Knowing the ins and outs of wind direction is key to windsurfing mastery. There are various terms associated with wind direction, but the no go zone is by far the most important to be familiar with.
In windsurfing, the no go zone is the directional region that lies 45° to either side of the true source of wind. Windsurfers cannot sail within this specific region because the wind is working against their directional movement, making it impossible to propel the sailboard forward.
That is the basic gist of the no go zone, but there is so much else to be said of this fundamental windsurfing concept. We will dive into this topic to a greater degree of depth below and address other essential questions, such as the prospect of sailing upwind and tips to avoid the no go zone when windsurfing.
The Meaning of the No Go Zone in Windsurfing
To thoroughly grasp the subject of the no go zone as it relates to windsurfing, it is first necessary to take a look at the specifics of why it is impossible to sail in this region.
As the name suggests, the natural energy of the wind is the primary power source that drives the sailboard forward. The way the sailboard gets propelled forward is by way of the sail collecting the wind available and translating it into movement. The less wind available, the less likely it is to get moving on the sailboard.
Windsurfers directly oppose the true wind direction as they sail into the no go zone. For this reason, the wind completely counteracts the movement of the sailboard within this area. Since the sail cannot draw even the slightest amount of power from the wind, the sailboard eventually comes to a standstill, even if it was initially speeding along at a high velocity prior to entering the no go zone.
It is similar to a car running out of gas. The initial momentum of the car may carry the car a few extra meters as soon as it runs out of gas, but it will eventually come to a stop. A sailboard may be able to sail for a couple additional meters due to pure momentum, but its movement will come to a halt rather quickly.
Labeled Diagram of the No Go Zone
I know that some of you don’t have a particular affinity for building mental images in your head. I actually fall into this category myself. To help you out, I provided the diagram below to help better illustrate this concept.
What you may notice is that the no go zone does not take up the entire upwind half. Rather, it only comprises the region closest to the true wind direction. This is important to note when discussing the prospect of sailing upwind, an intriguing topic that we will discuss next.
If You Cannot Sail in the No Go Zone, Is It Even Possible to Sail Upwind?
Although the no go zone deems it impossible to sail head on against the true source of wind, sailing upwind is still a viable possibility. This comes as a shock to most people, because it seems to contradict general intuition. The answer to why sailing upwind is possible lies with the notion of maximizing wind angles and apparent wind.
How Windsurfers Work Around the Problem of the No Go Zone
As aforementioned, the no go zone is made up the area that is 45° to either side of the true source of wind. This still leaves a hefty area upwind where it is possible to sail.
Seasoned windsurfers recognize this fact and use it to its fullest advantage. Sailing downwind is easy enough. To get from point A to point B, all you have to do is windsurf in a linear fashion and take the shortest route available. The process of sailing upwind is a bit more complex since the presence of the no go zone makes it impossible to take the shortest course of action.
Thus, windsurfers have to get creative with how they go about sailing upwind. Rather than fighting a losing battle by journeying headlong into the wind, they take a different approach. Put simply, windsurfers implement a zig zag sailing method to steer clear of the no go zone and slowly make their way to their upwind destination. It is the small slivers of area where sailing upwind is viable that deem this method possible.
Labeled Diagram of How Windsurfers Work Around the No Go Zone
For your reference, I included the diagram below to better depict this zig zag, upwind sailing method.
If this seems like a roundabout way of taking care of the problem of the no go zone, it’s because it is. However, this strategy is the only feasible means to reach any destination upwind in the realm of windsurfing. Unfortunately, trying to oppose the true source of wind never works.
Since this article is predominantly centered around the no go zone, I tried to provide a brief, concise answer to how sailing upwind works. If you would like more detailed information on how the factors of wind angle and apparent wind make sailing upwind possible, I wrote an entire article dedicated solely to the topic. You can click over to it here: How Do Windsurfers Go Against the Wind?
Tips to Avoid the No Go Zone When Windsurfing
Now that you know the essentials of the no go zone, you likely want to know how to apply this information when you’re out on the water. To help make your windsurfing experience go as smooth sailing as possible (quite literally), then listen to the following tips so you don’t run into the problem of the no go zone.
Know What Direction the Wind is Coming From Before Heading Out on the Water
One of the first things you should do before committing to the water is decipher where the wind is coming from. This way, you know the general direction of where the no go zone lies.
If you are on a beach where windsurfing is popular, they typically have flags mounted nearby to illustrate wind direction. It is easy to identify wind direction with this method because the flag flutters in the same direction that the wind is coming from.
An alternative method to interpret the true wind direction is feeling out the wind with your face. This takes a little time to get proficient at, but it’s extremely helpful when no flags are nearby. You can even use this strategy when you’re already out on the water.
Finally, you can also tell the direction of the wind from the ripples on the water. The ripples on the water always move in the same direction that the wind is blowing. Again, this may not be as clear cut as monitoring the fluttering of nearby flags, but it is a worthwhile replacement.
Sail on the Beam Reach as Much as Possible
Everyone adores the prospect of sailing downwind because it is convenient and easy. The long trip of sailing back upwind is an altogether different scenario. I don’t want to beat around the bush here. Constantly attempting to steer clear of the no go zone is a pain.
Luckily, there is a way to effectively avoid sailing upwind. Instead of sailing upwind and downwind, you can sail exclusively on the beam reach.
The beam reach is the point of sail that lies 90° to the true wind direction. Windsurfers that sail on the beam reach are said to be sailing across the wind. The majority of windsurfers sail on the beam reach so they don’t unintentionally drift downwind and have to deal with the challenging task of fighting their way back upwind.
It is highly recommended that novice windsurfers do their best to stay on the beam reach, as it is likely that they lack the fundamental skill and knowledge necessary to sail upwind.
To help you visualize what the beam reach looks like in relation to the true wind direction, I designed the diagram below.
You may notice there are a plethora of other sailing terms in relation to wind direction. To learn more about the other points of sail and their connection to wind direction, click over to my article Windsurfing Wind Direction: A Helpful, Illustrated Guide.
Concentrate Your Eyes on Where You Want to Go
Lastly, it is imperative that you lock your eyes on the direction that you intend to go as you’re windsurfing. This may seem obvious on paper, but it is more difficult to actually put this idea into practice.
There are a lot of moving parts in windsurfing. You have to keep constant tension on the sail by physically pulling on the boom with your hands. Your feet have to be optimally placed to maintain board equilibrium along with a flat trim on the water. The sail must be positioned in the proper position to avoid wandering downwind. These are but a few examples of thoughts that race through a windsurfer’s mind out on the water.
For this reason, it will be tempting to glance down at your hands and feet to ensure that they are in proper position. If you take your eyes off of your desired destination for too long, you may find yourself thrown off course heading into the no go zone. This mistake will show itself almost immediately when the sailboard grinds to a halt.
Turning your head to the direction where you want to go is absolutely key to maintaining your intended sailing course. If you do need to make adjustments, do so without taking your eyes off the prize. This will be tough to implement for beginners, but it will help tremendously in the long run with successfully steering clear of the no go zone.