Recently I read an entertaining article by Boards Magazine on the common mistakes windsurfers make. While all the things on that list are correct (board shorts have no business being worn over the wetsuit) I personally have a different list which I think is more relevant to windsurfing technique and progress. Here is my list of what I consider to be the most common windsurfer mistakes.
The top 8 windsurfing mistakes
1. Front arm not straight
This is my biggest “complaint”. I could go on and on about why keeping the front arm straight is the golden rule of windsurfing. Let me leave it at this: if you get into the habit of keeping your front arm straight you will have a massive advantage of learning every new maneuver. From planing, harness sailing, gybing and water-starting, bending the front arm is the only sure way to sabotage your move. It is by far the most frequent windsurfing mistake and also the most important to correct.
2. Body not straight
The toilet stance (or monkey stance) is used in no sport, ever. And that includes windsurfing. Standing on the board hunched over in a semi-squat and bent arms causes us to be really tense and to waste precious energy. It is also highly inefficient as we are not able to transmit the power of the sail into the board horizontally very easily.
Sailing in the harness requires us to lean back and trust the harness lines. This is hard to achieve if we are used to cling on to the sail like a monkey that is being pulled off a tree. For all my students that want to learn to sail in the harness, this is one habit I have to correct before we can focus on the harness.
3. Rig sail for wind that is on the forecast, not what is on the water
At the surf center I often get asked by our clients what sail they should take. I look at the water (or the anemometer) and say something along the lines of “It’s around 20 knots right now, take a 5.7”. At least once per day I get the reply “But the forecast says it should pick up until 25 knots. I think I will take 5.0 instead so I am not overpowered in 30 minutes”.
My response is always the same: “Rig for what wind there is, not for what should be”. Forecasts are calculation models and never going to be 100% correct. If they predicted 25 knots but all you got was 20, no amount of wishful thinking will spare you from coming back to the beach after 2 tacks to switch to a bigger sail. Spare yourself the energy, frustration and the walk of shame from downwind.
4. Carry the board with the nose to the wind
The boards weight center is usually somewhere between the mast foot and the front straps. So that is where you will hold it to carry it. However, there is more board surface available to the wind forwards of that point. That means that the board will act similar to a wind vane and will always be pushed by the wind so that the fin is pointing to the wind
Even so, I regularly see a lit of people who want to walk with the boards nose pointing to the wind and don’t realise that they thereby have to make a huge effort fighting against the board turning.
Make life easier for yourself and don’t fight the wind.
5. Stand the sail up in the sand
It is very common to see people stand the sail up in the sand to check the height of the boom or adjust the harness lines. But if you observe them a little longer you will also see them fumbling and trying to use brute force to get the mast foot pin into the mast base that is now filled with compacted wet sand. The only way to solve this issue is to walk into the water and wash the sand out of the mast base.
You can save yourself a lot of hassle by connecting the sail to the board and adjusting everything that way.
However, that leads me to my next point…
6. Standing on the board on the sand to adjust the harness lines
Fins are nothing but a 5-7mm thing plate of carbon fibre. It is built for resisting sideways forces in water. They are NOT built to resist your weight pushing down on it while the sail pulls the top sideways and the sand holds the bottom in place. Do this with too much weight, too much wind or a too slender fin and you will end up with two fin halves. Or worse, a cracked fin that snaps while you are sailing with heaps of power loading it. You really don’t want to crash because the fin suddenly disappeared. Nor do you want to have to swim/semi-windsurf back to shore, especially in off-shore conditions.
7. Too short harness lines
We hook in the harness to save energy. However we still want to be able to sail as efficiently as possible. This means we want to be able to lean back, away from the mast far enough so that we can push into the board horizontally while keeping the sail as upright as possible.
All that is not possible with short harness lines. In waves and on a small sail I would not recommend anyone go shorter than 22″, and even that is pushing it.
8. Wasting time on the beach
You are at the beach to go windsurfing. So go windsurfing. You can sit around, or if you prefer, stand around on the beach with your hands on the harness hook talking about the wind, but make sure you do it after your session.
The wind is an unreliable element and if it is there, take advantage of it. Sure it might pick up later, but it might just as well drop and you will have missed out on a nice ride.
Those are the most common windsurfing mistakes I see sailors of all levels doing. Do you have any others that should be on the list? Let me know in the comments.