Windsurfing is an extremely popular water sport which combines surfing and sailling. The basic concept involves a large surfboard with a sail attached. You stand on the board, hold the sail and off you go! What could be simplier? Of course, it isn't as easy as it sounds but if you are interested in having a go, then the following tips and hints may help. I should say at this stage that the absolute best way to learn how to windsurf is to have professional instruction at an approved windsurf school.
The first bit of good news is that it is easier to learn how to windsurf now than when I learned approximately 25 years ago! Advances in equipment mean that boards are far more 'floaty' and forgiving which as a newbie is exactly what you need. For the purposes of this article I will assume that you have managed to beg, borrow or hire some appropriate windsurfing equipment.
It is much easier to learn to windsurf on a lake rather than in the sea, the main reason for this is that you will almost always have some sort of tidal action and waves in the sea which simply create additionally challenges for a learner. A nice flat lake with a light wind is ideal, so let's get started...
- Float your board and sail into the lake a few metres from the shore (ideally without going out of your depth).
- Position the board and rig (the sail/mast/boom) so that everything is downwind, in other words so that the wind is blowing onto your back, the board is in front of you and the rig is the opposite side of the board.
- Stand next to the center of the board and climb onto it on your knees so that one knee is either side of the mast. Stay on your knees until you get your balance.
- Attached to the boom and the bottom of the mast you will see a rope, this is called the uphaul. Take hold of it with both hands and lean back slightly against it. you can then use this to balance against while you stand up, again keeping your feet either side of the mast.
- You should now find yourself in a standing position, holding the uphaul, with the sail still in the water. Gently lean back into the wind and the sail will start to lift out of the water.
- Slowly and carefully pull the uphaul towards you with a hand over hand motion. The board will move round until it is in a true downwind position.
- When the mast is close enough for you to grab it, do so. Don't do this too early as you will end up falling forward. Equally, don't leave it too late as you will fall backwards! It's a delicate balancing act and I always found that sticking my rear out helped!
- Once you are holding the mast with both hands, get your balance and then with your back hand (the one closest to the end of the board), take hold of the boom about 18 inches away from the mast and pull it very slightly towards you.
- When you pull the boom in, the wind will catch in the sail and you will start to move fowards. If you feel comfortable, take your front hand off the mast and hold the boom with both hands, then move your feet so that they are both behind the mast.
- That's it, you're windsurfing!
- Most boards which are suitable for a beginner will have a 'daggerboard' in the middle of them. This is like a large fin which points down into the water and helps keep the board stable. Whilst learning you should always keep the daggerboard in the down position.
- You will fall in lots of times, everyone does. One of the scariest things I found when learning was getting trapped underneath the sail. If this happens, don't panic and don't try and push the sail up as if the board has turned over it will be working against you and won't be an easy thing to do. Instead, just swim to the edge of the sail and pop your head up, remember, you will only have to swim a few metres in any direction to be clear of your equipment.
- I would recommend wearing head protection in the form of a helmet, at least whilst learning, as a bang on the head from the mast does hurt!
- You don't need a strong wind to learn how to windsurf, infact, this will probably cause you more problems than it solves. A nice constant light wind is absolutely ideal - you can worry about going for the speed record when you have perfected your technique!
As with all windsurfing techniques, there is an element of risk involved so I recommend that you always wear appropriate safety equipment including a helmet, life jacket and appropriate clothing including a wetsuit, gloves and boots. Know your limitations and don't try anything which you aren't really ready for.