There are countless people across the world that have a desire to join the ranks of the windsurfing community, but there is one curious thing that is holding them back. They want to know how hard windsurfing really is before they invest their own time and effort into the sport.
The windsurfing basics are relatively easy for beginners to pick up if they are given proper instruction and appropriate gear. The difficulty comes when riders attempt to pursue more advanced windsurfing disciplines and maneuvers. In short, windsurfing takes a day to learn, but a lifetime to master.
It is challenging to definitively say whether or not windsurfing is hard if there is not a specific criteria being analyzed. It can be rather difficult to provide concrete evidence to verify the claim that the whole sport of windsurfing is hard. For this reason, I will be analyzing several aspects of windsurfing and evaluating each aspect to determine whether it supports the claim that windsurfing is hard, or contradicts it.
The Difficulty Level of Windsurfing
It is my goal not to simply tell you whether or not windsurfing is hard, but to provide you with all of the facts so that you can make an informed decision about the difficulty of the sport on your own. With the distinct criteria compiled in the sections below, you should be able to make this decision with ease.
Number of People Who Can Do It
If you are measuring the difficulty of windsurfing by the amount of people who can do it, you will be surprised to know that 1.56 million people reported participating in windsurfing as of 2018 (source). Think about that for a second. 1.56 million people!
And this number is only trending upwards. As of 2006, the participation number was below a million.
With the massive, growing participation rates in the sport of windsurfing, it’s hard to say that these statistics support the claim that windsurfing is hard. People would simply quit and abandon the sport if it was excessively difficult. Luckily, the numbers prove otherwise.
How Long It Takes to Learn
The next piece of criteria we will take a look at is the length of time it actually takes to learn windsurfing.
Contrary to popular opinion, learning the windsurfing basics does not require a tremendous amount of time. In fact, there are many people that have attested to grasping the windsurfing fundamentals with just one instructional session.
For instance, at Better World Windsurfing School, there is are multiple testimonials that verify how attainable it is to get up and moving on a windsurf board with a single lesson. In one testimonial, a student stated…
So it is definitely possible to learn the windsurfing basics in a day. But the real question that you likely want to know is how long it takes to become a proficient windsurfer.
In order to be labeled as a proficient windsurfer, you need to do a lot more than just the basics. You have to learn how to rig your gear, beach start on your own, assume a correct body stance, plane on the water, as well as a whole laundry list of other skills.
Needless to say, it is impossible to learn all of these skills within the span of a day.
For this reason, it can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months to reach the intermediate level. In order to step it up a tier and move on to the skilled level, this can take approximately 3 to 5 years. For more information on where I got these numbers, check out my comprehensive article How Long Does It Take to Windsurf?
With this information in mind, it can get a bit tricky to judge the difficulty of windsurfing based on how long it takes to learn the sport because it really depends on your personal goals.
If it is your desire to simply get a taste of the sport and windsurf out on the water for a day, you should be able to check this goal off your bucket list rather easily. On the other hand, if you seriously want to become a full fledged, skilled windsurfer, you have a long trek ahead of you.
Windsurfing has the potential to be a taxing water activity. It’s not like jet skiing where all you have to do is push down on the throttle to go faster. You really have to put in some effort to go fast on a windsurf board, especially if you do not have a harness available.
This is because taming the power of the wind is no small task. Windsurfers have to manually counteract the force of the wind by pulling on the rig themselves. For those of you that do not know, the rig is the assemblage of the mast, sail, and boom. Their body weight acts as an opposing force to the power of the wind, which keeps the sail aligned and the board moving forward.
To maximize the energy transfer from the rig into the board, windsurfers have to stay rigid and lock themselves into a position of equilibrium, in what is commonly referred to as a 7 shape (or a backwards 7, like in the picture below).
Power will be dissipated if these techniques are not observed, resulting in slower speeds.
In addition to managing the rig, windsurfers also have to absorb the jolts of the waves with their lower body. This is especially prevalent in choppier conditions. It can be rather difficult to keep the board trimmed flat on the water in choppy conditions since your lower leg muscles are taking on the brunt of the impact.
The first few waves may feel okay, but towards the end of the windsurfing session your leg muscles will probably feel like jelly, especially if you have a hankering for speed.
Windsurfing beginners typically take it nice and slow their first time out. Although they will not be dealing with nearly as much wind and chop relative to seasoned windsurfers, they will undoubtedly still feel a bit sapped of energy.
This is because windsurfing activates a variety of stabilizing muscles throughout the body. It is not every day that you engage all of these muscles simultaneously.
In summary, the physical side of windsurfing can be difficult to manage. But it shouldn’t be enough of a hindrance to dissuade you from windsurfing altogether.
As with every new activity, tackling windsurfing for the first time can take an arduous toll on the mind. Every beginner windsurfer falls into the water at some point. It is a part of the learning process. Nonetheless, it can be frustrating to take a plunge into the water every couple of minutes when trying to grasp the mere basics of the sport.
For example, many novice windsurfers struggle to lift the rig up and out of the water using the uphaul. Since the rig takes up an excessive amount of surface area, it is hard to adequately position the sail while maintaining balance on the board. Often times, windsurfers fall of the edge once or twice before they get the hang of it.
If you have a short fuse and little patience, these petty setbacks might be enough to cause you to abandon the session altogether.
The difficulties of the mental aspect of windsurfing is not only restricted to beginners. Expert level windsurfers feel this hardship all the same, if not more.
Mastering advanced level maneuvers takes extreme dedication because the trial and error process is an tedious one. A seasoned windsurfer must endure many failures before they are finally able to consistently perform one particular move. This is why so few windsurfers make it to the expert level.
For these reasons, the mental aspect of windsurfing is definitely hard, but not insurmountable. It is possible for a windsurfer to overcome these mental hardships with the proper mindset in place.
Potential Stumbling Blocks of Windsurfing
Now that we have taken a look at the different criteria that feed into the difficulty level of windsurfing, it is necessary to investigate the specific areas where individuals trip up the most.
Having a thorough understanding of the most common elements where windsurfers encounter hardship will paint a better picture of why certain people believe that this sport is hard.
Finding a Solid Windsurfing Location with Steady, Consistent Winds
An overlooked aspect of difficulty with windsurfing is actually pinpointing a location that has suitable wind and water conditions on a regular basis. Unless you live in a windsurfing hub like Maui, Hawaii, it can be fairly difficult to find a proper area for windsurfing.
Ideally, the body of water should be spacious and relatively calm. As aforementioned, choppy waters can do a number on your knees. They also take away from the amount of control you have over the trim of the board.
Optimal water conditions might be easy to find, but coming across a consistent breeze is a tough task. Even the PWA (Professional Windsurf Association) occasionally has trouble with scheduling locations that have steady winds for their events.
If you don’t believe me, this snippet from a PWA windsurfing documentary showcases the struggles that these professional windsurfers faced in not being able to compete due to insufficient winds. I actually found this entire documentary to be really fascinating and I would highly recommend you check it out!
The main takeaway is that finding a reliable windsurfing spot is frequently glossed over, even though it is one of the primary contributors to the difficulty of windsurfing. If you have no place to practice, there is no way for you to realistically get better.
Transporting the Windsurfing Gear to the Water
Another point of difficulty with windsurfing is transportation. This is yet another overlooked aspect of windsurfing that can really complicate the whole experience.
Windsurfing gear takes up a ton of space between the board, mast, sail, and boom. Keep in mind that this does not even account for accessory equipment, like a wet suit or a harness.
If you don’t have a spacious van available, fitting all of this windsurfing equipment in the interior of your car is probably out of the question. A far more realistic method of transportation is utilizing a roof rack.
Strapping all of your gear to a roof rack may take a bit of extra time and effort, but it is the only viable means to get your equipment from point A to point B. This additional work can definitely add a layer of strain to the windsurfing process, which is why it is an important point to note when considering the overall difficulty of windsurfing as a whole.
Figuring Out How to Properly Assemble and Use the Equipment
Once you have figured out an appropriate means of transportation for your windsurfing gear, it is necessary to learn how to properly rig the gear according to the local wind and water conditions.
This assembly process can only truly be mastered through trial and error because there is no cut and dry way to customize the sailboard to your specific needs. Consequently, there are many potential ways that a windsurfer can make a mistake when preparing their windsurfing equipment.
If a rider has multiple boards and sails, they must make a decision on which board size and sail size to utilize in accordance with the present conditions. A sail that is too small may not be able to gather enough wind to reach adequate speed. In contrast, a sail that is too large will be difficult to control because it picks up a greater amount of wind.
Furthermore, a rider must also learn how to properly assemble the mast, sail, and boom together to form the rig. The rider must know how to tune the sail to the specific wind conditions to get the most amount of control possible.
If the preparation process already seems overwhelming, this is but a taste of the knowledge that a windsurfer must learn over the course of their journey. There are many other possible adjustments that they can make, such as modifying the boom height or readjusting the footstraps.
I will avoid going into further detail because you get the point. Accruing this much base knowledge about your windsurfing equipment is a challenge in and of itself. This can be very intimidating to novice windsurfers, which can lead them to the conclusion that windsurfing is a hard sport.
Learning How to Take Full Advantage of Wind Power
Up until this point, we have only really addressed points of difficulty beyond the actual windsurfing itself. The first real hard aspect of windsurfing is finding out how to best maximize the power of the wind available.
Of course, the equipment does play a significant role in this process. However, technique is of even greater importance. A windsurfer can be fitted with the best equipment in the world, but none of it will matter if they don’t know how to use it.
Positioning the sail and harnessing the power of the wind is an art.
For example, many windsurf beginners have trouble grasping the concept of counteracting the force of the wind in an efficient manner. The key word here is efficient.
Any windsurfer can pull on the boom with their arms and maintain the position of the sail for a couple of minutes. But eventually, their arms will give out after a long time. Rather than focusing on pulling with their arms, novice windsurfers should concentrate on leaning back and using their body weight to tug on the sail.
Little subtleties such as this can only be learned through the labor of repetition. This repetition get to be somewhat difficult on riders.
Performing Fundamental Tacking and Gybing Technique
Another area where windsurfers find trouble is learning how to tack and gybe in a fluent fashion.
For those that are unfamiliar with these terms, they are methods of turning the sailboard to windsurf back in the direction that you came. With tacking, you turn toward the wind. With gybing, you turn away from the wind.
Figuring out how to windsurf in a linear direction is easy enough, but the prospect of tacking and gybing is a whole new ball game. This is because there is a complex series of steps involved with each of these turn processes. If just one of these steps goes awry, you will find yourself taking an involuntary plunge in the water.
Keep in mind most windsurfing novices learn to tack and gybe under non-planing conditions, when their board is pushing through the water. It is much easier for individuals to learn at this slow, controlled pace rather when they are gliding across the water during planing conditions. To learn more about why why windsurfing beginners opt to learn under non-planing conditions, check out my article What is Non-Planing Windsurfing (Definition & Examples).
Tacking and gybing can take several months to learn depending on the frequency with which a rider is able to get out on the water. It is one thing to be able to tack and gybe for the first time. It is another thing to actually perform these movements on a consistent basis.
Understanding How to Sail Upwind
Sailing upwind can be a tough concept for windsurfers to grasp, especially if they have never had any prior experience with sailing before, be it with windsurfing or sailboating.
At first, many people are baffled at the possibility of even being able to sail upwind. It doesn’t seem like it makes any rational sense. If wind is what powers the rig, how can a sailboard move in the direction opposite to the wind?
What you have to keep in mind is that when windsurfers say they are sailing upwind, they don’t mean they are sailing directly into the teeth of the wind. Rather, they sail at an angle to the wind, generally up to a 45 degree angle to the wind. They zig zag back and forth between these 45 degree angles until they have reached their destination.
It is impossible for windsurfers to sail at a direct angle toward the wind because there will be absolutely no wind to power the rig. This is why windsurfers commonly call this sailing direction the “No Go Zone” (source).
Learning the tried and true methods behind sailing upwind can be easy to understand on paper, but difficult to actually put into practice. Not to mention that sailing upwind places a heavy emphasis on steering. If you don’t know how to properly steer, sailing upwind can present a world of trouble.
Experimenting with Advanced Windsurfing Movements
Lastly, advanced windsurfing maneuvers can offer windsurfers a whole new set of challenges.
As windsurfers progress through the beginner stage and on to bigger and better things, there are a number of windsurfing disciplines they can choose to pursue.
If they want to focus on speed, they can focus on slalom racing. If it is their desire to concentrate on tricks, they can concentrate their efforts on freestyle windsurfing. If they have a passion for the waves, they can center their attention on wave sailing.
With each specific windsurfing discipline, there are advanced movements that may require years to fully master. As windsurfers continue to venture down one windsurfing path, these advanced movements only get more and more difficult.
For example, one of the key movements that mark an expert level windsurfer is the planing gybe. The planing gybe is an entirely different world of difficulty compared to the non-planing gybe. With the added speed of planing, windsurfers must make split second movements to retain stability over the board. One little lapse of judgment and they will surely end up in the water.
This is just one example of an advanced maneuver that takes years to master. There are plenty of other movements that demand the same time commitment, if not more. So if you’re looking to reach the cream of the crop in windsurfing, be aware that this journey may take a couple of years at the least.
Although there are certain elements of windsurfing that can be difficult at times, this shouldn’t hold you back from going out and trying your hand at the windsurfing basics. You may uncover a passion for the sport that you never knew you had.
After all, it really only takes a day to get up and moving. And who knows? Maybe the fact that windsurfing takes a lifetime to master is a challenge that you’re willing to take on!