Fundamentals: Art of Tacking

Having a divine dance with mother nature is what makes windsurfing such a special and meaningful sport.

Now 15 years down my windsurfing waterway, that feeling is still there. Though now it takes a little more action to bring it to the surface, I’m still chasing it every time I hit the water. To me this is what windsurfing is all about. Through the pages of this magazine, I may not be able to give you the feeling that the sport gives to me.

But hopefully I can help to remove some of the frustrations found on the learning curve. We’ll begin by clearing the decks for your sailing skills, and possibly even inspiring you to try something new. If I can achieve this then my mission is complete.

THE TACK is the first transition that we are taught when learning how to windsurf. It’s simply the fastest way to make your way back upwind and return to your starting point. Going downwind does not take any effort at all, just sit on your board and let the wind do the rest. No matter how well you sail, the easier it is to make your way back upwind, the more fun and safer your windsurfing will be.

Unfortunately many people leave their tack at the shuffle around the mast stage, which works fine on a trainer board, but sadly just won’t cut it on a shorter board. Naturally, the goal for many windsurfers is to progress onto shorter boards. But with shorter and shorter boards, the lack of volume and stability makes the tack more and more difficult. This often becomes the reason why the tack is left on the shelf while we are seduced by the pursuit of the jibe.

But to me, a well executed tack feels just as satisfying as a jibe, looks equally impressive, and has the added bonus of helping you direct your course upwind. This allows you the luxury of being blown downwind on a nice fast wide jibe.

In this issue, we’ll take a look at the correct skills needed for fast tacking on a trainer board and carve tacking on a shortboard. We’ll see the importance of getting your fundamental skills down, so you can use them as the basis of more advanced skills.

If you are already sailing on a shortboard, yet lack some basic skills, don’t be afraid to take a step back onto a floatier board. ­This does not mean that you have to go back to a trainer board, just something that will float you, and give some stability while not planing.



The Set-up
By placing your front hand on the mast below the boom, and your front foot in front of the mast base, you have effectively placed half of your body in front of the rig. Now you are able to focus on the turn and the transition. This also prevents you from being trapped behind the rig. The set-up may not seem to be so important, but it can make or break your transition. Be sure to give it the
attention it deserves.

LONGBOARD: Before transferring your front hand, depower the sail by sheeting out with the back hand. Then place your front hand below the boom on the mast and move the front foot to the front of the mastbase on the centerline.

SHORTBOARD: On the shortboard the key is to keep as much speed as possible. While hooked in transfer the front hand to the mast below the boom. Unhook and hang off from the rig. Move both feet out of the straps and place the front foot in front of the mast base. Do all this with as little disturbance to the board and rig as possible.

The Turn
The turn needs to be done in smooth and positive manner. Focus on keeping the turn or carve moving until you reach the point where you can go for the transition. Looking upwind to where you are going, will help transfer your weight to your back foot. This will also help increase your carving and turning ability. Keep your front arm straight to increase balance and the amount of leverage over the sail.

LONGBOARD: Drive all of your weight to the back foot. Move your front hand down on the mast. Sheet in the sail and lean the rig towards the back, as if trying to hit the tail of the board with the clew of the sail.

SHORTBOARD: Focus on carving the board into the wind rather than steering into the wind. Do this by smoothly rolling your weight into the heel of the back foot. Sheet in the sail, and rake it towards the back of the board.



The Transition
Some fast and fancy hand and foot work is needed here, to take you around the mast with maximum speed. This begins by bringing the back foot around and behind the front foot, try to touch them toe to heel. This looks very similar to a ballet dancer’s plie`, (feet together, knees bent, and toes pointing in the opposite directions.) This is the key to staying on the centerline and is the fastest way to get around the mast. You are effectively spring loading your legs while in the toe to heel position. Simultaneously to the foot work, release the boom with the back hand and reach around the mast to place it on the opposite boom. (Be careful not to pull the mast in too close to your body, as this may severely upset your balance.) Transfer your weight to your old backfoot, now the new front foot. This will force you to automatically pivot around the mast and step back onto centerline of the new side. While stepping back, remove your hand from the mast, reach back and to place it on the new boom.

LONGBOARD: On the longboard the transition needs to be made once the board has passed through the eye of the wind. Signs that let you know this are:

  • Foot of the sail touches your shin.
  • Sail feels light in your hands.
  • The board stops turning.

SHORTBOARD: On the shortboard the transition needs to be timed with regards to the board speed, rather than your position relative to the wind. If you are planing during your carve go for an early transition, before you have passed through the eye of the wind. If you are not planing wait until you have passed through the eye of the wind before going for the transition.

The exits for both tacks are pretty much the same, except that the exit on the carve tack is taken to the extreme. The focus on the exit is totally opposite of the entrance. At the entrance, everything is driven towards the back of the board to carve into the wind. On the exit, the rig and body weight go forward to push the nose of the board across the wind. Once across the wind, start to move towards the back of the board. If you don’t, the wind will fill the sail and you’ll be practicing the catapult.

LONGBOARD: Once on the other side, lean the rig towards the nose of the board, and assume the bow and arrow position. Fully extending the front arm while sheeting in with the back hand, as if you were drawing back the string on a bow and arrow. Once the board is pointing in the new direction, slide the front foot back behind the mastbase and resume your normal sailing position.

SHORTBOARD: The earlier the transition is made, the more you will have to sheet the sail in to catch wind. You may even find yourself hanging out over the water trying to catch wind. Stay as low as you can, and push laterally across the deck with the toes of the front foot while trying to pull the board underneath your body with the back foot. Remember to keep your arms extended.

by Mark Archer

Mark Archer has been teaching windsurfing for the past 12 years sails. He roams the world as the Instructional Editor and Chief Instructor for American Windsurfer Magazine Clinic Tour. You will find many of his instructional pieces in upcoming issues.