Every time I bought a new windsurf sail I felt a certain uncertainty. There are so many different sails. How do I pick the right one? Over the last 20 years I have bought, hired and tested many sails. I also did some research on the latest trends.
Which windsurf sail to buy? A windsurf sail that fits best with your level, weight, the conditions you are going to sail in and the type of windsurfing you want to do. These have impact on sail size and type. A final tip is to match the new sail with what you already have.
Many windsurfer find it difficult to know the exact difference between sails. Often they rely on reviews and marketing stories to choose. There is actually a lot to choosing the right sail. Seemingly small differences might make a huge difference on the water.
Choosing the Right sail Type
Most brands offer different types of windsurf sails. Wave, Freestyle, Freeride, Race and Beginner are often seen type categories. Depending on the brand sub categories or crossovers are offered. Examples are free-race (freeride / race) or free-wave sails (freestyle-wave). These sails have features that make them suitable for a broader range of needs or conditions. Off course they might lose a bit of their specific qualities for a specific condition.
Wave and freestyle sail have more manoeuvrability. Wavesails often come in more than one variation per brand. I have come across subtypes like PowerWave, ControlWave and SurfWave by one brand (Goya 2019). They vary in specific characteristics and in the amount of battens. 3,4 or 5 battens are most seen. More battens give more stability, less able the windsurfer to lose a lot of power when actually ‘surfing’the wave.
Freestyle sails have special features to do tricks. Example is a higher clew for duck tricks.
Freeride and race sails provide you with more strait line speed and upwind sailing ability. They come with more battens. Five or six battens are most common. More extreme freerace sails and race sails are supplied with cambers. They increase stability and power. Flipping the sail over in a gibe or tack is harder with cambers. The same can be said about waterstarting.
I felt the more radical wave sails are better suited for pure wave riding action on nice clean waves. More radical sails might be better suited for more advanced windsurfers. By this I mean the extremer wave sails and the race sails.
Beginner sails often come in smaller lighter versions enabling youngsters to use a sail that matches less bodyweight or strength.
What is the Right Sail Size?
There is no one right size for everything. Light wind sailing requires more surface. As the knots go up smaller sails become easier to handle. There are sail size calculators online.
The board volume and type also have a lot of influence, so in my opinion all calculators give more of an indication than a exact number.
Most experienced windsurfers I know choose their size based on windspeed and board they are going to use. A 80kg/176lbs windsurfer, might plane with a 5.3 freerace sail in a 100L free-raceboard with a large fin.
The same windsurfer, in the same conditions might not get going with a 5.3 wave sail on a 80L Freestyle board.
Less experienced surfers, who can sail without a daggerboard often use freeride sails. They are easy to use sailing different directions. They also allow easier upwind sailing.
Beginners that still need a daggerboard, in my opinion, are always safe choosing a 200 or more liter volume. A sail that is relatively small will allow for mistakes and will be easier to uphaul. I suggest to not use more than 5 square meters for adult beginners. But smaller can be fine as long as the student has enough power to move forward and feel the wind. I never use cambers or race sails in beginner lessons.
Choosing the Right Material / Technology
Not only do windsurf sails come in many types. Within the type you can sometimes choose different technologies or materials used. Examples are monofilm and X-Ply. Often combined. So you can find the same sail type in a more durable (and heavier) version constructed of all X-Ply.
The lighter version has some monofilm panels next to the X-ply. X-ply and monofilm are both made out of polyester. Monofilm consists of one layer where X-ply consists of two layers laminated together with threats (in X pattern) laminated in between. Making it more robust when hitting rocks for example.
Choosing the Right Second or Third Sail
If you already have a sail and you are about to purchase the next is is wise to contemplate a little about the size and type. I keep a list of all the times I windsurf. It tells me what conditions I was in, which gear I used and a few remarks.
A list like that can tell me which sails sizes I use most often and how I experienced them. Doing so I have learned that 0,5 square meter between sails is OK for me between 3.7 and 5.3. Above that a few more square decimetres between sails works because I also use a bigger board then. If I need to buy a new sail that is larger than 5.3, I can skip one size in the manufacturers offer. Doing so I expand my window of operation without creating a ‘gap’ in my sail range.
Choosing the Right Mast
There is a lot about choosing masts. Sails are designed for usage on a specific mast. Most common bend curves are: Hard Top, Constant Curve and Flex Top. Unifiber, a dedicated mast brand, present a table on their website showing different sails and the masts that they recommend for them. It’s wise to choose the right mast type for your sail (I’m not saying anything about the brand) since masts determine a large amount of the sails performance.
Apart from bending curve, carbon percentage also matters. More carbon gives a better performance but it can make a mast more vulnerable for impact by hard surfaces. Dropping it on the tarmac might cause little cracks inside that can later result in more damage ). More carbon is also more expensive. Personally I think that 80% carbon is fine unless you are in (professional) competition.
Best Tip I Ever Had?
Test a sail before you buy! Any person is different and what feels good for somebody recommending something to you might just not be it for you. Try sails in conditions you will sail in. If possible, test them on your own mast and boom. Or at least a mast with the same bending curve and carbon percentage.
That great sail on a vacation with perfect flat water might not be your favourite in the choppy, gusty conditions you sail in at home.
Windsurf Sail Chart: Spending a few minutes on online research can deliver several sail size size charts or calculators. These give an indication of what windsurf sail size to use depending on windsurfers bodyweight and windspeed. Depending on local conditions as onshore/ offshore wind and how gusty conditions are windsurfers might choose a sail size that differs. Also boardtype, volume and the exercised type of windsurfing might lead to a different choice.
For example: two windsurfers with the same bodyweight might use sail sizes that differ more than one square meter in the same conditions. If one is a very experienced racer she might use a 7 square meter race sail with cambers in conditions where a beginner uses a 5.5 square meter beginners sail on a high volume board.
Used Windsurf Sails: can be more affordable and therefore interesting. Many brands still have the sail types of previous years on their websites so windsurfers can look up exact characteristics. Brands develop their sails so buying a sail from a few years ago might not give the windsurfer the exact same performance as the same sail of this year’s edition. Since usage and UV light can damage sails it’s wise to check for damage and repairs. Unprofessional repairs can have a negative impact on the sails performance.
Does InstructorJ give individual advice about buying a sail? No. Although I am honoured by the comments I get on this Blog, I won’t advise on individual sail choices. There are just too many variables that influence the choice. That makes it to risky to just chat a few lines and hope the advice will work.
My experience is that it requires quite a bit of desk research (reading test for example) and some testing to make a choice. Moreover I have always found it helpful to ask local dealers. Local heroes ,that have sailed the spot of your choice for many hours, can also be a great source of info. If you find them prepared to chat with you about the subject, that is.
Windsurf dealers close to the spot you want to go windsurfing, often know the spot well. Asking a few of them might get you valuable knowledge. Be realistic about your level and if you have the chance.. Try before you buy!