Windsurfing Stance - sail faster

(This feature originally appeared in the May 2014 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!)

You will notice that quite a lot of my technique pieces and live coaching entail aspects of ‘life coaching,’ well this is because I am looking to get the very best out of you and technique is only one part of this and a lot of it is down to your own personal levels of fitness, focus, commitment, self coaching AND enjoyment, the most important aspect!

So come with me on the life coaching bandwagon as, like I do a huge amount on my global coaching holidays, I look to get you to become better self coaches who set targets, try new moves AND actually enjoy the act of learning.

I sail so much better when I’m happy. If I’m smiling and laughing it helps me so much, plus this can transfer to dry land where, if I’m on a tough run – hurting and frowning away – I just take a step outside myself and say ‘come on baldie, get that smile on,’ and the run becomes more enjoyable – yet I’m still pushing it.


The Holy Trinity of Windsurfing Stance

Dearly Beloved, some of you may already be showing concern about the life coaching and the title ‘Holy Trinity’ title may also have triggered some alarm too, so let me present what this trinity actually is.

Don’t worry I will not come over all reverend. The ability to sail fast, plane early and get (fly) upwind is of paramount importance in order to enjoy as many sessions as possible and acquire as many new moves as we can.

I will be covering some great ‘tips’ on how to achieve this, without going too in depth as I have already placed a lot of the ownership on you learning.

For the best visual aid out there I can strongly recommend, (warning outrageous plug follows) ahem, my ‘Beginner to Winner’ DVD as a fab reference tool for all levels of sailor and particularly the skills covered in this piece.

This Trinity of skills is required for all windies and at all levels. Let’s look at last month’s technique, the Carving 360, as an example.

If you want the 360 you have to sail fast to get the sail ‘light’. And if you’re sailing fast then the rails are easier to carve.

Yet you will not be able to sail fast unless you excel at the 1st hurdle of planing early and if you’re not able to get fully upwind then you will not have the strategic (upwind) position, or confidence, to bear away and sail fast in order to carve hard and hammer that rail. Tough one hey.

Let me put it another way. Every year I get lots of enquiries to come on coaching holidays, and there is sometimes a thread along the lines of ‘Jem, I’d like to plane out of my gybes, learn to forward and maybe try some Vulcans too’.

Now, I will work my hardest to help this person achieve this but I know, with hand on heart, that on their first coaching experience with me they will be learning a huge amount of skills from the Trinity so they have a great time and can actually learn some fun and rad moves.

Whether it is the 360, their first carve gybe or a forward loop your Trinity skills will be called into huge account, and your tacking too, and, don’t worry, that will be covered very soon too.

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Ok I’m cheating by covering upwind first but then I had to get your attention with the eye catching ‘sail fast’ as the lead skill in the trinity.

If we’re not upwind then we can’t take advantage of gusts in order to bear away (turn downwind) and get planing (early, damn right).

And if we don’t bear away to get planing, then it’s hard to get up to speed. So, Grasshoppers, get some money in the upwind bank by sailing upwind as soon as you are planing and sail upwind by ‘chugging’ if you are not planing, all will be revealed on this … patience.

Lets look at ‘Chugging’ upwind non-planing first. Unless it is very windy, do this as soon as you get going, either from a start or a turn.

This means you can see the wind and are gaining ground upwind (money in that bank).

This will aid all levels of rider and get you upwind to help learning to use the footstraps, and it will aid catching waves for riding and many many more moves.

Some tips:

• Best tip of all: where you look is where you go, so look upwind
• Step forward and out, in order to sink the rail. Think ‘rail, not sail’ to get you upwind. Find the sweet spot on your board for this
• Keep the sail relatively open, leech flapping and upright (arms bent) as you are not using sail power, but using rail power (purchase)

So now you have a significant balance in your upwind account when you see a gust you are able to move back down the board and get low to bear away and push the board on to the plane and utilise your Jedi early planing skills.

As you look to bank on your upwind account then you utilise your slick, early planing to get you sailing fast and then from here you’re now able to get upwind the faster and fun way, whilst planing.

This whole repertoire highlights just how much the Trinity skills tie in with each other. I’m not able to do justice to cover the upwind tips comprehensively in this feature, so lets look at the main ones.

Your first self coaching target, and main one, is if you think you’re sailing upwind enough, try and point higher, point as high as possible, especially when well powered, or in gusts.

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More Upwind Sailing Tips:

• Once you’re sailing fast then sail upwind as the fin will be creating enough lift to allow you too.
• Look upwind and bring the rig back as your body moves forward, which allows you to push / resist through the back leg.
• Keep your body low and outboards with your front shoulder dropped.
• Rig is kept away and sail oversheeting is avoided by placing your hands close together
• The more rig goes back and your body forward, the more you can push through the fin to squeeze upwind higher.

A great tip for flying upwind – and introducing more feel to this skill – is to sail one-handed.

Drop the front hand, which opens up your shoulders, thereby bringing your hips forward and low and keeping the rig back and away.

In fact, sailing one handed on all points of sail is an excellent way to improve your overall sailing and sail off your core.

The more you look upwind, the higher you will go (point) and, whilst looking in this direction, we also look at the wind to examine what sailing line to take.

Head upwind in the gusts (point higher) that we ‘see’ and bear away (turn downwind) when we see lulls. These subtle changes in direction really help you keep your speed throughout.

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Right, let me get this straight. I’m not about to launch into a huge amount of tips on breaking records, as one of my main peers – a certain Dave White – might be more qualified, so lets keep this bit very simple.

Main Tips

• Keep the rig away and the board flat with the sail relatively still
• In lulls (less wind) ensure your hands are together to get the rig upright. Tighten your torso, clench a one pound / euro coin in the cheeks of your bottom. Push down through your toes and lift your hips
• In long and light lulls you can angle / tilt your upper torso forward to pull down more on the mast foot thereby maintaining a flat board when the tail wants to sink
• In gusts: ‘Get down James Brown!’ Your body and rear hip must get out (boards), back (towards the tail) and down. Your hands spread more too.
• In full powered gusts, drop the elbows and pull down hard on the boom and your heels will be weighted heavily by digging in. This is when your leg strength (endurance), core and triceps will be working to the max

An easy way to sail fast in all planing winds is to ensure your head is below boom height and allow your hips to move to balance the sails power.

Go upwind when looking to get control and turn downwind to keep speed in lulls. A lot of people are fast in gusts but really drop speed in lulls. Aim to have a great wind range and high average speed.

I could very much argue that this could be the first priority in the Trinity skills as, without planing, there is no fast fun and flying upwind is simply not possible.

In my experience early planing is the most important skill we require in windsurfing and the area we could all most improve on!

It can be divided into passive and active. As windies gain more experience – and become fitter – they become way more active in their planing.

This means they go more aggressively downwind to get more speed, (speculate to accumulate), and they get lower and pump/work the rig to get more drive and power from it.

This is a whole other article, of course. However, the above first requires being very good at passive planing.

Key Skills

• Look forward to spot gusts, get the rig forward and away on extended arms with the hands shoulder width apart and close to the harness lines
• Bend your back leg and straighten your front leg to keep the board flat and push the nose off the wind
•Think drop (down James Brown) and push (the board away and flat) in windy conditions
• In lighter winds the rig is away but you are best to angle your torso forward and be more subtle in bearing away and don’t get so down with your bad self

Further skills to consider are pumping and lazy pumping which I will cover at a later date. There are 4 areas we can focus on / improve to plane earlier. Can you think what they are? They all begin with the letter T? I love this question, go on think, it will really help.

Ok here you are, 2 are on the land and 2 are on the water:

Tuning – fin size, mast foot position, boom height and sail trim to name a few.

Temperament – if you believe you will plane and are, in effect planing on the beach, then this will be so. I am a relatively heavier sailor and I’m planing in my mind before I hit the water. Focus and believe young Jedis.

Technique – we have covered this above and as you self-coach and reflect more it will get even better.

Timing – by looking upwind you can see the gusts and employ all your efforts and skills at this time and then BOOM you are off and flying!


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