It’s clean, fast and graceful, but windsurfing can be a puzzle for the keen onlooker. To get the lowdown on how the amateur can get into the sport, WideWorld spoke to William MacLean, a Semi-Pro Windsurfer with 20 years experience in the sport. The 32-year-old is the centre principal at Tiree Windsurfing, Wild Diamond Watersports, in Argyll.
Is windsurfing for me?
It really is down to personal taste, however anybody, whatever their age, size or shape can learn and excel at the sport. You don’t have to be a good swimmer or particularly strong. You just have to have an interest in the sport and a love of excitement.
What is my first step?
The best place to start is on the Internet. There are a number of groups, online forums and clubs which have websites. It is really important to do your research and find the right place for you.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to trawl through loads of web pages, the best thing is to buy a copy of Windsurfing Magazine or Yachting Magazine. These is will have details of clubs and classes related to the sport. From this you will be able to find out where your nearest club is, or find a club which caters to your needs.
It really depends on where you live too. You may have to travel a couple of hours to the coast, or to a nearby lake or reservoir. As the sport is weather related, the wind speed also needs to be considered. To start you need to find a large body of flat water, which is not obstructed by trees and other obstacles to the wind.
The Welsh coastline, North Scotland and Dorset are three of the best places in the UK. Across the rest of the world, Egypt is considered one of the best places to learn and develop in the sport.
Are there any organisations or groups I should join?
Windsurfing is a very social sport and there are lots of ways to meet new people. The best thing to is to join the World Yachting Association. They will provide publications and insurance as well details of events all over the world. Boards Magazine (www.boards.co.uk) is another fantastic resource for widening your circle of friends and has a great community vibe about it as well as being a good read.
How much does it cost?
The cost of an hour lesson is £20 for a beginner. If you want to go professional it can cost up to £100,000 a year. This is because of the cost of travelling required to other places around the world and the cost of transporting lots of heavy equipment with you [but that's what sponsorship is for!].
How many lessons will I need?
It usually takes up to about four hours to reach the point where you can comfortably respond quickly to changing wind speeds and move along the water at a reasonably consistent, constant pace. After that, it’s up to you how you progress, you can then continue with expert tuition which can vary in price, and is dependent on what you require from your instructor. The cost of this can go up to as high as £400.
What equipment do I need and where can I get it?
Don’t buy your kit on eBay – that is the biggest mistake people make. Windsurfing is a specialist sport, and requires specialist equipment. The best way to get the right equipment is to speak to your local club or instructor. They will be able to advise you on the right sizes and the spec of the board and sail you need. If you buy everything on your own, you are liable to buy the wrong products and waste a lot of time and money. There are reputable shops from which you can get the equipment; the best thing to is talk to your club, look on online or in one of the specialist magazines to find the closest to you.
Do you have any other tips for getting hold of equipment?
Building up a good relationship with a particular shop or expert is key. This will ensure that you always get good quality equipment and service when required. You will also be able to negotiate better prices than you may find online and have the certainty that you are buying good quality products, which will last.
So how much is it going to cost me to get on the water?
To buy good quality second hand equipment you need to budget around £1,000. To some people that may seem like an awful lot of money, however if you spend any less you risk buying products which will not last very long and will invariably have to be replaced further down the line. The £1,000 figure includes everything you need to get on the water – from your wet suit and boots to your board and sail. You need around 10 items in total to get on the water.
What is the secret to excelling at the sport?
There are two key aspects to being successful at windsurfing which both relate to posture. Looking ahead in the direction you are travelling rather than down at your feet is essential. So many people make the mistake of not doing this and this is why they usually fall off. By looking ahead you are in full control of your balance and can respond quickly to changes in the winds direction. The second important thing is how you stand. You need to keep 40 per cent of you weight on your front foot and 60 per cent on your back foot.
How would you visualise the technique you need to use?
There are two tips here. The first is to imagine ‘surfs up’, that you are on a surfboard about to ride the waves. You have to be standing up right, looking ahead and maintaining a strong stable position. The other thing to think of is to imagine you are in a tug or war. Never look down, look straight ahead. Hold the sail tight with your arms out straight and lean slightly backwards. This firm grip allows you to hold your balance and to manoeuvre the sail accordingly to the direction of the wind.
What if I have difficulty, what can I do?
There is no easy answer to this. Everybody is different so there is no magical solution. That said, windsurfing is in many ways a mathematical formula. Your instructor will be able to calculate what the problem is from observing you and be able to work out a solution as to why you are having difficulties. The main reason though usually is down to people looking down at their feet rather than the direction they are traveling.
Is it good for keeping fit?
No. This is not a sport to take up to help you keep a hold of your fitness. It is very much an upper body sport [it's good for core strength]. Therefore it is essential that you cross train the rest of the body. Windsurfing develops your upper body strength considerably, but if you do not work on you lower body your balance will be out of kilter and you will encounter problems. Maintaining a general all-round fitness is therefore very important.
What’s next? How do I advance in the sport?
Once again this is really down to personal taste and what you want to get out of the sport. You can experiment in different waters and countries as well as tackling different wind speeds. You can gain certificates of increasing skill level through your club, which are internationally recognised and there are also numerous competitions held all over the world every year. The glass ceiling point is wave surfing, which provides a real adrenalin rush and a high level of skill.
Are there any restrictions that I should know about?
If you own your own equipment you are free to take your windsurfing anywhere in the world with no restrictions apart from your own finances. If you don’t have your own kit, you will have to prove to the centre or equipment hire place you visit that you have reached a certain level to warrant the equipment you wish to hire. These can be obtained through competitions and advanced courses at your centre.
For more information, visit tireewindsurfing