How-To: Make It Move

The Power Source

Windsurfing uses one of the most ancient forms of power—the wind. With all the technical achievements of the twentieth century, today’s windsurfing sail is the most advanced wind powered product available.  It helps us to soar with the whims of the wind.

Although the sail seems to utilize a complex array of components which must be understood and mastered with practice, it can be quite simple. This is a sport where you can make it as easy or as complex as you desire. There’s no limitations to the levels of attainment. At every phaze, a windsurfer can enjoy a completely new set of challenges and rewards.

One thing is for sure, the wind is never consistent. One  day it can be blowing twenty; the next day five. Though the range of the modern day windsurfing sails are extremely wide, the need for sails of different sizes is a reality. For a beginner, this is NOT an issue, as most beginners will want to develop their skills in calm protected waters. But advanced and intermediate sailors will quickly seek out new areas and will find a wide range of windy conditions. For this, they must be equipped with sails that can meet their needs.

Here’s how it works.

The more wind there is, the smaller the sail you need. For that matter, the smaller the board. Since windsurfers can’t reef their sails, the only solution is to down size the sail. Sails are measured in square meters and usually range in size from 4.0 to 8.0. Almost all of the sail makers offer sails in increments of .5 meters such as 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, 5.5., etc.

With the wide performance range of today’s sails, meaning, one sail can cover a wide wind range, sailors can purchase fewer sails. A full meter increment or even 1.5 meter increment between sails can now be recommended. For instance, a smaller person may pick a set of sails that include a 4.0, a 5.0 and a 6.0, where a heavier sailor would buy a 4.5, a 5.5, and a 6.5 sail. Naturally, bigger sails for bigger sailors. It is not uncommon to find sails as big as 10.0 meters in light wind areas. There are even bigger sails, but generally, they reach a point of diminishing return and are used for extreme light wind racing conditions.


Most beginner boards come with a 6.0  or 5.5 meter sail, which are perfect entry level sizes for the beginner. To start off, the simpler the sail, the better. Try to focus on sails that are easy to rig and de-rig. Performance on the water means very little if the battle is lost on trying to rig a complex sail.  And, spending more money does not mean an easier or better time. Some of the old sails available are the easiest to rig. The original windsurfer brand board, for instance, has a soft sail that rolls up to the mast and the sail is stored rolled against the mast. You can’t do this to modern day sails because they have battens. Battens are like plastic ribs on a sail. They provide performance but sacrifice simplicity. They do, however, help the sail hold its shape, which makes it much easier to use in stronger wind.

So What more do I need?

You will need three other pieces of hardware to make your rig complete:  A mast, a boom and a base.

THE MAST: The mast is the backbone of the sail. It is a very important part of the collection, as it dramatically affects the performance of the sail. A good sail on a bad mast may not perform as well as a bad sail on a good mast. In addition, a good mast will shave considerable weight off the rig and make it easier to pull the sail out of the water.  A good mast is well worth the money as you will never outgrow it. Also, if the mast breaks, you will have to swim.

THE BOOM: The boom is another piece of equipment well worth the extra buck. This is the part of the rig you will always have your hands on. Also, the boom provides the necessary framing for the sail. Modern day booms have clamp on heads for quick attachment to the mast and telescopic extensions to fit a variety of sail sizes.

THE Base: The base seems insignificant but it plays a major role in the making of the windsurfer. Made up of three parts, these components are not universal, and different brands have different attachments. Therefore, they are not  interchangeable.

First is the foot, which attaches the sail to the board. Above the foot is the universal joint which allows the sail to swivel freely in all directions. This invention gave the sport it’s uniqueness and provided the spectacular departure from the conventional sail characteristics. This freedom of movement by the universal also provides the biggest initial challenge for a novice windsurfer. With a stationary mast, it’s relatively simple to figure out how to sail. With a free moving sail, this becomes a little more challenging, but ultimately liberating.

The last part of the  base component is the mast extension tube that clips onto the universal joint on one end. The other end goes up through the mast. The extension capabilities provide extra length adjustment for the mast. At the base of the mast extension tube is a pulley plate and cleat system for the sail’s down haul or the rope used to pull down the sail. This is where the sail is pulled along the mast to balance the “outhaul” pull of the sail along the boom. Modern day sails utilize a tremendous amount of down haul pressure to provide the desired sail shape. In some brands, the sail is recommended to be rigged with a negative outhaul tension.  These sails, in the resting position, have no pressure on the outhaul. Under sail, the twisting motion of the sail as it flows upward towards the top of the mast would self regulate the outhaul tension. Don’t worry if you don’t follow this.  The important thing to remember is that a sail is your set of wings for catching the wind.

What do I need to spend?

It is easy to buy a used sail because there are so many of them. You can pay less than $50 for a second hand sail. But be careful, there’s a lot of junk out there. Compatibility with mast is also a consideration. So if you buy used, either find a good knowledgeable friend to guide you through this jungle, or find an extremely old sail where the owner might pay you to take it away.


The other consideration is to buy new. This might be the easiest and the best way. Sails made today are light years ahead of what was made even as recently as two years ago. Sails such as the Neil Pryde Shock System (pictured on the title page) are made with considerable sensitivity to the needs of the recreational sailor. They are high performance sails that combine simplicity with ease of use, providing a perfect combination to grow with. The Shock System is the wave of the future. It comes with one bag containing a  mast and a boom that will fit all four sails in the quiver. The system can be bought individually or as a package. The key is the wide range of sail sizes and the simplicity of using only one mast and boom to make them all work.

For the beginner sailor who is committed to buying new equipment, the best advice is to stick with one brand. Figure out what brand you like and stay with it. Aside from compatibility problems, there is performance.  The same size sail from two different manufacturers can perform differently. A 4.0 from one brand may feel like a 4.5 from another.

There is no reason to hide the fact that windsurfing has made itself more complex than it needs to be. As a beginner, however, one can follow the path of simplicity. Always try to streamline your equipment. This will maximize your time on the water and therefore, maximize your enjoyment of the sport.—ED

by AW Staff

Article and Photo Illustrations by American Windsurfer Magazine