Welcome to Paradise!

The First Steps Toward Pure Enjoyment of Windsurfing

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This transformation normally begins with a widening of the eyes, followed by the closing of the ears to any advice that may hinder their speed to the water. At this stage, their tongues begin to slide out of their mouths and a slight drool begins to run down their chins. Tunnel vision sets in and the final stages of the “I gotta’ sail now syndrome” begins. The only meaning to life is to get into a pair of shorts, put on a harness, grab the closest board and sail and run to the water as fast as possible.

The next sighting of our hapless vacationers occur between one and four hours later when they return to the beach with swollen red eyes, [due to poorly applied sun block], hands blistered and torn, [from the lack of protection], twisted ankles, [from poorly adjusted footstraps], and forearms swollen to twice the size of Popeye’s [from not properly setting up their harness lines]. Their faces reveal a look of frustration from constant catapults [due to their booms being too high] or their inability to plane in anything but the greatest of gusts [due to their boom being too low].


“Well”… I say to them…“WELCOME TO PARADISE.”

To get the most out of your vacationing experience, be sure to take a little time to get yourself, and your equipment, ready before hitting the water. These simple precautions will greatly enhance your windsurfing pleasure. Keep in mind, most rental centers have their boards and sails set up nicely but you never know who was using the equipment before you. The adjustments they’ve made may suit them but not your physical size and sailing style. These adjustments mainly apply to the harness lines, boom height and foot strap size. So next time you go on one of your hard earned windsurfing vacations, follow these tips and maximize your sailing time and enjoyment.

Applying sun block:

Fact: Salt water does not burn your eyes but sun block does. When applying sun block to your forehead be sure that it is rubbed in well and apply sparingly when close to your eyebrows.


Unless you already have a good build up of callus on your hands, chances are you are going to get blisters unless you protect them properly. Two methods that work well are gloves and the less obvious, duct tape.

Gloves: One pair of gloves will greatly reduce the risk of blisters but it will not totally eliminate the problem. Gloves tend to stick to the boom and allow some friction on the palm of your hand, which may cause some blistering. Two pairs of gloves, however, will work much better, as the first pair grips the boom and the second pair protects the hands. This eliminates the friction and greatly reduces the chance of blisters. The only drawback with using gloves is that they have a tendency to bunch up in the palms of your hands which makes holding on to the boom quite uncomfortable.

Duct tape: The unlikely, ultimate solution. A gift from the gods. That wonderful, shinny, silver tape which has more uses than anything else known to mankind, can also be the best way to keep your hands blister free. If applied correctly, duct tape will stay on all day long. I have seen many different application methods. Some people have developed it into a true art form while others have made themselves look like the Tinman from the Wizard of Oz.

On the left are some simple, basic tips which will make your sailing much more pleasurable. Keep in mind that you will need a pair of scissors to cut the tape off and liberate your hands at the end of the day.



Harness lines:

Correct positioning and length of the harness lines can make or break your sailing session. You may be the greatest windsurfer out there, but if your lines are set up poorly, you’re in for a hard time. Poorly positioned harness lines will greatly increase your fatigue and cause unnecessary frustration. For this reason, it is important that you get this right. Try to spend the first ten minutes of your time on the water devoted to finding the balance point of the sail and positioning your harness lines accordingly.

Note: People new to using a harness will find it more comfortable and less intimidating to sail with their harness lines a little further forward on the boom. But once you are sailing in the footstraps and aim to sail with maximum efficiency, please follow the guide below.

Positioning: Be warned though, don’t try to make a judgement on the position of your harness lines until you have sailed with your sail fully sheeted in and powered up. (Fully sheeted in means: the foot of the sail should be running along the deck of the board catching all of the wind available.) Reason? If the sail is not fully sheeted in, the center of effort will be further forward in the sail, causing you to sail in a much more inefficient and uncomfortable manner.

While sailing in this position, try to find the point at which you feel an even balance of force on both hands. This is the balance point which is what you are looking for. Also, when judging the position of the lines, try to keep your hands as close together as possible. This will help you to become more sensitive to the center of effort. If your harness lines are positioned correctly, ideally you should be able to take your hands off the boom while sailing without a problem. Warning: This should not be attempted until you have found the true balance point and are 100% confident in your harnessing abilities.

When adjusting your harness lines, try to move both buckles of the lines together (in unison) to avoid having them spread too far apart. Also, to avoid overcompensation, never adjust them more than half an inch at a time.

The basic rule of harness line positioning is to move the harness lines towards the pain. For example, if you find yourself fighting with your front hand, try moving your harness lines forward an inch. The same goes for your back hand.

Tip: most people have their harness lines set too far forward.

Length: As far as harness line length goes, the shorter your lines are, the more you are forced to commit to the harness. This means you are more likely to be in a more comfortable sailing position because you are taking the load of the sail with your harness rather than your hands and are truly “riding” the sail. When your lines are longer, the tendency is to use your arms more than necessary. For this reason, the beginner will find longer lines less intimidating, plus easier to hook in and out of. Then, as comfort and commitment increase, you should gradually begin to shorten your lines.

By the time that you are sailing in your footstraps your harness lines should be no longer than elbow to watchstrap. This is the minimum length required to gain 100% commitment to the harness.  Start with longer harness lines, then gradually shorten them as you begin to gain confidence and commitment with the harness.

Remember, the balance of weight over the board comes from the weight of the rig and the sailor. The ideal is to have the weight of the rig and the sailor working as closely as possible in unison. The length of the harness lines has a lot to do with this. Give your lines a try, by adjusting from long to short. You will be amazed at how much easier and more comfortable it is to sail with you lines adjusted as short as possible. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.



Boom height:

The boom needs to be adjusted to somewhere between your shoulders and your chest. The lighter the wind is, the higher the boom should go. This will help you to hang off the boom more, which will, in turn, help you to apply more mast foot pressure and de-weight your feet effectively making you a little lighter on the board. As the wind gets stronger, you may want to lower your boom. This will help to keep more of your weight on your feet, giving you greater control of the board and the rig in higher winds.

One comment that I overheard in regard to boom height was when a friend of mine, Giovani, was helping an elderly lady to adjust her boom. He explained to her that without the mast foot being attached to the sail, it was a good idea to set the boom up at chest height. Giovani then went on to say that once the mastfoot was attached, this would place the boom somewhere between her chest and shoulder. The lady thought for awhile, then replied, “Does this mean that older women should use a boom in a lower position?”  



Footstrap size is very important as far as sailing comfort and safety are concerned. Your footstraps are what connects you to the board. The fit should be as solid and as comfortable as possible. Adjusting them too tight will feel like trying to put your hands into your pockets while wearing a pair of boxing gloves. If you adjust them too loose, however, you will run the risk of having your feet being trapped in the straps when you fall, leading to a possible ankle injury. They should be adjusted to a point where you can get your feet in and out with relative ease but not to the point where your feet have extra room to move around.

You should have your one and only connection to the board be as solid as possible. Remember, your feet are how you control your board. Make that control as effective as possible with proper footstrap adjustment.

So now that you have applied your sun block to your forehead, and rubbed it in well, duct taped your hands up, checked your boom height, made sure that your footstraps fit your feet nice and snug, checked on the length and positioning of your harness lines, it’s time to go to the water for that final ten minute check-up on your harness line position, to be sure that they are truly balanced correctly.

Then it’s time to enjoy your dream vacation, with the sun, sand, wind and water. Remember the phrase, no pain no gain? Well, this should have no place in your windsurfing. It should go more like: No pain, everything to gain.

Welcome to paradise

Mark Archer has been teaching windsurfing for the past 12 years.Originally from North Lincolnshire, England, Archer sails around 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. ED


by Mark Archer

Originally from North Lincolnshire, England, Archer sails around 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. He has been teaching windsurfing for the past 12 years,

photos by John Chao

Publisher/Editor of American Windsurfer is a former photojournalist for GEO, National Geographic and Time-Life Magazines.