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Windsurfing Tips:
Home Beach Start Harness Straps Waterstart Jibe Jump Speed

Intro:  What follows here are some of the things I've learned about windsurfing, with more to come later.  I'm a forty something windsurfer; and I didn't really get started in windsurfing until I was forty something.  Someone once told me that I was too old to learn how to jibe.  Wrong!  From what I've seen here in Corpus Christi, windsurfers can learn how to jibe at any age.  At first inexperience, wind meterand now aches and pains have kept me from rough water and big air, so I spend my windsurfing time going fast and practicing jibes on the Laguna Madre.  At 6'1'', 170lbs., I find my older model F2 Xantos 295 (a great board) serves me well.  I usually try to sail when the winds are 20 mph and up so I can use my older model Gaastra RAF sails (they're easy to handle and jibe).
Here are the sails I use for various approximate wind speeds:
20mph: 5.7 25mph: 5.0 30mph: 4.6 35mph+: 4.1
I'm usually on the 5.7 or 5.0; but we have a bunch of days here each year when the smaller sails are needed.  I sail the Xantos with 7.8 to 4.1 sails; and if I get overpowered on the Xantos in higher winds I switch to a used 8'6" fiberglass wave board I bought off a friend at Bird Island Basin.  This trick of switching to a smaller board usually saves me from having to rig down to a smaller sail.  To judge the wind speed, I use the Air Wind Speed Indicator by Pacific Resources (shown).  This is accurate, inexpensive, and gives the user a good feel for what the wind is doing.  Since the wind speed here usually increases some as the afternoon goes on, the last thing I do is settle on a sail size and rig the sail.


Beach Starting:  The beach start is the best way to get on your board in shallow water, and it teaches some of the essential elements of the water start.  To begin, take the board into shallow water a little over knee deep.  Make sure it's deep enough that your fin tip won't hit the bottom when you mount the board.  Stand on the upwind side of the board. Grip the boom with a wide, comfortable overhand grip, and luff the sail (sheet out completely with the sail flying like a flag in the wind).  Point the nose of the board about 45 degrees upwind, and place your back foot on the centerline of the board midway between the front and back straps.  Sheet in some to power up the sail, and hop up onto the board moving the sail toward the nose of the board some as you go.  Sheet in more when you're ready for more power, turn the nose off the wind some to get up to speed, and you're off and running.
You can beach start in very light wind by using the mast as a sort of pole vault to help you onto the board.  Apply downward pressure through the boom, mast, and mast foot to the board (mast foot pressure -- mfp) as you hop onto the board.  Sheet in some as you go to keep the sail from back winding you as you move it forward.  Pump the sail if you need more pull from it to help get you up on the board.   With practice, you should be able to beach start in the lightest of  breezes.
In high winds, maintain a defensive position with the body well back and upwind of the sail so you won't get launched forward and over the other side.  Keep the sail angled over into the wind and close to the water to decrease the power.  Sheet in slowly and only when you're ready to have the power in the sail pull you up onto the board.  Then hop on, hook in, get in the straps quickly, and zip.
Harness:  When you're ready to sail in winds of 10 mph or more, you're ready to learn to use a harness.  Harness use takes the strain off the arms and is essential for sailing in higher winds and/or with bigger sails.  I  recommend a seat harness with a reactor bar.  Many people use waist harnesses, but they can lead to a sore back for anyone prone to such problems--they pull on the back the wrong way.  Remember, a back is a terrible thing to waist.  The reactor bar has a roller on it as the contact with the harness line and allows very fine and quick adjustments of sail position.  This makes for smooth and rapid sheeting out or in for good power control in gusty conditions.  Get a harness with a good, snug fit and an about body center hook height.  When using the harness, get it wet and cinch it tight, then after a bit of use, tighten it again.
When first learning to use a harness, start out in winds of about 10 mph and work your way up.  The wonderful instructional video "Turning Point" with Peter Hart is good for learning harness and footstrap use as well as many other windsurfing skills.  At first, set the harness lines long enough and the boom low enough so it's easy to hook in and out (when you get good in strong winds, shorten the harness lines and raise the boom for better performance (for more information on harness line length, check out the article on harness lines in the windsurfing tips section of the CCWA web site)).  In light winds, to save the arms, you can use longer harness lines and/or a lower boom to remain hooked in with the sail in an upright position.
Hook in with a forward movement of the hips and not by pulling in with your arms.  When hooked in and powered up, commit your body weight to the harness to match the pull in the sail.  Relax your arms and grip the boom lightly with your hands (relax that death grip on the boom!).  When well powered up, commit your body weight fully to the harness and sit into it like sitting against a wall.  The power in the sail will hold you up.  Aim for the position assumed by the fast sailors in the photo gallery--hanging out in the harness, arms extended and relaxed with the sail raked back.  Yes, if you suddenly lose all your power, you may end up falling back in the water; but experience will help you to handle those situations.  If you feel you are about to be launched over the other side by a strong gust, get in a defensive position lower and further back, and sheet out as needed.  If overpowered, lean out over the water more, and angle the sail lower over the water to cut the power.  If you do get launched while hooked in, try not to damage your sail or yourself, get unhooked quickly, and start all over again.  With experience, your frequency of getting launched should decrease dramatically.
Footstraps:  Once you are using the harness and starting to go fast, you need to learn how to get into the footstraps.  The footstraps allow you to control the board at speed, go faster, and carry a bigger sail.  The video "Turning Point" with Peter Hart is good for learning footstrap use as well as many other windsurfing skills.  A good way to start is with a big board with the straps well forward.  Use soft, flexible straps that keep their crescent shape and don't flatten out so they will be easy to get into and out of.  I use Gorilla Grip footstraps made in Australia.  They're not quick adjusting, but they're light, flexible, keep their shape, are easy to get in and out of, and don't absorb water.  To avoid injury, adjust the footstraps small enough so that only the front part of the foot fits in the strap.  The strap should not go over the arch of the foot--this can cause injuries in a crash.
To start, while planing, try to place your front foot at the front edge of the front strap and your back foot at the front edge of the rear strap.  Keep the board level with your back foot and slide the toe of your front foot around the front of and into the front strap.  When ready, do the same with the rear.  Keep looking where you are going. Don't look at the straps.  If you miss a strap, move your toe around and try again when ready.  Keep your weight on your toes and off your heels.  Try to get in the straps as early as you can before the board gets going too fast.  If the board wake tries to take your back foot away as you go for the back strap, go for the strap earlier before you get going so fast, or head upwind some to slow down, then go for the strap.  This becomes less of a problem with experience.  Concentrate on keeping the board flat, and bear off the wind a little if you keep rounding upwind when going for the back strap.
You don't have to be going fast to get into the straps.  As long as you have good planing power potential in the sail, you can get in the straps early and go.  In overpowered conditions, you can even waterstart with your feet in the straps, power up the sail, hop onto a plane, hook in, and zip (a little tricky, but it works).
When you get comfortable with the straps on the big board, you can try going to a smaller board with the straps forward.  When you get good with this, you can move the straps back to suit your sailing style.
Waterstart:  This is explained very well in the "Turning Point" video.  I just want to add a few of my own thoughts.  Once you have learned to beach start well out of deeper water, you are ready to learn the waterstart.  If you can learn in shallow water where you can still touch the bottom, that will be a help.  Otherwise, you'll just have to swim things into position.  In deep water, a life jacket will help with floatation and make things easier.  Most find it easier to learn with a small, light, nocam 5.0 or 5.7 meter sail with a small luff sleeve that will not hold a lot of water.  The larger, heavier, cambered race sails with large luff sleeves are more of a challenge to waterstart.  Point the board into the wind with the mast across the wind (perpendicular to the wind direction).  Pop the sail battens around first. To fly the sail from the water, you can go to the tip of the mast to free it working your way down, or grasp the mast well above the boom launching it up and forward into the wind, or you can lever the boom over the back of the board then grasp the mast or boom and fly the sail.  Place your hands on the boom about shoulder width apart.  Keep the sail flying while you get in position for the waterstart.  Fly the sail higher in lighter winds and lower in higher winds.  Point the board off the wind somewhat; and place the heel of your back foot on the board about midway between the front and back straps.  Wait for a good gust, then raise the sail and let the wind pull you up onto the board.  Kick the water with your front leg and pump the sail to help the wind get you up.  Pumping the sail helps me the most.  Keep your arms straight high over your head and apply the power in the sail down into the mast foot to pole vault yourself onto the board.  Once up, sheet out some if needed to keep from being thrown over the other side, then point the nose of the board off the wind, sheet in, hook in, get in the straps, and you are gone.  If the wind is light, wait for a good gust and work hard to get up and get planing.  If the wind is strong, keep the sail low, raise it slowly into the wind, and control the power so you don't get launched.  If way overpowered, you can start with both feet in the straps, carefully raise the sail until the wind pulls you up, then hook in and hang on! 
Learning to jibe:  I won't cover all the many details of doing a jibe here -- that is well covered by others.  These are just some hints to help your learning process.   If you're in the straps and going fast, you're ready to learn planing jibes.  A good way to start is to watch some videos.  I recommend "Turning Point" and "Carve Clinic 2" with Peter Hart.  If you can learn to do everything he tells you to do, you will be great.  Next, watch others, take lessons (with videotaping if available) when you need them, and keep watching the videos -- as your knowledge and experience increase, you will get much more out of them.  On the water, a good way to start is with sub planing jibes on a 10 mph day.  Use a big board and a small sail.  Get good at those jibes.  Until you are planing all the way through your planing jibes, the end of those jibes will be a sub planing jibe; and this practice will pay off.
Next, get the feel of your rails at planing speed.  If you are going fast, you have learned to sail the board flat from rail to rail -- if you dig that windward rail, the board will tend to head up and slow down.  In the jibe, you need to use the leeward rail to carve the turn.  So, learn to use those rails to carve through the water like a wake board or surfboard.  Start with S turns at speed.  Then do your stops with fast, carving 90 degree turns upwind (always look before you do turns).  Now try 180 degree turns downwind.  If you don't flip the sail, you'll be back winded and dumped at the end.  When you learn to flip the sail at the right time and stay on the board, you've done your first jibe.  It may take a while before you can make most of them, but practice really helps.  Then, to plane all the way through most of them takes more practice, good technique, good power in the sail, and good speed.  Good luck.
Air Time:  Although I have yet to catch big air, I do enjoy chop hops.  If you've ever done any Peter Nordby Jumpjumps on snow skis or a snow board, jumping a windsurfer may have a similar feel.  The idea on a windsurfer is to have good speed, good power in the sail, and a good ramp to launch from.  Have your feet securely in the straps, pick a good piece of chop, and try to jump the board off the water as you hit the ramp.  Maintain good control of the board in the air and on landing.  Landing the board tail first is natural for me and is what I recommend.  Don't land flat.  Start with small hops and work your way up.  As your skill and timing improve, so will your jumps.  For more information on jumping and other skills, check out Windsurfing Moves.

Speed: To get the most speed out of your gear, you need to  maximize power and minimize drag.  Rig your sail full enough to get good power and flat enough for good speed.  A too full sail is slower from too much drag; and a too flat sail has less power.  When fully powered up, sheet in fully to or near to the centerline of the board and rake the sail all the way back until the foot of the sail touches or nearly touches the board -- "closing the gap".  Keep the sail well upright.  Pulling the sail down over the water decreases power.  Keep your front hand just in front of the harness line -- keeping it up near the mast chokes off power; and adjust your harness line position so you sail well sheeted in without effort.  Keep the harness lines short and the body position fairly upright -- long harness lines with the body hanging way out over the water = slow.  Keep the boom positioned as high as is comfortable on the mast -- this increases power; and drive the power in the sail into the board with good mfp.
Position the footstraps and mast base as far back as is comfortable to decrease the area of the board in contact with the water and decrease drag.  Keep the weight on the toes and off the heels to keep the board flat from rail to rail -- digging that upwind rail slows you down.
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