Contributed by David Dobson - RYA Instructor
Whatever your age, ability and requirements, the sport of windsurfing has something for you. It is a unique sport, exciting but not dangerous, colourful and challenging, great whatever the weather.
Use the following information to help get you started.
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Learning the Baisics
Using modern equipment, it’s never been so easy to learn to windsurf and the best way of learning is to take a introductory course at an RYA (Royal Yachting Association) Training Centre. There are 3 RYA recognised training centres in the region;
Coquet Sailing Club in Amble, Northumberland – tel. 01665 710367, email [email protected]
Surfstore in Bishopton village near Stockton - tel. 01740 631199, email [email protected]
Derwent Reservoir Sailing Club, Blanchland, Co. Durham, tel 01434 675033. email [email protected]
Learning to windsurf in warmer weather while on holiday abroad can offer an extra dimension to your holiday. RYA recognised training centres operate at a number of overseas location. For a comprehensive list of all centres within the UK and abroad visit the RYA website
Buying Your First Board and Rig
With so many brands and models to choose from selecting a board can be a perplexing and confusing issue as reference to equipment test pages in the specialist windsurfing magazines prove. Fortunately, its not as complicated as it seems; the boards are all for fairly specific roles and the majority are aimed at the more experienced sailor. So the choice for the first time sailor is simplified. To ensure you have at least an appreciation of what’s in your local windsurfing shop or regularly seen at your nearest sailing venue, use this quick guide to the various board types available and their intended uses starting with the biggest and working down in size.
Out of production for a while but now enjoying a renaissance in the form of the Starboard Phantom and Mistral Equipe 3 these 370-380cm long boards with their sliding mast track and huge daggerboard can be sailed in most wind strengths. With an average 250 litres of volume they can carry the heaviest of sailors. Popular older makes include the Mistral Equipe, Mistral One Design (IMCO), Fanatic Cat, F2 Lightening Race. Ideal cruising boards in lighter winds they can also move with the best of them when the winds up.
First Time/Family Boards
Wide, stable and sometimes with a soft deck and a daggerboard to provide more stability and better up-wind performance, these boards are designed as the ideal first time purchase. They offer good fun and performance in light to moderate wind conditions and can take you from beginner to intermediate ability without the need to necessarily change boards. Consider the F2 Discovery, Fanatic Viper, Starboard Start or Rio, Mistral NTrance, Bic Nova, Naish Kailua, JP New School. Several of these boards actually come in two volume sizes. Unless you’re quite small in stature, it’s probably wiser to go for the larger in the ranges as a first time buy. As a rough guide use the following information to help you decide,
Sailor Weight -- Board Volume in Litres
Under 60kg -- 145 - 170L
60 - 80kg -- 160 - 190L
80kg -- 170 - 220L
Similar sized “free-ride” boards without a daggerboard can also provide an entry level board and take you through to competent intermediate ability. Slightly narrower and therefore less staple and initially more challenging to get upwind in the early stages they nevertheless offer the first time buyer a viable alternative worthy of serious consideration. Consider the higher volume models of the Mistral Explosion, Fanatic Shark, JP X Cite Ride, Bic Techno 2, Starboard Go or Carve, F2 Hornet.
Formula Boards/Formula Hybrid Boards
The modern race boards – up to a metre wide and short. Designed to carry huge sails they are a specialist purchase only for dedicated racers.
The term “freeride” refers simply to blasting back and forth at speed, which is basically what the vast majority of windsurfers do for the majority of sailing time, wind strength permitting. A good freeride board is one that offers good control, a fast comfortable ride and can cope with a wide range of wind and water conditions. Usually starting with a maximum of 150 – 160 litres of volume and reducing to 110 litres as they reduce in length and width they probably account for the majority of the manufacturers output. The larger volume models as previously stated can provide the first-time buyer who has had some good initial tuition a suitable entry level board
A good freestyle board is one, which offers a manoeuvrable platform for doing tricks on. Probably best suited to sailors of good intermediate ability. Not recommended as a first time board.
Designed for sailing in waves, swell or just big chop, wave boards are the smallest boards in common use. Sailing a wave board is the most technically demanding area of the sport however, so it isn’t something you should be thinking about yet.
Sails - Choosing The Right Size
Unlike boards, getting the right size of sail is not a case of “big is beautiful” for the beginner. A sail that provides enough power to move you around but not enough to give you a hard time is what is required. It should offer enough “pull” for you to comfortably lean back and balance against, but not be too big and heavy to lift out the water. A good all-round sail size for most beginners depending upon physical make-up is 5.0 to 6.5 square metres, which is suitable for most wind conditions up to Force 4, however if you fit into the “heavier” sailor category e.g. 85-95kg, then consider going bigger, perhaps upto 7.5m. A good tip is to buy a sail you can grow into, While you may have had your first few lessons on a 3.5 or 4.5 metre, you will quickly out-grow this size of sail as you begin to improve
Sails - Choosing The Right Style
There is a wide range of sail styles available to match the different styles and function of board, e.g. race, freeride, wave etc. Nearly all sails will have full-length battens to provide a structural “skeleton” and these help preserve the smooth aerodynamic shape of the sail. Sails are available with anything from 4 to 8 battens – the more battens the sail has the more stable and rigid it becomes, but likewise the more heavy, stiff and unwieldy it feels. For the first time purchase a modern “rotational” sail with 5 battens is light and easy to handle, and more than stable for beginner / intermediate use.
Masts come in standard lengths to suit the various sail sizes e.g. 430, 460, 490 and are made with a mix of glass-fibre and carbon. The higher the carbon content the lighter the mast, making it easier and more responsive to use but more expensive. However a lighter rig is easier to handle, so its worth going for the best lightest mast you can afford. A very minimum of 30% carbon is advisable, but really the more the better. All modern masts can be split into 2 parts for easier storage and carrying. Make sure the “stiffness” of the mast described as an “IMCS” rating is compatible with the IMCS requirements of the sail.
Like masts carbon booms are lighter but more expensive than their aluminium counterparts however the benefits of a lighter boom aren’t as noticeable as with masts. So if you have the money spend it on the mast rather than the boom. Aluminium will be fine. Booms are adjustable in length so that they can be used with different sized sails.
If you don’t want to invest in brand new equipment good substitutes are boards like the F2 Discovery, Fanatic Viper 299, Mistral Vision CB and Hi-Fly Magnums. These boards are all high volume, reasonably wide and were the forefathers of the current wide designs. Tempted as you may be by its “bargain” price buying your friend or neighbours old equipment which has resided in his garage for the past 7-10 years will hinder rather than help your progress and is not recommended!
A Quick Summary
Get yourself some good lessons at a recognised RYA Training Centre
Only buy equipment from a retailer who sails regularly themselves and can offer impartial,
Try before you buy - demo a couple of boards ideally on the same day
Check out recent test results to help you make the right decision, Try the Boards and
Windsurf magazines web-sites
Make sure you get someone to show you how the board and rig is best set up
Sail somewhere safe, with others and as much as possible - ideally with NWC