Thinking that great gear is only for advanced windsurfers, is a mistake easily made. Beginner windsurfers really benefit from gear that fits their needs perfectly. Matching gear can improve learning and avoid the loss of motivation. So I decided to share the information I have on choosing the perfect beginner sail and rig.
So, what is important when choosing a beginner rig? Important features while choosing a beginner windsurf rig are:
- Sail size
- Sail type
- Mast size fitting sail size
- Boom size matching sail size
- The fit between the rig and the board of choice
Over the years I have thought windsurfing at various locations with very different rigs. Sails that were just too big, or oversized masts and booms can make learning much more difficult than necessary. This goes especially when teaching kids who lack body strength to compensate for clumsy rigs. Read on, and learn about how to use the above list of features to pick a sail that will improve windsurfing and fun.
The size of the sail really matters a lot when learning the beginning of windsurfing. Having said that, it is important to distinguish between the first lessons, and the ones after that that. The first few lessons are really about pulling the sail up and sailing away. Depending on the speed of learning, the lessons after that can be more about different courses, tacking, jibing and planing.
My experience with the first lessons (Check the blog about the 3 step system to get on the board and sail away easy, if you like) is that often sails are used that are too big. When teaching an absolute beginner these questions can help determine if the sail size is right:
- Do they have difficulty pulling the sail up from the water?
- Do they get pulled of the leeward side of the board by the sail?
- Are your students struggling with the sail in general?
- Are they standing in a leaned forward position?
If the answer to these question is ‘YES’, that might indicate that a smaller, lighter rig could improve learning. Personally I like to start teaching with a small and lightweight rig. Gradually choosing bigger sizes when the pupil needs them.
Example: Recently I was teaching a adult woman. Her bodyweight was around 138 lbs / 62,5 kg. We started off with the 3.5 m2 sail that the guy from the rental station had given her. Even though we had a 8 knots wind, the answer to the first two questions above was ‘YES’. So, we immediately asked for a 2,5 m2 sail. This sail was smaller and had a matching super light mast and boom. That made the first 2 hours of lessons way easier. As a result her confidence and motivation, that had started to drop in the first 15 minutes, grew. Why use a sail that is bigger than necessary? There is not a speed record to be broken, and nobody needs to be planing in the first lessons.
After she had mastered the first basics, like pulling up the sail and sailing away, she felt like a little more sail power could come in handy while learning how to tack. Therefore we took a 3.5 m2 sail for the next lessons. This time we picked one with a lighter mast and boom than we started off with.
My example indicates that it is wise to rent or borrow a smaller sail for the first lesson if you only want to buy one sail. After the basic have been mastered one can buy a sail that is appropriate for the next lessons.
There are many different types of sails. Important features for beginners are: manoeuvrability, light weight, easy trimming, and over all easy handling. Therefore, race and slalom sails are less desirable. Especially when they have cambers!
Special beginner sails are often the best choice for kids. They are very light in weight, small sized and easy to trim. The DuoTone (former NorthSails) ‘Drive-Cloth’ is a nice example of a sail that is especially designed for schooling. They come in sizes from 1 m2 up to over 6 m2 in the 2019 edition.
For older kids, adolescents and adults a (second hand) wave sail, freestyle sail or a ‘no camber’ freestyle sail can do the trick. An example of an all round, no camber, freestyle sail is the Naish ‘Sprint’. As you can see at the website they come in sizes from 5.2 m2. That could be fine for heavier and stronger beginners sailing in light winds. Perhaps after a few starter lessons with a smaller sail.
Wave sails like the Naish ‘Force V’ also have great handling while they are available in sizes upward from 4 m2. That could be an advantage for lighter windsurfers with a little less muscle power.
Mast Size Fitting Sail Size
to feel the importance of the right mast size just imagine lifting a bottle of milk. Easy right? Now imagine you are lifting that same bottle at the end of a 4 meter stick. This is much harder. We are talking the law of the lever here. If the arm (in our case the mast) used to lift something up, is longer it requires more power to lift the same weight. As a result, a longer mast is just harder to lift out of the water. Moreover longer masts have a different bending curve. So, a sail that is made for a short mast will just not be rigged optimally on a longer one. More info can be found in the paragraph ‘Choosing The Right Mast’ in this blog.
Boom Size Matching Sail Size
The outhaul of the sail is attached to the end of the boom. If the sail touches the boom there is no room for the sail to move within the boom. As a result the sail has a stable aerodynamic shape. If the boom is too long, the outhaul lines between the end of the sail and the attachement point of the boom, allows the end of the sail to move. As a result the sail can become much less stable. The end of the sail moves between the tubes of the boom. This has a negative impact on the handling. It is making the sail less predictable. Also the transfer from power to speed can become less smooth.
The same goes for the boom being too short. In this case the sail doesn’t get its aerodynamic wing shape as it should. Booms that are to short often result in the sail flapping around. Making it very unpredictable and much harder to sail.
The law of the lever that I mentioned when discussing the right mast also goes for the boom. As a result lighter and shorter booms offer benefits in ease of handling. A 1.0 or a 1.5 m2 sail can have boom lengths around 114cm and a mast length around 200. Using recommended lengths can make the sail feel much better than if one would use a 140cm boom and a 290cm mast.
Sails can really differ in the way they respond to surfers moves and wind changes. Sails that are easy handling are designed to:
- Get pulled or lifted out of the water easy;
- Are easy to control on all courses and while executing manoeuvres like tacks and jibes;
- Offering stability in sub planing and in planing rides;
- Turn the wind power into speed gradually, so the windsurfer is not surprised by a large increase in power at once.
Rig Fitting With The Board of Choice
Manufacturers that produce beginner sails and rigs vary in the specific board type they advise the sail for. Some, like Simmer produce a beginner sail and mention the use on windsurf boards. Others, like Unifibre offer a windsurf beginner rig and a special windsurf/SUP rig. The latter being a bit more heavy and less appropriate for planing. The advantage of the windsurf/SUP crossover is its compact size (when travelling). Mistral mentions a beginner sail, the Revival, that is designed for windsurfing and they claim it can also be used on their (inflatable and hardboard) windsurf/SUP boards.
I can be very short on weight. In my experience, the lighter the rig, the easier the handling. That goes for the sail as well as the complete rig. Compact rigs are also easier to handle (and often lighter). So, a 1.0m2 sail, might be more easy to handle than you might expect for a small, lightweight surfer than a 1.5m2 or a 2.0m2 sail.
For beginner windsurfers durability is a factor to be reckoned with. Durability comes for a large part from materials used. Dacron and monofilm are materials used by large manufacturers for beginner rigs.
Some manufactures, like Duotone use a Dacron Venyl construction. Claiming that it is virtually indestructible and flexible. Flexibility can help deliver a smooth transfer from power to speed. Some brands, like Unifibre, use monofilm for the beginner rigs. Mistral uses a Dacron Monofilm combination for its beginner sail the ‘Revival’. Monofilm reduces weight. I believe Dacron is more ‘indestructible’. That is extra important when using the sails for rental or professional schools.
Most rigs and sail that were designed for the smallest, entry level, windsurfers have a relatively small opportunity for trimming the sail. The ‘Nova Rig Pack’, for example, by BIG sports has a boom with a fixed length. Just attach the sails outhaul and downhaul, and they claim you are good to go.
If you are a bit heavier and stronger and you learn windsurfing with a small wave, freestyle or freeride sail, this all changes. These sails often have outhaul and downhaul settings that can vary a few cm. By changing the settings, for example a little less outhaul (within the recommended range) the sails profile becomes a little more powerful. Possibility to trim the sail can be nice if you want to increase the wind range within which you can use the sail.
Checking manufacturers info on the specific (second hand) sail that you consider to buy might be wise. Some manufacturers have the older models still on their website. For the purpose of this blog I did a quick online search in 2019. Doing so I have seen descriptions of sail specs and features going back to 2016 models.
For your convenience I will discuss two other items concerning beginner rigs. Instead of buying a sail, mast and boom apart, one can buy a complete rig at once. Some brands even offer complete windsurf/SUP sets. In my experience learning goes best on a stable hardboard with an appropriate sail. Complete, high quality rigs can be very appropriate for this purpose since they are tailor made for the purpose of schooling.
Some brands make the life of beginner windsurfers extra easy by offering complete rigs. An example is the Simmer ‘Quest’ Rig. Unifibre offers one too. These beginner rigs comes with a sail and matching mast and boom.
Simmer delivers the rig with a non adjustable aluminium boom. The fibreglass mast is specifically designed for the dacron sails with less mast curve.
Unifibre has a complete rig with adjustable alu boom and an aluminium mast. In case you want to teach windsurfing on a hybrid Stand Up Paddle (SUP)/ Windsurf Board, Unifibre offers the Çomplete Compact SUP Rig . It’s a bit heavier than the windsurf rigs and it’s not designed for planing. A pro is that it fit’s in a small (120cm) bag.
If you consider buying a complete rig, you might want more info on a board too. The blog ”12 Tips for Buying a Beginner Board (online)” could provide you with some great advice.
Complete Entry Level Windsurf Sets
Most big manufacturers offer individual boards, sails and sometimes complete rigs on their website. In some cases one can find a complete windsurf/SUP set for sale. These include a (inflatable) board, mast, boom, sail and sometimes even a SUP paddle. Check the Recommended Gear page for an example of a complete Windsurf/Sup inflatable set if you like.
Although complete sets could be nice for learning at entry level, I would not expect the same performance in planing conditions as the more expensive rigs discussed above. But if you are going to the beach and you just want to have some entry level fun, they might be a great option. Especially since they are a lot more compact when travelling.
How to choose the perfect beginner windsurf sail? Make sure the sail has the right size and characteristics. For kids, sail sizes start at 1 m2. Depending on the weight and strength of the student a bigger size could be better. Don’t exaggerate in the beginning. For motivation and self esteem it is often better to start small (easier to pull out of the water) and go bigger when suitable.
As an example I suggest a 2.5 or 3.0 m2 sail for an adult women with normal strength and a bodyweight around 138 lbs / 62,5 kg. A 5 year old kid could use a 1.0m2 or a 1,5 m2 sail with corresponding mast and boom for the first lessons.
Required sail characteristics are: easy handling, forgiving, lightweight and durability. Cambers are a no go since they make pulling the sail up and switching sides harder. They also might produce too much power for an entry level student. Special sails for schooling are great. Freestyle, wave and no camber freeride sails at entry level can also do the trick. The lighter mast and boom, the better. Make sure they fit the sail size wise.