What is Planing in Windsurfing? (Definition & Examples)


Seasoned windsurfers throw the term ‘planing’ around constantly when they talk about their experiences on the water. However, people who are entirely new to windsurfing often have no idea what the term ‘planing’ actually means.

Planing refers to the action of the sailboard physically gliding over the water’s surface 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. 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 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 significant reason why the board moves so slowly in the wind.

Only when the windsurfer escalates their speed can the board lift above the depths and onto the water surface. At high speeds, the board does not have time to sink below the waterline. Once the board finally reaches a specific speed threshold, riders can 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 witnessed 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. 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 necessary to obtain maximal speed on the water. In the absence of this technique, the board will continue to trudge through the water at an extremely slow rate. The resistance of the water is 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 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 make or break the planing experience if done incorrectly.

Speed

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.

Technique

Speed is an integral part of planing, but it is also just one variable in the equation. The technique also plays a significant role in whether or not a rider can plane on the water.

There are a couple of core principles that riders must implement 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.

Wind Conditions

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 for riders to sustain control over their sailboard.

Optimal planing conditions fall somewhere between 17-25 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 can manage much windier conditions despite the difficult challenge of maintaining stability.

Equipment

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 – A windsurfing body harness is a beneficial tool when it comes to achieving planing.

Controlling the sail takes a tremendous amount of energy, especially when a rider exclusively uses their arms to hold the sail in check. The harness hooks onto the boom so that riders do not have to burn themselves out trying to preserve control over the sail.

The use of a body harness helps channel the entire bodyweight of the rider into pulling on the sail so that a rider does not have to hold onto the boom with their arms persistently. This saves strength and stamina in the long run.

The harness also maximizes the wind power that a sail can generate, which ultimately translates into more speed and a greater ability to plane.

Foot Straps – The foot straps help 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 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. Some people are a bit bigger, and some people are a bit smaller. 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 speed talk, 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 WaterAbility to PlaneSkill Level
13 to 16 knots
(15 mph to 18 mph)
Marginal PlaningBeginner
17 to 25 knots
(20 mph to 29 mph)
IdealIntermediate
25+ knots
(29+ mph)
Doable, But on the Faster SideAdvanced

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 20-25 knot range.

On the other hand, novice windsurfers may shoot for the 13-16 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 of 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.

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 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. But, 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 before 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, they are just figments of the imagination the majority of the time.

The Body Weight Excuse – For example, many riders blame their inability to plane on their body weight. They argue that the wind will not 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, the technique takes precedence.

Many riders can plane with smaller, cheaper sailboards just fine in the same wind conditions as another rider with 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.

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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