This year, we’re launching our very first windsurfing holiday – a high-octane 7-day experience on the stunningly beautiful Greek island of Naxos.
Sitting somewhere between surfing and sailing, windsurfing is the art of standing on a board and refusing to let the wind pull you over into the sea – for hours on end.
It all started with the Polynesians, and exploded into the adventure sports scene at the end of the 1960s. It’s fast, energetic (the experts know how to jump off the water and perform all sorts of unlikely acrobatics) and it gives you a truly incredible sense of speed, with all the safety of a soft landing virtually guaranteed.
But let’s return to “energetic” and “hours on end” for a second.
You’re Only As Good As Your Training
If you want to make the most of your time windsurfing, you need to be prepared.
It’s easy to get started, and we provide full training for absolute beginners with absolutely no experience – but seriously, you don’t want to be in that position. It’s a waste of time you could be spending out there, skimming over the waves.
This isn’t a sport you can bumble your way into and expect to do terribly well at – or be able to stay on your board for very long. Ideally, training for your windsurfing holiday should start weeks or even months before you go.
Here, then, is how to prepare for a windsurfing holiday – so you can stay out there all day if you want to.
1. Swim, swim, swim
The most obvious form of training – and also the most important. Coming off your surfboard in choppy waters can be the start of an adventure you wouldn’t want to have, thanks to big waves and any strong offshore currents (although you shouldn’t risk windsurfing in offshore winds or breezes).
To remain safe in the water, you need to be able to swim back to your board and clamber onto it, no matter what the conditions are. Your buoyancy aid will keep you afloat, but you’ll still need to haul yourself through the water to safety. You don’t have to be a good long-distance swimmer, but you must be comfortable in the water and capable of bursts of intense swimming if need be.
A couple of months of twice-weekly pool training should set you up nicely.
(Note: there are two other safety measures that you’d be wise to take. Always make sure you’re dressed in clothing that will keep you warm enough to swim long enough to get to safety – and never go out without others who can help you if you get into trouble).
2. Learn How Your Body Works
Do you know what the first signs of sunstroke are? How about hypothermia – or hyperthermia, its opposite? Do you know how long you can swim before exhaustion sets in?
These skills are require paying attention to your body and reading it like a thermometer – and that’s a skill worth cultivating, because it will keep you alive.
For example, if you’re wearing the right clothing, you should never shiver when you’re in the water. If you’re shivering, you’re too cold, and you should get out immediately before it incapacitates you.
Here are primers on the first signs of:
Learn them – and train yourself to react to them. Develop “scripts” inside your head – sequences of behaviour baked into habits your body can automatically follow when you’re having problems making decisions (which happens when any one of the above afflictions hits you).
Test yourself until they’re second nature, and you’re an expert in monitoring your own body and telling it what to do.
3. Learn The Equipment
This is where you’d be smart to take a few windsurfing lessons close to home. Local schools will have all forms of windsurfing kit for you to familiarize yourself with – and most of it will be designed for beginners like yourself. Windsurfing equipment also varies considerably according to your skill level – so unless you’re really committed to mastering the basics, you’ll probably outlearn anything you buy quite quickly.
A perfect example of this is your board. Your first board should probably be big and wide, to provide the stability you’ll need to learn to use it. Once you’ve learned to sail, you’ll want a smaller board for maneuverability – and that’s probably when you should go out and buy one, because you’ll get much more use out of it.
(If you’re keen on buying a beginner’s board anyway, this is a good guide.)
The other three pieces of equipment you’ll be using are the sail, the mast and the boom.
The sail is attached to the mast – and the boom is a loop of metal attached to the mast, providing structural support for the sail…and the thing you’ll hang onto, as you’re sailing along (your “steering wheel”, if you like).
The number one skill you should practice in a windsurfing lesson is to grab the up-haul (the rope attached to the mast that allows you to lift it up from the water’s surface) and bend your knees (slightly), not your back.
If you can keep your back relatively straight, keep your feet planted, and turn your shoulders left and right as you pull the mast upright hand over hand, all the pressure will go through your legs (which are designed to take it in the long run) and not your back (which isn’t).
Turn this into a habit before you go on holiday, and you’ll save yourself a lot of lower-back strain (and sometimes the kind of wrenching agony that stops you windsurfing altogether).
4. Learn Spatial Awareness
This is a fancy way of saying, “learn to keep an eye on everything around you.”
Windsurfing requires you to be aware of a lot of things, all at once. There’s your own body (see 2). There’s what your board is doing, and how your sail is catching the wind. There’s what the wind and the sea are doing.
And perhaps most important of all, there’s what other people are doing, in the same space of water as you.
The best and arguably the only way to build this skill is to just do it. Get out onto the water (doesn’t have to be on a surfboard, you could use a canoe or rowing boat) and practice tracking multiple targets in the water, trying to build a multitasking awareness of what they’re doing in relation to you – what direction they’re going, how fast, how far away.
This is a skill that will keep you safe. Put some time into it.
5. Fitness Training
This is probably what you first thought of when you saw the title of this article.
Windsurfing is a full-body workout. It puts a lot of stress on your abs, lower back, shoulders arms and legs – while requiring you to be lean and flexible enough to be agile on your board.
For these reasons, your best bet for getting windsurf-fit is to employ a mixture of circuit training (a series of short, intense strength or cardio exercises repeated in a loop without rest) and bodyweight exercises (push-ups, pull-ups, lunges etc.)
Professional windsurfer Adam Lewis outlines his recommended training workout here.
And 35-year windsurfing veteran Peter Hart said this on the subject, in Windsurf Magazine:
According to the well respected Journal of Applied Physiology “overload is the one overriding truth in physiology.” You go the gym and do the same old circuit, it may have general health benefits, but you’re not getting any fitter.
To get fitter you have to push yourself and ‘overload’ the system and actually damage the muscles and connecting tissues. You’re no doubt familiar with DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).
That soreness is not lactic acid but tiny muscle tears that have brought an inflammatory response. The tissues then repair themselves and become stronger and more pliable – but only if they’re allowed to – which is why rest and recovery is so important. It is the foundation of fitness.
My body reacts far better to high intensity, interval training (HIIT in the trade) than it does to lower intensity volume training.
I’d also rather dive into a freezing swimming pool than edge in inch-by-inch – and pull off the Elastoplast in one rip.
Get it over with I say. I’d rather hurt a lot for a short time, than a hurt a little for a long time.
But overload does not have to imply a ‘sprint ‘til you vomit’ approach. It can simply mean gradually increasing the frequency, length and/or intensity of your workouts.
Whatever the workout you assemble for yourself, focus on stretching and strengthening your lower back, and doing exercises that involve quick direction-changes (for example, rope-jumping) so your muscles can get used to reacting quickly. When you’re windsurfing, your back will take a pounding and you’ll need to be agile enough to react to changing conditions in a fraction of a second.
(And hope to see you in Greece sometime soon.)