How competitive are you? The answer to this question is easy to find once your friends enter the water. I always automatically engage in a sort of competition when I spot a friend on the water. Recognizable? So here are a few tweaks that you can apply today to sail faster forever, and overtake your friends 😉
Your speed on the water is a result of many factors. Gear is very important and so are skills, bodyweight and fitness. If spending a few thousand dollars on better gear is an option for you, that could improve your speed. But! In the end, the way you sail makes the difference.
There are many details in windsurfing that can make you sail more upwind, faster in a straight line or while gybing. While learning and improving I believe it is best to focus on one thing at a time. Once you master it, check the box and try another one. Focussing on new skills while on the water might demand extra attention. Make sure you always keep safety for yourself and others a priority. I wear a helmet when I feel like searching for my limits. Just in case I find one 😉
1) Check Everybody’s Position Before You Gybe and Focus on Where to Go During the Gybe
This might seem to obvious to mention. But, before you go to the next tweak, try to remember the last times you where competing on the water. I found that when chasing somebody, sometimes they see you coming. If they feel you are faster they might gybe. There goes your chance to overtake (and put 2 fingers in your nose while they see you). Persistent as you are you might gybe too and chase them again.
While doing so I often noticed that I crashed my gybe. Coincidence? No, not in my case at least. When gybing a golden rule is: were the head goes, the body must follow. This is why a lot of pro’s (in many kinds of sports) tell you to look where you are going. So watching another windsurfer on the water while in a gybe might disturb the delicate movement pattern you are in. This can have really negative impact on your gybing performance. Not a good start for a new race.
Of course I am not saying to skip watching other objects on the water. A collision is probably one of the last things you want. Getting T-boned while you gybe yourself is a nasty way to find out you forgot to watch behind.
To make sure you can ‘watch yourself through the corner’ while gybing it is important to check where everybody and every object is in the waters that you sail. Once you have made sure there is nobody you might collide with when gybing you can start your gybe. Make sure you choose a position relative to the dude you want to overtake that ensures a safe situation while both of you are focussed on gybing. Either pass him (or her) by enough length or make sure you ar more upwind. The last will give you more speed in the coming race. Now you can focus completely on your tasks getting the board and sail turned.
2) Go Upwind in a Gust (and Start Leebowing)
The previous tweak said something about being more upwind. This one is all about using gusts to your advantage to get the upwind position. If you are on your limits while chasing somebody in an attempt to overtake, a gust might provide more power than you can deal with. So, if you hold the same straight line you will have to open the sail a bit or risk a crash. I found it useful to transfer the surplus of power, that I can’t control, in to a more upwind position. Racers talk about pointing when they sail a more upwind course at the cost of speed. But since the extra power from the gust was more than you could convert in to speed, I consider this a free upwind advantage.
Maybe a minute later you have a lull. That is when you can trade the few meters you went upwind back for pure speed. Just bear away and gain speed. Perhaps this even prevents you from slowing down to non planing. In case the other surfer stops planing your overtake is probably a fact already. If not, at least you are closer.
While trying this there are a few important factors. First I learned to not overdo this. Going upwind to much, might result in a loss of speed and to many extra meters to cross. Just enough degrees upwind to enable you to hold the sail might do the trick. Experimenting will give you a feel of what works for you.
Making sure you adapt your body position to an upwind course is important. Try to hang your bodyweight more to the front. I learned it by imagining that I was looking around the mast. Even bending the front knee a bit might help.
If you compete in a race course, like the Olympic triangle you are not just overtaking for the moment. Perhaps you want to win the race so you also have to do some strategic thinking. That is where leebowing comes in. Sailing next to or just in front of the other on the leeward results in dirty wind for the opponent. This might even force him or her to tack early. This is the basis for the second factor:
If you are just overtaking somebody on a straight line than there is a lesson in the above: make sure you don’t get close on the luff side. Since this positions your opponent in a leebowing position for free. The dirty wind might slow you down a lot. In my experience overtaking is best done coming from a upwind position. If I need to go downwind for the extra speed I try to do it in a way that I come from the upwind position, leebowing while overtaking (to slow down the opponent).
3) Don’t sail right behind another surfer. You lose speed here!
On our way with the tweaks as we are, I think we have come to the insight that positioning is important for overtaking. Your relative position towards the other has an influence on both your and his/her speed. Apart from dirty winds that result in slowing down there is also the hydrodynamic effect of positions. If I sail close behind another windsurfer the water feels different in his wake. Sailing close behind someone results in loss of speed. I see an obvious V shaped wake behind another board at speed. My rule of thumb is to stay out of it. Preferably on the lee side (side where the wind comes from).
4) Push your Boom Down When Gybing
As mentioned before, if you are closing in on a friend, sometimes they gybe to avoid you taking over. If you gybe too, you probably first pass them. Since gybing in to the inside corner is not the safest thing to do. Also it puts you in front of them on the way back so that spoils the fun of overtaking at top speed.
While gybing you want to keep as much speed as possible. Exit speed out of the corner is important because if you keep planing that can be a huge advantage. Especially if the other is not.
I have seen many surfers loos a lot of speed in their curves. This can be due to many factors. While training with video analysis I have learned that many times speed loss is a result of the board pushing water away as a result of not being flat on the surface. The weight of the surfer was in many of those cases hanging on the back of the board. Pushing the tail in the water and the nose up. Even a few inches can make you loos speed.
To keep the board flat on the surface (Of course you put your rail in the water. I am talking about keeping the line from tail to nose parallel with the water surface) it might really be helpful to push the boom down. Stop hanging towards the back of the board and push the boom down, so the mast foot becomes a ‘third foot’ on the board. Shifting weight towards the nose. This helps keeping the board flat and to avoid slowing down because of water displacement. Keep in mind to look where you are going.
Bonus tip: ask somebody to film you while in the gybe. I found out that I felt I was upright while the video showed me hanging back too much. Seeing it with your own eyes really helps to calibrate your feeling on the board with reality. This can speed up the learning process.
5) Adapt Your Body Position to the Course You Sail
When I just learned windsurfing I was always in the same position. Later I found out that I can squeeze a lot more performance out of my kit by actively adapting my stance to my course.
Basically what I am saying is: when sailing upwind it helps to shift the bodyweight to the front. In the beginning it might help to imagine that you are watching around the mast. Bending the front leg a bit and stretching the back leg helps. I try to hang all my weight at the harnesslines pulling the boom down. Doing so helps to shift weight to the front of the board via the mastfoot (we call this the third foot technique). It helps making better use of the leeward side of the board. It also helps to prevent spinouts.
When sailing downwind the opposite does the trick. Stretching the front leg and using the front foot as a gas pedal I push the board flat on the water. The sail is more in front of me and I see the nose through the window. I try to position the sail in a way that it feels like it almost pulls me over the nose like a wakeboard cable. Keep pressure on the back foot to maintain fin pressure and experiment in small steps for safety. In choppy conditions the knees might need to help as a suspension if the chops slow the board down.
For safety a helmet and an impact vest can be a very wise idea. Especially if you are getting used to the extra speed.
6) Know the (New) Spot
Local knowledge is king. I always feel thrilled when arriving at a new spot. There is nothing I want more than getting on the water to have fun. Experience makes you wise though, and I know what they mean by this saying.
Therefore consider to take a few moments before you rush into the water. Ask a few locals about the spot. What is the best place to enter the water? Is the wind different on the water than at the beach and how? Any local particularities? Geological effects?
A few years ago I sailed a spot where the wind often dropped a few knots at high tide. Having just arrived and eager to get going I chose the sail that was right for that moment. Half a hour later I was struggling with a sail that was far too big. Overtaking was the last thing on my mind. Most guys where much faster…
I have heard of Olympic sailing champions that explored a spot for weeks to make sure they knew every inch of the water and its unpredictability. This might be a bit too much for you and me but it might be good to remember that it’s hard to waste time on a little reconnaissance.
7) Test Different Setups in Different Conditions
Usually when speaking about setup I am talking about how to rig a sail. I have a special blog <LINK> about that if you like.
Here I will spend a few words on the mast foot and foot strap positions. They might impact your speed too. My working hypothesis is that all parts of the board we are talking about are original. Of course a fin that is a bit longer or designed for more speed can make you plane faster etc. but that is stuff for a different blog.
Foot strap position. Perhaps you have noticed that wave and freestyle boards have tree straps. One at the back, two in front. Freeride and race boards have four straps. Two at the back. One of the reasons is that that strap positions more to the side of the board provide more control at high straight line speed. While wave and freestyle surfers want to have more control over the board when turning on waves and moving in the air. The one strap in the middle gives the opportunity to grab the board with the foot in the air.
So, if you are aiming for more straight line speed you can experiment with placing the front straps more to the outside. If your board has the opportunity to use either one or two back straps you can try using two.
I have experienced that positioning the straps more to the outside makes it a bit harder to get your feet in. Therefore I think it might be wise to move them outside in small steps. Learn how the new position feels and if it provides the benefits you are looking for. Than decide if you want to take it one step further.
Mast foot position. Personally I just put the mast foot right in the middle of the slot. There are many theories about the effect of positioning the mast foot more to the front or back though. So let me just share what I have heard and learned over the years. Up to you to decide if you are going to experiment with it.
I have heard many racers say that putting the mast foot more to the back will give you more top end speed. Since it is closer to the fin this might make baring away from the wind harder. Stepping harder on the leeward (or luff if you have a daggerboard) rail for steering can compensate this.
I have also heard arguments saying that putting the mast foot to the front helps to keep control over the board in really high winds. Personally I think that it’s about time to get a smaller sail size if the board is lifting so much that you need this.
Apart from wind chop is also a factor. In choppy conditions speed loss can be a result of the board pushing water away too much. To decrease the force pushing the board flat on the water the distance between the mast foot and the fin can be reduced. Putting the mast foot back a bit might decrease the lever (length of the lever arm that has influence on the force) from the downward force that you apply on the board by hanging at the boom. The result could be that the board is going easier over the chop instead of through it.
In light wind conditions putting the foot a little to the front might increase the planing surface of the board . This, so I have heard, might get a windsurfer planing easier. And thus increase chanses of overtaking right at the start.
Disclaimer: I have found very little scientific proof or explanation for these theories. Online info that I found is not always saying the same things. So, it’s up to you to decide if you want to experiment and find out if you can gain a little extra speed.