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Posted by on Aug 30, 2019 in Equipment, Technique |

SAFETY CHECKS – 5 checks before WINDSURFING

We all know the rush of trying to get out on the water. You just got a day off work and the forecast looks great, so you speed down to the nearest shore to get out as soon as you can. But in the rush of rigging and prep, it’s important not to forget about basic windsurfing safety! In today’s article, we’ll have a look at 5 crucial safety checks to do before you go out. These will include some basic equipment checks, as well as your ability to handle what the weather might bring. So let’s get started!

1. The Wind

Might seem like an obvious one, but it’s easy to overlook worsening weather conditions or changing wind when you’re lured in by those sweet sweet WindGuru stars. However, a great looking forecast can easily drag you into the middle of a thunderstorm if you forget about safety!

First and foremost, check the overall wind speed for the day. As outlined in our recent article on what conditions to look for, you just need to be honest with yourself. If you know you’re a beginner, going out in 25 kts might not be such a great idea. Similarly, if you want to go out on a sub-70 litres board in marginal conditions, you’re gonna have a bad time.

However, because the weather is a very complex thing, it’s not enough to just look at the average wind speed. When reading the wind forecast, it is important to pay attention to three things: gusts, direction changes and changes in strength. An irregular, gusty off-shore wind that dies down as the day goes on is a recipe to get yourself in trouble.

Windguru.cz is a well known source of wind forecast – not always accurate, but gives you the big picture!

If the forecast page looks intimidating to you, with all the numbers and colours, don’t panic! The good people from Tantrum Kitesurfing have put together a handy guide to reading wind forecasts. Go ahead, give it a read and you can read the charts like a pro!

2. The Weather

Similarly to the wind conditions, it is important to be aware of the weather! The biggest safety hazard one has to be aware of is the possibility of a lighting storm. They often show up as periods of strong winds and thus lure unassuming windsurfers onto the water. Meanwhile, the wet, conductive mast sticking out a couple of meters above the surface of the water is a prime spot for a lighting strike…

Lighting bolt hitting the water near a yacht

Other violent events such as hail and heavy rain can also make windsurfing a lot more dangerous. However, there’s also a much simpler thing that one needs to account for: the temperature! Knowing how hot or cold it will get during your session is key to choosing the correct outfit: from a thick wetsuit to a rash vest and board-shorts. If faced with a dilemma, it’s better to go thicker – hypothermia is a lot bigger problem on the water!

3. The Tides

Being aware of the tide is extremely important when going out windsurfing. Getting on the board at the wrong time can be a serious thread to your safety! Best case scenario, like in Poole Harbour, tide going out will grant you a long walk back. However, in slightly less safe spot, there are much worse dangers waiting!

Flood vs ebb current animation for water sports safety
The illustration presents the daily current changes and how it affects floating objects.
|NOAA|

The tide coming in and out moves massive amounts of water back and forth, dragging anything it comes across with. And if the wind dies down or you loose your fin, there’ll be nothing stopping it from taking you with! Moreover, in certain conditions, the underwater terrain can create strong currents, that amplify the effects of tides. On another note, a high tide can easily hide underwater obstacles such as rocks and reef, that can pose a massive safety issue.

So what to do? One solution is to check the tide times online to be aware of when the movement of water will turn. However, the plain data won’t tell you about the particularities of your chosen spot – but it’s locals can! Before you head out, it’s worth chatting to other people at the beach, who might be familiar with its dangers. Whether its a dangerous spot with shallow rocks or a strong outbound currents, being aware of it is the first step to avoiding trouble!

4. Equipment safety

Universal Joint (UJ)

If you’re only going to check one bit of your kit, please check this one! The humble, small UJ (also known as baseplate or deckplate) doesn’t usually get much attention. However, anyone who’s seen a rig detach from the board know just how important it is to keep it in good condition!

The simple safety check is to bend your UJ in all directions, looking for signs of cracks, cuts or even dried-out rubber. The same test works for both Bogie as well as Tendon type joints. Any defects (see photo below) mean that the part is reaching the end of its life. And for your own safety, DO NOT go out with a kinda ok UJ – buy a new one.

cracked bogey joint, safety hazard
If your UJ looks anything like this one – throw it out and buy a new one!
|Seabreeze.com.au|

At this point, it’s also good to check the condition of the safety ropes/straps on the joint. Because they are the backup to the joint itself, they can safe your life if the rubber link breaks far out at the sea.

The webbing strap and ropes are what holds the joint together in case the rubber link fails
|Unifiber|

Ropes

rope in bad condition, fluffy and worn, safety hazard

Speaking of ropes, check them all around your rig: downhaul, outhaul and up haul while you’re at it! Especially the downhaul works under such high tension, that any visible wear and tear can make it snap. If you’re already out by the shore and you notice your downhaul is worn out, don’t worry! An old trick is to flip the rope around, so that the damaged part ends up outside of the mast foot. This both ensures safety and saves you some money.

Fins, sails, screws…

Finally… (please excuse the pun) it’s time to check everything else. Tighten the fin bolt and the screws holding your footstraps to the board. Make sure the air vent is screwed in and secured. Give the UJ a tug to make sure its tightened well to the deck. Get your sail and let’s go! But wait! Just one more thing…

5. Check yourself!

The most important part of the windsurfing equation is the windsurfer! No amount of weather, conditions and equipment checks are going to answer the question of whether or not YOU are ready to rock.

First and foremost, be honest with yourself about your ability. No one benefits from being a tough guy and pretending you’re in Red Bull Storm Chase might quickly turn into the coast guards risking their lives to save yours! For example, I wouldn’t recommend going out onto tall waves without the ability to waterstart with ease and solid carve gybes.

Furthermore, even if you’ve got the skills, that doesn’t guarantee your safety. Make sure you’re not too exhausted, that you’ve fuelled your body with plenty of energy and water. Even if you think the session will be chilled and calm, you need to have a good energy reserve in case something bad happens.

Safety – better together!

Following the 5 step check above will help to make sure you’re ready to go. However, it does not make you invincible to accidents and injuries. That’s why, the final safety note is to try to go windsurfing in a group and pay attention to other surfers on the water. Windsurfers are a tight, friendly community that has the potential to safeguard itself from many dangers.

Stay safe and happy windsurfing!


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