WindWise Beginners’ Guide: Part 1 – BoardWise
You’ve probably seen the comedy sketch where a bewildered customer goes into an off-licence and spends a life-wasting period of time scanning the shelves. After a long deliberation, he turns to the retailer, “What’s best then, red or white?” It’s not the funniest, but it could have been shot in a windsurfing shop, where there’s a vast array of boards on offer, and you might well end up thinking “Which is best then, the red one or the blue one?” At first, board selection can seem perplexing, but if you make a considered choice you can find the right ride for you.
First piece of advice – don’t just buy that £100 board you see on eBay as it’s likely to be the windsurfing equivalent of a wooden tennis racquet! Have lessons first, hire for a while and then you’ll have a better concept of board sizes, names and what you want from the sport. When you’re ready to buy, select a board that offers long-term potential for your needs and aspirations, but isn’t too challenging to sail. In basic terms, boards are of similar length, but they vary more in width and volume. Wider, higher volume boards (140-200L) are more stable and easier to sail and suit beginners, improver-intermediates, lighter winds and inland waters. The small, fast boards (75-135L) you see people using are for more experienced sailors in stronger winds and rougher coastal conditions. They require more technique to sail, so are likely to be your choice of second board when the time comes. Right now you need something easy that you can evolve with, and then keep to partner any smaller boards you might progress on to in the future.
Most people relate to one of the three following categories, so read through these to help narrow your first board choice. (If you can’t afford a new board then look at second-hand options that fit into the criteria we’ve outlined here.)
If you plan to take the sport quite gradually, sail occasionally, or it’s a family activity with a broad range of levels, statures and ages using the board, I strongly suggest buying a high volume ‘beginner board’. The new ‘widestyle’ boards are so much easier and lighter than boards from a few years ago. They’re at least 75-90cm wide, which reduces your chances of falling off and increases your control and ease of getting ‘planing’. They’re undoubtedly the easiest boards to sail on the market! The ones we’re suggesting here aren’t the massive white 200-220L school ‘platforms’ you might have had your lessons on: these are sporty, fun and perfect for embracing the early stages of the sport.
Daggerboard vs Centre-Fin
Most beginner boards have retractable daggerboards which, when down, give greater lateral resistance, stability, and aid staying upwind in light wind, ‘non-planing’ situations. The daggerboard is retracted into the hull when the board is sailed over the water at ‘planing’ speeds. The alternative is a fixed centre-fin that bolts onto the underside of the board and can be removed with a screwdriver for stronger winds. Given a choice between the two, I’d recommend a retractable daggerboard – especially if you sail inland.
Beginner Board Q&A
Daggerboard / centre-fin? Yes
Foostraps? Initially you don’t need to fit them, but once you start to use a harness they help stabilise you on the board.
Anything else? Soft deck options are great for scrambling onto painlessly without ruining the knees of your wetsuit!
What to avoid? If anyone tries to sell you a second-hand ‘beginner board’ that’s less than 70cm wide, run away!
This would be a more ambitious, longer term purchase for those who know they’ve got the bug! If you’re looking to windsurf a reasonable amount with a realistic goal of getting into the harness and footstraps in a wider range of conditions, then consider an ‘improver board’. Manufacturers refer to these as ‘large freeride boards’, and you’ll probably end up with one between 140 and 160L depending on your weight. You should only buy this board once you can happily sail back and forth on a beginner board, so you might need to rent or borrow one for a while before buying. Being narrower and lower in volume with no daggerboard or centre-fin, freeride boards are less stable and harder to sail upwind. Although initially (first few days) they are more challenging, the big reason for buying a large freeride board is that you won’t grow out of it so quickly. Essentially they’re lighter to carry off the water, then on the water they’re faster, more responsive and encourage you to venture more quickly towards high-wind, ‘planing’ windsurfing. However, it’s vital to point out that they should still be of high enough volume to easily uphaul and sail around on in lighter winds. Here’s what to go for…
‘Large Freeride’ Board Q&A
Volume? Sailor weight of 45-60kg = 130-140L / 60-80kg = 140-150L / 80kg+ = 150-170L
Soft deck? Not essential
Experienced Improver & Fast Learner
Windsurfed before? Been on a course abroad and are now harnessing? If you’ve got some windsurfing experience or you’re a super-fast learner and want to get into planing windsurfing, it’s well worth renting / trying a few large freeride boards to see what volume you can sail. Then when you do buy one, you’ll be that much more experienced and can get away with a slightly smaller board (125-150L) depending on your weight. ONLY DO THIS IF YOU HAVE EXPERIENCE and can sail in a harness, as you need to be able to use larger rigs to get the most out of them.
Worried about sailing without a daggerboard?
Vision: Look upwind.
Trim: Tilt that windward (upwind) rail and point the front foot forward.
Stance: Adopt a nice ‘straight-7’ stance to cruise upwind.
Freeride Board Q&A
Volume? Sailor weight of 45-60kg = 125-135L / 60-80kg = 135-145L / 80kg+ = 140-150L
Soft deck? Not necessary
What About the Rig?
Most board packages come with a standard rig and choice of one sail. For now, if you’re under 80kg go for a ‘rotational’ sail sized between 5m and 5.5m. If you’re over 80kg go for a 5.5-6.2m sail.
Non-planing: A term related to lighter winds when the board is travelling slowly, pushing through the water.
Planing: This is when stronger winds encourage the board to accelerate, fast enough to ride on its own bow-wave like a speedboat. (Happens at about 12-15mph).
Upwind: Sailing diagonally towards the wind and not drifting or being blown away from it – or ‘downwind’, as it’s called.
Daggerboard: Retractable ‘keel’ in centre of the board.
Freeride: Category of board that is predominantly used for sailing back and forth as fast and comfortably as possible.
Whatever your category, don’t buy something too small, ultra-light or anything that has ‘race’ written on it. Volume is good for your first and largest board! It’s safer, easier, keeps you on the water and acts as a good partner for smaller boards.
Next time we look at rig sizes, quiver planning and buying your first harness. See you on the water very soon…
Seeing as he wrote the national coaching system and provides incisive technique features for BOARDS, it’s worth checking out Simon Bornhoft’s www.windwise.net for beginner improver / intermediate / advanced books, courses, fabulous holidays and advice.