What is Non-Planing Windsurfing? (Definition & Examples)


When breaking into the realm of windsurfing as a complete novice, it can get confusing trying to learn all of the lingo associated with the sport. One prime example of this learning barrier is attempting to grasp the meaning behind non-planing windsurfing.

Non-planing windsurfing is the action of the sailboard trekking slowly through the water because the sailboard lacks the necessary speed to skim over the top of the water. Parts of the sailboard sink slightly below the water level, preventing it from gliding along at increased velocity.

The concept of non-planing windsurfing can be a bit tricky to understand at first. This article will lay out everything you need to know in clear and concise terms to help you thoroughly understand all of the subtleties behind this fundamental windsurfing concept, such as its explicit meaning, its contributing factors, and its overall importance.

A Detailed Description of Non-Planing Windsurfing

Put simply, non-planing windsurfing is windsurfing at slow speeds. Typically, any speed that is below 13 knots (15 mph) is considered to be slow in the world of windsurfing.

If the sailboard is moving at speeds below 13 knots, the sailboard is not flying over the water, as you see in professional windsurfing videos. Rather, the sailboard is trudging through the water very slowly, similar to how a big barge would move through the water.

The sailboard does not glide through the water. Instead, it pushes through the water. If this sounds a bit confusing now, don’t worry! We will elaborate on this difference later on.

Water drifts over the top of the board, which causes particular portions of the board to be submerged underwater. This increased friction is what is responsible for keeping the board from soaring at high speeds.

Non-planing windsurfing happens when a rider first positions themselves onto the windsurf board, even in the gustiest of wind conditions. This is because the sail needs time to gather wind and lift the board on top of the water’s surface.

The majority of the time, however, individuals engage in non-planing windsurfing when there is light wind.

This is because there is not enough wind power available to propel the sailboard at high speeds.

It is standard for windsurfing novices to spend most of their time non-planing windsurfing as they continue to learn the fundamentals. Depending on the frequency with which they can windsurf, this process of non-planing windsurfing may take place for several months.

Once they have managed to notch a sufficient amount of experience under their belt, they can begin to experiment with the process of planing. You are probably asking yourself, “What in the world does planing mean?” We will answer this question in the next section.

Planing Windsurfing vs. Non-Planing Windsurfing

Windsurf planing is the action of skimming across the top of the water at high speeds. With planing, the board makes the least amount of contact with the water possible to minimize friction. If you want to learn more about windsurf planing specifically, check out my article What is Planing in Windsurfing (Definition & Examples).

As the name implies, planing windsurfing is the polar opposite of non-planing windsurfing. Some more prominent differences between these two windsurfing concepts are outlined in the table below.

PlaningNon-Planing
Speed on the Waterabove 16 knotsbelow 13 knots
Where the Board Lies Relative to the Water Surfacethe board glides on the top of the water surfacethe board lies slightly beneath the water surface
Wind Conditionsheavy wind conditionslight wind conditions
Experience Levelintermediate, advanced, and expert level windsurfersbeginner and intermediate level windsurfers
Board Sizesmall and big boardsbig boards only
Sail Sizesmall sailbig sail
Muscle Exertionheavy muscle exertionlight muscle exertion

We will analyze each of these aspects in greater detail next.

Speed on the Water

Whereas non-planing windsurfing is all about slow speeds, planing windsurfing is all about high speeds. Generally, the speed differentiation between planing and non-planing begins around the 13 to 16-knot mark. The table below summarizes this speed differentiation.

Speed on the WaterType of Windsurfing
Below 13 knots (15 mph)Non-Planing
13 to 16 knots (15 to 18 mph)Marginal Planing
Above 16 knots (18 mph)Planing

You may have noticed that the 13-16 knot range is labeled as marginal planing. Marginal planing is the point at which the sailboard hovers between planing and non-planing. The board is beginning to go faster and skim across the water surface, but not quite fast enough for what is commonly considered to be ideal planing.

Where the Board Lies Relative to the Water Surface

As mentioned multiple times in this article, one of the main determinants of speed is where the board lies relative to the water’s surface. Generally, the better the board can glide on top of the water, the faster it will go. This isn’t easy to visualize in your head, so I provided some images below to help you physically see what this looks like.

First, we will observe an image of how the board looks during non-planing windsurfing.

Notice how the rider has not generated sufficient speed for the board to glide atop the water surface. Instead, the board is a tad below the waterline, resulting in excess friction and a slow, controlled speed.

This is in marked contrast to the image of windsurf planing below.

There is a noticeable difference in where the board is positioned on the water between the two images. In the first photo, the water envelops a significant portion of the board. Conversely, the entire board glides on top of the water in the second photo.

The net result of this board lift is a faster, more speedy windsurfing experience.

Wind Conditions

Another point of contrast between planing windsurfing and non-planing windsurfing is the condition of the wind.

Generally, the heavier the wind conditions, the greater the likelihood of planing. This is because more wind energy is available to power the sailboard with the necessary thrust to reach high speeds. Anything above 16 knots is considered to be heavier wind conditions.

Non-planing lends itself better to lighter wind conditions. It is easier to keep the sailboard at a slow, manageable pace when the wind does not have serious force behind it. Many windsurfers deem winds that lie below 13 knots as lighter wind conditions.

You may have noticed that this is an identical range to the speed of the sailboard on the water that we saw in the table above. This is because the speed of the sailboard has a direct correlation with the speed of the wind.

Experience Level

Windsurf planing is typically only reserved for high-end intermediate, advanced, and expert-level riders. This is because it is challenging to maintain control over the sailboard at these high speeds. It requires proper body positioning and a precise body stance. In addition, at planing speeds, the margin for error is much slimmer relative to non-planing speeds.

In contrast, windsurfing novices work strictly at the non-planing level to hone in on the fundamentals.

Think about a baseball newbie. Every young baseball player dreams of taking their talents to the collegiate level. But it wouldn’t make sense to throw them into a college baseball game if they haven’t even gotten a taste of little league yet, right?

This same concept applies to windsurfing. It wouldn’t make any logical sense for a windsurfing beginner to throw themselves into planing conditions right off the bat. Instead, they first need to master the basics of assuming the proper body stance and positioning, how to properly tack and gybe, and how to sail upwind.

Once all of these windsurfing fundamentals are second nature, novice windsurfers can start experimenting with planing.

Board Size

Generally, the smaller boards are only suited toward advanced and expert-level riders. It is a lot more challenging to plane with these types of boards. The only real situation where a windsurfer should opt for a smaller board is when there’s heavy wind, and they have plenty of experience under their belt.

Advanced and expert-level riders often opt for a smaller board because it offers superior maneuverability. That said, even advanced and expert-level riders utilize a bigger board when the wind is exceptionally light.

Beginner and intermediate level riders typically stick with a bigger board in both light and heavy wind conditions since they have yet to master the art of planing truly.

Keep in mind that small and big boards are relative terms. Board size is customized toward the weight and build of the rider. Therefore, a big board for one rider may be a small board for another rider.

When windsurfers reference the size of their board, they commonly use board volume as the primary means of measurement. Some of the industry standards for windsurf board sizes are listed below (source).

Type of Board SizeBoard Volume (L)
Big Board165 – 190
Medium Board150 – 170
Small Board140 – 150

Sail Size

Sail size also varies according to planing and non-planing conditions. As a general rule of thumb, bigger sails are needed for lighter wind conditions, whereas smaller sails are required for heavier wind conditions.

Again, small and big are relative terms here. The size of the sail is entirely dependent on the wind conditions, experience, and weight of the rider.

Since planing is typically performed in heavy wind conditions, it is standard for a rider to use a smaller sail to harness the power of the wind. A larger sail is too clumsy to manage in heavier winds, which ultimately leads to instability.

On the other end of the spectrum, non-planing utilizes a larger sail to get the most amount of power from light winds possible. Since the winds are not nearly as powerful, riders have a much easier time controlling the sail, even though it is larger.

I have provided a range of sail sizes for the average 80 kg rider in the table below (source). Keep in mind that these are only general guidelines and are not meant to cater to your individual weight and experience level.

Type of Sail SizeSail Area (m²)
Big Sail10.7 – 8.2
Medium Sail8.2 – 6.7
Small Sail6.7 – 3.0

Muscle Exertion

Windsurfing can put a tremendous amount of strain on the muscles, especially if a rider is not used to the persistent effort of steadying the sail. When a windsurfer spends a long time out on the water, muscle fatigue will inevitably start to set in.

Planing lends itself to greater muscle exertion and greater muscle fatigue. This is because it is a lot more difficult to keep constant tension on the boom (where riders place their hands to control the sail) and absorb the repetitive jolts and shocks of the waves with faster windsurfing. Over time, this exertion can slowly sap at a rider’s energy until they are too exhausted to plane any longer.

In contrast, non-planing does not demand nearly as much muscle exertion. This is because there is not nearly as much wind power and chop to manage with non-planing. All individuals have to do is lightly pull on the boom and keep a relatively upright posture to get moving. With planing, riders have to pull with their entire body weight to counteract the heavy winds and propel the board quickly along the water.

Examples of Non-Planing Windsurfing

Below are a couple of real examples of what non-planing windsurfing looks like from an observation standpoint. The videos below provide a realistic perspective of how non-planing windsurfing looks and operates in actual time.

In this first video, a rider is trying their hand at learning how to perform a non-planing carving gybe. You will get a solid glimpse at how the slow speeds of non-planing windsurfing offer greater control during their initial carving gybe attempt. If the rider were to try and attempt this movement while planing, the results would not have been nearly as successful.

Click on the video below to see what I’m talking about!

Next, you will be able to see a rider transition from non-planing to planing in slow motion. This will help you further distinguish between these two types of windsurfing. It will also provide a concrete image of what non-planing windsurfing looks like.

Watch the video to see the discrepancy between non-planing and planing for yourself!

Why Is Non-Planing Windsurfing Important?

Just like you need to learn how to walk before you run, you need to learn how to windsurf at slow speeds before you windsurf at higher speeds. The time a beginner spends non-planing windsurfing is invaluable for laying the proper foundation for more advanced movements later on.

During those first couple months that a beginner takes on windsurfing, they practice non-planing windsurfing to the exclusion of everything else. This is because windsurfing is about much more than just sailing in a direct line. Windsurfers must have sufficient knowledge of how to optimize their sail angle to the wind, how to turn correctly, and how to sail upwind and downwind, as discussed earlier.

You cannot learn this knowledge from instruction alone. A windsurfer must attempt these movements firsthand and gradually learn through trial and error. This is the only possible way for a beginner to really learn from these mistakes. The most optimal way for a novice to go about fixing their errors is to perform non-planing windsurfing. Watching YouTube videos and taking base-level instructional courses on the beach can only take you so far.

Windsurfing novices should start in extremely light winds, possibly under 10 knots, and steadily work their way up. As they accrue more experience in heavier wind conditions, they will possess the prerequisite skills needed to progress to windsurf planing. One day, they will reach a point where they can handle upwards of 16-knot winds.

From there, they will be a full-fledged intermediate windsurfer!

Is Non-Planing Windsurfing Hard to Do?

Since non-planing windsurfing is the slowest form of windsurfing, it should be no surprise that it is also the easiest form of windsurfing.

Individuals are surprised to find just how manageable it is to perform non-planing windsurfing. Most novices can get up and perform non-planing windsurfing within their very first instructional session, even if they’ve never touched a sailboard before in their life.

This is not to say that success is guaranteed with windsurfing. This is merely to say that non-planing windsurfing can be accomplished by those who are brand new to the sport.

So to go back to the original question, non-planing windsurfing is an easy skill to pick up for most beginners. They may not know how to tack or gybe after their first session, but they will certainly know how to get up and get moving on the water, which is the very premise behind non-planing windsurfing.

If you are intimidated by the prospect of windsurfing, don’t be! Time and time again, people have proven that non-planing windsurfing is an attainable skill that only requires time and patience. With a strong willingness and desire to learn, I see no reason why you wouldn’t be able to have a solid windsurfing outing.

Sources: 1 2

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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