Beginning Windsurfing - A Primer and Review

Points of Sail

The direction your windsurf is moving relative to the direction of the wind is the called its point of sail. As with Right of Way Rules, there are different terms such as a close haul which is the point of sail closest to the NO-GO-ZONE, and a broad reach which is the position your sail will be in when you are sailing downwind, but in order to keep the reading material relative to your first day on the water and keep it as simple as possible, we are not going to cover all the points of sail in detail. You must conduct your own research in order to fully understand these terms, you will find some brief explanations in the glossary at the end of this manual.

The NO-GO-ZONE and Steering

Picture a clock with 12:00 being the direction of the wind. The closest you will be able to steer into the wind will be 10:00 o'clock and 2:00 o'clock approximately. Go any closer that 45 degrees to the wind and your sail will lose power and stall. Once the sail is again positioned outside of this 45 degree area (NO-GO-ZONE) and your back is to the wind, you will start to move again. Now, if there is no wind at all, no wind tickling the back of your ears then there is no position of sail to get you going and you'll just have to self rescue yourself and your windsurf home. There was a time when I though I could conjure the wind by jumping up and down yelling loudly but I can assure you that it just doesn't work.

To find the track that is the best combination of speed and upwind progress (the "sweet spot"), start by gently moving the rig toward the back of the board. The board will turn slowly (head up) toward the wind. If you look at the forward edge of the sail where it curves just behind the mast, you will see that it is losing its shape and is being pushed toward you. This means that your sail is starting to stall and lose its power. You are beginning to enter the….NO GO ZONE! If you gently move the rig forward a little, the board will turn out of the No-Go-Zone and the sail will regain its shape and power. You will then start to regain speed and manoeuvrability and can continue on your way. Keep practicing the positioning of the sail by making small movements or steering, until it is automatic. To make progress towards your windward direction try to sail a zigzag course at 45 degrees to the wind - with the wind first on one side of the board and then on the other.

Wind Awareness

Up to this point you may not have paid much attention to the wind, which direction it is coming from or how strongly it is blowing, but wind is the main component of windsurfing and something you will become very aware of.

(Hint: In order to tell if the wind is coming from directly behind you, pay attention to your ears. Is it blowing harder on one side? Adjust your body until its evenly blowing on both sides of your head, your ears, and you have just lines yourself up into the perfect start position for windsurfing!)

If someone refers to Downwind, then they are referring to where the wind is BLOWING TO.

If someone refers to Upwind, then they are referring to where the wind is BLOWING FROM.

If someone refers to Across the Wind, then they are simply referring to the area 90 degrees to where the wind in coming from or going to.

The Launch

So you're ready to carry your rig and board down to the water's edge, you've signed both pieces of equipment out in the Log Book and have your lifejacket, wetsuit and booties on.

  1. Carry your board down. Remove it from the rack, remember where it came from so it goes back there, lock the shed behind you, gently roll the board onto its side, bring the daggerboard down. Use the daggerboard and the universal as handles to carry the board down. Hint, lift with your legs as these boards are very heavy or even better, ask another sailor to give you a hand. If the wind is stronger, walk with the nose of the board facing into the wind. Making sure not to place the board on rocks, tuck the daggerboard back up and leave the board at the water's edge with the nose of the board directed towards the water.
  2. The sail (aka, the Rig) from the sail shed. Unlock yours and immediately relock the rest. Did you lock the baordshed? Better double check so you can just sail straight out. Never leave anything unlocked, if other sailors are around they do have a key. Always Lock up our gear as that moment you leave the door open for someone else, could be the moment they walk the other way and thefts do occur.
  3. So, we're locked, now make sure the road is clear for your exit from the sail shed, unhook your sail (have someone help with the tarp if you need it, heh, that's how we get to know each other) Stand with your back into the wind, the mast across the wind (remember the 90 degrees) and the rest of the sail downwind. With one hand on the boom and one on the mast, balancing the rig at your waist, floating horizontally, walk whichever way you have to in order that the mast is into the wind and the clew is downwind! Hint: just slightly adjust the angle of the sail until the wind is blowing slightly underneath the sail, lifting the sail for you.
  4. With the top of the sail blowing down wind, position the bottom of the mast up to the universal joint of the board and push them together. Now positioning yourself so that one hand is holding the boom, one hand is holding the board's footstrap and lift the rig up. Hint: Adjust your balance and gain more strength by grasp the boom farther out from the mast. Carry the board and sail into the water, being careful not to drop or drag anything. Please note that the newer boards are very heavy and don't feel shy about asking for a hand to carry the rig and board into the water.

The Secure position

Walk the board and rig out to waist deep water. Put the daggerboard down and line the board across the wind with the sail (rig) lying downwind.

Approach the board from the opposite side to the rig, placing your hands over the centerline (the imaginary line running down the middle of the board) and pull your body over the board.

Bring your knees onto the board, keeping your weight over the centerline. Grab the uphaul rope for stability and check that the wind is still coming from behind you. (hint: can you feel the wind equally on both ears?) .

Stand into a squatting position with your feet over the center line, looking up, face straight ahead, back in and hand over hand using your leg muscles, slowly lift the sail out of the water. As the water drains off the sail becomes lighter and eventually using your body as a counterbalance to the weight of the sail, you will be in a standing position with the sail naturally hanging downwind and the board at 90 degrees (across the wind). If during the uphaul the board moves out of position, even while uphauling or when the sail is up, simply move the sail slightly either to the front or back of the board and watch as the board steers back into position. Your hands are still on the uphaul.

Remain in this position for a bit, hang out, relax your knees, keep your butt in to protect your lower back at all times and feel the wind on your back, arms extended so that a Vshape forms between your body and the sail. Look up and move the sail forward and back until you're comfortable with your balance points.

As you become comfortable with this position, lengthen the turns, moving the mast farther to the back and front until you are moving the board around 180 degrees, back and forth in controlled manner.

When you do fall, it's better to have the sail fall downwind from the board, since it will be harder to uphaul if it falls upwind of the board. If it starts to fall upwind of the board, push it over to the downwind side as you fall in. But if it does fall upwind of the board, the easiest remedy is to swim the board around upwind of the sail before trying to uphaul or if the board proves too heavy to maneuver from the water, uphaul slowly pulling the sail to the front or back of the board during the uphaul process and the board will rearrange itself (and you).

You will drift downwind slowly, and also sail forward to some extent. It's ok, remember, if in doubt, drop the sail and you will stop moving, then self rescue your way back to the beach. The Self Rescue is explained next.

Your Stance

Head Turned to look where you are going! Sounds obvious but it's amazing how many people try to have a staring contest with their hands.

Arms Extended Out but don't lock your elbows, hands shoulder-width apart no the boom and so you can feel equal pressure on both arms (hint: 1/3 from mast)

Legs Relatively straight but with knees slightly bent, shoulder width apart, front foot lined with your nose pointing to where you are going, back foot balanced across centre

Body Relaxed but strong ready to adjust slightly for comfortable balance, in stronger winds sit back a bit on your back leg to lower your centre of gravity and give more counterbalance to the sail

The Self Rescue

Right about now you're going to need this skill as if you are like everyone else, you will soon drifting away from the shore, falling off and wanting to get back. We recommend that you do not get into the habit of trying to drag your windsurf sail through the water, chilling your body core down in the process and most likely getting nowhere quickly. We recommend you always do the following when swimming yourself and your windsurf back to the beach (a.k.a. self rescue).

Once the sail drops into the water (yourself as well most likely):

  1. Climb back onto the board into the uphaul position and as you are uphauling swing the sail to the back of the board so that the boom is resting on the tail with the sail up out of the water.
  2. Facing the nose, lay on your stomach on top of the board, legs resting on the sail to keep it balanced on the board and start front crawling your way back to shore.
  3. As the sail is out of the water, there is very little resistance and you will get back to shore so much quicker than if you were trying to drag the whole thing through the water.
  4. Also, if you were in the water, you would be cooling your body core down and hypothermia is always a danger.

Other than the above, if you are sailing in Jericho where there are rescue boats patrolling the bay. Please be warned that they may feel they are needed elsewhere other than giving you a lift in and will approach you to make sure you are OK and if so, will instruct you to swim your board back on your own speed exactly as described above. But if you are shivering or hurt in any way WAVE YOUR ARMS IN THE AIR to attract their attention or the attention of another sailor to assist you!

Hint: When in Doubt of the conditions vs. your abilities - Don't go Out!


We are now going to refer to the Sail as a Rig and to the front of the board as the nose and the back of the board as the tail. Might as well get used to it now.

Steering Upwind: (aka: into the wind direction) While windsurfing across the wind, look upwind and select a new goal, slowly draw the rig across your body, (arms still extended and head up), towards the back of the board and the nose of the board will now move towards your new goal…… Yeaahhhh you just steered out of the way of a flying fish. When you are sailing in a good line towards your goal, bring the sail back into regular sailing position, mast straight up and down.

Steering Downwind: (aka: the other direction) repeat the above only with arms extended lean the mast towards the nose of the board until the nose moves downwind and when you are sailing in a good line towards your goal, bring the sail back into regular sailing position, mast straight up and down.

Hint - Remember the NO-GO-ZONE and adjust the sail forwards and back until you are comfortable with how the sail is reacting to the wind. Too much power! Let it out by letting go of the boom! Not enough, pull the boom slightly closer in to your body. If you stall, you went too far and will probably notice the wind in your face instead of your back. Be patient and move the sail (and consequently the board) around until you have the wind at your back once more.

Tacking (turning around and returning to shore)

Tacking is when you turn the board into the wind to change direction. Before starting to tack, look upwind, drop your front hand to the mast just below the boom and move your front foot to just in front of the mast. Start to turn into the wind by moving the rig to the tail of the board. As the rig moves back, counterbalance with your body weight arms extended. The board will now start to turn into the wind and slow down. Bring your back foot up to join your front (you will now be facing the mast) and keeping the rig leaning to the back, take small steps, a shuffle, small hops, whatever feels comfortable in order for you to maneuver your body around the front of the sail to the OTHER SIDE with the sail in the secure position as described above.

Hint: Keep your toes close to the mastfoot, arms extended and butt in for good counterbalance. If you fall in mid way, climb aboard as in the secure position described above and as you are uphauling, move the mast to the back of the board and gradually the board will turn around and the sail will return to the secure position ready for sailing. This is a popular skill also known as the WET TACK.

Congratulations, you have just completed a tack!

Sailing Forward

OK, now that you know how to steer, turn around (tack) and self rescue, NOW we can show you how to move forward. No use learning how to sail out until you know how to get back unless of course we want all our sailors to end up in West Vancouver.

Hint: Think of the mast as your steering wheel and the boom as your accelerator! Just as when you started learning to drive a car, GENTLY and slowly sheet the sail in with the boom until you're more comfortable with the wind/sail power. Remember, counterbalance the power with your body weight, arms extended butt in, perfect Vshape.

OK, you're ready to sail out to the buoys in front of the beach Jericho (being your restriction) and are in the secure position described above.

  1. Find a goal position across the bay or simply aim for the buoys, make sure the road is clear of sailors as well!
  2. Let go of the uphaul with your front hand (the hand closest to the front of the board), and use your front hand to gently grasp (don't pull yet!) the boom about 8 inches from the mast. Your front hand will cross over your back hand, which holds the sail up until the front hand grips the boom.
  3. With your front hand, move the boom and sail forward (toward the front of the board) and upwind. Keep the sail parallel to the wind, so it has no force in it. Your body will swivel so you now face forward rather than downwind.
  4. With arms extended, butt in and head up, gently move your back foot behind the daggerboard, keeping it across the centerline and bring the front foot back slight so that it is resting right up against the mast foot, facing forwards.
    Hint: if this is a problem and at this point you fall in every time, practice this section without worrying about your feet position for awhile, eventually your balance will improve and you will easily go into the proper sailing stance which is far more comfortable as well.
  5. Turn your face and hence your body to your new goal, move your back hand to the boom a few inches from the mast. Gently, and very, very slowly, pull in with your back hand and the wind will start to power the sail causing you to start moving forward. Resist the temptation to panic and drop the sail. If you think that the wind is too strong, gently let out with your back hand and return to the Secure position as described above, hang out, think about what is all happening, get comfortable and try again.
  6. As you feel more comfortable, pull in harder with your back hand. You will have to lean back to counter the pull of the sail.

If there is a gust, you will need to effectively sheet out and spill the wind from the sail. To do this, you must let out the wind with your back hand, and simultaneously pull in with your front hand. You will now be in the Secure Position and the wind will safely spill from the sail.

More on your sailing stance

Keep the mast more or less vertical. Do not let the rig lean over to the side of the board. If it does, you will have to contend with the rig's weight as well as the force of the wind on the sail. If the rig leans to over to one side and you are not intentionally steering, sheet out and lean back until the mast comes straight up. And remembers, arms extended, head up looking to your goal, knees slightly bent for stability, feet on the centerline and butt in. Sounds like a lot to think about but after a short period of time, your stance will become second nature, either that or you'll see a video or photo and realize it needs some work. Good stance takes a lot of time to perfect and is an essential part of windsurfing.

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. Your back should be straight, knees bent, and derriere discretely tucked in, as if you were sitting down in a straight backed chair. Don't let your butt stick out, it not only looks silly but it will cause you to fall.

Sometime after you start sailing, move your front foot behind the mast. Your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Exactly where you stand depends on conditions. If you are a light weight person, you can stand anywhere on the board. 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.

Getting blown downwind

When you first start to windsurf it is common to get blown downwind. If you find yourself in this predicament, and get carried past the rocks, to the docks east of the beach, you should simply sail, or self-rescue your way past the docks to the next beach Park your rig on the beach, ask someone to watch it, if possible, and then go and get a dolly and carry it back. Remember to keep the mast into the wind even when transporting a sail on the dolly and don't put the board on top of the sail as you will damage the sail.

It is easier to carry your board home on land than swim your board back against the wind and current in the water. If the wind is blowing from the east and you end up down in Spanish banks, it's usually easier to walk your board home in the water than swim it home. If all else fails and you're exhausted or injured and you need a rescue, sit on the board and wave your hands in the air to signal for help.

If you have trouble getting the board to turn downwind, you may be doing one of two things wrong: (1) you do not have the sail leaning far enough forward and across the front of the board, and/or (2) you are not sheeting in and, therefore, do not have power in the sail.

If you find that you fall in every time you try to turn downwind, you probably need to step back further before beginning the turn, but also move your hands further back on the boom.

Returning our gear to storage

Never sail right up to the shore , drop your sail in chest high water and once again balancing the sail and board by grabbing the boom and footstraps, lift everything onto the beach, ensuring nothing is dragged on rocks and the sail is safely away from the surge.

Bring the sail in first and hose it down thoroughly at the rigging area. Make sure all sand is cleared from mast and mast sleeve. Hang the sail up in the designated spot. You will note that the sail hangers have the sail size written beside the hook, please follow this as different sails require different size hangers. Level 2 and Level 1 both have their smaller sails hanging Northward and the largest sails southward. Finally, lock it up and make sure the tarp sheet is secured. This tarp at the front of the shed protects the sails from sunlight and hence, ensures they last longer. Take a final look to see if all is hung correctly, please re-lock, re-hang sails, whatever is needed. Locarno thanks you.

Go back get your board, carrying as instructed earlier on, and store with the nose first IN THE BOARD SLOT you originally found it. There should be tags to direct you to where each board should be stored. This is done as some boards have long fins and need a higher resting place, some are too heavy to safely lift to the upper racks, etc. I almost always ask for help at this point as I'm usually exhausted from the sail. Finally, double check and make sure the fin isn't scratching another board.

Rinse off your lifejacket and harness and immediately place back onto the hangers where you found them in the back of the board shed.

Sign your gear back in. Very important as this information is tallied at the end of the year and assists with gear purchase and/or sales.

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