The Zen of Becoming a Windsurfer

Now here is the highly condensed manual for a do-it-yourself course in windsurfing.

YOU ALWAYS DREAMED ABOUT IT  and never dared to do it. Now here is the highly condensed manual for a do-it-yourself course in windsurfing. Don’t expect a lot of detail, but this is the essence of one way of learning. It’s not the only way, but a safe one which lends the value of fulfillment to some of your needs for quality in your life.



Do you remember how you learned to walk? How to move your hands, your head, your shoulders, hips, and ankles..? We can be glad that we don’t have to learn it in a school, or the world would be crowded with disabled persons. Even the slightest  movement of any part of the body requires a highly complex pattern of muscle coordination. Even now, scientists aren’t able to construct a computer controlled robot who’s able to ride a bike, an easy feat for small children.

You have a mental consciousness of the brain and a physical consciousness of the body. The mental consciousness is linear. It cannot coordinate 14 muscle movements at the same time as you do when you smile (frowning needs around 80 muscles to be controlled, thus: don’t waste energy, smile!). The physical consciousness of the body can coordinate any number of muscles, so you better trust it for every kind of move.

Albert Einstein showed that energy can be transformed into matter. Modern “brain-plumbers” show that the energy of conscious thoughts can be measured. But they haven’t drawn the conclusion that consciousness, energy, and matter are different expressions of the same.

If you want to learn windsurfing by yourself, your consciousness of the body can be your best instructor to give directions to your body.


If you close your eyes, you’ll not go far without bumping into something. But even if your eyes are open, it doesn’t mean that your attention is there—you might be daydreaming. A common way of daydreaming is to think. You cannot think and pay attention at the same time. (One of the main goals in Buddhist meditation techniques is to learn to focus attention without being distracted by thoughts.)

 Thus, easy learning means to give as much information to the body consciousness as possible. The means are mainly the eyes, the ears and the inner and outer feeling system. The information gets processed by the visual part of the brain (capacity of seeing), the audio one (capacity of hearing, speaking, or inner voice) and the kinesthetic one (capacity of outer feelings, consciousness of muscle movement and position).

If you block one of these channels in a learning process for a body move, you’ll be in trouble. A common way to inhibit learning in sports is to think. It’s the illusion that mental consciousness could tell the body how to perform a move. There are thousands of books in circulation that try to feed the illusion that mental consciousness controls learning in sports. You can learn in spite of the books.

To play chess, the mind tells the body to move, e.g. to move the queen from E2 to D3. The mind is in the leading position, the body in the serving one. In windsurfing it’s different: the body makes the move, the mind follows it and gives to the body the information of the new position. The body is in the leading position and the mind in the serving one.


Learning patterns differ from person to person. Do you know your learning pattern? Do you know what’s best for you and what could block you? Western civilization puts great emphasis on the visual impact, a lower one on the audio one and even less on feelings. That means that people with a preference for the eye as a channel for information find it easy to copy and perform movements in sport, using pictures, videos, or just looking at others on the water. Those with an audio preference have at least the books, articles and video descriptions. The leftovers are people who learn from feeling or the kinesthetic information processing. Everyone typically has a mixture of these three channels with a preference for one.


If you are curious what kind of learning is best for you, try to go through the following questions:


1) Someone makes a statement. You  agree. You answer:

      a) Yeah, that looks good!

      b) Yeah, that sounds good!

      c) Yeah, I’ve a good feeling about that!

2) Now the opposite, you disagree:

       a) I don’t see it that way.

       b) I can tell you, that doesn’t work.

        c) There are many heavy arguments against it.

3.)If you want to convince someone, you say:

        a) Look , can’t you see what I’m talking  about?

        b) Listen, can’t you hear what I’m saying?

c.) Hey, can’t you feel for me?

If you find yourself picking (a) consistently, then it shows a tendency for a visual preference; if it’s (b), you’re more an audio oriented person; if (c), you lean toward feelings.

Now you can jump to the chapter which fits you most.


In our society it’s very easy to learn windsurfing because it’s mainly based on visual presentation of information.

At home you can watch videos or look at photo sequences in magazines or books. The best presentation is from the sailors point of view. The view of the spectator is easier for the photographer but much more difficult for the learner, because they have to transform an image into a position behind the booms. Don’t put too much attention on descriptions—they won’t help you much.

On water you’ll learn very fast if you have someone to follow at a short distance—the shorter the better. Instead of listening to what others tell you to do, watch yourself carefully to see what your body is doing.

• Look around you to see where the  people are.

• Check the horizon.

• Where does the nose of the board  point?

• How’s the angle of the sail to the  board?

• What’s the direction of the waves?

• Where do you place the feet? The hands?


The art for you is to find a magazine, book or a video sound track with a description of  how the body moves and not the sail or the board!

To give an example: a good description is “stretch the elbow of the forward hand and bend the other one”. A bad description would be “move the sail with the mast towards the water” .

In the first case you know what to do; in the second case not. Here you have to ask: “How?”

At home you can read good descriptions aloud, while trying to imitate them in a kind of pantomime. On the water you must repeat those words aloud while transforming them into action. While doing the moves, listen to your surroundings:

• How does the sail sound in a maneuver?

• How’s the noise of the windwaves?

• What’s the difference in between the right and left ear?

• How does the noise of the wake change during a jibe?

• What other sounds are you hearing?


Learning windsurfing (and sports in general) is a real adventure for you, because pictures and words (self-talk and writing) are of little help. But they can guide you to create the appropriate feeling pattern for the move. In performing the moves pay attention to inner experiences:

• Do you have your weight more on the left or the right foot?

• Does the sail pull more on the right or left hand?

• How’s the tension on your back, and where?

How does the weight on the right/left foot change in a move?

• Can you feel the effect of the waves  in your knees?


Preferring one of the above mentioned learning patterns means neglecting the others. The ultimate goal would be an equal use of all capacities of the human being which happens when feeling, doing and thinking become one. Then, if you sense the feelings of a person, you know the action and the thinking. If you know the thinking, you can conclude the action and the feelings. Seeing an action, you know about the feelings involved and the motives.

Once you know your learning pattern, you can work on the other channels to enhance your learning process. Some examples are given above. A ZEN-way to windsurfing demands improving the weaker senses until they all work in resonance. Then you don’t need power or a lot of muscle strength to reach high levels of windsurfing performance. The danger of being hurt is also reduced to nearly zero.



Moves you can do already.

There are very few people who want to start windsurfing that have never seen a windsurfer on the water. There’s not one single body movement in windsurfing which you aren’t able to do. You can make a step forward, backward, to the right and left, you can turn around, lift your arms, bend your knees and elbows or stretch them, turn your head to both sides etc. Conclusion: The body already knows what to do. Trust your body to perform the moves!

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Go to the place where you want to begin and swim as far outside as you want to go later on with the windsurfer. It doesn’t help you just reading these lines, you must do it. It will give you confidence later.



Most boards have instructions on how to put the sail, mast and boom together. If not, ask the person who gave you the board, and do it in their presence! On the beach, fix the sail to the board and balancethe sail on the tail of the board. Then lay yourself towards the nose and paddle around. Keep your feet on or under the sail to prevent it from slipping into the water. This exercise is a must! It’s more important than sailing because it’s a part of your security when the wind disappears or becomes too strong. You have to be able to do it before you begin step 3!



Wait for a day with little wind. (If you need a second person to keep the sail from flying away, the wind is definitely too strong!) The wind direction is not important, because steps 1 and 2 have been mastered.

Then paddle out, get your sail out of the water and sail! Yeah, that’s it. Contrary to popular belief, you can go out and windsurf, just like this!

Remember: You’ll be amazed what you can do, if you don’t know what you can’t do.


Tell someone something about skiing who has never experienced snow. Try to explain to someone the taste of a kaki fruit. Talk about sail position and board direction to someone who has never stood on a board. It’s nonsense to them. First you have to have some body experiences before any kind of instruction makes sense. If people aren’t blocked by preconceived ideas about “the right speed of learning” or by the “teacher-student-game” then 9 out of 10 people get the sail out of the water and sail without any instruction or further help. If you want to come back to the beach in case the wind doesn’t help you, just paddle (step 2).



After sailing in one direction you will want to go back. Just grab the mast, hold the sail with the elbows straightened out and move the sail permanently to one side. This makes the board turn. When the nose shows in the new direction you can start again. With little wind it can take awhile for the board to turn, so be patient!


In a car the steering is done with the steering wheel; on a windsurfer you’ll do it with the boom. In a car you turn the steering wheel to the right or to the left; on a windsurfer your point of reference is the boom–end. You lift it up into the air or you lower it to the water. Pay attention to how the board reacts.

In a car you have the gas pedal to accelerate and the brakes to slow down. To accelerate a windsurfer you turn the sail towards the board; doing the opposite will slow you down. If you come too close to other windsurfers and feel insecure, just grab the mast and wait.

Step 6
Step 6


The steering technique from step 5 can also be used to change direction. There are two ways to do it: 1) Raise the boom-end into the sky. It’s easily done if you move the back hand towards the boom-end. Wait until the board points into the new direction. Then grab the mast and let the sail swing around. Now you can sail into the new direction. 2) Lower the boom-end to the water. The board turns into the wind. At the end of the turn, step around the sail and start in the new direction.

Don’t bother with the so called “right foot position” or “perfect hand position” etc. If you are lucky enough to watch some people doing tricks on windsurf boards, you’ll realize that all this stuff cannot be important; otherwise they would not be able to perform the tricks. But there are two rules every windsurfer has to obey in order to control the direction of the board: 1) Move the end of the boom up. 2) Move the end of the boom down.



Practice, practice, practice. And then? Practice.



First rule: Beginners don’t make mistakes.

Yes! I say: Beginners don’t make mistakes.

An example: In autumn the leaves fall from the trees as a necessary step for further growth. Is that a mistake? Should they stay on the branches? Of course not. So if you fall into the water that’s a necessary step in further growth. You don’t call a little plant “a mistake” only because it has not yet reached the size of a tree!

Second rule: If you don’t fall, you’ve stopped learning.

It’s easy not to fall into the water—just stay on the beach, or be very cautious. But don’t expect to learn anything!

Third rule: Getting tired is caused by acquiring power.


Imagine you start with your car on a journey with a full tank of gas. The longer you drive, the lower the gas level. This is an example of how people think about getting tired in sports. However, imagine yourself acquiring power as you do the sport. Then the question is how much energy can you handle. When you reach the limit of your capacity to absorb the energy, that’s when you get tired. The difference is profound, in the first case you feel empty, the second you’re filled with energy.

Fourth rule: It’s ok to ask for help.

Sometimes you might find yourself in a rut, on a dead end street or in a stagnation area. Be aware that learning follows rhythms. You cannot always eat. You need time to digest. You cannot always learn—you need time to “digest” which can appear to be stagnation. But if this is not the case, it’s ok to ask for help!

Fifth rule: Look forward, keep the eyes on the horizon.

How far would you get driving a car while looking at  your feet or hands? With windsurfing it’s basically the same. If you look at your board, you bend your head forward which is a necessary move for a forward somersault. If this is not what you have in mind, keep your head up and the eyes on the horizon.

Sixth rule: Every move is right.

For every move there’s the right context. If you put a “wrong” label on a certain move, you might regret it because later on, it could be the right move to save you from an unwanted situation. So if you do something and you fall into the water, just take it naturally as a part of the learning process.

Seventh: Be satisfied with where you are.

“You can’t always get what you want, but you’ll get what you need…” said the Rolling Stones in their song many years ago. If you’re not satisfied with your present level of windsurfing, you’ll never be! Every height you’ll reach you can experience only in the present–never in the past or future. Being content with your present skill level doesn’t mean that you stop improving.


If learning to windsurf can be a do-it-yourself course why should you take a windsurfing lesson? Here are some good reasons why:

• A school can be a big help in providing proper equipment for different weather conditions.

• Some people learn better in groups because they get encouraged by the example of others.

• A teacher can point out your learning blocks before you waste valuable time.

• If you get stuck, a teacher can help with instant advice.

• A teacher can challenge you with moves you wouldn’t dare to do, thus accelerating  learning.


If you want people to build ships, make them dream of sailing the ocean”.

The same old saying is also true for the windsurfers. There is ZEN in archery, ZEN in flower arrangement, in swordfighting or in painting. For western thinkers it’s difficult to find the common parts between them. The final goal of all these exercises is to train the mental consciousness to let go of the will to control body consciousness. Masters of martial arts don’t think in their kind of sport, they just do. And if the intensity overwhelms them, they reach “Satori”, a blissful moment of value fulfillment. In windsurfing it’s reached on every level of learning: the first gliding experience, the first jibe, the first jump, the first wave ride. The will to repeat the Satori experience drives people to try new moves and yet, it can be reached with only a colorful sunset on a longboard and a calm breeze blowing down the valley while the only sound you hear is the gurgling wake behind you.

Annabella C. Hofmann was an instructor of instructors in Europe and a board member of the German Windsurfing School Association (VDWS). Her studies in Philosophy, Physics and Psychology have enhanced her teaching methods both in skiing and windsurfing. She is presently writing a book entitled “Time Spaces and Space Times”. Her mission in life is to bridge the gap between Quantum Physics and the Theory of Relativity. She lives on Lake Garda and will be a frequent contributor to American Windsurfer Magazine.

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by Annabella C. Hofmann

Annabella C. Hofmann was an instructor of instructors in Europe and a board member of the German Windsurfing School Association (VDWS). Her studies in Philosophy, Physics and Psychology have enhanced her teaching methods both in skiing and windsurfing. She is presently writing a book entitled “Time Spaces and Space Times”. Her mission in life is to bridge the gap between Quantum Physics and the Theory of Relativity. She lives on Lake Garda and will be a frequent contributor to American Windsurfer Magazine.

photos by Illustrations by Annabella Hofmann