Once we have reached the point where we can consistently windsurf back and forth without arriving downwind from our starting point and where we tend not to fall very often, we are going to want to have longer sessions. This means we need to find a means of not getting tired. It’s time to learn how to use the harness.
What is the harness?
The harness is made up of a hook and the clothing part which fixes it in place in the region of the stomach or pelvis (this depends on whether it is a seat harness or a waist harness).
We use the harness to hook into the harness lines which are fixed to the boom. These will either be fixed or if adjustable length harness lines depending on preference. Important as a prerequisite to try to use the harness lines is that we already be used to sailing with a correct body position.
If we are not used to sailing with our hips forward and shoulders back, standing with a straight body, and instead get used to using the monkey stance, we will have trouble feeling comfortable in the harness as our body position will be completely different and we won’t be able to relax and feel in control. This is why I insist on the correct body position in my first post on how to windsurf.
How to use the Windsurf Harness
To hook into the harness lines it is important that we don’t alter the sails angle relative to the wind. We don’t want to sheet in as we try to hook in as we don’t want to get pulled forward at the exact moment in which we are “attaching” ourselves to the sail and are at our most vulnerable in terms of stability.
The idea is to bring the boom closer to our body by bending both arms simultaneously, preferably bringing our elbows down to our side (the higher the elbows are during this movement, the more energy we will be using and the less control we will have over the gear). At the same time we lean our pelvis forward, only enough for the hook to reach the lines. It isn’t necessary to touch the boom with our chest only to make sure we get in. If anything, going to far can hinder you as often times we separate from the boom again without having come near the harness line.
Sailing in the harness
This part is the one that takes some getting used to. Since the whole idea is to reduce the amount of energy we need to hold the sail, We want to practice to just lay the hands on the boom as if we were laying them on the keys of a piano and lean the sail forwards and backwards to stay on course. Don’t use your thumbs and attempt to have only your fingers or even only your fingertips touching the boom on the inside. Apart from using only the fingertips, try to focus on only pulling with one hand at a time: the back hand when we need more power in the sail because we are falling backwards, and the front hand to open the sail if we have too much power in the sail and get pulled to far forward.
How to hook out
There is a reason I advised you to only use one hand at a time while sailing if you are hooked in. The reason is that using both hands is the way to eject. Basically, by pulling the boom closer with both hands brings the harness lines closer to our body, taking away the tension in them that kept them in place, and gravity doing its thing to cause the harness lines to fall out of the hook.
It is important that when we try to hook out we focus on only bringing the boom closer and don’t move our body. The most common error is to bring the boom close but simultaneously thrusting our waist forward which causes us to hook out alright. However, the problem comes when we un-arch our back to get back into the basic windsurfing position. What I have seen time and time again is that in the moment that people bring their hips back into place, the harness hook cones back down, right into the harness lines again, completely undoing the whole effort and even making the situation more dangerous as we probably ejecting for a reason, like being unstable or wanting to do a manoeuvre.
I recommend spending a while on the simulator, getting the technique down in a controlled environment before you venture out onto the water. You want to get the feeling for how far you really need to bring the pelvis forward and fine tune the relation between arm bending and pelvis lunging when hooking in; learn to relax and practice using the arms only for positioning of the boom rather than holding on when hooked in; and building the reflex motion of getting out of the harness when you feel out of control.