Since the power of the sail needs to be transferred to the board you have two options. Use your arms only, or get assistance from a harness. Not only can a harness relieve your arms. It can help transferring power from boom to board more efficient. There is actually a lot to choosing the right harness. I did some research on how to choose a harness that matches your needs.
So, what matters when picking the right harness? Basically you will have to choose between a waist and a seat harness. Furthermore there are choices to be made regarding parts of the harness that have impact on, among other things, the support and the comfort it provides. Important features are the Spreader Bar, Multiple point load dispersion system and the Velcro straps. I share info on these and more in this blog.
Maybe you already have a harness and you consider buying a new one. Or maybe you have never tried windsurfing with a harness. Either way it is important to understand what features you need and why to make a good choice.
Basically there are two types of windsurfing harnesses. The seat harness and the waist harness.
The left picture shows a windsurfer with a seat harness. The right picture shows a waist harness. Notice that the seat harness is worn lower on the body and has straps between the legs to keep it in place.
Differences Between Waist and Seat Harness
The names actually tell the biggest difference. The waist harness is worn around the waist. That is higher than the position of the seat harness which is worn at butt height. The seat harness has straps around the legs to keep it in place. Without them the harness could be lifted up by the force of the harness lines.
Waist harnesses are worn by windsurfers who want choose flexibility over support. Typically that goes for intermediate and experienced windsurfer mainly in the freeride, freestyle and wave discipline. Because the hook is worn higher on the body it is easier to hook in and out of the lines. That could be a reason for beginners to use a waist harness. On the other hand, lowering the boom when learning to sail with a seat harness can lessen this problem.
Seat harnesses provide more support around the lower body. That comes in handy for beginner, race and slalom windsurfers. The extra support is great for beginners. Racers and slalom windsurfers often like all the support they can get and like to have the boom low and close to the body. Helpful if they want to sheet in hard. That way they can make maximum use of their leg power when transferring power from boom to board.
On the other hand, decades ago beginner windsurfers often used seat harnesses. But nowadays I also see beginners wearing waist harnesses. Probably because the quality of the harnesses has improved. Waist harnesses have become more and more supportive. They have become wider and the materials used are more stiff. To me wearing a good waist harness feels like wearing a supportive brace.
Apart from the exact position on the body where the different harnesses are worn there are other differences.
A waist harness can give pressure on the lower ribs or at the spine. I had one that really annoyed me by pressing my lower ribs when I was sailing upwind. The solution to this issue was easy in my case. I needed another shape of harness, that spread the pressure in a different way across my body surface. Luckily both types of harnesses com in a large variety of sizes and shapes. The new harness was really supportive without having any annoying pressure points.
Seat harnesses have straps between the legs. These keep the harness in a lower position. This means the boom is pulled lower when sailing. As a result the whole body position is a bit different. It might be a little harder to hook in to the lines though, since the hook worn is lower on the body. Further away from the lines.
This was a reason why I couldn’t say that the seat harness has only advantages for beginners. A waist harness might be easier when hooking in and out of the lines. Probably resulting in less space between the knees and the boom. When sailing in waves that can be a disadvantage. During jumps it can also be a downside. In both scenario’s the knees can come up and hit the boom easier when it is lower.
But, if you just want to blast over relatively flat water with maximum power, the seat harness can be a great option. Since your weight does a lot of the work, your arm and back muscles get more of a break. The lower centre of effort can help when you want to sheet in hard. Pulling a race or freeride sail close to the board.
And if you are learning, the extra support can be beneficial. Moreover the weight doing more of the work, instead of arm and back muscles, can be nice when learning. Since pulling the sail out of the water or water starting might require a large portion of your muscle power.
Both types have one thing in common for sure: They should fit very well to maximize the help they provide. Try them on before buying! Perhaps even when wearing your suit. Details make champions, right?
Difference Between a Kite and Windsurf Harness
Although harnesses for windsurfing and kitesurfing might look similar to the untrained eye, they are not.
A little online research thought me that the main differences can be found in:
- Spreader bar: kitesurf harnesses sometimes have slider bars. The attachment point for the lines can move from left to right. This has advantages for kite boarders but I have never come across a windsurfer using it.
- Leaches at the back: kitesurf harnesses can come with a leach around the back side. To windsurfers this is just extra weight.
- Attachment point(s) for the safety hook of a kite are part of the kitesurf harness. Again, windsurfers only use the spreader bar at the front.
- Knife! I have come across kitesurf harnesses with a knife built into it. Might be helpful when you are wrapped up in lines. But when windsurfing, a beer opener for after the session might be more relevant 😉 .
- It looks like kite harnesses might have a little more flotation build into them. Just for when the kiter is in the water relaunching or so.
- At some forums I learned that kite harnesses provide more support because the kite can lift the surfer up in the air, completely out of the water.
- Shapes can be a bit different as well, providing support in a little different way.
As you can see there are quite some differences between windsurf an kite harenesses. So, if it was up to me, I would just buy a windsurf harness for windsurfing. Trusting manufacturers to know what they are doing.
Unless I only had budget for one harness, and I would like to practice both wind and kite surfing. Than the kite harness would be my choice. I have tried windsurfing with a kite harness and it worked fine for me. It’s a personal choice. See for yourself what works for you.
In any case, since harnesses come in a lot of shapes, sizes and colours it´s probably best to go to a shop where you can try a few ones on. I just hope that the info I share helps you to better understand what to look for, and what questions to ask when choosing.
Choosing a Waist Harness
When choosing a waist harness there are a few specific areas of concern.
Fit: Harnesses come in sizes from Extra Small to Extra Large. Choosing the exact right size is important. A harness around you waist that is to small will be uncomfortable and might encumber breathing. For girls there can be additional issues with harnesses that move up while windsurfing.
On the other hand, if the size is to large, the harness might shift around the body and complicate windsurfing doing so.
Support: Once you have the right size, you are not there yet. Different models provide a different amount of support, often at slightly different place.
The width of the harness, the stiffness of the materials used and the exact shape influence this. Of course your own body maters to. Harnesses have different inner support structures. These can vary in the extend in which they are pre curved.
The harness that fits you perfect might hurt the lower ribs of your friend while sailing upwind.
To find out which one fits best I guess you will just have to try them in. Preferably over your wetsuit. Perhaps you can ask someone to hold a boom with lines in front of you. That way you can feel how the harness behaves when you hang on a harness line.
Spreader Bar (support): the spreader bar is an important part of the deal. Cheaper or older models can have ‘just an metal bar with a hook’. More advanced models have a wider bar attached over a fortified spreader bar pad. This pad can spread the forces and can help avoid peak pressure points while doing so.
Multiple point load dispersion system. The spreader bar is attached on two sides to the harness. This can be done using multiple straps. More straps, placed in a divergent configuration can help spread the force over the whole width of the harness back. Just check the point where the bar is clicked on. Is it attached with multiple straps pointing at the top and bottom of the harness structure?
Velcro straps: The spreader bar is attached left and right to the harness structure. That way it closes the circle around the body. For more support harnesses have Velcro straps under the spreader bar. These often have some elastic in them so you can fit them around your body and create a little tension to keep everything in place.
Nice, wide and padded Velcro straps, in my experience, provide nice grip. They can also assist the spreader bar plate in absorbing pressure from the metal bar to the body.
Choosing a Seat Harness
Ok. So what is there to say about actually choosing a seat harness?
When choosing a seat harness there are a few specific considerations. I take the risk of repeating myself a bit to offer greater satisfaction for those who skipped the waist part above. I left out a few things that I already mentioned above, since they also go for the seats, though.
Fit: As with the waist, fit is important. Many brands offer sizes from Extra Small to Extra Large. Choosing the exact right size is worth spending some time on. Perhaps visiting another shop when in doubt.
Harnesses have different built in support structures. They offer most value if they fit right. The same goes for eventual lower back support parts.
I trust that I don’t have to mention the importance of the having a great fit when it comes to the straps between your legs 😉 .
Support: As mentioned, the inner support structures can vary. Because most human bodies are pretty different, it might be a good idea to test the fit of harness with your body. Shops often have a boom with a line on it, for testing how the harness feels when hooked in.
Spreader Bar, Multiple point load dispersion system and Velcro straps: I feel the same thing goes for the seat harness as the info mentioned above describing the waist harness.
Adjustable ergonomic leg straps: Unlike the waist versions, the seat harnesses have straps that go around the legs. I have tested several seats and I found the fit, and the quality of these straps important. Possibilities to adjust them can be nice if you switch between swimming shorts and a wetsuit. A little padding can provide extra help preventing skin irritations.
When to Start Using a Windsurfing Harness?
In the old day’s I was told to use a harness only when I got more experience. A few years ago I saw kids having their first lessons already wearing a harness. I had seen the instructor ripping it up in the waves the day before. So to me it seemed he knew what he was doing.
“Why do you let them where a harness?” I asked. His answer got me thinking.
Because, he said, people tend to make too much of an issue of harnesses. If I keep telling them it is for experienced surfers only, they get nervous using it.
So instead, I let them get used to harnesses right away. Now they just hook in when they feel it’s OK. If you don’t make a big deal of things, people learn them faster.
I never thought ‘life lessons’ could be learned while just watching someone teach windsurfing. It looked seriously like this dude had a point. Curious how you feel about it!
What is the best harness line position?
No matter how great your harness is, without well positioned harness lines it’s hard to benefit from it. So, where should you put your lines?
Some sails have markers on the that show you exactly where to put the lines. Most windsurfers I know just rig their sail, and then feel where the lines do their work best. I know a few wave windsurfers that adjust the lines very loosely so they can readjust their position quickly with one hand while sailing.
Personally I just stand on the beach and try to hold my boom with one hand. I place the lines at the exact spot where holding the boom one handed feels balanced.
As you can see in many video’s, more experienced windsurfers place their lines pretty close together on the boom. Especially in the wave and freestyle discipline. This, too me, creates an effect like being pulled by one, single, cable. It feels easier to rotate or adjust how open/close I have it, the sail slightly.
Slalom windsurfers, especially when sailing in high wind conditions seem to put 2 or even 4 inches between them. To me it feels like I have more control over a sail when I test this setup.
I guess you will have to find out for yourself what feels best for you in various conditions. While sailing at various spots around the globe I have seen many surfers placing the ends of the lines more than 4 inches/10 cm apart while learning sailing in wave or choppy conditions. If you are one of them, perhaps it’s worth giving it a try to put the lines a bit closer together. Just to see if the extra bit of sail manoeuvrability and liveliness, is worth it for you.
What is the best harness lines length?
‘Longer lines are better’ is what I have heard a lot over the last 10 years. How long should the harness lines be? That depends on your body length and especially the length of your arms. I started windsurfing with lines that I could put my under arm in when they were attached to the boom. Later on I was advised to use lines the length of my underarm including the palm of my hand. I bought them enthusiastically but immediately found out the step was to big for me. Gradually building up the length was what worked for me. I now sail with lines that I can put my underarm and two/third of my hand palm in. That works great for me.
Lesson learned: longer lines provide with more space between the boom and the body while sailing. This creates the possibility to hold the sail more forward. Pulling the body more in the right direction. It is also easier to keep planing in a wind lull with longer lines due to the better sail position. Manoeuvrability and longer lines also improve leg space under the boom. As a result I was better able to sail in waves and through large chop. For me it took a while to get used to longer lines. So learning step by step was nice. Perhaps adjustable harness lines can save a lot of money in this process. These can be found in the recommended product session if you like.