Heli Tack

How to master the windsurfing Heli Tack

As warmer days are still with us I now implore you to nail the heli tack and the tips to follow will equip you for this. Whilst it did not have a special mention in the ‘Moves that Matter’ features it would be in my addendum in both the Tack and Aerial Freestyle sections and for me is also a key transition tool in winning at wave riding.

Words Jem Hall // Photo Nicolas Jones

(This feature originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Windsurf Magazine. To read more features like this first, Print and Digital subscriptions are available. Prices include delivery globally for 10 x issues a year!)

Heli Tack Tech videos!

I make no bones as to the toughness and complexity of this move and I only coach it to people who are ready, and only in the right conditions. The proper Heli Tack is a distant cousin to what I call the ‘holiday heli tack,’ which entails pushing the sail into the wind, muscling it round, looking at the sail a lot and then grabbing it with not much finesse. So be ready to work hard on this move but know that it has a huge skills transfer across many moves; including tacking, carving 360’s, and gybe rig rotations to name a few. As a refresh I implore you to read my summer pieces on light wind ‘Skills and Drills’ online and from the 2014 issues.


This move, like many others, can be broken into 3 areas that should be worked and focused on:
• Taking the board through the wind
• Front to sail control
• Rig transition / rotation (front to sail gybe!)

To get ahead of the game I strongly recommend these pre Heli Tack exercises:
• Really scissoring/steering/pulling the board towards the wind in all your tacks.
• Getting into front to sail and really understanding this and aiming to dominate the rig in this area! Learn this and the Heli is yours.
• Controlled clew first sailing with efficient rig rotations, and looking forward throughout!

I’ll now outline in detail the 3 main sections of the move…

1: Pull through
Working on this key part of taking the board through the wind will not only improve your tacks, and heli tacks, but it will also help you learn and conquer sailing front to sail.
Main tips:
• Have your hands together and near the lines.
• Get the rig back to steer you upwind, with your feet spread and front foot in front of mast foot.
• Think ‘Pull & Push.’ Pull the nose through the wind with
the front foot and then push the tail downwind with the
back foot, feel this happening!
• All of this is helped by looking forward, which twists
your hips and shoulders and helps you see what point of sailing you are on.

2: Front to sail
This skill deserves an article in itself! When I am coaching the Heli Tack to people I will not coach them the ending (rig rotation) until they can sail front to sail in both directions and then return to come back through the wind, in readiness to do the drill again. If you own front to sail (sailing backwinded) you own the Heli tack, and a few other moves too!
• Pull the kit through the wind with the earlier steering tips.
• Ensure you take the board through the wind by at least
20 degrees.
• Once through wind the rig comes across with the front arm extended, this gives you the last bit of steering. A top tip here is to open the sail slightly, many push out on the backhand and this makes the board go backwards!
• Look forward and once you feel the board is on track your front leg goes from bent and steering to straight and ready to sail, this is a light bulb moment.
• When sailing the rig goes back and down to control power and assist in steering.
• Your weight is on the toeside to track the board upwind, where the rig’s power is less in this front to sail position.
• You are now ready and in the driving seat for a slick rig rotation.

Steering and front to sail power control

By dominating the rig front to sail you will get control and this will give you a point of stability in the heli tack. The more you do this the more you will learn how to control the power and how to steer the board in the move. So here are some tips for this:
• To steer more into the wind you shift the rig back and weight the back foot. More weight on your toes will also take you upwind. Upwind the sail is always less powerful so this line gives you more control as well.
• You can also control power by moving your back foot further back and edging your toes more towards the toeside (windward) rail to dip it further.
• If you are on a course too far upwind and want to steer downwind then weight the front foot more and open the sail slightly.
• For more power, or to get the sail up, push out on the backhand and soften your front arm to allow the rig to become more upright, and not so low to the water.

Own the front to sail part and you own the move

Back Hand way back to depower sail and assist in the rig rotation

The rig and feet moving together increases the complexity of the Heli tack as do bigger sails

3: Rig Rotation

So now you are ready for the next phase and for this you have to think Ninja Warrior: precise, light on feet and yet exuding subtle strength. Again your gybe rig rotation skills are called to account here, as is your ability to shift your weight distribution and switch your feet.
• When you are ready to rotate, slide your backhand well down the boom. This crucially depowers the rig and allows you to move it and then control the ending!
• Draw the backhand in. This turns the board downwind into (front to sail) gybing territory.
• Start to guide the rig towards the nose with a straight front arm, and your back arm in.
• The hips move back to balance this and to shift the weight to your back feet so you can switch your feet, i.e. move your front foot.
• The rig is going to, and around, the nose as the feet change. This phase has a lot going on, too much to cover here so I ask you to get all Bruce Lee and ‘don’t think, feel.’
• Switch the feet like in a gybe, yet the old front foot steps back behind your old back feet.
• Looking Forward throughout all this is vital!
• You can pause at clew first, and station yourself, or continue to rotate the rig if you have fast enough hands.
• As the rig goes back in the rig rotation, slide the front hand along the boom to the mast to help you rotate the rig. Shift your hips forward to counterbalance this movement.
• Rotate the rig and bring it back forward and then get down James Brown to ensure you can steer and control any power in the sail.

Take time to master all the above areas and have patience throughout learning this move, as it is a mighty challenge yet I know you are ready and will, like me, enjoy the whole journey of acquiring any new skill. Set a high standard, nail it and make me proud!

“ If you own front to sail (sailing backwinded) you own the Heli tack ”

Light winds that are stable in strength and direction. Add more wind to challenge you as you improve.

A flatter set, smaller sail on a floaty board with not too big a fin. Or use (borrow/hire/buy) a WindSup to slow it all down and have plenty of deck space. WindSups are an amazing tool for cracking heli tacks!


This is an excellent move to learn. Primarily, it is a very useful move, but it also has excellent skills transference to many other moves. So why do we do it? Its great in light winds and is often said to be easier than a regular tack when the board is going slow, e.g. on the inside in waves. The move also retains power in the sail and, therefore, keeps the nose afloat, which is very handy on sinkier boards.


Front to sail sailing. Straighten your front arm and control the power of the sail with your back arm.

Look where you want to go. We need to assess our point of sailing and use our head to take the board to where we want it to go. By looking forwards whilst front to sail you can stay on track. Remain looking forwards through the sail flip.

Rig away. Keeping the rig away will enable you to control the sails power and take the weight out of the flip.

Key Stages

  • Taking the board through the wind
  • Front to sail stability
  • Rig transition.
  • Key Moves
  • Take board through head to wind
  • Bring rig across with extended front arm
  • Gain stability whilst front to sail
  • The rig is back and away and your weight is on your toeside
  • Slide your back hand down the boom
  • Swing the round the nose
  • Switch your feet
  • Pause at clew first OR
  • Continue the rigs rotation