Windsurfing is an exciting, adrenaline inducing and treacherous sporting adventure. It requires a measured amount of discipline and the ability to laugh when everything seems to be going wrong! One minute your standing up on your board going along swimmingly, the next minute, your sail is on top of you, the up haul is wrapped around your neck, the board is upside down with the fin* in the air, and you have eight thousand litres of salt water in your mouth.
Wait, don’t go yet!
It’s not all bad! These are the rights of passage reserved for every beginner, improver, intermediate and even advanced windsurfer. A hardship every budding windsurfing athlete has to go through. Without sounding too far on the philosophical side of the life, windsurfing is the catalyst to a healthy mind. The grit of the sport encourages an evocative response from your body:
You have to drag yourself back onto the board after the twentieth time falling off or you’ll float downwind and would have to walk your heavy kit two miles up the beach.
You have to keep hold of the boom even though your arms are tired and cramping or you will drop the sail in the water and have to haul it back up again.
You have to learn to waterstart* in order to progress, otherwise you’ll end up in some gnarly situations where you’re out of your depth in high winds with no way of getting back to shore.
You have to quickly realise that there is no other option. No cutting corners. No copping out.
This sport defines what you are made of. It brings incomprehensible levels of joy, a runners high like no other, endorphins that no amount of chocolate could ever breed. It forces you to adapt into someone relentless, unfaltering, strategic, courteous and full on, no questions asked, hard-as-nails. Plus, the conversations you get into on the beach, post sail, whilst cradling an ice cold beer that feels so hard earned, are worthy of a blustery, hardcore day on the water. You are NEVER alone. Every windsurfer has felt, or is doomed to feel the struggles you have. You are instantly connected with strangers. “I’m really struggling staying upwind”, “I can’t get in my back strap”, “I keep getting catapulted out of my harness”, “How far back are your harness lines in this wind?”, “What size sail are you on?” – the questions are endless. You are welcomed into a world unbeknown to you like a shot. Newly learnt words, an evolved apprehension of the weather, developed capabilities on the water. Your new love.
Stick with it.
We asked beginners, advanced, and new sailors which questions they would have wanted answered when they started out. We’ve compiled a little handbook of trade secrets helping you hop into finding your windsurfing passion at any ability:
How do I get into it? Where do I even go?
Great question. You might think you live in a landlocked, no-go windsurfing zone but you almost certainly do not. Get onto Google and have a look at your nearest windsurfing lake, reservoir, or beach. Most of them will be RYA (Royal Yachting Association) accredited meaning the centres are equipped to help complete beginners get on the water safely. Go down and get a beginner windsurfing lesson to see what it’s all about.
Do I need my own kit?
No. Windsurfing equipment is expensive and adapting frequently with new technology that would be tricky for beginners to keep up with. Sails, boom, board, fins, up haul, downhaul, mast, mast extension, foot straps, harness, wetsuit, boots, UJ, the list is endless and probably in a new language to most of you. Any time you hire from a centre, they will give you all the vital stuff you need, so all you need to turn up with is a towel and a positive attitude.
On the other hand, places like Facebook market place and Ebay are incredible recourses for finding second-hand gems. Much like borrowing off old friends, or sharing kit just to get you started.
For those who have your own wetsuit, bring it. It’s much more comfortable to be falling off a beginner board in style; and in something that is the right size…
How long does it take to progress?
This is a tricky one and it totally depends on your pre-existing sporting ability. If you are entirely new to the water it may take longer for you to get used to it than someone who has canoed, skateboarded or surfed since they were younger. If you are relatively fit, you will manage fabulously. Whatever pace you start at, and how long it takes you to get planning, you are still doing incredibly. A ballpark figure would be about two weeks of solid daily windsurfing to go from total beginner to being able to turn around and come back.
Do I need to be able to swim?
This really depends on the location. Hove Lagoon, in Brighton is a prime location for beginners who are not especially strong swimmers. It’s an inland lagoon that is waist deep with light, manoeuvrable kit, lifejackets and with no risk of drifting away, but challenging enough for more experienced sailors for skills-based sessions. It is recommended if you are not a confident swimmer to start somewhere that IS NOT out of your depth. 2XS Windsurfing Club at West Wittering allows you to stay in your depth for as long as you want whilst having a good run at certain tides.
Is windsurfing dangerous?
Windsurfing, like most water-sports is classed as an extreme sport. Extremely fun, but comes with risks, like most high action sports. Taking steps to reduce your potential risk such as taking classes at RYA certified centres, wearing a helmet, lifejacket, and always going out on the water with an up haul attached to your sail, and finally, always telling someone when you have gone out on the water. The rewards outweigh the risks in most windsurfers eyes.
I’m struggling. Is windsurfing worth perusing?
The answer is yes. Remember how good it feels to be good at something you never thought you could achieve. Ramp that feeling up by 500 x. There is no feeling on this earth comparable with how flying through the air, totally in control, grinning like an idiot, with the sun beating on you, with your hair blowing everywhere, looking like an absolute boss feels. Trust us. Over and above that, you are not too unfit, too heavy, too light, too old, or too young. You can windsurf way into your 70s & 80s!
Thank you for reading our fully comprehensive little handbook of trade secrets, see you on the water 🙂
Universal Joint (not as reggae roots as it sounds). Connects the mast base to the centre side of the board.
A rope-esque mechanism that attaches to the sail to enables you to pull the sail out the water when water starting and beach starting isn’t possible. Hard to do in very strong winds. Also acts as a safety aid.
A piece of equipment that attaches to the mast to enable the sailor to hold on to the sail with hands or harness, it also determines the way the sail is rigged (loose or tight).
The tall vertical part of the rig that holds the sail in place, attaches to the centre of the board and has the sheet of the sail wrapped around it. Try especially hard not to snap in half…
What it says on the tin, soft surface straps attached to the back of intermediate boards to put feet in. Used to speed up the board by weight baring on the rails, gaining traction, trim and direction.
A gybe is a downwind turn that involves a change in the feet and a rig flip (where your hands change to other side of the sail in order to turn directional ‘downwind’).
Carve Gybe –
A carve gybe is where you are planning when you come into the gybe and planing out of it as you change direction, also downwind.
Where the board is gliding over the water when moving in one direction instead of pushing through it, feels like flying! Pronounced ‘plain-ing’.
An upwind turn (a turn through the wind) to change direction, again, similar to a gybe. A change of foot position as hands change onto the other side of the boom. Usually the first turn taught to beginners, becomes harder on smaller boards and in higher winds.
Sailing nearest to the wind is upwind sailing. To turn upwind tilt to sail towards the front of the board.
Sailing away from the wind. To turn downwind tilt you sail towards the back of the board.
Indie Bornhoft is a personal trainer and watersports coach, who encourages her clients to make movement their mantra. She has coached every ability in wakeboarding, paddleboarding, SUP fitness, and windsurfing for over ten years, and is highly qualified in all disciplines. Discover more about her drive to just keep moving and be inspired to connect to the raw power of body & spirit through fitness.