Windsurfing Wind Direction: A Helpful, Illustrated Guide


In order to be proficient at windsurfing, you need to have a basic understanding of wind direction to guarantee safety above all else. The very first thing you should know are the different terms associated with wind direction.

Windsurfers use the following terms to depict wind direction.

  • Cross Shore Wind: blows directly across the shoreline
  • Cross Onshore Wind: blows diagonally toward the shoreline
  • Onshore Wind: blows directly onto the shoreline
  • Cross Offshore Wind: blows diagonally away from the shoreline
  • Offshore Wind: blows directly away from the shoreline

These are the fundamental wind directions that windsurfers must be intimately familiar with. We will analyze which of these directions are prime for windsurfing and which of these directions are extremely hazardous. Towards the end of the article, we will also discuss which of these wind directions is ideal for windsurfing.

Basics of Windsurfing Wind Direction: Downwind vs. Upwind

Before we dive into all the nuts and bolts of wind direction, it is first necessary to learn the foundational concept of downwind versus upwind. This will play an integral role in our understanding of wind direction and how it impacts the safety of windsurfing later on.

Downwind

Downwind is a relatively simple concept to understand. All that it means is that you are moving in the same direction that the wind is blowing.

When people think of windsurfing, the majority people automatically think of going directly downwind. It makes intuitive sense. Since the wind is blowing from behind and powering the sail, it easy to grasp how the sailboard is able to be thrust forward along the water.

What people don’t realize is that the term downwind is a broad term. It does not only encompass the point of sail that is strictly in line with where the wind is blowing. It’s comprised of other points of sail that slightly stray off this line as well. Put simply, downwind is a generic term that covers a broad, semicircular area made up of a diversity of wind directions.

I know this can be difficult to visualize in your head, so I provided a diagram below to better illustrate this concept.

Upwind

As the name suggests, upwind is the exact opposite of downwind. Upwind means that you are moving in the opposite direction of where the wind is blowing.

People that are testing the waters of windsurfing are often surprised to find that sailing upwind is a real possibility… to a degree. I say “to a degree” because there are certain upwind angles where windsurfers can sail and other upwind angles where they cannot sail. In the diagram above, the specified area where it is impossible for windsurfers to sail upwind is labeled by the no go zone.

Th no go zone is comprised of the upwind angles that are closest to the true source of wind. Windsurfers cannot sail here because they are essentially sailing into the teeth of the wind. They’re unable to generate any sort of power from their sail because there is no wind energy available. Rather than powering up the sail and propelling the sailboard forward, the no go zone stops windsurfers dead in their tracks.

To learn more about why windsurfers cannot sail into the no go zone, check out my article What is the No Go Zone in Windsurfing? (Labeled Diagram Included).

However, it is important to note that the semicircular area is not entirely composed of the no go zone. Toward the outer portions of the semicircular area, windsurfers are able to gain enough momentum to get their board moving along.

It is in these tiny slivers of area that windsurfers are able to slowly reach a destination upwind. On a downwind course, windsurfers can simply take a straight shot from point A to point B. Unfortunately, this is not possible going upwind because of the no go zone. As a result, windsurfers must zig zag back and forth between the upwind areas where sailing is actually possible and slowly make their way up toward their destination.

Click over to my article How Do Windsurfers Go Against the Wind? to learn more behind the specific strategies and basic physics behind this concept.

Diagram of Downwind vs. Upwind

To summarize downwind versus upwind, I included the diagram below to hammer these points home. Keep these basic point of sail concepts in mind as we move into the five fundamental wind directions of windsurfing.

The 5 Fundamental Wind Directions of Windsurfing

Moving into the main topic of the article, there are five essential wind directions that every seasoned windsurfer has to know. To start off, I will provide a brief overview of all of the different windsurfing wind directions. From there, we will move into each individual wind direction and analyze whether or not these are favorable windsurfing conditions.

Brief Overview of Windsurfing Wind Directions

Windsurfers always use the shoreline as their reference point when describing wind direction. Thus, all of the various wind directions involve the word “shore” in its name. This is an important piece of information to take note of because how you interpret wind direction at one shoreline may be completely different at another shoreline on the same island.

As a general rule of thumb, cross shore winds are what you want to have as a windsurfer. Pure onshore wind conditions are doable, but not ideal. Cross offshore and pure offshore winds are hazardous and should be avoided wherever possible.

Now that you know the what, you probably want to know the why. To learn more about the reasons why some wind conditions are preferable to others, keep reading further.

Cross Shore Wind

Cross shore wind conditions are winds that blow parallel to the shoreline. If you are facing directly toward the sea and stick out your arms towards the sides, you will have a basic indication of where the wind is blowing. Moreover, you should know that there are two types of cross shore winds: winds that move from right to left and winds that move from left to right.

Cross shore winds are conducive to windsurfing because they allow riders to easily move out to the sea and back in with relatively no issues. In addition, windsurfers have an effortless time launching into the water (whether it be a beach start or water start) in these kinds of conditions.

Cross Onshore Wind

Cross onshore wind conditions are winds that blow onto the shore diagonally. This type of wind blows onto the shore at a 45° angle. Just like cross shore winds, there are also two types of cross onshore winds: diagonal winds that move from left to right and diagonal winds that move from right to left.

Cross onshore winds are largely considered the safest wind conditions in regards to windsurfing. If you encounter a difficulty with your equipment out on the water, the natural tendency of the sailboard is to drift downwind. Thus, cross onshore conditions will carry you back onto the shore in the event that your equipment faces some problems.

Onshore Wind

Onshore wind conditions are winds that blow directly from the sea to the shoreline. If you’re looking straight out to the sea, you will feel the wind directly against your face during onshore wind conditions.

Since cross onshore wind are pristine windsurfing conditions, you may also assume that onshore wind conditions are ideal. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Onshore wind conditions are safe in that the wind will not push you out to sea. However, it is extremely challenging having to launch out into the water because the wind stifles every attempt that you make to launch out onto the water. As you can probably imagine, this can grow frustrating rather quickly.

Cross Offshore Wind

Winds that blow diagonally out into the sea from the shoreline are considered cross offshore conditions. With these conditions, wind blows at a 45° angle from the shoreline out onto the water.

These winds are fairly dangerous. If you face an issue with your sailboard and cannot windsurf properly, the wind will want to carry you out to sea. Although sailing upwind is possible, it’s an art that takes time to learn and master. This is why it’s strongly recommended that novices completely avoid cross offshore winds when they’re first starting out.

Offshore Wind

The winds that blow from the shoreline directly out to sea are called offshore winds. Offshore winds are the antithesis of onshore winds.

Of all the wind conditions, offshore winds are the most hazardous. This type of wind has the potential to carry a windsurfer straight out to sea if they’re not careful. Offshore winds should be avoided at all costs, regardless of whether you’re a novice or a veteran. It’s simply too dangerous to even entertain the idea of windsurfing in these risky conditions.

What is the Ideal Wind Direction for Windsurfing?

Windsurfers should always be on the hunt for cross onshore winds when seeking out a potential beach location. As aforementioned, cross onshore wind conditions are regarded as the safest winds to engage in windsurfing.

Not only that, but you don’t have to struggle with beach starting or water starting, like in onshore winds. This makes for a much more enjoyable windsurfing outing because you can completely sidestep all of the grievances associated with being stuck at a standstill.

Although you cannot windsurf in cross onshore conditions all the time, beginners should do their very best to start with cross onshore winds with their first couple of sessions.

How to Tell Wind Direction On Your Own

With all of this newfound knowledge of what wind conditions to avoid and what wind conditions to look for, it’s crucial to know how to figure out where the direction of the wind on your own. Unfortunately, there are not big, bright, glowing signs that mark whether the winds are blowing offshore or onshore.

Observing Flags on the Beach

One reliable means of deciphering wind direction is to take a look at any nearby flags on the beach.

As a general rule of thumb, flags flutter in the direction that the wind is blowing. For example, if there are cross wind conditions present, the flag will flutter parallel to the shoreline.

Most beaches where windsurfing is popular feature these flags along the beach. It’s just a matter of finding them and accurately reading them.

Feeling the Wind on Your Face

If you don’t see any flags nearby, another viable option is to simply feel the wind on your face.

Once you’re facing toward the wind, you should feel the wind blowing directly onto your face. When you’re oriented so that the wind is directly hitting your face, you should be able to hear the wind in both of your ears. If you only hear the wind in one ear, you’re not quite oriented in the right direction just yet.

From here, I recommend that you draw a line into the sand in the direction that you’re facing. This way, you have a definitive reference point of where the wind is blowing toward.

Throwing Sand into the Air

If you’re not quite in tune with your sense of touch, another possible route to throw dry sand into the air.

By lofting beach sand into the air, you can easily measure which direction the wind is blowing by observing where the wind carries the sand particles. Whichever direction the sand particles move will give you a clear indication of where the wind is blowing. Just make sure you don’t accidentally throw sand on an innocent bystander!

Final Thoughts

Learning the fundamentals of wind direction is absolutely key to windsurfing and sailing in general. Having read this article through to the end, you have already set a firm foundation to work with as you progress on your windsurfing journey.

With the wind direction basics notched under your belt, I highly recommend you check out my article Windsurfing Points of Sail: A Helpful, Illustrated Guide to learn exactly where to sail in relation to the wind.

This knowledge definitely comes in handy when testing the waters of windsurfing. Good luck!

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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