The 10-Step Guide to Windsurfing

by Bill Prinzmetal

with help from Jane Robbins and Peter Kuhn

Version 1.2, July 1996 (Revised March 2009)

Copyright 2009 Bill Prinzmetal



This guide is sponsored by the Cal Sailing Club, but the opinions herein are strictly mine. We are putting it on the net in hopes that it may assist other beginning and intermediate windsurfers. Note that this guide is not intended as a substitute for instruction by a professional windsurfing school or sailing club. Furthermore, this guide is just a beginning, a little candy to get you hooked.

This guide has sections. Choose the section that you want to work on using the Article Index at the right.

The guide assumes knowledge of sailing terms and concepts. If you do not know a tack from a jibe, a broad reach from a beam reach, or are clueless about clews, click here for sailing terms.

Each of the ten sections includes basic instruction, some helpful hints and miscellaneous information. Some of these hints concern safety and we feel that it is important that you read them.

We would like your feedback on this site so that we can improve it. Also, if you are in the San Francisco Bay area, visit our sailing club in the Berkeley Marina.

Bill Prinzmetal

Step 1: Where to Learn — Finding Equipment

Picking a Sailing School

We recommend lessons from an established sailing school. (For a list of some windsurfing schools in the U.S., click here.) Do not be tempted to let a sailing 'significant other' teach you. Such lessons usually do harm to both learning to sail and to the relationship. A friend who is a high wind 'short board' expert also might not be a good instructor since he or she probably has forgotten beginning sailing completely.

We recommend a windsurfing program that does more than offer only the "first-time" beginning lesson, but also offers continuing lessons for intermediate and advanced sailing. A program, like that offered by the Hood River Water Play Sailing School, seems ideal. The program begins with 2 days of 3-hours lessons. After completing these lessons, the student is given 10 free hours of supervised sailing (with equipment) to practice the skills acquired in the first lessons. After mastering the beginning skills, there is a very complete sequence of intermediate and advanced lessons to keep the student progressing. Also the equipment that the school uses should be fairly new. Since about 2002, beginner boards have become much better designed and easier to use. If the boards the school offers are older than that, stay away! (See note below on "The Board.").

If there isn't a good sailing school in your area, we recommend the book A Beginner's Guide to Zen and the Art of Windsurfing, by Frank Fox (Amberco Press). If you can not locate that book, read on. Even if you have located a fine sailing school and/or some good books and videos, it won't hurt to read this guide. The more you know about windsurfing, the faster you will progress.

Other on-line courses that I know about are:

Windsurfing Bible (not free, small fee)

Watertrader Magazine

US Windsurfing Association ($15 for CD with nice movies)

Another way to go in North America is ABK Sports. They offer 3 days clinics around North America, and they are excellent for sailors of all levels.

The Board

If you picked a good windsurfing school, they will provide you with an appropriate board to learn on. If you are on your own (and you probably are if you are reading this web page), it is best to learn on a 'Entry Level Board'. For an adult, this board should be at least 80 cm wide, and will have a retractable centerboard or center fin. Pick a board with enough flotation to allow you to stand and balance easily. Kids can use smaller boards. The amount of flotation you need depends mostly on your weight. For example, if you are under 160 lb. (60 kg), a board with 200 liters of floatation would work nicely. If you are between 160 lb. (60 kg) and 210 lb. (78 kg) or so, 220 liters of floatation would be good etc. But in any case, the board should be at least 80 cm wide.

The Sail

Here is a typical conversation between two windsurfers preparing to sail:

A: What do you think, 5.5?
B: Well, Bud is on a 5.7 and he seems to be flying.
A: Jane is on a 4.6 and that usually means I should be on a 5.0.
B: I don't know, a 5.2 might be perfect.
A: I only have a 5.7 and a 4.6.

This profound conversation will continue for about 10 minutes.

There are several misconceptions about sail size. Some think that bigger is definitely more macho and will make you go faster, while smaller is necessarily easier. Neither of these beliefs is true. The wrong sail size, whether too big or too small, will make sailing difficult. Several factors matter for the correct sail size: (1) your weight and (2) the wind strength. Your weight will not change much during the season, but the wind strength will change from day to day. Pay attention to the wind strength and the sail size that is most fun for you with a particular wind. If the wind is 10 MPH and you are having fun on a 5.0, then next time out when the wind is 10 MPH, use the same size sail if you can. However, if the wind is lighter next time (5 MPH) use a bigger sail; if it is stronger (15 MPH) use a smaller sail. You can also rig a sail slightly differently for different wind speeds. You should only use a too small 'school' sail for the first few times out.

My personal advice is buying used is fine, but don't buy junk. If you are unsure, take a windsurfing friend with you to the swap meet/garage sale. Shops are usually very helpful, they want your long term business. Finally, whoever you buy from, whether new are used, should demonstrate how to rig the equipment. You want to make sure all the bits actually fit together and you know how to get the most out of the rig. A poorly rigged sail will be a nightmare on the water. A well rigged sail ... a thing of beauty.

You are going to need a wetsuit and choice a place to sail, which is covered in the Safety section.

Step 2: Safety

Feel safe and prosper! If you feel safe when you sail, you will sail better, more often, and learn faster. The faster you learn, the more fun you will have. The more fun have the happier you will be, which will contribute to WORLD PEACE! This section is broken down into two parts: Beginner Safety and Advanced/Intermediate Safety. If you are a beginner, you only need to concern yourself with beginner safety. Check out advanced safety when you get to the harness bit. The opinions given in this page are strictly mine.

Beginner Safety

Picking a sailing spot. Safety begins by picking a good place to sail. You want a spot where the wind and current will return you to where you started, should something break. Consider launch on the map below.

Bad Launch

You might ask, what's the skull and cross bones? It may be a place where there is no road from which to drive to to retrieve your stuff. It might be a swamp. It might be a thorn patch. It's a place where the wind will unfortunately take you, should something not go quite right. A good place to launch from is illustrated below:

Gool Launch

What you want is a place where the wind (and or current) will take you home. Generally that is an "on shore" wind. The launch labeled OK is a side shore launch. It's OK if further down the beach is safe road access.

Finally, ask the local sailors about hazards, etc. Local knowledge is indispensable.


Most of us are not fortunate enough to live in a place where the water is always a bathtub 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Hence, a wetsuit is a necessary piece of equipment, not just for comfort, but also for safety. Most importantly, your wetsuit provides warmth and the sailors worst enemy is hypothermia. Your wetsuit also provides buoyancy (in addition to your PFD - Government Speak for life jacket).

When you buy a wetsuit, don't skimp; it could mean the difference between happy sailing and hypothermia. Buy a wetsuit designed for windsurfing rather than one designed for scuba, kayaking or looking cool. Windsurfing wetsuits are designed so that you can comfortably hold your arms out straight and hang on to the boom. Scuba wetsuits are designed for swimming with your arms by your side. Windsurfing wetsuits will be made with the outside mostly shiny neoprene, not cloth (or Nylon II). Water will run off the shiny neoprene and not cool you in the wind. Water will stick to cloth and cool as it evaporates in the wind.

Wetsuits come in various thicknesses, indicated by two numbers. A 3-2 wetsuit will be 3 mm thick in the chest and body and 2 mm thick in the arms and legs. Many people find 3-2 wetsuit is adequate for San Francisco Bay if they just sail in the summer and do not tend to get cold. On the other hand, a 4-3 wetsuit is a good bet for someone who tends to get cold or who plans to sail into spring and autumn.

When you chose a wetsuit, there are three important things to consider besides the thickness: fit, fit, and fit. The wetsuit should be snug everywhere without cutting off circulation.

Personal Flotation Device

A PFD is useful, even when state laws do not require it. (A PFD is required in some states.) Your wetsuit will give you some floatation, but with just the wetsuit, you will float in an awkward horizontal position. The PFD will float you in a more vertical position. Also, it provides insulation to will keep you warmer and body armor to protect you when you slam into your board. The PFD should fit snugly.

Some people prefer to wear neoprene 'booties' when they sail, and others prefer to sail barefoot. You can tell the latter because of the number of abrasions, lacerations, and plain old stubbed toes that they have. If your hands get sore, you might try a pair of sailing gloves.

Other safety gear.

Don't forget sun protection -- plenty of waterproof high SPF.

A whistle tied to your PFD or wetsuit is a great safety item to signal others when you need help.

I usually carry a 15 feet of thin rope. It's useful for fixing lots of things.

Rescue Me!

Actually, you should be able to self-rescue in almost all situations. The strategy will depend on the situation:

Strategy 1. You do not have far to paddle. Lay on your board and let the sail drag in the water in the position shown below (sail on the back of the board, mast toward the board). Paddle with your arms. This is definitely very slow, so take your time and conserve your energy.

Strategy 2. Same situation as above, but there is absolutely no wind and your board is pretty long. Try to balance the boom on the board so that the rig is out of the water. Lay on top of all the stuff and paddle home.

Strategy 3. You have a long ways to go and there is little hope of someone else rescuing you. However, you are not in any kind of dire circumstance. De-rig, roll up your sail, and tie the sail, book and mast together. Place off of the rig parts together and on the boards. Lay on all the rig parts an paddle home. It is not easy to de-rig in the water.

Strategy 4. You are in a dangerous situation. Abandon you rig (sail, mast, and boom), lay on your board, and paddle home. The general rule is never leave your board, it is your lifeboat. You can replace your sail, mast, and boom, however.

Whatever the situation or strategy, keep in mind that it's easier to walk or drive than to swim with your gear. Hence, know where all the safe places to land and get our stuff ashore. Walking your gear back is almost always faster and easier than swimming.

There are other sailing safety hints spread throughout this manual. There is tons of advance on the web, here is one site that I think offers good information.


Advanced (and Intermediate) Safety

As you become more advanced, you are going to be sailing faster, crashing harder, and sailing further from the beach. This brings up addition issues.

Foot straps. Probably the most frequent injury related to windsurfing are foot, ankle, and lower leg injury, possibly related to foot strap use (see Dyson et al. Br J Sports Med.2006; 40: 346-350). Think about your foot straps! I find two thoughts expressed. The first strategy applies to me and probably many sailors.

Strategy 1. I want to know that when I fall, I will come out of my foot straps so I don't break a foot, ankle, or knee. I adjust them so that only my toes and ball of my foot fit in the straps, and so that my foot hinges at the toes, as shown below.

This way, when I fall, my foot can flex, and there is a greater chance that I will come out of the straps. I personally feel safer with my foot straps. adjusted as above. For me, this is the safest bet. I believe that most foot injuries happen because people do not come out of their foot straps.

Strategy 2. Some of my friends who do a lot of aerial freestyle do not like Strategy 1. They want to know when they do a foreword loop or Vulcan, they will not come out of their foot straps when they are flying through the air. Hence, they adjust their foot straps. so that their whole foot fits into the straps. Since I am not doing forward loops, it's not what I do. Think about how you sail and what is the safest option for you.

Helmet. Concussions and traumatic brain injury are rare, but they do happen. A helmet makes me feel safer, particularly in higher winds and crowded venues. If you wear a helmet I recommend one with a nose guard or visor that will protect your nose and teeth from slamming into the mast,

Other Equipment, Flares, Strobe lights can be useful in attracting help. You can get them at boating supply stores, If there is a chance that you might get caught out after dark, reflective strips sewn to your PFD are very visible. You can get these at bicycle stores. If you venture far from shore, a waterproof marine VHS radio or cell phone in a water proof pouch might be a consideration. The VHS radio only works if there is something like the Coast Guard to monitor it (usually coastal areas and near large bodies of water). If you get a radio, be sure to study the instructions. There are specific procedures that must be followed. If you go the cell phone route, enter the number of the appropriate rescue agency (e.g., Coast Guard, county Sheriff). In my area (San Francisco Bay) the Coast Guard advises one to call them directly instead of 911 as the 911 operators are not always familiar with marine rescue.

Learn self rescue strategies such as those below:

Fin Breaks. Two strategies have been suggested to me, First, attach your harness to the rear foot strap so it provides drag at the rear of the board. Second, stand by the mast, sink the windward rail in the water and sail very slowly.

Universal breaks. Tie your mast to the mast base with the rope you brought along (as suggested in Beginner safety). If possible, put something (a bootie?) between the mast and deck so that you will not dig a hole in your board.

Boom breaks. There are two sides to the boom, and you only need one. You might have to take the boom off, flip it over, and reattach to get the good side to windward.

Harness line breaks. With that rope you have along, make a new one,

Mast breaks. If it breaks above the boom, you are in luck. Just sail slowly home with what little sail you have. If it break below the boom, you might be able to stuff the top section in the bottom section (tip down), and sail slowly home.

A Tip, If you look carefully at the picture of my booties above, you will see my cell phone number written in yellow. In fact, every bit of my equipment has my number written on it. A great way to pick up women (or men)? Perhaps. The real reason is that I am forgetful and I have at one time left a harness, mast, helmet, head, and wetsuit at the launch site. Kind people take pity on me and call me up. Of course, you are not forgetful, so you might disregard this tip ... until the first time you leave your wetsuit at the beach.


Step 3: Carrying the Rig: Getting to the water

There are a few ways to get to the water. With a large beginner board, you will probably have to carry the board and rig (sail/boom/mast) separately. Carry your board to the water before you carry your sail to the water. In a windy area, make sure you attach your sail to something (such a board, a picnic table, fence, etc.). By itself, a sail can "take-off" and become a dangerous missile!

To safely carry your rig (sail, boom, and mast), first orient the sail on the ground so that the wind is at a right angle to the sail.

Lift the sail over your head, keeping this angle. Place one hand on the mast, one on the boom. You may rest the sail on your head but don't rest your head on any clear part of the sail (vinyl or monofilament). You can move the sail back and forth a bit to find the optimal angle to the wind. As you walk to the water, keep this angle. If you turn around, your direction will change (relative to the wind), but the sail should stay in the same orientation in relation to the wind.

Get into the water in either one of the following two ways. If on sand, attach the sail to the rig on land and drag it to the water holding the fin out of the sand. Otherwise, put the sail in the water, and return to the beach to get your board. Attach the sail to the board and then walk out in the water far enough so that you can put the centerboard all of the way down.

When you progress to a smaller board, you can carry the board and sail together as shown below.

The sail and mast should be downwind of the board, with the clew of the sail away from you. In most circumstances, you can walk into the water in this position. However, if there are breaking waves, you want to reposition the board and sail so that the sail rests on the board, and they are both downwind of you. This last adjustment just before entering the water will keep you from being "sissored" between the mast and board, if a wave should hit you.

The final way to carry your board and rig (only with a small board) is to balance the entire rig and board on your held. To learn how to do this, go to the beach and look for someone with a flat spot on their head. They will help you!

A Safety Hint

You started out from the beach in San Diego with a light on shore wind and no surf. As you were out having a great time, the wind steadily built, and so did the surf. Now you have to negotiate a line of breaking waves to get back to shore.

There are two ways to get through the surf. If there is enough wind, you can usually sail through. Sail slowly just out side the surf line. When you see a break in the surf, sheet in and go for it. When you get in, you will have to hop off your board and quickly carry you rig and board to the beach before the next wave mangles it. Stand between your board and rig with the sail downwind of you, clew pointing away from you. Grab the board with one hand, and the boom with the other, and lift until the sail is out of the water.

The second way to get through the surf is probably more practical for the beginner. Swim to the tip of your mast and hold tightly to it. Go through the surf, swimming with your board and sail in front of you - toward the beach. When a wave comes, hold on tightly with both hands. They way you will not get crushed between the board and wave. Get out of the water as described above.


Step 4: Uphauling the sail

Put the centerboard in the down position so it extends below the board. Walk or paddle away from other people and obstructions so that if you fall, your mast will not hit anything hard (like a head). Begin with the board at approximately a right angle to the wind, and the sail on the leeward side of the board (i.e., downwind of the board, see Figure A below). Crawl up on the board. Take the uphaul in your hands and stand up slowly. Your front foot should be just in front of the mast, and your back foot about shoulder width apart from your front foot. Both feet must be on the centerline of the board (arrow in Figure A, below), your knees slightly bent, and your weight on the balls of your feet.

Slowly, lift the sail with the uphaul until it is about a foot out of the water and wait until the water drains out of the mast sleeve. Then finish lifting the sail, all the time keeping the mast at a right angle to the board. Take your time, uphaul slowly, hand over hand on the uphaul, while keeping your arms mostly straight.

The following are the key points:
• Keep your feet on the centerline (tip to tail) of the board
• Keep the mast at a right angle to the board
• Keep your knees bent
• Keep your arms straight

Continue lifting until the sail is entirely out of the water. When you succeed in getting the sail out of the water, rest for a second before proceeding (Figure B below). You should have arms straight, sail out of water, knees slightly bent, sail at right angle to the board. This is the basic position it’s very stable. You could read War and Peace, or do your taxes in this position.

Unfortunately, sometimes the sail falls on the windward (wrong) side of the board. Here are three different strategies for getting the sail downwind of the board (on the leeward side).

1. Swim the board around. (It is easier to move the board through the water than move the sail).
2. Muscle the boom and sail to the correct side.
3. Uphaul with the sail on the wrong (windward) side. The wind might whip the sail around to the correct side, and cause you to fall. However, if you keep your arms straight and the sail "away" from you, you might put this off. You shouldn't be afraid of this strategy because you already are wet. This method is the one we often use, falling and all.

Miscellaneous stuff: Figuring Out the Wind Direction

If you have the mast at right angles to the board, the board will always swing around to be at a right angle to the wind (beam reach). This fact is very handy. If the wind is very light and you can't tell exactly where the wind is coming from, get into the basic position and the board will swing around to a right angle to the wind (i.e., wind at your back - a beam reach).

You will almost always want to start to sail at a right angle to the wind (beam reach). However, from the basic position, if you swing the mast forward, the nose of board will head downwind. If you swing the mast backward, you will point upwind. So having the mast a 90° angle to the board will make the board 90° to the wind, and that is just right!

If you want to "park," not move forward while in the heave-to position, try putting one hand one the boom and back wind the sail very slightly.


A Safety Hint - Getting downwind

If you are upwind of where you want to be and for some reason have trouble sailing downwind, heave-to and just stand there (knees bent, arms straight). You will drift downwind eventually. You will also probably sail forward to some extent. When you've gone too far on one tack, head back the other way and heave-to. When the wind gets strong, many sailors find themselves upwind of where they want to be. You can use this technique to get home. Just stand there and let the wind do the job.


Step 5: Startup Sequence

It's time to get moving. Here is how.

Step 1. You're in the basic position. Your feet are on the centerline of the board, straddling the mast base, your knees are slightly bent, your arms are straight, and you are holding the mast with both hands below the boom.

Step 2. First move your feet behind the mast (A below). Next, with your front hand (which is holding the mast) should move the mast and sail in front of you and across the board (B). The sail and mast should be balanced, so it will take very little effort to hold it in front of you in an upright position. Now grab the boom with first your back hand and then front hand, but keep the sail parallel to the wind (C). Finally, slowly bring in the sail with your backhand (D, “sheet-in the sail”).

Step 3. Think of the sail as a door. With your back hand not pulling on the sail, the sail is out, parallel to the wind, and the wind passes through the door. To catch the wind, move your back hand in (D) to partly close the door and catch the wind. Congratulations, you have just gotten your first ride. You are now officially a windsurfer.. You will sail off at a beam reach. When you get to Hawaii, send me a postcard.

Resist the temptation to panic and drop the sail. If you think that the wind is too strong, gently let out with your backhand and let some wind out the door. As you feel more comfortable, pull in harder with your backhand. Congratulations, you have just gotten your first ride. You are now officially a windsurfer.

Resist the temptation to panic and drop the sail. If you think that the wind is too strong, gently let out with your backhand and let some wind out the door. As you feel more comfortable, pull in harder with your backhand. You will have to lean back to counter the pull of the sail. On light wind days, be careful not to pull in too hard with your backhand. That will “stall” the sail and you will just go sideways. A little wind always has to be let out the door. If you feel that the wind is too strong, let go with you backhand, but never let go with your front hand.

Right of way rules

Now that you are flying along, it is a good time to consider what happens if you are about to collide with another vessel (i.e., boat or sailboard). Collisions at sea are a good thing to avoid. There are two aspects to avoiding collisions at sea: (1) The Law, also called Rules of the Road; (2) Uncommonly good sense.

The Law (Simplified)

It is just as important to observe the universal right-of-way rules on the water as it is when driving on the road. For purposes of right-of-way, a windsurfer (or kiteboarder) is the same as a sailboat. Right-of-way can always be determined by applying the following four rules:
1. A boat overtaking another boat shall keep clear of the boat being overtaken.
2. A boat on starboard tack has right of way over a boat on port tack. In windsurfung, if your right hand is forward on the boom you are on starboard tack and have right of way over a port tack vessel (Right is right!).
3. When two boats are on the same tack, the boat to windward shall keep clear of the boat to leeward.
4. A boat that is towing a boat or windsurfer has the right-of-way.

Uncommonly Good Sense

Some of these points are not obvious.

1. First, you don't want to panic without reason. There is a simple way to tell if you are on a collision course with another vessel. First take a bearing on the other vessel. A good system of bearings is the "clock face" as shown below:

The Queen Mary has a bearing of 1:00 (1 o'clock). Wait a minute and check the bearing again. If the bearing changes (e.g., from 1:00 to 2:30) you are not on a collision course. If the bearing does not change, you are on a collision course. Gulp.

2. If you have right of way, make sure that the skipper of the other vessel (boat or sailboard) sees you. The other sailor or kiter may be doing what we do much of the time: daydreaming. Try to establish eye contact. Yell (nicely), if necessary, to get the other guy's attention.

3. If you alter your course, do not make a small change; make your change in course large enough so that the other sailor doesn't have to guess your intentions.

4. It is safer to pass behind another vessel than it is to pass in front of it (particularly the Queen Mary). Sailors often have a tendency to try to scoot in front of an oncoming vessel instead of passing behind it (like a deer darting in front of a car, with the predictable consequences). It is also safer to pass to the leeward of another sailboard than to pass to windward. If you fall, or "spin-out" you will not drift into the other board.

5. Most collisions between sailboards happen when one sailor jibes or tacks (i.e., turns) without looking. Look twice, jibe (or tack) once.


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."


Step 7: Steering

Did you ever notice that there is no rudder on these darn things, let alone a tiller or wheel. A brilliant insight of Drake and Schweitzer was that a rudder wasn't needed!

Steering upwind is easy. Move the sail back and over the rear of the board (see Figure A). The foot of the sail may actually touch the deck of the board. Hold this position until the board changes direction: then move the sail back to the neutral position (see sailing stance). If you are having trouble making the board head upwind, you are not moving the sail far enough back and far enough over the board. The lighter the wind, the more you have to exaggerate this move. Be careful that you do not head up into the wind too much and get caught in the NO sailing zone (see below and Sailing Terms, Points of Sail).

Many sailors have more trouble turning off the wind (away from the wind). The maneuver is just the opposite of the above: move the sail forward and across the front of the board (see Figure B). Be sure to sheet in, because if you do not have power in the sail, you will not turn. After you change direction, move the sail back to the neutral position. If the wind is light, you must exaggerate leaning the sail forward and to windward. In order to move the sail far enough forward, it may be necessary to move your hands back on the boom.

If you have trouble turning the board off the wind, you are doing one of two things wrong: (1) You do not have the sail leaning far enough forward and across the front of the board. Lean the sail as much as the figure B above; (2) You are not sheeting in and therefore do not have power in the sail.

Where should you steer? To the next Whiskey Bar? For now, you should orient yourself to the wind, and sail in the green areas in the figure below. You will learn how to sail downwind (running) later. Avoid the NO sailing area. If you find yourself drifting sideways, or not moving much despite plenty of wind, you might be in the NO Sailing area. (Yes, the Bermuda Triangle exists.)

Now would be a good time to review stance: Are your knees bent? Is your butt in? Is your sail straight up and down or is it leaning out to leeward?

The theory of steering without a rudder

The sailboard is turned by moving the Center of Effort (CE) either in front or behind the Center of Lateral Resistance (CLR, see figure below). The CE is the center of the force of the wind on the sail. The CLR is the center of all the side-ways forces on the board. The CLR is located about approximately at the center of the centerboard. Think of the forces acting on the sail and board like a child on a teeter-totter. The CLR is the pivot point, the CE is the force (i.e. it is a child on one end of the teeter-totter or the other). If there is more wind force at the front of the board, the board will pivot and the bow of the board will swing downwind. If there is more wind force at the rear of the board, the board will pivot and point upwind.

Theory of Steering

The location of the CLR is determined mostly by the location of the centerboard. In high wind, you may have a tendency to point upwind. One way to counteract this is to move the CLR back by moving the centerboard partway up. When you raise the centerboard part way up, it will swing back, moving the CLR. (This trick also works with sailboats.)

The location of the CE is determined mostly by where you place the sail. If the board seems to have a slight tendency to head up or downwind, you can change the CE forward or back by moving your hands on the boom. For example, if you have a tendency to turn upwind, moving your hands back on the boom will have the effect of moving the sail (and CE) forward. Moving your hands forward on the boom has the opposite effect. Also, you can move the CE by moving the mast in the mast track forward or back. For example, in high wind if you continually tend to head upwind, move your hands back on the boom. If that doesn't do the trick, raise the centerboard about halfway up. Finally, you can move the mast forward in the mast track. (Move the mast back if you have a tendency to head downwind.)



Step 8: Tacking

In both tacking and jibing, you change direction so the wind comes from the opposite side of the board. In tacking, you turn toward the wind; in jibing, you turn away from the wind. Hence, tack when you want to move in the direction toward the wind. Jibe when you want to move away from the wind. Tacking will move you toward the wind, jibing away from the wind. Since beginners often have problems staying up wind, it's best to learn how to tack before leaning how to jibe.

There are several different ways to tack. This is a method similar to one taught at ABK Windsurfing clinics. It works well where the water is rough.

Before starting to tack, you must do three things. (1) Look over your shoulder. Are you about to turn into someone’s path? (2) Drop your front hand to the mast just below the boom. (3) Move your front foot to just in front of the mast (A).

Now begin to turn into the wind by moving the sail to the back of the board and across the board, just as in the "Steering Step" above. (Figure A) Keep your arms straight, knees bent, and take a lot of little steps. If you don't move your feet from the beginning of the turn, you will find it difficult to move them at all.

Keep force in the sail; that force is what turns you. (May the force be with you.) As the board points into the wind, swing your body in front of the mast (B). Keep pushing the board around with your feet, and keep pulling on the sail with your rear hand. Keep force in the sail. Note that the sail is “backed” until you are all the way around (C).

When the board has turned all the way around (180°), move to the new basic position (C and D) and start up as usual.

Finally, you will probably want or need to turn further off the wind, so aggressively move the sail forward and across the board (just as in the "Steering" section).

Keep your arms straight, knees bent, and butt tucked in while tacking. The important principle in the tack described above is that you keep pulling the sail against the wind for as much of the turn as possible (Figure C). This gives you something to lean against, and will help you avoid falling in. You can speed your tack by doing the following. Before beginning the tack, when you move your front foot just before the mast, also move your back foot a few inches back on the board (so that you have a wider stance). Having a wider stance will give your back foot more pushing power.

Fast tack

It is interesting to watch racers tack. One moment they are on one tack, and in the blink of an eye they are on the other tack. The tack described above will be slow and deliberate. One thing that you can do to speed the tack is before beginning, when you move your front foot just before the mast, also move your back foot a few inches back on the board (so that you have a wider stance). Having a wider stance will give your back foot a bit more pushing power.

When racers tack, they literally jump from one side of the mast to the other, cutting to a split second the time they are in front of the mast. Two factors allow them to move so quickly. First, they may change position while "head to wind" (Position B). However, then they aggressively throw there rig forward and across the board so that they head downwind on the new tack. Like its slower cousin tack that I recommend above, there is power in the sail for nearly the entire turn. Second, racers are going very fast going into the turn and their momentum helps them complete the turn. As you get better, you will realize that in all things, speed is your friend. There are many things that you can "pull off" when you are going fast that you can not do when going slow. Always sail as fast as you can.


Step 9: Sailing downwind

By downwind sailing, I mean sailing on a "dead run." Sailing on a run requires having the sail in a different position than in normal sailing and it takes some concentration. On the plus side, it looks cool, it will get you home, and after mastering sailing on a run, a nonplaning jibe will be literally "a snap." Of course, before sailing downwind, you must be able to steer and tack so that you can get upwind.

Before taking the downwind (running) sail position, you must be on a broad reach. Now is a good time to reread the Steering section. Do not attempt to turn on to a run directly from a beam reach or higher. Head off the wind in the usual manner until you are sailing on a broad reach. Sail in that position for a bit.

To go into the running position, first move your hands back on the boom, and swing the sail across the front of your board as you did when you turned downwind (see Steering). The only difference between steering from a broad reach to a run is that the sail is moved more across the board and less forward. As you start to turn further downwind, move your front foot back so that it is even with your back foot, heels together. If you were successful in turning the board, you will be in the position shown below. If you did not turn the board downwind you (1) did not move your hands far enough back on the boom; (2) you did not lean the sail far enough across the front of the board.

In the downwind (running) position (1) the sail should be square in front of you (at a 90 degree angle to the board, (2) your knees should be bent, (3) you should press down on the boom.

In the downwind position, the board will seem very "tipsy," one rail will want to sink and the board then will want to turn in the opposite direction. To avoid sinking one rail or the other, you must be light on your feet. There are two ways to become light on your feet: (1) Go on a diet. (2) Bend your knees and aggressively press down on the boom. Pressing down on the boom will transfer your weight from your feet to the boom and mast. The first method of becoming light on our feet has never worked very well for us.

To steer in the downwind position, move the sail back and forth along the line (with arrows) indicated in the picture. Try to steer directly downwind by making steering corrections with the sail. When you are finished sailing downwind, steer off to one side or the other (on to a broad reach), and move one foot forward (i.e., resume the normal sailing position).

Now for the fun part. Practice sailing straight downwind 5 or 6 times. Each time, have your feet further back of the board. This will necessitate bending your knees and aggressively pressing down on boom. At the end of this exercise, you should be so far back on your board that if you were to let up on the boom, the tail of the board would sink (you would do a "wheelie"). Only after you can get that far back on your board are you ready to tackle the next step, a nonplaning jibe.

If you can sail downwind fine when the wind is light, but in strong winds, the sail gets blown out of your hand, get further back on the board. If you are far back on your board, the sail will be tilted toward the wind. Therefore, you can hang your weight down on to the boom.


Faster than the wind - More geek talk

How could a sailor go faster than the wind? Windsurfers do it all the time. The true wind speed might be 15 MPH, but windsurfers are screaming along going 20 to 25 MPH. Part of the answer to this (and other) mysteries is blowing in the (apparent) wind: Sailors make their own wind.

The apparent wind is the wind you feel as you move. For example, on a windless day if you are going north on an Interstate Highway at 55 MPH and stick your head out the window of your car, the apparent wind will be 55 MPH. In the other hand, if the wind is blowing 55 MPH in the same direction you are going, the apparent wind would be 0 MPH. In other words, the apparent wind is a combination of the true wind and your speed. The apparent wind can be greater than the true wind, and it is the speed of the apparent wind that matters for the sailor. The speed of the apparent wind can be illustrated with a "vector diagram" where the length of the lines indicates speed (in knots or MPH).

If a windsurfer is going fast, he or she is creating additional apparent wind. Going faster than the wind is one of the pure joys of windsurfing. The diagram also illustrates another mystery: When windsurfers are going fast, they always seem to be sailing against the wind (i.e., close hauled, with the sail sheeted in). The reason for this position is that the apparent wind is always forward of the true wind.

Next time an advanced windsurfer blasts by you, remember that she actually has more wind than you do. Somehow, it doesn't seem fair.

But then, it is rather magical.



Step 10: Nonplaning Jibe

There are several different kinds of jibes. This is one kind nonplaning jibe. You are sailing along (not in the footstraps, not planing) and you want to go the other way. Instead of tacking (turning toward the wind) you want to jibe: turn away from the wind.

In the figure below, the arrows represent the direction of the wind.

To prepare for jibing do the following (Figure A): (1) head off on a broad reach; (2) move your hands back on the boom. The lighter the wind, the further back on the boom you will need to move your hands. In addition, prepare to jibe by moving your back foot further back on the board. The further back on the board you are, the snappier your jibes will be. Keep those knees bent! Finally, look before you initiate the turn so that you do not turn into the path of an oncoming sailor. Just as when you tacked, the first step is always, check the traffic!

To initiate the turn swing the sail to windward across the front of the board (Figure B). Keep this position until you turn past a dead run (Figure C). The wind will be blowing directly from behind. This is the time to switch your feet so that your front foot becomes your back foot and your back foot becomes your front foot.

When you are on a broad reach on the new tack, flip the sail (Figure E). To flip the sail, first slide your front hand forward on the boom all the way to the mast. Then let go with your back hand and the sail will flip itself. Grasp the boom on the new side step forward to a normal sailing position, and sail off. You might have to move the sail to the back of the board to head up higher.

Note that to get the board to turn downwind, you had to move both of your hands back on the boom. But just before you flip the sail for the jibe, you must slide your front hand forward all the way to the mast. Note where my front (left) hand is in figure D.

In the sequence above, you flip the sail after you are well onto the new tack (a broad reach or higher). The only exception to this method is if the wind is very light, your turn will stop when you are pointed directly down wind. If this happens, flip the sail and muscle it onto the correct side and to the back of the board to finish the turn.

You can do several things to make your jibe snappier. First, after you move your front foot back, put more weight on the windward rail than the leeward rail (only if the centerboard is down). Second, step further back on the board. Finally, these two strategies can be combined in the following way. Move your old front foot even further back and put most of your weight on it. Do this earlier in the turn than the figure above. Most boards have a "sweet spot" way in the back of the board. If you move your old front foot way back to that spot and put your weight on it, you can turn on a dime (with the centerboard down).

Variations on the Jibe

There are many different variations on the jibe. The variations can be divided into two broad categories: nonplaning jibes and planing jibes. Different versions of the nonplaning jibe are called the snap jibe, scissor jibe, and power jibe. These are all slight variations of the jibe described above. In all nonplaning jibes, your weight is moved to the back of the board, and most of the turning power comes from the sail. Nonplaning jibes can be used with beginner boards (with centerboards) and short board (e.g., 9 foot boards without centerboards). The nonplaning jibe is a skill that will always be useful. The nonplaning jibe is fairly easy to master.

The planing jibe requires one to be sailing very fast on a plane. Do not worry about learning the planing jibe until after you can use a harness, waterstart, and sail fast in high winds. In several ways the planing jibe is the opposite of a nonplaning jibe: Your weight is forward in the board, you sink the leeward rail, and most of the turning power comes from carving the leeward rail through the water (like skiing or snow boarding). The planing jibe is considerably more difficult than the nonplaning jibe. Whereas each of the steps in this guide can be broken into at most 4 components, there are approximately 17 things to think about when making a good planing jibe. When an advanced windsurfer is talking about jibing, they are most likely talking about planing jibes. Variations on the planing jibe include the lay-down jibe and the duck jibe.



High wind sailing ( >12 MPH)

You've had many great days sailing. You can steer, tack, and jibe. One day the winds appears a little stronger, there are a few white caps on the water. No problem, you're cool. Then, wap! Every time you start up you seem to get slammed. Welcome to the 12 knot barrier. There are two parts to moving to higher wind. The first, covered here, is what you do with your stance, sail, and board. The second part is using a harness, which is covered in the next section. You should be using a harness at this stage of your sailing (see next section).

There are a few tricks to sailing in higher winds. The first and most important trick is to do everything you've been taught so far, but more so. Follow the instructions for up hauling, start-up procedure, and stance exactly. Do not skip any steps. For example, on flat water, it doesn't matter too much if your knees are bent, but in bumpy water if your knees aren't bent when you are starting, you will surely fall. The word in higher wind is think, think, think.

The stance you should adopt is one with the fewest bends in your body. Review the stance section. You should first move toward the pelvic thrust stance, where the only bend in your body is at your knees. Then you should move to the high wind stance, where you body is straight from foot to neck (D is the Stance figure).

When you do the start-up procedure in higher wind, there is a natural tendency for the board to round upwind. If the board rounds up head-to-wind you will fall. To avoid rounding up, when you do your start-up, be sure that you are bringing the mast across the front of the board. This action will help the nose of the board off the wind. If you are still rounding up when you startup, try the following. Have the front of the board pointing slightly downwind (broad reach) before you start. To point the front of the board slightly downwind from the basic position (see Uphaul), hold the mast forward (not at right angles to the board).

When you first sheet in, you will feel a strong pull in your arms. When you first feel the pull, resist the temptation to let go of the rig. Lean back and hold on. The force will dissipate as your board starts moving forward. Do not let go with your front hand. If you are overpowered, ease off with your back hand.

Lean back with your arms straight. You do not have to hold the force of the sail with the strength of your arms. Rather, your arms should be straight and you should hang your body weight from the boom. If your arms are getting tired, it might be because you are trying to hold the sail with your arms bent at the elbow.

The pull on your arms should be the same. If your front arm is getting tired, but your back arm is not, then move both your hands forward on the boom. If your back arm is getting tired, but your front arm is not, move both hands back on the boom.

If while sailing you have a tendency to head upwind or downwind, use the strategies in the steering section to move the CE relative to the CLR. (See the Steering section of this guide.) As you move faster through the water, you will have to move further back on the board to keep the board level.

As you gain speed, the centerboard will generate so much lift that you will feel the board rock from side to side. It is as if the centerboard wants to pop out of the water. Now is the time to raise the centerboard. You can move it part way up. If the centerboard still wants to pop out of the water, you can move it all of the way up.

It is important to watch the water in front of you to be prepared for gusts and lulls. In particular, when you see a gust of wind approaching, prepare to put your weight on your back foot and lean back.

If you have done all of the above, and the wind is still too strong, there are several addition things you can do.

Get a smaller sail. Remember, sail size depends on your weight and the wind speed. A sail that is too big for the wind will actually go slower than a sail that is the correct size (no matter what your skill level). One of the reasons that advanced windsurfers like high winds is that they can use smaller (and easier to handle) sails. Also, you can rig your sail flatter by giving it considerably more downhaul and a little more outhaul.

Heel (or lean) the sail to windward. In high winds, sailboats naturally reduce their sail area by heeling to leeward. Sailboards can do the same thing by heeling the sail over to windward (never leeward). Leaning the sail to windward does two things. First, it reduces the area of the sail exposed to the wind. Second, when you heel your sail to windward, the weight of your body can hang from the boom, holding the sail in.

In hugely overpowering conditions, partly sheet out the sail. You always want some power in the sail so that you have forward momentum. When you are not moving forward, you will have a tendency to fall. However, you can spill much of the wind from the sail by sheeting out.

Get used to higher winds in stages. Don't go from an 8 knot day to a 25 knot day. If you get used to higher winds in stages, you will feel more comfortable on the water. Remember, however, higher wind requires the tricks that I have listed above. Soon, you too will be hit by the high wind bug: When you hear that the wind is blowing 25 knots, your heart will race.

The Law of the Sea

When you first started to windsurf, you were probably overwhelmed your own well-being. Now that you are no longer a beginner, you should be concerned with the safety of others on the water. Be aware of everyone on the water. If you see a sailboat that stays capsized for 10 minutes or more, you might sail by and ask if they need help. Alternatively, alert someone in another boat, or the appropriate authority (e.g., life guard, coast guard, sheriff). Is that fishing boat drifting too close to the rocks? You might ask if you can get someone to give them a tow. If you see a windsurfer struggling in the water for more that a few minutes, check out the situation. The jet skier you help might be the jet skier who assists you or another windsurfer. Windsurfers, kayakers, boat sailors, fishermen, jet skiers: we need to help each other. The first law of the sea is to help each other.




You can not windsurf well without a harness. Period. If you want to know why, see the For Nerds box at the end of this section. You need a harness. You need to know how to set it up, and how to use it.

There are two kinds of harnesses: Seat harness and waist harness. For your first harness, I recommend a seat harness. The reason is that a seat harness promotes a better high wind stance, at least while learning. With a seat harness, you are less likely to bend at the waist. You do not want to bend at the waist. Later, after you have a good high wind stance, you might want to try a waist harness, particularly if you get into freestyle or wave sailing. When you purchase a harness, you will also have to purchase a spreader bar with hook. And of course harness lines (discussed below). Some seat harness are integrated into board shorts, some waist harnesses are integrated into PDF (life jacket). Those are fine if they fit well.

When you put your harness on, all the straps must be tight. This is particularly important for waist harnesses. Very tight. You do not want your harness to move up your body while sailing. If it creeps up your body, or the straps that hold the spreader bar/ hook become loose, the hook will be in the wrong place.

There are several things you need to adjust before you hit the water: Boom height, harness line length, harness line placement on the boom. Boom height and harness line length, together, determine determine how low the harness lines hang. The way to think about it is that the bottom of the harness line loop of your harness lines must be low enough so that it's near the hook to make it easily hook in. However, if the lines are too long, you will not be able to get downward pressure on the boom, and the harness lines will not be effective (might as well have saved your money and not bought the harness). Where the loop of the lines are located is determined by the harness line length and your boom height. In the pictures below, the harness lines are the same length, but the boom is in a different position. For me, on the left, the harness line loop is too high and on the right it's too low.

Boom Height? Styles change, like women's skirts, boom heights go up and down over the decades. You have to establish where you like to have your booms. Here is one guideline: shoulder height (or a bit higher) when you are comfortably sailing (not standing on the beach). This is the one position where you can comfortable lean back against the force of the sail without using your triceps or shoulder muscles. Experiment a bit. When you find a height that you like, come back to the beach and measure it! Measure it from the base of the mast with a tape measure or use your body as a measuring device. I find that if I hook my arm over the boom, and stretch until my finger tips are 1/4" from the bottom of the mast, I am a happy camper:

Harness line length. Fixed length harness lines come in lengths from 16 to 26 inches. Here is where adjustable harness lines might help you, since you do not know exactly how long you want your harness lines, yet. If you do not want to spring for adjustable lines, try a 1/4 inch rope, and carefully tie it on to your boom. Again, you want to be able to hook in, so the loop in the line cannot be too high. However, you need to put your weight on the lines, so the loop of the lines can not be too low.

Again, when you find a line length that you like, come back to the beach and measure the length. If you have a tape measure, use that. I have adjustable lines, and I measure with my arm. All of the lengths below are acceptable, depending on your sailing style. The one on the left has my elbow in the loop and my boom just above my watch. This is a moderately short setting (for a for someone not planing). On the right, my whole fist fits inside the loop. This is pretty long. When you first start to use a harness, you will might want to have your lines on the long end of the spectrum.

You have to be precise. Variation of more than 1/2 inch will throw you off. The goal of all this fuss is so that you know precisely and intuitively where your harness lines are, so you can hook in easily without looking. After you hook in, you want your harness line to take almost all of the pressure off your arms, and provide lots of Mast Base Pressure (MBP, see section at the bottom of this page).

Placement of boom. There are two aspect to this. First, the two harness lines should straddle the sail's "balance point." There is one place on the boom where the force of the wind from the front of the sail exactly matches the force from the back of the sail. Here is how to approximately find that location. Stand you sail up in a windy spot. (Be sure no one is downwind of you). There is one spot where you can hold your boom with one hand. That is the balance spot. Unfortunately, that might be slightly different on the water, where the wind is stronger so after you start to sail, you may have to make further adjustments to have perfect sailing (harness lines on the balance point). Here is the rule: If you front arm is tired, it needs help, so move the lines forward a bit (toward the mast). If you back arm is tired, move the lines back a notch to assist the back arm. If you are perfectly balances, windsurfing takes no upper body strength.

How far apart should your harness lines be? Here is the general rule. The closer the are together, the more accurately you will be able to feel if you are on the balance point. However, if they are very close together and they are not on the balance point, it will be hard to sail and you will need to adjust them more frequently. Here is a compromise. Start with the two harness lines no further apart than the width of two fists holding the boom. As you get more use to the harness lines, move them closer and closer together. In most conditions, I have my harness lines touching, but that might be a bit extreme for the neophyte harness user.

Using your harness lines. Hooking in is not hard if you have the lines the right length and your boom the right height. Head off the to a beam reach before hooking in. After you hook in, either sit-down or lean back. You want to make the harness take all the force from the sail, not your arms. If your harness lines are around the balance point, you should be able to let go with one arm or the other. Your grip on the boom should be light, and you should be able to "play the piano" on your boom.

The first few times you hook in, you may be "launched." A gust of wind comes along and you are not ready for it. To avoid getting launch, put more weight on your back foot. Also watch the surface of the water ahead of you for gusts and lulls in the wind. That way, you will be prepared for what is coming.

I found this link on harness line use had some very good advice.

If you have the right stance, and you are using your harness correctly, you should be hanging all of your weight on the harness, have a light grip on your booms, be nicely balanced in your harness lines, and have a smile on your face face like the lovely windsurfer shown here:

(Courtesy of Vela Windsurf Resorts, taken by Tim Walker)

Makes you want to book a vacation to Aruba!

For Nerds, the secret of Mast Base Pressure (MBP)

How is it that windsurfers are able to sail so fast? On most days, I leave my boating friends in the dust (spray). The harness plays a large part in the speed. Note this happy sailor. Most of her board is out of the water so there is little friction with the water. The last few feet barely kiss the water. Sailors call this "reduced wetted surface."

She is in the footstraps, the footstraps are on the back of the board. Why doesn't the back of the board just sink? If you move to that position, you will just sink the back of the board and fall in the water. There are two reasons she is able to be in the back of the board. (1) Speed: She is getting lift just a water ski boat gets lift. It's called "planing," and it's the goal of a happy, healthy life. (2) Harness lines and MBP (mast base pressure): She is hanging her weight off her harness lines. This is transferring her weight to her boom, mast, and down to the mast base (hence "MBP"). So she is standing in the back of the board, but she has transferred her weight to the front of the board by hanging her weight on her harness lines. You can look like this too if you hand your weight off your harness lines and think MBP.



Water Starting and Footstraps

Water starting is an indispensable trick if you want to sail in higher winds or move to a "short board." Short boards do not have enough floatation to easily stand on uphaul the sail. Water starting is kind of magically. You are swimming around, and the hand of God picks you up, and she places you on your board. No more back breaking uphauling, doesn't that sound good?

For learning water starting I highly recommend the DVD "ABC's of Waterstarting" by Dasher. You can buy it at many shops or on line at many places (here is one). (While you are at it you might get Dasher's "The 12 Step Jibe with Dasher"). Because this DVD is so complete, I will not go through waterstarting in detail (get the DVD!) but just add a few points. (But get the DVD.)

Some places are make it easier to learn to waterstart than others. The wind needs to be pretty strong (~15 to 17 MPH is ideal), and chest high water is ideal. With water that deep, you have to try to waterstart (not beach start) but you can rest between attempts. Since you need it to be windy, you should have mastered the harness before trying.

It's easier to lean if you are wearing a PFD (life jacket). You will float higher out of the water and that will help you get up. The PFD should be a snug fit so that it does not ride up. Kayak PFDs work pretty well and they are high waisted and will not interfere with a seat harness.

I think that knowing how to beach start help waterstarting. Waterstarting is beach starting, but in deeper water. You need a beach. The wind should be approximately 90° to the board (beam reach) and you are standing on the upwind side of the board, behind the mast. You will have to have the centerboard partway up, because the water is shallow. Your hands should be on the boom in the normal sailing position and you should feel the power in the wind in the sail. You are sailing in place. Your hands are around the balance point of the sail.

Put your rear foot on the centerline of the board. The gently step on the board. Do not let the wind out of the sail. You want it to propel you forward and give you something to lean against. After getting shallow water beach starts, try is slightly deeper water.

Finally, I find that it is helpful if you have your booms a bit on the low side while working on waterstarting. Now, get the ABC's of Waterstarting and get wet.



Before getting into the footstraps, review the advanced safety page. It is important that you adjust your footstraps to be safe.

Getting into the footstraps is not about getting into the footstraps, it's about achieving a good high wind stance (such as the one shown here from an ABK advertisement). This is the end product: The sailor is well out from the board, with nothing under him but water. His body is straight (red line). Most of his weight is hanging from the boom (MBP: black arrow). The sail is sheeted in (almost over the board) and his hips are facing the board, not forward. His hands are only lightly on the boom, and he is in the footstraps. But how do you get there?

You have to go through the gears! First gear, you just waterstarted (or uphauled) and you are standing near the mast. Pick up a little speed and hook in (second gear). As you gain speed, slowly start to move toward the back of the board, sheet in (bring the sail in) and start getting your body over the water (as in the picture). To sheet in, you move your hip so they are facing the sail, not forward. In other words, you bring the sail in with your hips, not your arms. Now you are in the total stance (right) and you have moved back so that your rear foot in just in the middle of the board in front of the rear strap, and your front foot is just beside the front footstrap. You are hanging your weight from the harness so there is little weight on your feet. You are going fast. You look like the sailor on the right (fourth gear).

You put your front foot in the front footstrap. Since you are hanging from the harness (black arrow), you have little weight on your feet. Do not look at your foot as you put it in the footstrap. Instead, glance at your foot, look where you are going, regain speed and then put your foot in the front strap.

Get more speed before putting you back foot in the rear strap. You are going to have to learn forward hanging from your harness lines to get the weight off your rear foot. Put that in, sail away.

Check your stance: body straight, hanging from the harness, arms straight, hips facing the sail, light grip on the boom (no white knuckles), arms only shoulder width apart, relaxed, and are you smiling? Ain't life grand?


Where to go from here

I can't end on 13, that would be unlucky and might kill the wind! So where do you go from here?

Actually, you have just begun to lean to windsurf. The fun has just begun. I have been sailing for about 30 years, and every time I go out on the water, I learn something new.

Consider a windsurfing vacation. There are fabulous places to visit. Combine a vacation with lessons (for example, Vela Resorts) or a windsurfing clinic (example, ABK Sports Clinics).

There are a lot of windsurfing DVD's from instruction to action. Every winter, to get through SAD (Sailing Addiction Disorder) I buy myself a video and try to go on a windsurfing vacation. It's about the same price as psychotherapy, but more fun.

Learn Free Style Tricks. There are many site on the web that teach free-style. I have listed some of the easier tricks that you can do when just begin to windsurf in the Free Style section below.

Windsurfing magazines are a good source on information and usually have instructional hints for every level of skill. There is also information about clinics and windsurfing vacation spots.

Most localities have a local sailboard association. Join the association/club in your area. You will get a newsletter, meet some great people, and help improve the sailing sites in your area.

Support your local shop. A local shop can be the focus of activity for clinics, manufacture demos, swap meets, etc.

Surf the web. There are dozens and dozens of windsurfing related sites including bulletin boards. One of the best is maintained by


Sail Hard, Have Fun!



Free Style

In 1976 at the North American Championships, sailors had heard that a 13 year old kid from Oahu could sail pretty well. However, this skinny kid blew everyone away in the free style by calmly flipping his board on its side, standing on the rail, and sailing away. The kid was Robby Naish, the place was Berkeley, California. The sport has never been the same since.

Here are some tricks to get started (from easy to difficult):

Sail Clew First. The easiest way to get into this position is to not flip the sail after jibing. A more interesting way is as follows: While sailing on a reach, first move both hands back on the boom. Reach your front hand back across your back hand to the end of the boom. Flip the back of the boom forward and reach over on the other side of the boom. This maneuver will help you learn how to duck jibe.

Sail Downwind Tail First. Come head to wind as if you are tacking. Move in front of the mast and pull the sail perpendicular to the board (in the downwind position). Move out to the bow of the board in the sailing downwind position. The trick is to move far out on the bow of the board so that the skeg is out of the water. This maneuver is great practice that will help you do nonplaning jibes going the other way.

Pirouette. Sail on a beam reach in light wind. Move the sail across the board in front of the mast (the same position as when you started up, step 2). There is a position where the sail will almost balance on itself. After you find that position, let go of the boom, pivot on the balls of your feet (spin around 360 degrees), and quickly grab the boom.

Sail behind the mast. Step around the mast, and stand on the wrong side of the sail.

Sail 360deg. Begin as in the pirouette by finding the balance point of the sail, and then do the following: Swing tip of the mast toward the wind. Step forward of the mast on the leeward side of the mast, pushing the clew in front of you. Continue pushing the clew around and follow it until you have circled the mast. You must be quick!

Helitack. Start out as if you are doing a normal tack. When the board is pointing directly into the wind, instead of moving in front of the mast, push the clew forward and through the eye of the wind. In other words, you tack, but you stay behind the mast and the sail goes in front of it.

Head Dip. On a beam reach in strong wind, lean way back with your arms straight. Bend your knees as when you do the limbo and dip your head in the water. Try a leg drag (prequel to a body drag).

Splits (for the Gals). This trick is one even Robby couldn't do. Stretch out on shore. It helps to have your booms rigged lower than usual. Sail on a beam reach in a light wind and go for it.

Rail Ride (Robby's trick). While sailing along, reach one foot under the edge of the board and pop the board up on its edge, i.e., rail. (I kid you not!). At first you can sail with one foot on the centerboard, the other shin resting on the edge of the board. Then stand up with both feet on the edge of the board (rail).

Not to be outdone, a few years after Robby invented the rail ride, Rhonda Smith performed the splits while sailing on the rail! Ouch!




Sailing Terms

Sailing is full of terminology. Knowing the terms makes learning to sail easier. For example, if someone frantically yells to you, "fall-off," they do not mean to gracelessly dismount from your board. The following terms are used frequently and all windsurfers should know them.


Terms can be broken into parts of the sail and rig; parts of the board; points of sail; and directions. These sections are followed by a more or less complete glossary of sailboard terms.

Parts of the sail and rig

The long skinny pole that holds the sail up is the mast. The booms are the two sticks, one on each side of the sail, that hold the sail out from the mast.

Sails have 3 corners (head, tack, clew) and 3 slides (luff, leech, foot):

Three ropes (or 'lines') are attached to the sail. The downhaul pulls the sail down the mast. It is attached to the tack of the sail. It is the most important rope for adjusting the sail. The outhaul pulls the sail out the boom. Finally, your friendly uphaul is the rope that you use to pull the sail up out of the water.

The battens are flexible plastic strips or tubes that hold the shape in the sail.

Parts of the board

The fin (or skeg) and the centerboard provide lateral resistance and keep the board from going sideways. The universal is a flexible joint that attaches the mast to the board. The pointy (foreward) end of the board is the bow, the other (back) end is the stern.

Points of sail

It is necessary to describe the direction a sailboard is travelling, relative to the wind direction. When you start up, you will be on a beam reach. You will notice in the figure below that you cannot sail directly in the direction that the wind is coming from. To get up wind, you will need to sail on a close reach and ziz-zag back and forth (tack). Sailing directly downwind on a run will give you a tippy ride, but is a necessary skill to learn in order to master the jibe.


Directions on the water can be described in terms relative to the wind, or relative to 'left' and 'right.' Since we've always had trouble with the latter, we will begin with terms relative to the wind.

The direction from where the wind is blowing is windward. The direction away from where the wind is blowing is leeward.To change one's direction to point more toward the wind is to head-up. To change one's direction to point more away from the wind is to fall-off. Now you know when someone frantically yells at you "fall-off," they do not mean hit the suds.

Now it's time for (ugh) left and right. If the wind is coming over the right side of a sailboard, therefore the sailor' right hand is forward, the sailboard is on starboard tack. If the wind is coming over the left side of a sailboard, therefore the sailor' left hand is forward, the sailboard is on port tack.

Sailing directions are important for Rules of the Road which are covered in the 'Start-Up' section of this guide.>

Glossary of Sailing Terms

Apparent wind
The wind that the sailor feels which is the combination of the true wind and the wind caused by the boat's movement through the water.
Flexible strips or tubes placed in pockets in the sail to hold the sail's shape.
Widest part of a boat. The point halfway between the bow (front) and stern (rear) of a sailboard.
Beam reach
Sailing at 90 degrees to the wind. Sailing with the wind coming directly over the beam of the board.
Bear off
Same as 'fall off.'
To sail to windward.
Broad Reach
Sailing with the wind just aft of the beam.
Camber induced sail, Camber inducers
Plastic devices that hold the sail away from the mast so that there is a smooth flow of air across the mast to the sail on both the windward and leeward sides of the sail.
Center of effort (CE)
Point at which all of the force of the wind can be thought to concentrate.
Center of lateral resistance (CLR)
Point at which all of the sideways motion of the board may be thought to be concentrated. On the boards that have centerboards, the CLR is approximately at the centerboard.
A retractable device that, when down, keeps the board from going sideways. Entry-level boards have centerboards. Without a centerboard (in the down position) a novice board will not sail up wind. The centerboard will also steady the board and make balance easier.
Close reach
The point of sail between close-hauled and a beam reach.
Come about, tack
To change direction so that the sail is flown in the opposite side by turning through the eye of the wind.
Line that is used to pull down the mast. On modern sailboards, correct tension in the downhaul is the most critical sail adjustment. See how to rig sails section.
Eye of the wind
Direction from which the wind is blowing.
Fall off
No this does not mean jump off your board. It means to change direction so as to point farther away from where the wind is coming from.
Head up
Change direction so as to point closer to where the wind is coming from.
To change direction so that the sail is flown on the opposite side by turning away from the wind.
Direction away from the wind. In the Rules of the Road, the leeward boat is the one farthest from where the wind is coming from.
Line that us used to attach the sail to the end of the boom.
(1) Pull the sail out of the water. (2) The line that sailors use to pull the sail out of the water.
Port tack
In the normal sailing stance, sailing a course with the left hand in front. The wind will be coming from the left (port) side of the board. Port tack boat must stay out of the way of starboard tack boat.
Rotating asymmetrical foil (RAF) sails
Full batten sails without camber inducers. The batten tucks part way behind the mast so that there is a smooth airflow on the leeward side of the sail. Usually less expensive than camber induced sails.
Rules of the road
Rules that govern right-of-way when two boats meet (`boats' includes windsurfers)
Sailing in the same direction as the wind.
Sheet in
Pull the sail in by pulling in with the back hand. On a boat, the sheet is the line (rope) that controls the sail. Boat sailors control the sail by pulling on the sheet. Windsurfers sheet the sail primarily with their back hand.
Sheet out
The opposite of sheet in.
Skeg, fin
The small fluke or appendage in the water at the stern of the board that keeps the board going straight. Do not attempt to sail a board without a skeg.
Starboard tack
In the normal sailing stance, sailing a course with the right hand in front. The wind will be coming from the right (starboard) side of the board. If two sailboats or sailboards meet, the one on starboard tack has the right-of-way.
Direction toward the wind. The windward boat is the one closest where the wind is coming from.
The joint that connects the mast to the board. It can rotate in all directions, hence universal.