping in windsurfing is a technique that is not really talked about much. Many people do it intuitively, others can’t seem to get the hang of it, and the rest have no idea how to explain it properly. I was only made aware of this recently and noticed that even in the vastness of the internet there is not much information on pumping. So here goes:
I like to break pumping down into four types as the techniques varies on the wind available to us and the purpose of pumping.
Pumping in near zero wind
In my post on how to get back if the wind drops, I describe how to move the sail in a way that pushes the mass of air to the stern, thereby pushing the board forwards. Then moving the sail forwards with the sail surface in line of movement to reduce the surface causing drag
Pumping in low winds
One thing that happens almost at least once per lesson is that my student is pulled by the sail more than expected, rather than letting go holds on to the back hand and is forced to step towards the rail with one foot. This sinks the rail and ends ups tipping the board over and falling in.
This leaves them in the water and with the board upside-down. I have seen endless combinations of how people have tried to flip the board back the right way up. From the correct and effortless way to completely inefficient passing through only managing through raw strength. Here I will explain the ways to avoid and the best way to do it.
How not to do it
Push upwards from the water
This is the least efficient way as we are trying to lift a heavy board around a large axis against its buoyancy without having solid ground under our feet. Thats a bit of a mouthful to say that all we really do is push ourselves underwater since we sink easier than the board.
Rotating the board with the arms like a steering wheel from the bow or stern
For those strong enough this one has worked. It is still by far not efficient since we waste a lot of energy just for this petty task.
The correct way
Here is how to do it properly:
- Turn the board so that the mast is at 90° to the board
- Go to the center of the board (at the position of the mast foot).
- Get onto the board (yes, on the bottom side of the board)
- Grab the far end and put your knees onto the close end
- Lean backwards onto your knees, pulling the far end towards you util the board has turned
Things to avoid in the correct way
Do not try to turn it towards the mast
If the mast is in the way, no matter how heavy we are leaning onto our side with the knees, the board will not turn. Also, make sure the mast really is at nearly 90° to the board. If it is in line with the board it will make turning it more difficult than it has to be.
Don’t let go of the board before it is turned completely
When we have turned it more than half way, some consider the job done and just let go. I recommend to hold onto it until it has flipped over completely with us under water and then just pulling ourselves to the surface that 0.5 seconds later. By letting go of the board you lose control of its position with respect to you. This means that it can either flip back into the wrong position or even worse, keep turning towards you faster than you expected and hit you on the head. Just hold on all the way.
A tip for the correct way
As in all aspects of windsurfing, we want to see how the wind can help us save energy. In this case this occurs if the mast is pointing into the wind. In this instance, when we lift the far rail, the wind pushes against it from the other side, making it flip over easier and faster. This is a useful tip for the lighter sailors like children.
Since its inception in the 1970’s windsurfing kit has come a very long way. Those triangle sails with wooden masts and booms. Heavy 4 meter boards with a keel. Nothing like the lightweight boards out of composite material and sails with a rigid profile of today. However, this big transformation of the last 40 years is something that has kept going until recent years.
Since the turn of the milenium, boards have changed in shape and size. They used to be measured more in length as they tended to have the same proportions regardless of discipline. Nowadays, aside from the fact that the disciplines have caused variations in the proportions of the boards, the trend has also become to make the boards shorter and wider. This has become a hurdle for many windsurfers who have been away from the sport for a couple of years and want to get back into it. The technique for sailing has changed and what used to be the norm doesn’t quite work anymore. Here are some tips on how to make the change to a more modern board.
It helps to remember that, as the older boards were longer, the distance from the fin to the mast foot was greater. This meant that the sails pressure point was relatively far forward which would cause the board to bear away easily. To read why, check out my post on steering. When we switch on to newer/more modern boards, we will find that they tend to be shorter and wider. In being shorter, the distance from the mast foot to the fin is less. This causes the pressure point of the sail to be further back with the same body stance and sail dimensions.
A side note, the materials and details of the sails have varied (read improved) over the recent years by becoming lighter, more durable and offering better handling. The general dimensions however, like mast length and boom length, have not changed much in the last 15 years. The biggest change in this regard has occured in the boards sector. This means that while the location of the sails pressure point and out body position remain the same. The fact that the distance from the mast-foot to the fin has changed is what throws us off.
So, in short, the reason why the more modern boards tend to luff up so much is that the pressure point of the sail is now further back with the same body position.
How to do we solve this?
There are two ways to solve this issue. The first is to lean the mast forward more to get going. This will probably mean moving further forward with your feet as this will not require you to alter your body position as much. The problem comes when we start to pick up speed and start planing. This is when we start to lean back and move our feet backwards to get in the footstraps.
Try to focus on keeping the sail in its position when you move your feet back. This may feel akward at first as it will mean our arms and upper body are now forced to be in a different position with respect to the lower body than we are used to. You may feel that you are constantly just about to be catapulted. A solution is to not think of it as leaning the sail forwards but more like positioning the mast towards the wind (due to us leaning towards the wind to hold the sail power) and actively pushing into the mast foot with our front hand, thereby pushing the board nose away from the wind (like when bearing away for the beachstart). This will take some practice but with a little body tension we manage to lever the board away from the wind with our front hand and the back foot.
You can even try to do this with the back foot already in the foot-strap and with the front foot just behind the mast-foot and make a lever with the two while using the new sail position to hold your body up and generate the propulsion.
The other trick is to move the fin and the mast foot as far apart from each other as possible. This causes the sails’ pressure point to be further forward with respect to the fins point of resistance in the water which in turn helps to bear away from the wind.
I hope this has made sense to you and that it helps you when you next try to cope with one of those pesky new boards that try to luff up all the time. If you have any questions just let me know in the comments.
Spin out: the situation in which the flow of the water along the fin breaks off causing the board to slide sideways or at an angle to the sailing direction.
So there you are, planing along, flying over the water and enjoying the sensation of speed when suddenly the aft end of the board slides away from under you. The result of a spin out will vary depending on the circumstances. While just cruising it will just be a nuisance which is corrected with a little bit of technique. When wave riding it is mostly what we aim for in a cutback to get big spray, hence the reason for small fins and/or multiple fins. On the bottom turn it might cause a more precarious situation ending in a faceplant followed by a nice and thorough wash of the wave. And in slalom sailing, a spin out might result in a coma in the worst case scenario although most likely it will just cause a big splash and a scare if it isn’t avoided or corrected in time.
Why does spin out occur?
The reason for a spin out occurring is that the sideways force transmitted from the sail, through our body and onto the fin is so great that the flow of water breaks off and the back of the board is pushed to the side.
How can I avoid spin out?
There are several things that we can modify. First, in terms of equipment, it’s all about the fin. The length and angle of the fin as well as its relation to the sail size determine both the amount we can go upwind and the likelihood of a spinout.
Another deciding factor is the amount of pressure we put on the back foot and therefore on the fin.
How do I recover from a spin out?
Once the board has given way, leewards, we can correct it by putting pressure on the mastfoot with our bodyweight while pulling the back foot back to put the fin back in line of our movement, ie. in line with the flow of water.
If the fin spins out upwind (like during a gybe or a bottom turn) there isn’t really much you can do besides hope you don’t wreck your kit.
Hope this helps avoid or correct those spin outs you’re having. If you want some more information on spin outs check out this post by Tom von Alten.
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.
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.