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Posted by on Jul 31, 2019 in Technique |

How long does it take to learn how to windsurf?

Everybody’s different, for some people it’s easier to access the water than others and of course there’s the financial side. However, don’t let these factors put you off though! If you want to learn how to windsurf, find a way! I did a two season apprenticeship in Greece and Sardinia to gain my instructor qualifications basically for free! Now I’m back in the UK I put my kit on a bicycle trailer and cycle to the beach because I don’t have a van.

Learn how to windsurf – from zero to planing hero

For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to assume “learn how to windsurf” means planning in the harness, using both foot-straps and having control over where your going i.e staying upwind and completing most of your tacks/gybes. Once you get to this standard of windsurfing the learning curve goes upwards dramatically and you start to progress much quicker if you don’t plateau, (more on this later!)

I’m going to start at the beginning from your first lesson and talk you through my fast track method to planing in footstraps and feeling awesome…

Beginner stage – learning the basics

I would always recommend taking a full beginners windsurfing course when learning to windsurf without exception. I’ve met lots of self taught windsurfers over the years, who for various reasons never had a proper lesson and have figured it out themselves. Some of these people have figured it out reasonably well but will almost always have one or two bad habits that will dramatically hinder there progress beyond a certain point and cause their learning curve to plateau.

This just means that although they are practising, their skills aren’t actually improving. You may feel like your saving a few quid by not taking a course of maybe you’re a professional snowboarder or skiff sailor and you’re sure you’ll pick it up no problem. Trust me, everybody benefits from starting right from the beginning. Developing a solid stance early on, understanding how the wind affects the rig and how to effectively counterbalance the rigs forces are all much more difficult to learn in stronger winds on more advanced kit. Also bad habits are invariably hard to break!

Beginner’s course: What to look for?

When it comes to booking a beginner or start windsurfing course there are several options to consider to suit different people/budgets. However as a golden rule always ensure that you book it with an insured school that uses professionally trained instructors, when you learn how to windsurf. The main governing body for windsurfing in the UK is the RYA (Royal Yachting Association) and most good instructors will have been trained under their scheme. Another organisation called AALA (adventure activity licensing authority) approves providers to be allowed to teach children under 18 without their parents present, this accreditation also indicates a high set standard of safety, kit and tuition.

Slow, but steady – RYA Courses

RYA courses are typically longer, more in depth and based strictly around the RYA syllabus so the course will be very similar wherever you take it. They are also typically designed to allow for one or two sessions in which going on the water to learn how to windsurf is not an option due to bad weather. On those day, you’ll probably be sat in a classroom talking about high and low pressure weather systems instead! This lowest common denominator approach is tried and tested, so that literally anyone can learn. This is great, unless you’re ahead of the slowest progressing person in the group!

The flexible choice: non-RYA courses

However most non RYA centres compress this down to half the time or less by covering more in each session, spending less or no time in the classroom and rescheduling your course in the event of bad weather, all of which accelerate how quickly you learn how to windsurf! I have taught RYA courses before, where the whole first day was spent balancing sails on land and playing balance games on a board with no sail. This may help some people who learn very slowly or like to have their hand held every step of the way, but for the average person this can seem tedious and a waste of time and money!

For example, at Poole Windsurfing we run our beginners windsurfing course in two, three hour sessions. We suggest you do these on different days within a week or so of each other, so you have time to rest in between but still retain the information from your first lesson. All of this time is spent on the water or on the simulator.

Learn how to windsurf

Because we use a more flexible syllabus, we can set different people of different abilities different exercises in the same lesson, so everybody can progress at slightly different stages without waiting for the whole group to learn a new skill. And of course, if its too windy or there’s no wind, I won’t torture you with my synoptic chart presentation instead! I’ll call you, normally the day before, and reschedule the lesson at your convenience.

A couple learning to windsurf together, enjoying a break in their lesson. Two windsurfing sails and boards on the water, with shore panorama behind.
Poole Windsurfing’s adapts the teaching to when and how YOU want to learn.

The absolutely worst choice

The third option I see when you learn how to windsurf, normally abroad but also in Poole Harbour, is where you’re given the equipment and some vague instructions, told “you’ll be fine it’s easy” and sent out onto a busy stretch of water with no idea what you’re doing and no buoyancy aid! This is not only unsafe but puts people off for life and gives all instructors a bad name.

Learn how to windsurf – Beginner’s milestones

Any decent beginners course should get you sailing upwind confidently by the end of the course. Or if you’re not quite there, advise an action plan so you can get there as soon as possible (such as supervised windsurf hire or private windsurfing lessons). Sailing upwind is the first big milestone in learning to windsurf and it’s the most important both for your safety and future progression. If your struggling to hold your ground while your sailing or worse getting blown down wind, you will never be able to progress any further and you definitely won’t be able to windsurf unsupervised.

Beginner windsurfer - it's easy to learn how to windsurf

Once you are sailing upwind I recommend practising for at least 10 hours over no more than a few weeks (that could be 2 hours a week on a Saturday or our Thursday night windsurf club, for 5 weeks). This is so you can get comfortable on the board and build up muscle memory of your existing skills before you learn anything new.

Lessons and courses: how much makes sense?

It also gives you a chance to watch others and learn from them (this is how the pros learn!) You might benefit from more lessons if your still not sure about the technique, but I find that after 6 hours of me telling people to keep their back straight, they know they need to keep their back straight! It’s just a case of getting your muscles to accept what your brain is telling them to do, and me repeating the same instructions over and over can actually be really frustrating and off putting. If after two or three hours of practice you feel like you’ve plateaued, it’s probably a good idea to book another windsurf lesson. But I would strongly advise booking it privately and not another beginners course, as the instructor will be able to focus on your specific needs rather than repeating your first lesson.

Improver to Intermediate Stage

Once you’ve practiced for 10 hours or more, your learning curve has probably flattened off and you’re ready to move onto the next stage of progression! So it’s time to book some more lessons! Again, what an RYA centre will recommend and what a smaller centre like Poole windsurfing will recommend vary but neither is necessarily wrong, it depends on the needs and learning style of the student.

Windsurfer learns to use a harness on an advanced sail. Fast moving, on water, windsurfing.

The RYA recommends a whole seasons practice before you move onto an intermediate course, which is great if you have access to the kit regularly. In reality though most RYA centers will book you onto an intermediate course after just a brief assessment of your windsurfing ability. And you may find that after a season patiently getting yourself to a decent standard, you’re on a 5 day course with someone who windsurfed a bit 10 years ago and exaggerated there ability to get onto the course, and maybe someone who does an intermediate course on holiday every year for fun and has no aspirations to go further.

At Poole Windsurfing we break our intermediate course down into 2 hour improver windsurf lesson modules. Typically the first one will be using a harness and beach starts, then the second will be improved tacks and gybes but you we can break these down further and add more to suit individual needs. At this stage I recommend taking one of these lesson modules (eg. non planning carve gybe) and then practising it until it’s instinctual before you move on (I won’t recommend an amount of practice hours as each person is different and so is each skill). After practising until you’re satisfied, you can book yourself onto another improver lesson (eg. harness and beachstarts) and before the lesson starts, get your instructor to check your progress from the previous lesson.

The next stage - learning how to windsurf
Beachstarts are a useful skill to learn. Because they require less effort than hauling the sail up, they let you focus your energy on learning other skills!

Advanced Stage

Learning the planning

If you keep at this method of windsurf tuition, balanced with lots of practice in a variety of conditions, you will find that you very quickly progress to a standard that the board is begging to plane in higher winds. You’ll now want to book onto a private lesson on a reasonably windy day (see What is the best wind strength to progress my windsurfing in our blog) and ask to be taught about “early planing” all this means is that you are encouraging the board to plane on its own. Once you’ve achieved and practised this, the next stage is how to use the footstraps. If you’ve followed all the stages before this, you should find that the daunting thought of lifting your feet off the board and locking them in place actually comes naturally at this stage and feels right.

Advanced windsurfer in a harness learning to use the footstraps. Large Goya sail on a 155l RRD board.
Bigger sails, smaller boards and the joy of planing!

Choose your own adventure!

From here its very much up to you and if you haven’t done so already, this is where I would recommend getting your own kit (see our next post buying your own kit and getting the most out of it). Then practising until your ready for a planning carve gybe or waterstart lesson 🙂 Just make sure you don’t let your progress plateau; by analysing your mistakes, setting yourself short term achievable goals and of course getting professional advice from your friendly local windsurf school!

~ Alex
Senior Instructor
Poole Windsurfing

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