Get a lesson, rent some kit. Do not buy cheap kit off internet auction sites until you know what you need or have an experienced windsurfer to help (feel free to email me or contact me through this site for advise). Everyone learns at different speeds, some will only need one or two lessons before they can be set loose on their own or with more experienced friends. Others should have a few more lessons, especially if going it alone and dont yet know people at their local spot. Windsurfers are in general helpful and friendly people and will always keep an eye out for you if you tell them you are new and learning.
With this only being a page on a blog I will not go into too much detail and may develop this into a full website over time if it gets a lot of hits. Here is my advise on learning the basics.
Prepare the board
Once you have woken up next to your new board, gently get it out of bed and sneak out the door before anyone else wakes up, this bit has to be done very carefully or it could ruin your whole session ;-)
Boards are quite fragile, and do need to be handled with care especially if rigging anywhere other than a nice soft grass verge. I tend to slide mine halfway out of the van, put the fin in making sure it is screwed up tightly and that I have not crossed the threads on the screws.Fins come with 3 main fixings
- Tuttlebox - The preference of Slalom/Speed sailors. These have 2 screws. Bigger 'race' fins often have a deeper box as well.
- Powerbox - Similar in shape to Tuttlebox these are the domain of the freeride and freestyle sailor and have one screw in the centre.
- US Box - The wave sailors fin. These have a rivet near the tail which has to be inserted first. Slide this down the box and place the holding washer in the box. Then pivot the fin carefully lining up the screw with the washer. The leading edge (front) of the fin is best placed at first so that it is directly under the centre of the rear strap.
Then put the mast base into the track and screw down tightly - you dont want this coming loose while sailing as they are near impossible to do up in choppy seas. As a rule of thumb, place the mast foot towards the front of the box for bigger sails, and near the back for smaller while you are learning. Finer tuning will come with experience.
Place the board out of the wind, or if this is not possible with the nose facing into the wind. I have never had a board take off by placing it this way.
About Fin choice
This is an area that most experienced windsurfers can argue about until the tide goes out and the wind drops. When you buy a board it generally comes with a fin that suits a range of sails, but restricts the full range the board can be used in. While learning people tend to use larger fins, as this gives more security when going upwind. I have many fins now and may have been put off the whole sport if someone had told me that Speed fins cost upwards of £100 each and that I would need 5 or more to cover a full range of conditions.
You are better having 2 or 3 fins per board. For example a good improvers board is around 130to150litres in size. These usually come with 45cm or bigger fins. Now I wouldnt use a 45cm fin with a sail smaller than 8.5m which is a lot bigger than an improver/novice would use. So a good parter to this would be a 37-39cm fin, allowing good use of smaller sails. The reason for this is that a 130-150l board is ideally suited to 7m-10m sails so require a big fin, however these boards are the domain of those who want to progress to shortboards as well as the more expereinced summer cruiser.
Rigging the sail
Put the mast together, slide it up the luff making sure it is all the way up and slotted into the head of the sail - some have cups for the mast to fit into. The luff tube on a sail is curved and a mast is straight, so dont force it from the base, work it up the tube from above the boom cutout, being careful that the two pieces do not come apart.
To work out how long you need for the extension, look at the luff length of the sail - around 400-500 (can be less or more depending on sail size) lets say it is 442. Your mast will either be a 400, 430, 460 etc, modern masts go in increments of 30cm, meaning 4metres, 4.3metres etc. So the mast is 430, the luff of the sail is 442 you will need 12cm of extension. (some sails are not very accurate and you may need 10cm or 14cm as you gain experience). Set the extension length and insert into the mast.
Thread the 'downhaul' rope through the pulley and extension, being careful not to cross the lines. It is easy to downhaul once you get it correct, but a pig if the lines are crossed. Get the line through the cleat and apply 'some' downhaul, not a lot but get the mast bent a little to make it easy to put the boom clamp on.
Place the boom onto the mast and clamp it tight, do not overdo this as the pressure can damage the mast. Go to the other end of the boom (the clew) making sure the mast if facing into the wind (if not it can take off now).
Put on the outhaul, you need to set the boom in a similar way to the mast - you boom will extend from say 150 to 200cm with your required length for example at 170cm, again this can be a little more or less than what is printed on the sail, especially if using a different brand of mast. Pull on full outhaul, again making sure the lines do not cross.
Go back to the downhaul and apply it fully. You can often pick the experienced from the less so on the beach according to the time this takes. Use strong piece of wood/metal/harness bar or a rigging device to help with this. I will post pictures to show what you are looking for here in terms of sail trim. Most modern sails require the top to go 'floppy'. Where the mast bends this creates the sail to twist at the top, and you need to make sure yours is trimmed correctly or else it will be difficult to control. I remember helping a friend once who found a huge difference when the sail was trimmed correctly with enough downhaul. Too much and it reduces the effective size of the sail, requiring a stronger wind to get the board planing but having a higher top speed more often than not. Too little downhaul and it can feel 'twitchy' and the power in the sail moves around a lot meaning you cannot get comfortable when sailing. This does allow you to use the sail in a range of conditions, for example a 6m sail could be used with full downhaul up to 28knots but with minimum downhaul in 18 knots although these extremes are not ideal and other sails would be better at these wind strengths.
Once downhauled release the outhaul and adjust it accordingly, flatter allows better upwind performance, fuller (less outhaul) better downwind performance.
These take a little more time to rig, but with common sense and patience only a little bit more. First of all you must insert the mast and extension and downhaul to nearly the full amount without the cams in place. This creates shape in the sail and bends the mast, allowing easy access to put on the boom.
Put on the boom and outhaul fully - maybe even a little more than the amount printed on the sail. This keeps the sail with shape when you need to apply the cams.
Next let off the downhaul, and move up the sail (with newer sails open the zip pockets), place your hand where you would expect the sail to be at its fullest on the first batten, push down here while lifting the cam onto the mast with your other hand. Repeat this for the other cams. The more cams you have, the more outhaul you need before it becomes easy.
Once the cams are on, move back to the foot of the sail and fully downhaul. Cammed sail generally require more than a rotational sail as they need more twist at the top to 'spill' gusts.
Now connect the board to the sail by inserting the mast foot into the extension. Ensure it clicks into place. While moving the sail, just make sure it is downwind of you and the mast is into the wind, any other position and it can be dangerous.
Look around to see how others have placed their sails and board. Place yours in the most common way, with the board used as a 'windshield' and the mast into the wind. The wind in the picture above is coming from the right hand side, perhaps towards the top of the picture a little. The board in the foreground is not ideally positioned and would bounce around a lot in stronger wind (you cannot see the line of vans we use as a rigging wind shield). The board and sail with the orange tip is ideally placed.
Get your wetsuit on if not done already, good yoga practice is useful for thicker older winter wetsuits if no one is around to help ;-) Have a great session. While you are learning some sessions can be frustrating, every bad one means you are closer to having a great one! Remember that, and that most windsurfers are really helpful, to get good at the sport means years of commitment, most will be willing and very happy to help you.