Step 6: Stance and sail control
The correct sailing stance is everything. With the correct stance you will fly without many strain, aches, or pains.
Here are some things to watch out for. A (below) is the stance to avoid: sail is leaning over to the side, your butt is hanging out, and you are bent at the waist. If you get in this horrible stance, let the sail out with your backhand, bend your knees, and tuck in your butt.
B is a good stance. The mast is more or less vertical. Knees are bent, your derriere discretely tucked in, and your back is straight. When the wind is light, to keep the mast vertical, your elbows (particularly your front arm elbow) should be bent and pointing down. When the wind is strong, you will need to lean way back to counteract the wind in the sail and therefore your arms will be straight. Both feet will be behind the mast, about shoulder width apart. If you are a heavier person and you notice the tail of the board sinking, move forward. If the bow is sinking, move backward. As the wind gets stronger, you will have to more back on the board to keep the bow from purling under the waves. For now, it is important that your knees are slightly bent and your feet on the center line.
In higher winds, try C below. You should have a slight “pelvic thrust.” Like a paper straw, the fewer bends in your body, the stronger your stance. D below is a high wind stance. You will not use this stance for a while, but it’s the stance you will ultimately aim for as you become an advance sailor. In the high wind stance, your arms are straight, and your body is straight. (No kinks in the straw.) Most of your body is over the water and you are hanging your weight off of your harness lines. (I will cover harness use later, but you will need to use a harness as you progress.) As you get into high winds, you will move your feet into the footstraps on the windward side of the board.
A few hints
We said NEVER let go with your front hand. (The only exception is when you are coming back to the beach and you want to drop the sail in the water.) There are two reasons for not letting go with your front hand. Most importantly for now, if you let go with your front hand, the sail will drop in the water and you will have to uphaul again, a definite drag. If you let go with your back hand, you will just let the wind out of the sail. Then you can always return to the basic position and start again without having to uphaul the sail.
Second, when you get "launched" into your rig (which will happen), holding on to the boom may keep the boom (or other parts of your equipment) from crashing into your dental work (or other expensive part of your body). If you let go of the boom, there is nothing to keep you from directly meeting your equipment. If you hold on to the rig with your front hand you may cushion the blow.
For now, it is important to keep your knees bent and your feet on the centerline. Keeping your feet near the centerline of the board is especially important with today's wider boards. As the wind gets stronger, you will have to move back on the board to keep the front of the board from going underwater. Eventually, you will move your feet into the footstraps on the windward side of the board. To counteract the force of the sail, your body will be "hiked" way out to windward and your legs will be straight, that is, when you advance to high winds, your knees will not be bent. For now, however, your knees should be bent and feet on the centerline of the board.
For now, your centerboard should always be down. You only need to raise it when you reach high speeds at which point the centerboard causes instability. When the wind is high, and you feel this instability, first try raising the centerboard 1/2 up, then all the way up. Sometimes in high wind, your board may tend to "round up" into the wind. Raising the centerboard 1/2 up will help with the problem (as explained in the Steering section).
A History Lesson
Windsurfer, Sailboard, Baja Board? Where did this stuff start? Two Southern California aeronautical engineers, Hoyle Schweitzer and Jim Drake, started experimenting with a personal sailing craft around 1961. Both were avid Hobie Cat sailors, surfers, and general water sports enthusiasts. The pair of inventors built many complete prototypes, including some that would be considered bizarre today. The "personal sailing craft" that we have today incorporates all of their design breakthroughs: freely articulated mast, wishbone rig, centerboard, and skeg. The first production run were made like surfboards, glass over foam, and were called Baja Boards. A Seattle distributor suggested the name Windsurfer.
Drake and Schweitzer were awarded a patent in 1971. A few months later, Drake sold his share in the company for a reported $30,000.
Schweitzer couldn't get anyone interested in mass producing windsurfers in the United States. Finally, he got Ten Cate, a Dutch textile manufacturer, to produce boards in Europe. The sport caught on in Europe, with little interest in the U.S. The next decade of the sport was marked by acrimonious patent fights between Schweitzer and a host of European competitors. "Windsurfer" was the name of Schweitzer's company and board so the term "sailboard" applied to everyone else's product. More recently, the original "Windsurfer" went out of production, and the term has been claimed for sailboards in general. (You use to have to say "Windsurfer(TM)".) Now the term "windsurfer" is being used in the generic sense, as is the word "sailboard."
In 1996, Jim Drake was elected to the Sailing Hall of Fame for developing the windsurfer.
If you are interested in the early days of windsurfing, I recommend a DVD called "Wind Legends."