How Much Wind Do You Need to Windsurf?

If you are looking to get into windsurfing, you will want to know how much wind you need to be able to do so. You’ll probably be surprised to find out you don’t actually need much wind at all to start. As long as you can feel some wind hitting your skin, you can windsurf. 

To start, you only need a wind speed of 3 knots. However, to determine the ideal wind speed, you should consider the equipment, weight, and your own expertise.  As a general rule of thumb, though, here is a table that breaks down the amount of wind you need for your expertise level:

Level of ExperienceSpeed of Wind
Beginner3-13 knots (3-15 mph)
Intermediate13-21 knots (15-25 mph)
Advanced21-30 knots (25-35 mph)
Expert30+ knots (35+ mph)

Most windsurfers would agree that the best wind speed is the speed you have to reach to be planing. To get the best chances of planing, you need to understand how your level of experience, equipment, and weight affect the wind speed you will want. You’ll also want to consider the steadiness of the wind.

How Can I Windsurf with So Little Wind?

As a beginner, the reason you can windsurf with so little wind is the type of board and sail. Certain boards and sails allow you to do basic, non-planing windsurfing. This type of windsurfing is called “displacement sailing” and takes place in light winds.

Your main concern as a beginner is foot placement and balance. Without developed balance skills and core strength, you may find yourself falling in the water every few seconds, even though there is hardly any wind. During the beginner stage, you already have a lot to think about without worrying about strong winds sweeping you away. That’s why it is better to start with less wind when you are a beginner.

As you progress in your level of experience, you’ll start using a harness that will allow you to get into fast windsurfing.  Fast windsurfing requires wind speeds of 8.5-13 knots (10-15 mph). Beginners typically start struggling at anything higher than 13 knots (15 mph).

With even more experience, you will start to use different equipment suited for faster wind. You will begin to use equipment that is far more powerful and harder to control than before, so you will want to make sure that you are going out at the proper wind speed for your level of experience.  Otherwise, you could get hurt.

Eventually, your skills will be so ingrained in your muscle memory that you’ll want to seek the next thrill with windsurfing.  This is when you’ll want to go out at even greater wind speeds.  Instead of thinking about where to put your feet and your hands, you can start to focus on more complex aspects of windsurfing: water state and wind inequalities.

Although you can technically start windsurfing at 3mph, you’ll eventually want to go faster. That’s why you’ll start going out at greater wind speeds as you progress in expertise level. 

How Does the Equipment Relate to This?

At first, you will start with a longboard because it is effective for sailing in light winds. In windier conditions, longboards bounce more and become more difficult to control

Usually, with more experience, you’ll end up getting a smaller board to use in windier conditions. A small board is more controllable and maneuverable. It can also pick up higher speed, giving a windsurfer a more exciting feel.

Mid-length boards offer a mix of both light-wind and strong-wind performance. The determining factor of how much wind you need to windsurf will be on what kind of board you have.

Below is a table breaking this down:

Type of BoardStrength of WindLevel of Experience
Long BoardLight WindBeginner
Medium-Length BoardLight and Strong WindIntermediate-Advanced
Short BoardStrong WindAdvanced-Expert

These are general rules of thumb. But, of course, you also need to consider other factors, such as the type of sail you have and your weight, to get the best windsurfing experience.

For most people, an ideal sail size is 5.5-6.3 m (18-20 ft), suitable for winds of up to forces four or five (source). More advanced windsurfers usually use larger sails, but increased wind speeds can make it hard to control the power and pull. Once winds are too strong for you to control the sail, you need to go down in sail size. A smaller sail allows you to windsurf in windier conditions.  

Some of the smallest sails are designed for experienced windsurfers in force eight or nine conditions. The biggest sails are for racers wanting to go as fast as possible in very light winds. Thus, the sail size you currently have will play a role in determining if winds are too light or too strong for you to go windsurfing. 

To find the best sail size according to the wind conditions and your body weight, you can use this online calculator.

How Does My Weight Affect This?

You will use your weight and strength to balance against the power of the wind in stronger winds.  Therefore, a heavier or stronger sailor can hold onto a bigger sail in stronger winds than a smaller person.

On the other hand, a heavier person creates more drag from the board, making planing more difficult. In this case, a heavier person would need more wind to plane than a smaller person with the same equipment.

What Are Some Other Wind-Related Tips?

Aside from just looking at wind speed alone, you also want to take into account wind steadiness. The steadier the wind, the easier and more enjoyable windsurfing will be. While it is rare that winds are ever truly steady, you should avoid gusty unstable winds. In windsurfing, wind speed and direction are constantly changing. Most of the time, you will be windsurfing in and out of sudden wind changes.  When wind speed increases, we call it a “puff.” If it slows down, it’s a “lull.” 

To see a puff or lull, look at the water surface. If the water’s surface looks darker, that’s a sign of a puff. A lull generally lightens and smooths out the surrounding water.

Additionally, even subtle wind speed and direction changes can still be substantial in windsurfing. As you get better at windsurfing, you will develop a skill for feeling changes in the wind.

As for wind direction, there are five types:

Type of WindDefinition
OnshoreBlows from the ocean directly towards the beach
OffshoreBlows from the shore to the sea
Cross-ShoreBlows parallel to the shore
Cross-OnshoreBlows diagonal towards the beach
Cross-OffshoreBlows diagonal toward the sea

While you can windsurf in any wind direction, the way you ride the wave will be different depending on the direction. The best wind direction for beginners to practice in is onshore wind (for safety reasons, so you don’t get swept off into the ocean). As you become more advanced, though, this becomes the least desirable type of wind direction. The wind direction for optimal windsurfing would be cross-shore wind.

One way to be able to tell wind direction is to use your rig.  If you let your rig pivot freely, the front edge of the sail will point toward the wind, and the back edge will point away from the wind.

Flags, smoke, and trees are other visual indicators. Additionally, clouds often move in the same direction as surface winds, so these can sometimes be used.  Waves tend to move perpendicular to the wind. And your face and neck can also clue you in on the wind’s direction and speed.

Lastly, if you aren’t the best at feeling or seeing the wind conditions just yet, you can also get a wind forecast using a website like iWindsurf. Additionally, there may be other websites for wind forecasts that might be more to your liking. 

Bottom Line

How much wind you need depends on your windsurfing experience.  You need very little wind to get started, so what are you waiting for?

Sources: 1

Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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