Windsurfing, Kitesurfing & Sailing

What Is Windsurfing? Everything You Need To Know

Thinking of taking up windsurfing? Read on to find out about essential gear, holidays and the Olympics

Windsurfing is a form of sailing, where a board is powered across the water by the wind.

Polynesians have been using boards with sails for hundreds of years. It wasn’t until the 1960s that windsurf board design really developed and it became the sport we know today. You can read a full history of the sport here.

Unlike surfing, windsurfing uses the wind to propel forward while surfing uses the force of waves.

This means you can practice the sport anywhere with a big body of water and wind, such as lakes, rivers, estuaries and, of course, the open ocean.

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Windsurfing was once referred to as “surfing’s ginger haired cousin” by the sport’s legend Robby Naish. It grew hugely in popularity during the 1980s when it was estimated that one in every three household in Europe had a windsurf board.

While the sport does resemble surfing, it’s more closely aligned with sailing – windsurfers call themselves sailors and their rules are very similar to sailing racing rules.

There are several different disciplines depending on which aspect of the sport you enjoy – from big-wave to freestyle to slalom and course racing.

Beginner windsurfers start on large stable boards before progressing onto smaller boards. Photo: iStock

There is a slightly longer learning curve when it comes to learning to windsurf, unlike other action sports like snowboarding or skateboarding. You will start on a bigger board with a small sail when learning the basics, before gradually moving onto a smaller board as your skill increases. Sail size depends on the conditions.

One of the best things about this sport is it can be enjoyed at any age – even at quite an advanced level – because there a relatively few injuries when compared to those that take place on hard surfaces like snow or concrete. Many windsurfers carry on sailing well into retirement age.

WHAT WINDSURFING GEAR DO I NEED?

Choosing the right windsurf board is important when learning to windsurf. It’s best to go with a large, stable board with lots of buoyancy when you’re just starting out because it will help you learn to balance on water – without falling in every two seconds.

Alongside your board, you will need a sail, mast and boom. When learning, smaller sails are best as you will have to pull the sail out of the water to get going. Bigger sails are heavier and harder to control. Once you’ve learnt the basics, you can move onto a bigger rig.

It’s a good idea to have a few lessons before committing to buying windsurf kit. Photo: iStock

We would recommend having a few lessons and progressing before committing to buying yourself a windsurf board plus sail, mast and boom. It can be a pricey investment and you don’t want to end up with the wrong kit once you progress beyond the early stages.

If you are sailing regularly in the UK, it’s a good idea to buy your own wetsuit. Rental wetsuits are great, but it’s nice to have your own wetsuit and they aren’t super pricey. Plus, if you like watersports, guaranteed it will come in handy for other sports like surfing and sailing.

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Similarly, wetsuit boots or shoes come in handy – particularly in the UK as they keep you warm. They will also protect your feet when you’re getting in and out of the water, plus provide extra grip on the windsurf board.

You’ll also need a buoyancy aid or life vest. All schools will require you to wear one – they will provide these when you rent a windsurf board or take a lesson.

WINDSURFING HOLIDAYS

Great Britain is one of the windiest places in Europe, so there are some great places to go on a windsurf holiday in the UK.

Wales is one of the best places take your board out. Beginners will enjoy the calm waters of Newgale, Tenby and Lake Bala. For more advanced windsurfers, Rhosneigr and Gower are great spots.

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The south coast of the UK is also a really popular place with strong winds and (slightly) warmer waters than the north. Hayling Island, Weymouth and the Isle of Wight are all favourites.

However, if you’re just starting out, you’re probably going to want to head to warmer climates to go on a windsurf holiday.

Greece, Egypt, South Africa, Fuerteventura and Hawaii are just a few popular windy holiday spots to name a few.

Fuerteventura is one of the most popular places in Europe for a windsurf holiday. Photo: iStock

WINDSURFING IN THE OLYMPICS

Windsurfing became an official Olympic sport for men in 1984 and women in 1992. There are currently two Olympic events – the women’s RS:X and men’s RS:X – each compete in 12 races with the top ten from those events going into the final medal race.

You can read more about the Rio 2016 Olympics race course here, as well as the Rio windsurf racing rules and British windsurf Olympic medal contenders.

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