Seasoned windsurfers throw the term ‘planing’ around constantly when they talk about their experiences on the water. People that are completely new to the realm of windsurfing often have no idea what this term ‘planing’ actually means.
Planing refers to the action of the sailboard physically gliding over the surface of the water due to increased speeds. It is a fundamental maneuver in the sport of windsurfing that allows riders to feel like they are flying on the water. Sound technique is required to reach adequate planing speed.
That is just the basic gist behind the concept of windsurf planing. In order to fully understand this fundamental movement, it is necessary to take a comprehensive look at standard planing examples. You also need to know how fast a windsurfer needs to go in order to plane properly. These specific details and more are discussed in the latter portions of the article.
What Planing Actually Means in Windsurfing
When windsurfers first start to move, the board drags through the water. Certain sections of the board lie slightly below water level, which is a major reason why the board moves so slowly in the wind.
It is only when the windsurfer escalates their speed that the board lifts above the depths and onto the water surface. At high speeds, the board does not have time to sink below the water line. Once the board finally reaches a specific speed threshold, riders are able to consistently skim across the top of the water. This is what windsurfers commonly call planing.
If you have ever seen a windsurfer skimming across the water at high speeds, you have seen planing firsthand. At first glance, it almost seems like they are taking flight across the water. It appears as if their board is barely even touching the waves. Needless to say, it is a breathtaking sight.
The excitement of planing is one of the most sought after feelings in windsurfing. Virtually every windsurfer wants to see how fast they can go at some point.
Planing is absolutely necessary in order to obtain maximal speed on the water. In the absence of this technique, the board will just continue to trudge through the water at an extremely slow rate. The resistance of the water is simply too much of an obstacle for riders to reach optimal velocity.
Real Examples of Windsurf Planing
Now that you have an elementary definition of what windsurf planing is, you probably want to see what it looks like in action. Check out the video below to see real live examples of windsurf planing!
These are somewhat extreme examples of what windsurf planing looks like, but it shows why so many riders are obsessed with the idea of planing. Windsurfers can gather up a ton of speed when they implement planing properly. Of course, this level of planing takes a tremendous amount of time and effort, but it is absolutely attainable!
Factors that Influence Windsurf Planing
There are a couple of factors that play predominant roles in windsurf planing. These elements are so crucial that they can really make or break the planing experience if done incorrectly.
As aforementioned, speed is the foundational aspect that planing is built upon.
This is because speed is the main driving force that lifts the board up and out of the water. If the board is allowed to sit relatively idle in the water, it will sink slightly below the depths. A lack of speed allows a thin layer of water to encase the ends of the board.
The whole point of planing is to travel on top of the water, not underneath it. Without proper speed, planing will be impossible to accomplish.
Speed is an integral part of planing, but it is also just one variable in the equation. Technique also plays a major role in whether or not a rider is able to plane on the water.
There are a couple of core principles that riders must implement in order to successfully plane. These central concepts are listed below:
- Maintain an Upright Posture – Maintaining the upright position will help you to retain control over the sail when it starts to catch large bouts of wind.
- Keep Your Body Tight – This extra body tightness will prevent you from dissipating any power generated by the wind. Ideally, you want to deliver as much wind power to the board as possible.
- Put Pressure on Your Front Foot – Placing additional weight on your front foot will careen the sailboard forward and help you to pick up speed.
- Eyes Forward – One of the most common mistake that novice windsurfers make is focusing their attention on their hands and their feet instead of the water in front of them. This increases the likelihood of the rider being catapulted off of the board.
The wind conditions are another viable factor that can determine how well a rider will be able to plane on the water. Without sufficient wind, a rider cannot reach the speeds necessary to glide on the peak of the water. On the other hand, too much wind will make it extremely difficult on riders to sustain control over their sailboard.
Optimal planing conditions falls somewhere in the range of 17 to 25 knots (20 to 29 mph) for most recreational windsurfers. With these winds, acquiring enough speed to plane while simultaneously maintaining control over the sail is not too difficult.
Seasoned windsurfers are able to manage much windier conditions despite the arduous challenge of maintaining stability.
In addition, windsurfing equipment is a major contributor to planing success. If the equipment is not up to par, the act of planing will be much more challenging than it has to be.
Harness – The windsurfing body harness is a remarkably helpful tool when it comes to achieving planing.
Controlling the sail takes a tremendous amount of energy, especially when a rider is exclusively using their arms to hold the sail in check. The harness hooks onto the boom so that riders do not have to burn themselves out preserving control over the sail.
The use of a body harness helps to channel the entire body weight of the rider into pulling on the sail, so that a rider does not have to persistently hold onto the boom with their arms. This saves strength and stamina in the long run.
The harness also maximizes the wind power that a sail is able to generate, which ultimately translates into more speed and a greater ability to plane.
Foot Straps – The foot straps help to keep the board driving forward and flat on the water during the planing motion.
The foot straps help guide windsurfers back on the board for better control. Once the sailboard starts to gain some serious top end speed, maintaining control is imperative.
First timers should generally make the foot straps a bit larger than normal. This slight enlargement will help the rider to easily position their feet in the foot straps once they are planing at high speeds.
Tuning the Sail: For those of you that do not know, the rig is the union of the sail, mast, boom, base, and base extension when all of these parts are set up together.
Every rider has a different body type. There are some people that are a bit bigger and some people that are a bit smaller. In order to give a rider the best possible chances of planing, it is necessary to adjust the rig according to the specific height and weight of the individual.
Bigger and taller individuals require less downhaul than the average rider. Using less downhaul directly correlates to more power at the top of the sail, which provides these larger riders with more force to reach planing speed.
It is recommended that smaller riders use more downhaul than the average rider. More downhaul flattens out the top portion of the sail. This offers the rider more stability and control in the event of a strong wind gust.
How Fast Do You Have to Go to Plane on the Water?
With all of this talk about speed, you are probably asking yourself, “How fast do you even need to go to plane on the water?”
To answer this question, I provided the table below:
|Speed on the Water||Ability to Plane||Skill Level|
|13 to 16 knots |
(15 mph to 18 mph)
|17 to 25 knots |
(20 mph to 29 mph)
|25+ knots |
|Doable, But on the Faster Side||Advanced|
The speeds above are a general guideline for being able to plane on the water. But again, each rider is different. These numbers may vary depending on body type and skill level.
For example, larger and taller riders may need a bit more speed to skim on the surface of the water, so they may aim for the 20 to 25 knot range.
On the other hand, novice windsurfers may shoot for the 13 to 16 knot range to first get a feel for the planing fundamentals. These speeds are commonly referred to as marginal planing conditions.
The Importance of Planing to Windsurfing
The concept of planing is a central pillar to the sport of windsurfing. It lies at the very heart of why people take up windsurfing in the first place.
Draws Newcomers to the Sport
People want to experience the thrill of careening down the water at high speeds. They may not accomplish this goal on their first or second try, but it is a goal to build up to.
I remember when I was first exposed to the sport of windsurfing, I thought it was so awe-inspiring just seeing the power of the wind in action. I did not think it was possible to be able to glide on the water with pure wind alone. That is, until I saw seasoned windsurfers in action.
Ever since that day, I have become obsessed with the idea of soaring at high speeds on the water as a windsurfer. Of course, the only way to do that is through planing.
Cornerstone of Windsurfing Activities
In addition, many windsurfing activities hinge on the ability to plane on the surface of the water.
For example, the act of planing is key to competitive windsurf racing. Speed and planing are nearly synonymous in the realm of windsurfing. Riders that are serious about having the best chances at winning need to plane virtually the entire length of the contest. Any spare moment where the board lies beneath the water line is wasted speed.
Moreover, planing is required for windsurfing freestyle movements. For windsurfers to get their board in the air and perform tricks, speed is absolutely crucial. Otherwise, they will never have the force or power to get the hang time necessary to maneuver their board properly.
To put it simply, planing is the underlying foundation for a great deal of windsurfing recreational activities.
Is Windsurf Planing Difficult to Achieve?
Windsurf planing is not hard to achieve, but it is definitely not easy either. The main intimidating aspect of first learning how to plane in windsurfing is the sheer volume of information that beginners can bombard themselves with.
Getting Your Feet Wet
It is difficult to absorb all of the information needed to plane in windsurfing all at once, especially if you have never been exposed to windsurfing before.
First time riders must have a general understanding of the windsurfing equipment, conditions, speed, and techniques necessary to plane. For many newcomers, this is a lot of information to process in a short period of time.
For this reason, it is recommended that novices familiarize themselves with the sport of windsurfing on land and in non-planing conditions before kicking the difficulty up a notch. This way, beginners can acquire a base knowledge of the mechanics of windsurfing prior to hopping straight into the water.
That being said, the only way to learn how to windsurf plane is through repetition. Novice windsurfers cannot learn how to plane if they never expand their comfort zone. Eventually, they will have to take on the challenge of windier conditions and choppier waters.
Although this may seem like an impossible undertaking at first, it is much easier than many beginners are led to believe. The hardest part is just putting yourself out there and experimenting with planing by actually doing it.
Let Go of the Excuses
Moreover, many novice windsurfers abstain from planing due to excuses. Although some of these excuses may be reasonable, the majority of the time they are just figments of the imagination.
The Body Weight Excuse – For example, many riders blame their inability to plane on their body weight. Their argument is that the wind will not be able to supply sufficient power for them to glide along the water.
More often than not, weight is not the issue. The problem almost always lies with their technique. Some of the most prolific windsurfers in the world are heavier than 200 pounds.
Look at Björn Dunkerbeck for example. This 42x Windsurf Champion is 6 ft 2 in (188 cm) and 227 lbs (103 kg)! Needless to say, weight definitely does not hold him back from planing on the water.
The Inadequate Equipment Excuse – Another common excuse that novice windsurfers use is inadequate equipment. Equipment does contribute to planing success. However, technique takes precedence.
There are many riders that are able to plane with smaller, cheaper sailboards just fine in the same wind conditions as another rider who has the best windsurfing equipment on the market. How is this so?
It all comes down to experience and technique. Windsurfers that refuse to nail down their technique will have a strenuous time picking up the speed needed to plane, regardless of their equipment. The only way to improve technique is to keep practicing and absorb as much windsurfing knowledge as possible.