As the weather will inevitably get warmer, the public’s desire to go out to lakes and beaches will naturally increase as well. While there, you may spot people ripping across the water on boards with sails attached to them. This is called windsurfing; where the wind propels the board across the water. You’re most likely thinking that that sport looks impossible with the equipment involved. While tough, I assure you that anyone can start with the right equipment.
How can I get into windsurfing? In this beginner’s guide, I’ll detail the complete list of equipment needed to start windsurfing. Once you’re finished, you should have a complete picture of how to get into the sport with the best beginner equipment available.
Windsurfers are often compared to sailors. Respectably, both parties must make quality judgment calls when maneuvering with the wind, while preserving their stamina. As a beginner, you must start with the proper equipment associated with your skill level. If you were to jump further outside your comfort zone than initially required, you will only set yourself up for failure. To avoid that scenario, let’s take an extensive look at the tools needed for success.
Overview of Essential Equipment
When learning any extreme sport, the individual needs to have a full understanding of the essential equipment involved. Fortunately, there are only three pieces of equipment needed for the sport itself. Everything else is an accessory, required for safety purposes or convenience.
To sail through the water’s surface, the surfer needs the following three items:
- windsurf board
- rig system
- roof rack
That’s it. Those three items are the only things holding you back from learning this sport. But don’t assume that you should immediately go out and buy these items. As a beginner, there are certain specs about each equipment that should be noted. Buying the wrong equipment will only offer you diminishing returns for your efforts. With that said, let’s look at the right equipment for your skill level.
This can’t be overstated but the board is the most vital part of a windsurfer’s arsenal. As a result, you want to ensure that your initial purchase is the one where you’ll get the most mileage out of it. To make a proper investment, it helps to first know all the different components of the board. So, let’s get right down to it.
Choosing the Right Board Size
The single most important factor when choosing a board is the size of the board. The measurement usually involves knowing the associated volume. You might be scratching your head with the term volume. In terms of windsurfing, the volume describes the buoyancy of the board. The basic rule of thumb is that 1 liter of volume in a windsurfing board supports 1 kilo of weight.
As a beginner, a higher volume board will assist you as it creates more stability for your performance. This is why experts will recommend that you add roughly 50-80L to the board’s volume to give you the best stability possible.
For example, a surfer weighing 75 kilos should aim to surf on a board with 125-155L in volume. The same notion can be applied to the board’s width. Beginners should focus on a board with a wider base; this will increase your stability when sailing with lighter winds and when near the shore.
Choosing the Right Fin
Besides the dimensions of the board, the fin is equally as important when picking out your first board. The fin dictates many aspects of the ride; directionality, maneuverability, jump, etc.
A small fin is optimal for making quick turns and navigating through strong winds. On the other hand, a larger fin is best for high-speed performance in tangent with weaker winds and a larger sail. With this in mind, a beginner will favor a board with a smaller fin as the ease in mobility will garner confidence in your sailing ability.
Standard Price of a Windsurf Board
Most entry-level windsurfing boards will set you back at a minimum of $1,200 with higher price models offering more features for a smoother sail.
Based on my findings, I would recommend either the Funster or the Techno 293 OD board. Both boards are highly valuable for having a retractable daggerboard alongside the fin. This secondary fin provides extra stability for a beginner, making it easier to sail upwind. As your skills progress, you can easily remove the fin, eliminating the need to invest in a new board.
Structural Overview of the Rig
Board aside, you’ll need a quality rig set-up to get you started. The rig consists of a sail, mast, and a boom.
The sail utilizes the wind to generate a forward motion and pick up speed. The mast is the pole that the sail is attached to, providing support. The boom is connected to the mast, allowing the rider to maneuver the sail.
Without the rig components, you essentially only have an over-glorified surfboard at your disposal.
What to Look for in a High Quality Rig System
When shopping for a rig system, it’s rare for the consumer to buy these three items separately. Most rig purchases are bought as a bundled deal. This guarantees that the sail you buy will perfectly match the mast and boom in question. But there are some factors to consider when examining each component as a whole.
As a beginner, your best bet is to invest in a 5-6m sail. These sails can withstand light wind forces as you practice in calmer conditions. As you get more comfortable working with stronger winds, you should consider swapping out for smaller sails. This gives you greater finesse with the harsher winds.
Following with a 5-6m sail, you want the mast to share similar traits. Most would pair the sail with a skinny mast or one with a reduced diameter, as the lower weight will make it easier to handle.
For the boom, you have two choices: aluminum or carbon. Aluminum, being sturdy and lightweight, will synch perfectly with the rig I have described above.
Where to Purchase a High Quality Rig System
As I stated in the beginning, most companies will market the rig set-up as a bundled package. Companies such as Isthmus Sailboards offers a well-rounded collection of rig bundles that are ideal for either kids or adults.
For anybody whose hobby includes a board, you understand the hassle of loading your gear back and forth in your car. Previously, boarders would haphazardly play a game of Tetris by attempting to fit all their gear inside their car. This led to many issues during their travels. You limit the number of people you can bring along as well as cover up some of your blind spots, restricting how you drive.
Advantages of Using a Roof Rack
That’s why I advocate the purchase of a roof rack for transporting your equipment. By installing a rack, you’ll find yourself discovering new advantages in your travels. First, you’ll generally feel a lot safer on the road. With the gear safely attached to the roof, you’ll have complete 360-degree vision throughout your car. No need for guesswork when changing lanes due to a covered-up blind spot.
Second, you’ll be able to transport even more gear. As the bulky equipment (board and sail) are safely strapped on the roof, you can fill out the rest of the car with accessory equipment. The extra space will even allow you to carpool with friends. If they have their own gear to carry, the rack will enable you to easily strap multiple boards on top of each other. This still gives you plenty of trunk space to add whatever else is needed.
Disadvantages of Using a Roof Rack
The only complaint I can issue against roof racks is that your car’s gas mileage will decrease. Cars are built to be aerodynamic to achieve better fuel economy. By adding a roof rack, this creates drag for the car, requiring the car to work harder and burn more fuel.
An empty roof rack can drop the gas mileage by 7 percent. Add in the bulky gear and you’ll witness a drop close to 20 percent. Regardless, this is still a necessary tool needed to safely carry your equipment back and forth.
Standard Prices of Roof Racks
For pricing, you can discover roof rack setups for as low as $150 such as those manufactured by SportRack. This particular rack is easy to install, guarantee to hold up to 130 pounds of cargo, and equipped with anti-theft locks.
Of course, if you want higher performance out of your rack, you’ll need to fork over more cash. Priced at $500, Thule’s AeroBlade Edge outperforms the competition with a focus on optimal aerodynamic performance. Many of the issues previously mentioned are completely negated as this rack is built to reduce noise and drag associated with a standard roof rack.
Overview of Accessory Equipment
Now that I have covered all the essential equipment, you must be ready to go out and try your hand at windsurfing. Trust me, every aspiring windsurfer feels that same thrill at the start. But I advise that you also consider taking the time to invest in the following accessory equipment. While not as crucial as the actual board or sail, the gear I’ll have listed below will ensure that you can maximize your experience while out in the water.
Nothing is more disheartening than cutting a surfing session short due to unforeseen variables. Temperature, comfort, water regulations et cetera; many of these factors can completely ruin a positive session. With the initial investment placed into this sport, why cut corners on making the most out of your performance?
Let’s take the remainder of this guide to illustrate many of the accessory items that you can pick up for windsurfing. I’m not saying to go out and immediately buy all these items. Over time, as your skills progress, you can begin amassing a collection worthy of your newfound talents on the board.
Windsurfing is an incredibly taxing sport especially when considering the pressure applied to the arms. Beginners and experts alike will quickly become exhausted, which will cut into their sailing time. A windsurfing harness will help maximize your sessions by taking the weight off your arms, allowing you to preserve your energy.
There are 4 different methods you can attach your harness;
Most would recommend a waist harness as it allows for the most ease of movement. But as you advance your skills towards an intermediate level, you may want to transition towards a crossover harness. The crossover style will provide you with back support as you loosen up tension on your arms and back.
Dakine manufacturing provides harnesses based on your preferred attachment method. Many provide a breathable memory foam mesh to maximize comfort at higher speeds.
As you gradually progress on the board, your confidence will tempt you to try sailing with powerful winds. These winds will offer you high-speed conditions as you’re ripping across the water. Be wary though. These conditions will also push you past your comfort zone, causing you to constantly fall off the board. We recently demonstrated how a harness can help combat these conditions. Alongside a harness, experts would use foot straps to help plant themselves firmly against the board.
Choppy water, strong wind gust, or large waves; foot straps will help stabilize your weight against the board. With proper alignment and foot placement, you will never feel at risk of falling off the board as you pick up speed. For a demonstration on strap assembly and use, this quick video by Sam Ross will answer all your concerns.
Fortunately, foot straps are a universal investment for multiple water sports. Not exclusively use for windsurfing, you can apply these straps to wakeboarding or surfing as well. This Dakine set-up gives you multiple straps to assemble, offering flexibility and creativity for how you want to position yourself against strong winds.
In an ideal setting, we would be honing our windsurfing skills on a tropical island, with the sun enveloping us in its warmth. Realistically, that’s not always the case. For those in the UK or the U.S.A., you’ll be surfing in frigid waters and even colder winds. This is where a quality wetsuit comes in.
Not restricted to use in Scuba trips, wetsuits will help you stay warm during your sessions.
This principle provides insulation between the user and the water. There’s also the added benefit of providing skin protection, even when your body is underwater.
Where purchasing a wetsuit, you want to ensure that the suit is skin-tight and the thickness matches the temperature of the water. A skin-tight wetsuit will eliminate the chances of excess water seeping in and out of the suit. You want to avoid this from happening as you will constantly waste energy to heat the new water. For the thickness, that all depends on where you’ll be surfing. A thinner suit is ideal for warmer waters while a thicker suit is suitable for frigid waters.
It’s important to remember that everyone has a varying threshold to temperature. That’s why the thermal properties of a specific swimsuit may not translate accurately between different people. A surfer may need a suit with 4mm-thickness while another may need 2mm for the same body of water.
As a beginner, you don’t need to shell out $500 for a luxury wetsuit. O’Neil wetsuits provide the perfect balance between being budget-friendly and keeping the user warm. As a user during the summer season, the quality of O’Neil should not be dismissed.
Since windsurfing is labeled as an extreme sport, you should not skimp out on implementing safety practices. One of these practices is to always wear a personal flotation device, PFD for short. For windsurfing, you should invest in a buoyancy aid when out on the board.
Don’t confuse buoyancy aid for a life jacket though. Life jackets have a higher measurement of buoyancy, roughly 100-150N. This is vital to keep you afloat if you lose consciousness or if you’re an inadequate swimmer. Buoyancy aids (50N) are just to aid in flotation, assuming that you’re a competent swimmer who can easily reach the shore or boat.
Thankfully, investing in a PFD won’t break the bank with most priced around $50 to $80. If I were to sing praise for a specific brand, it would be any PFD manufactured by Onyx. Onyx not only provides quality mesh ventilation for breathability but also a lash tab, perfect for attaching small accessories.
You wouldn’t think you need to purchase specific shoes for windsurfing and you’re right, there’s nothing wrong with going barefoot. But testimonies from experienced patrons have praised the use of shoes due to the extra grip you get on a slippery board. In this instance, it’s better to opt for functionality over fashion.
When examining the market, there are two different models available for windsurfing: shoes and boots. Aesthetics are the only major difference between the two. Other than that, both models feature the same characteristics. Similar to wetsuits, the thickness of the model will dictate their tolerance for temperature. Thinner models are ideal for summer while thicker models should be used during the winter season. Some do prefer boots for colder temperatures as your ankles are completely covered.
When getting fitted for windsurfing shoes/boots, the sizing process is different from that of choosing a regular pair of shoes. The primary difference is that you want the shoes to fight as tight to your feet as possible. If you have wiggle room around your toes or heel, change into a smaller size. You want the shoes/boots to be tight since the material of the shoe will naturally expand a bit when wet.
While I don’t have the perfect pair where one size fits all, I highly recommend investing a pair of shoes from the brand O’Neil, average price listed around $50. Many reviewers have stated the comfort and sizing options matched their preferences perfectly. A reviewer even mentioned that sporting a windsurfing boot protected them from a stingray accident. As stated previously, you may feel/look silly wearing shoes in the water but there’s no denying that accident prevention is a bigger priority over fashion sense.
You would assume that a sport in water would be safer than its land counterpart. Yet there are real risks of hitting your head on a rock or slapping your face against the water at high speeds. A helmet should be considered when you first learn how to windsurf. Over-confidence can leave you prone to injuries.
When researching for the perfect helmet, you want to make sure that:
- the helmet is fitted properly
- the helmet is built for the sport in question
The helmet should cover the entirety of your forehead and provide an equal amount of pressure all around your head. If the helmet feels too lose or underexposed, this diminishes the protection properties against impacts.
I should inform you as well that water sports helmets differ depending on the sport. Wakeboard helmets, designed similar to a bicycle helmet, will offer protection for the top of your head, forehead, and back of the head. On the other hand, a kayaking helmet is more akin to a motorcycle helmet as it will offer total head protection.
In the case of windsurfing, you will be safe sticking with a wakeboard helmet. The helmets manufactured by Vihir offers solid protection due to the EVA foam padding inside injunction with the ABS shell outside. With comfort ventilation and removable ear pads, you cannot ask for a better beginner helmet that will last you for many seasons.
While you’re out sailing the waves, the beauty of the sun can be beaming down on you. This is a great feeling until you realize that you can’t see straight due to the glare off the water. More often than not, people make rookie mistakes solely off the fact that they couldn’t see anything in front of them. Investing in a pair of sunglasses will protect you from damages associated with water sports.
As your eyes are susceptible to the sun’s UV rays, you should always wear sunglasses to block out these rays. Overexposure will lead to health complications such as cataracts and macular degeneration. Sunglasses will also prevent eye injuries and boost your performance by ensuring that you have clear visibility of any obstacles. If you were to fall from these obstacles, there is a real chance of poking your eye on your board or other equipment.
When sunglasses shopping for water sports, I recommend checking off these few design choices:
- Hydrophobic Coating – Will quickly displace any water that gets on the lenses.
- Head Strap – Ensures that the glasses never fall off your head
- Ventilation – Prevents fog formation when the heat from your face interacts with the coldness from your lenses.
- Anti-Impact Protection – The glasses will have padded frames that assist in distributing the force of impact across your face. No risk of a broken nose at all!
The surf sunglasses from Mauricio offers both sleek style and features many of the design qualities listed above. The best part about investing in these sunglasses is the fact that it’s a one-time investment for multiple sports. Besides being perfect for windsurfing, you can easily sport them for other sports as well; running, climbing, all will benefit from owning this quality pair.
Does Windsurfing Equipment Make A Big Difference in Riding?
I can understand both sides of the argument. Without the proper gear, our skills become hindered. But without the proper skills, you can’t utilize the full potential of your equipment. My stance? For an expensive and highly-technical sport such as windsurfing, it’s best to stick with the essential gear for now.
From the essential equipment alone, the bill will easily eat a couple thousand dollars in your savings. This is a large barrier of entry with the price point alone. Before you start, I recommend getting your feet wet (pun intended) with a course that allows you to rent the equipment for a day. Nothing is more disheartening than throwing away a hobby due to the frustration.
Take the course to examine your potential to learn the sport and see if this is something you will commit to for the long run. Once you accept that responsibility, then you can budget and invest in the essentials; either brand new or through online marketplaces.
The accessory equipment should slowly roll in as your skills progress. Items such as a harness, foot straps, or boots will only benefit you as you reach intermediate levels of confidence. But buoyancy aids and wetsuits, you can afford to buy them early as these items are universally needed for sports outside of windsurfing.
In summary, windsurfing is a sport that you can’t pick up on a whim. You must exercise some responsibility when attempting to cross this entry barrier. But if you have taken care of all the prep work up to this point, then the windsurfing lifestyle will openly accept you.
With everything I’ve discussed, you should have a good starting point with the equipment needed for windsurfing. Don’t expect to be cruising on waves as soon as you start. Quality equipment aside, you will need to put in serious work mastering the gear and wind.
To reiterate, quality equipment will only get you so far when it comes to windsurfing. As you invest in the equipment, memorize how every component works in tangent with one another. Every piece should be an extension of your body while out on the water.
If you’re serious about windsurfing, you’ll realize how quickly it becomes less of a hobby and more of a lifestyle. I can’t offer a definitive timeline for your progression; everyone will have unique strengths and weaknesses when starting. Ultimately, the sport is not hard but requires constant work and patience from you. As you progress, you experience the euphoria of gliding on waves. That, in itself, will be the greatest reward of all.