Windsurfing

Windsurfing

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Windsurfing is a water and wind summer sport and outdoor activity. The name comes from the words "wind" and "surfing", which, in turn, means "moving on the board".

In windsurfing, you move on the surf board under the action of the traction force of the sail. (Windsurfing should not be confused with kitesurfing or kiteboarding, where the kite is used to catch the wind, not a sail.) Therefore, the wind is a must for this sport. A sail in windsurfing is almost the same as a sail in yachting. Well, almost. It looks a bit different. You take a board, stand on the water, catch the wind with a sail, which you hold with your hands, and... the wind carries you over the waves. Even a three-year-old child can be put on a windsurf.

You can practice windsurfing on any large open water where there is also wind. Such places are called "spots". Usually, it is a beach on the shre of the sea or a large lake.

Windsurfing is usually done in the summer when the water is warm and there is wind. To do it all year round, you need to travel to those spots with appropriate weather conditions. The main spots for windsurfing in the world are the same as for kiteboarding: Tarifa (Spain), which is considered a mecca of thi sport, Mui Ne (Vietnam), Maui Island (Hawaii, USA), and many others, but also all the major lakes in countries with warm climates, for example, Lake Garda and Lake Como in northern Italy.

The faster the wind, the faster you go. You can even jump or fly over water. This is one of the main pleasures and reasons for doing windsurfing. It also differs from other sports by a close and friendly community where everyone is willing to support each other. However, learning the sport is not as easy as it seems at first glance, especially by yourself. In addition to the wind, water, and board for this sport, you need good physical training and courage. The sport is considered extreme.

If you haven't tried this outdoor activity yet or want to improve your skills and get to the next level, this guide to windsurfing from the Windy.app team is just right for you.

Brief history

There are two versions of who is considered the inventor of windsurfing and the equipment for it.

The first version has less recorded evidence: in 1964, the American Newman Darby ensured that the structure he created from a board and a sail became buoyant and controllable. He began to manufacture and sell boards but never patented the invention. And soon, in 1966, a fire destroyed all the samples. After that, only in 1980 did Newman return to windsurfing and until now his company continues to create sails.

According to another version, the creators of windsurfing were Jim Drake and Hoyley Schweitzer. In the late 1960s, in parallel with Darby, they created a windsurfer prototype and received a patent in 1968. This year is considered the main reference point in the history of windsurfing.

This sport quickly became popular. Competitions began to be held among its fans in the so-called One Design class. The champion of the late 1970s, Mike Waltz, gave the world windsurfing on a small, now familiar board. In 1979, he set sail on a classic surfboard. Before that, all windsurfers were quite large, heavy, and not very maneuverable.

After that, a real boom began in windsurfing: the number of fans of this sport grew and new disciplines appeared. This increased the demand for equipment, which led to the emergence of new equipment manufacturing firms. At the same time, windsurfing on big waves became popular — it’s the most spectacular and emotional form of windsurfing.

Types of windsurfing

There are two main types of riding in windsurfing: displacement and gliding.

  • Displacement is riding on a board with a sail when the board is held on the water by a force that pushes the board along with the athlete to the surface. With such riding, it’s difficult to gain high speed even with a strong wind and a large sail. Without mastering this type of riding, it’s impossible to move on to the next one — gliding.
  • Gliding is sliding on the water surface due to the high-speed pressure of water and with little resistance. This is a faster type of riding. It’s mastered by already progressing riders who know how to stand on the board correctly and ride mainly using a trapezoid.

All windsurfing is tacking, that is, a zigzag change of course to follow the wind or against it.

Styles of practicing windsurfing

In the first paragraph, we already mentioned wave windsurfing. Let’s now get acquainted with the main styles of windsurfing and understand how they differ. There are four main types: freeride, slalom, freestyle, and wave windsurfing.

Freeride windsurfing

Freeride windsurfing is a simple ride that most windsurfers do. We’ll talk about equipment a little later.

Slalom winsurfing

Slalom winsurfing is high-speed races in the fastest courses, that is, along the route in the form of an “eight”. Boards for these competitions are made with speed in mind. Slalom competitions are held with winds from 14 knots (about 7.2 m/s). Slalom competitions are most accessible to amateurs because it’s enough for a rider to be able to plane and gybe.

Freestyle windsurfing

Freestyle windsurfing is the most spectacular form of windsurfing. It includes elements of acrobatics, jumping, speed, and knowledge of the wind and water conditions.

Tow in windsurfing is a kind of freestyle, more entertainment than a full-fledged sport. Especially popular in light winds at small spots and as a show. Boats or a jet ski help the rider develop speed, after which he releases the halyard and performs the trick, moving by inertia.

Wave windsurfing

Wave windsurfing is the most difficult and impressive type of windsurfing, riding on big waves. It’s important for the rider to catch both the wave, as in classic surfing and the wind (and at the same time stay afloat).

Each style of windsurfing specialty demands specific windsurf equipment.

Windsurfing equipment and gear

To do windsurfing you need a certain amount of equipment. Here it is:

  • windsurf board
  • sail
  • mast
  • boom
  • start sheet for pulling the sail out of the water
  • several sheets to secure the sail to the boom
  • hinge for attaching the mast with a sail to the board
  • daggerboard (for heavier and larger boards)
  • a trapezoid (this is optional and at the training stage you can first ride without it)

You will also need:

  • windsurfing wetsuit
  • callus gloves
  • sunscreen
  • board shorts and lycra with long sleeves

Since the main elements of the equipment are still a sail and a board, let's study them in more detail.

The most common windsurf sails are made from dacron, monofilm, and mylar. The sailboard can be made from Styrofoam, Epoxy, Fiberglass, PVC, or Carbon Sandwich.

Beginner

Beginner windsurf sails are light and small rigs. Their range is 1.5–4.5 m. They are intended for navigating in low winds. They have no camber inducers, so that they can be easy to control.

Windsurfing boards for beginners are quite large, from 160 to 210 liters. They are quite heavy, wide and not very maneuverable. But such dimensions make the board very stable, which is very important for beginners who still don’t know how to balance on the water.

Freeride

Freeride windsurf sails feature a bold, full profile. Its range is usually 5.5–7.5 meters. They were designed to perform in a variety of conditions and with multiple goals. They can be easily maneuverable.

Windsurfing freeride boards are designed for comfortable riding at low speeds. They are great for beginners to ride on flat water. The board has an average size of 100–170 liters, thanks to which it lends itself to good control. Freeride boards are especially popular and are most often offered for rent to tourists.

Slalom

Slalom windsurf sails feature light materials and were designed for max speed. They are constructed to be quite easy to get out of the water and to do water starts. Racing sails come with camber inducers.

Windsurfing slalom boards are used for speed riding and only by experienced windsurfers. They are very difficult to control and are unstable. Slalom boards and wave boards tend to be the lightest. Their weight ranges from 4.5 to 7 kg, while the rest of the boards weigh from 16–35 kg and are much more stable.

Freestyle

Freestyle windsurf sails are versatile and lightweight. They feature a low sail area below the boom. Their range 3.8–6.5 m.

Freestyle boards are similar in weight and maneuverability to wave boards. But at the same time they are designed to perform acrobatic jumping stunts. This type of board has limited control, it all depends on the skill of the rider. They are wider than other boards and have a volume of 80–100 liters.

Wave

Wave winsurf sails are simple, small and heavy. They have to withstand heavy loads and be very strong, so they come with reinforced x-ply panel materials and feature strong battens for handling the power of the surf. Their standard size is 3.3–6.2 meters

Windsurfing wave boards are lighter, smaller and more maneuverable than others. Their volume is 60–90 liters. They are designed for high jumps and tight turns. The wave board is very easy to use if the windsurfer knows what he is doing. They can be used in almost all weather conditions.

Learn more about the different types of windsurf sails and boards and how to choose them in a separate articles in the Windy.app blog:

Windsurfing dangers and safety rules

The main problems in windsurfing can be related to the health of the equipment, your skills, and weather conditions.

You will not be able to influence the weather — but it’s in your power to adequately assess your abilities and go out on the water only when you are confident in your abilities. It’s important to take into account the direction and speed of the wind, the presence of waves, currents, navigation, and the nature of the bottom.

The most important safety rule is not to ride in the offshore wind, that is, when the wind blows from the shore. In this case, you can be carried away very far, you will not be able to return to the station on your own, and the rescuers from the shore will not see you. But there are many other rules to help make your windsurfing experience safer. Read about them in a separate article in the Windy.app blog.

Best season and weather for windsurfing

Globally, windsurfing doesn’t depend on the seasons, because at different times you can ride in different parts of the planet. Still, the windsurfers mainly ride in warm summer season.

To get out on the water, wind from 3–4 m/s is enough. But for advanced athletes, you need at least 5–6 m/s.

The presence of waves on the sea is not a hindrance for professionals, they can perform various tricks and maneuvers. However, beginner windsurfers are better off riding only on smooth water surfaces. Even small ripples will interfere with balance.

In extreme heat it becomes difficult to ride. For example, in Dahab, which is considered the mecca of windsurfing, it becomes almost unbearable during the summer months.

Wetsuits help to ride even in relatively cold water in the spring, autumn and winter seasons (for extreme adventurers — in winter, the main thing is that the water does not freeze). You can even do windsurfing on a snow or ice surface on a special boards such as a snowfer. 

Popular spots for windsurfing

Windsurfing can be practiced almost anywhere where there is a water surface with a depth of at least a meter and some wind. But there are also generally recognized spots where windsurfing is a great pleasure:

  • Dahab, Egypt, is just the perfect place for riders of all levels. And yet in many places it’s quite shallow, which allows both beginners and children to study calmly.
  • Tarifa and Fuerteventura, Spain, are two meccas for both windsurfers and kitesurfers. The latter is one of the the Canary Islands and is a very popular spot among pro riders in this country. World windsurfing competitions are usually held here.
  • Mui Ne, Vietnam, has many spots that are better for those who are no longer new to windsurfing, because there are quite strong shallow waves.
  • Maui Island, Hawaii, USA, allow you to do not only classic surfing but a windsurfing, too.
  • Rhodes Island, Greece, is very suitable for both beginners and advanced ones but both equipment rental and accommodation are more expensive there, compared to, for example, Dahab.
  • Alacati, Turkey, is a great windsurfing spot for beginners: shallow and perfectly flat water.
  • Dervio on Como Lake and Riva del Garda on Garda Lake, Italy, allows this sport to be practiced in the north of this country, far from the seas. The same could be said about other Italian lakes and all major lakes in the world, which are more likely to be popular windsurfing spots than the other way around.

Almost all spots have many schools and equipment rentals. Often coaches move from one region to another depending on the season. If possible, try to book both the equipment and the instructor in advance to guarantee comfortable prices and classes that are suitable for the level.

Windsurf clubs and communities

Like outdoor activities in general, windsurfing is not only an individual sport, but also a large community of which you can become a part. There are many clubs and communities, especially at the regional and local levels. Among the international ones, we will note the two main ones:

  • The Professional Windsurfing Association (PWA) organizes professional events, makes new rules for the sport, and helps promote windsurfing all around the world. PWA strengthens the bonds of friendship between existing associations, classes and disciplines and to provide support and services for all windsurfers. The PWA Windsurfing Hall of Fame features over 60 names.
  • The International Windsurfing Association (IWA) grows the sport of windsurfing worldwide, acting as a communications hub for riders all over the world. Also IWA represents its member class associations to the public, media, industry and event organizers. 

Windsurfing competitions and events

Windsurfing has been an Olympic sport since 1984. So the Summer Olympic Games are one of the most important competitions in the world of windsurfing.

There are also World and European championships. For example, the Windsurfing World Championships (now the RS: X World Championship) is an international sailing competition organized by the ISAF (International Sailing Federation), held since 1980, now annually. The PWA holds the World Championship and the World Tour in various windsurfing destinations in different countries.

Windsurfing expenses

Unlike surfing or kiting, windsurfing is less demanding on the features of nature and spots. Therefore, it’s not necessary to go to the ocean, suitable spots can be found in almost any country and even in large cities. This makes windsurfing relatively accessible.

If you just want to learn or ride a couple of times a year during your vacation, the main expense (apart from the road to the spot and accommodation) is the rental of a set of equipment. Rental prices vary greatly depending on the country and region. In Dahab, for example, the price of equipment rental costs $15 per hour, but if you rent it for several hours at once, it will be cheaper.

 

Text: Natalia Kirasheva, a travel author and editor. She has a Bachelor's degree from the Faculty of Geography of Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU) with specialties in Economic Geography and Tourism, and Environmental Management. Her favorite sports are windsurfing and snowboarding. Ivan Kuznetsov contributed to this guide

Cover photo: Raimond Klavins / Unsplash

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