Saturday 19 February 2011

Building Your Quiver - Boards

The first couple of years windsurfing can really be make or break for you in terms of how long you keep it up for. A lot of the reason behind this is due to buying the wrong kit, not suited for learning easily and progressing well.
I will split the advice here into two sections, beginners and intermediate. Once you hit a good intermediate level you will know enough yourself. Within each core section I will split the weight categories into three. Less than 80kg, 80-100kg, and greater than 100kg.
The literage of a board is easy to understand, a 1kg weight will float on a bouyancy aid of 1litre. So a 100kg sailor needs 100l to simply float, this does not include the weight of the rig (mast, sail, boom, extension, mastfoot, and foam padding you buy for the mast/boom - which you dont need!) or the weight of the wet footstraps, and any water on the board (which probably comes to at least one litre). If you look at your weight in kgs and add 10-15 then this is the minimum literage you need to float, any less and the board will sink when stationary.

  • Your first few sessions should be on a big board. Most brands provide a good learners board, often with foam covered decks and plenty of footstrap options. If you are less than 80kg then a board around 150l should be ample to provide both a stable platform to learn and last you a while to progress on. These are usually 80+cm wide.
  • If you are 80-100kg then look for 160-180l board around 85-90cm wide.
  • 100kg or more and 180l upwards and 90+cm wide.

These boards keep their price well, especially in the summer. If you are buying then often cheaper ones can be found in the colder months when novices do not tend to go windsurfing. 

An alternative is to use a stand up paddle board (SUP) with a dagger board and mast track. I think the dagger board helps a lot due to the long length of this type of board. With a dedicated windsurf board I found a dagger board unnecessary, a big fin (that came with the board) was all that was needed to easily get upwind. An SUP comes with a small fin usually, and the board itself is considerably longer so a dagger board really helps to get back upwind when learning.

I personally got a lesson on a big 180l board and then bought at 150l. This was ample in size for me at 85kgs as I used to surf a bit and skateboard years ago and have good balance. A 150l board is a good 'keeper' for the light wind breezes we get on summer afternoons, they are also better for longer term progression in my opinion.

Do not move down a size too quickly, especially if you only have the one board.  I traded mine in after about 20 light wind sessions for a 130l - 68cm wide, and it made me a lot more hesitant to go out as it was a lot harder to uphaul and a faster. I suspect a few people do this and it puts them off the sport, the board gathers dust in the garage while you wait for the ideal conditions for it. Ideal conditions only happen a few times per year!

To progress from beginner stage to intermediate you should be using a harness and getting your feet into both straps (keep them 'inboard' - this will be discussed in a future article). 

Here choice is as dependent on your ability/speed of progression as it is on your weight. I will still spilt this into three categories through. 

  • Those of you less than 80kgs can look at boards less than 120l, about 65-70cm wide. 
  • From 80-100kgs then between 120 and 130l around 70-75cm wide. 
  • Greater than 100kgs get a board bigger than 130l, 75-80cm wide.
  • If you are a quick learner and get a lot of time on the water then drop 10litres off the board size.
For intermediates there is a much wider choice of boards, which will be covered in detail in a future article. The main choices are as follows.
  • Freeride
  • Freestlye 
  • Freestyle wave (FSW)
  • Wave
  • Slalom
In the larger sizes most boards are in the 'Freeride' category, although some Slalom boards go up to 150l. Modern freeride boards are often excellent 'do-it-all' boards, allowing for easy cruising on most water states. When the water gets choppy in higher winds they are not much fun to be on, but this is when you start using smaller boards. For ease of use a Freeride board is the best choice by far, as Slalom usually have limited footstrap options, and very sharp rails making a board faster but a lot more difficult to control.

If you make a good choice of board at this stage in your windsurfing career it will last you for years. As I mentioned, I bought a Starboard Carve 133 too soon, but persevered and forced myself out on it until I got used to it. It could have been more fun on a bigger board, but 4 years down the line I now have fun on it in light winds with a big sail. I would like a faster board of the same size but cannot justify £1000+ for and extra knot in speed when we are only talking 25-28knots anyway. To me now this board feels like I am sailing a boat, I can run around on it without it becoming unsettled. It is hard to believe that in my first session on it I could not uphaul

In terms of progression I found that I can progress a lot more from one week of sailing every day than I can from 6 months of sailing twice a month. So this bit of advice is very important, if you are a weekend warrior and only get out a few times a year then go big and stay big with your boards. If you sit watching the windy tree every day and are constantly trying to dry your wetsuit then you will get out a lot more often and smaller  boards will give you more fun in the long run.

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