Understanding Windsurfing Equipment

Keeping up to speed with windsurfing equipment is important as it helps to get the best performance even at a basic level.

I don’t chase trends of fashion, but there is something to be said to having decent kit, that works well together, is easy to use and delivers better performance overall.

Boards

There are boards for different disciplines including:

All rounder board

A general purpose learner or family style board will have plenty of volume, maybe around 190 to 250 litres.  It will be wide so as to offer good stability.  You will have a centreboard so as to help upwind sailing.   You may or may not have footstraps on the board, but to be honest they not really necessary for general family or beginner use. When it comes to Choosing your first windsurfing board it is important to get the right kit and not dive in thinking you need something with performance as this will only slow down your learning curve.

Long race board

They’re not so popular nowadays, but they are superb fun if you’re keen on sailing in races or enjoying some big distance windsurfing in very marginal winds. You’ll generally use big sails with them  of around 6.5 or more in size.   They will have a centre board and big single fin, plus footstraps so you can control the board when the wind picks up.  Sailing these boards is more akin to sailing a yacht as it’s technical sailing on all points of sail.

Slalom board

Fast blasting on shorter boards when the wind is blowing around 15+ knots. These boards need wind and are only going to work when planing. You’ll be using sails of 5m up to maybe 8m and you’ll have a couple of fins as it’s important to marry them up to the sail size.   You’re going to need a good carbon boom and possibly an SDM mast, as bigger sails need SDM, not RDM masts. When sailing these boards, you need to be able to carve gybe and be able to use a harness when sailing overpowered.

Wave board

Wave boards designed for sailing in waves, jumping and riding.  They are shorter than other boards, have less volume and are more radical in design. This means they have a more curved rocker line, which increases how fast they can turn and often come with either single, tri, quad fin options.   You will have 3 footstraps.   Modern wave boards are around 230cm long and 63 wide. A full on wave board is not really any good in lighter winds and crappy waves so you’d be better looking at a freewave board.

Freewave

The freewave board has a more relaxed shape and rocker line that offers faster acceleration and ease of use compared to the full on wave board.  For anyone who is not regular at the beach and wanting a decent all round wave experience, the freewave board is a great choice.   You’re going to be cranking some tight turn, jumping high and having control at speed on the wave, but you won’t get the slower take off. It will be that much easier to use.

Speed board

Unless you race or do speed sailing it is unlikely you’re going to have one of these very specific boards.  They super narrow, difficult to sail and you need really flat water to enjoy them properly. You’ll also need an array of fins and slalom sails.

Freeride

A freeride board is a detuned version of a slalom board.  It is easy to use delivering less aggressive performance, a softer rider underfoot and easier to turn.  Only those seeking the ultimate race experience need a slalom board, so in general go for a freeride board. They’re still super fast, but in my experience are a lof easier to use especially when the conditions get rough.

Constructions

Carbon – having a board made from carbon  gives a lighter board, with a difference flex feel to glass boards, but the flex bit is very relative to how the carbon has been laid during build. For me, the most obvious signs are weight.     They’re easy to repair and pretty robust as well.

Glass fibre – is a touch heavier so a board will weigh more and this can be a real game changer depending on your experience and the discipline.

Dyneema – using dyneema in the mix makes a much more robust and impact resistant board.

All of my boards are carbon and are really solid even on pebble beaches, where the usual victim is the paint finish that takes a beating.

Sails

All round

There are plenty of freeride sails, also known as all rounders.  They don’t have cams like slalom sails, so are easier to use and lighter.

They can be used on everything from wave boards to slalom boards, if you use the right size to suit the board and can generally be rigged on rdm masts, so you won’t need to buy sdm masts or extensions.

As a beginner, it is worth getting a very simple sail, nothing too big or fancy. The sorts of sails we use on our windsurfing lessons are very basic, but in light winds, you will learn to sail properly as you’re not fighting the rig.

Wave

From my own experience, wave sails really do vary in feel, even when the features are similar, be it number of battens, shape, size etc.

Another key point on waves sails is the reinforcement patches and fingers along with the sail material, that is designed to take the punishment of waves.

  1. Design: A wave sail will probably have a shorter boom length to make the sail more manoeuverable and snappy to handle.  They can also be tweaked to have a deeper or flatter profile, which will change the wind range the rig works in.

  2. Materials: Everything about a wave sail needs to be strong, so materials like Dacron, X-Ply and reinforced monofilm are used. 

  3. Size: You will find that wave sails are generally smaller than slalom sails, typically ranging from 3.0 to 6.0 square meters. Sailors often prefer using a rig that is slightly less powerful so they get maximum control when you get the apparent wind on a wave so you choose size based on conditions.

  4. Rigging: Some sails come with rigging instructions on the sail, whilst other rig simply and the visual cues looking at the luff, clew and leech tell if it is right or wrong. As long as the bend curve of the mast is correct, you have a downhaul and outhaul  adjustment and that’s it.

  5. Performance Features:

    • Low Aspect Ratio: This gives the sail a more compact and manageable shape, which is crucial for quick turns and agile maneuvers on the wave face.
    • Flexibility: Wave sails are designed to be more flexible, allowing for rapid adjustments to the sail’s shape and power delivery, essential for riding waves and performing tricks.
    • Power and Depower Capability: These sails can generate significant power when needed but can also be depowered quickly to handle gusts and to navigate through critical sections of a wave.
  6. Handling: A wave sail needs to be responsive, with a quick power up to depower. This means you have total control on a wave and during moves. This makes them ideal for bottom turns, top turns, and aerial manoeuvers.

  7. Intended Use: Wave sails are specifically built for wave riding, providing the versatility and control needed for both aggressive wave attacks and smooth transitions. They are not designed for maximum speed or upwind performance, which are the primary goals of slalom sails.

In summary, a wave windsurfing sail is characterized by its compact, durable design, flexibility, and superior handling, making it ideal for the dynamic and challenging conditions of wave sailing.

Slalom

Full on slalom sails are designed to perform to the very highest level. A highly tuned aerofoil shape cutting the air with optimal performance and airflow that delivers the highest speeds of any windsurfing sail.

That said, they do have some drawbacks.  They’re heavier as they contain more materials, you sail with a larger rig than other disciplines and they’re harder to waterstart if the luff becomes filled with water.

A slalom windsurfing sail is specifically designed for speed and efficiency in racing conditions. Here are the key characteristics that define a slalom windsurfing sail:

  1. Design: Slalom sails have a refined profile and aerodynamic shape. They have camber inducers, (4-7) ,  which help to maintain a rigid and efficient shape, even when overpowered.
  2. Materials: A slalom sail uses lightweight monofilm, x-ply or other advanced laminate materials.
  3. Size: You will find slalom sails range from about 5 to 9m in size. The sizes use din racing are quite a lot bigger than those used for wave and fun sailing, but this is also down to rider weight. Slalom sailors sometimes wear weight jackets to counter the sail size.
  4. Rigging and Tuning: Rigging a slalom sail requires careful tuning to optimize performance. This includes precise adjustments to the mast base, outhaul, and downhaul tension. Proper tuning ensures the sail has the right amount of twist and maintains its aerodynamic shape.
  5. Performance Features:
    • High Aspect Ratio: Slalom sails often have a higher aspect ratio (longer and narrower) compared to other sail types, which helps in reducing drag and improving upwind performance.
    • Deep Profile: The sail has a deeper draft (curvature) for better power and acceleration, especially when planing.
    • Stability: The cambered design provides excellent stability, keeping the sail’s shape consistent and reducing flutter in high-speed conditions.
  6. Handling: Slalom sails are designed to be fast and stable rather than maneuverable. They offer excellent control at high speeds but require more skill to handle, especially in gusty or turbulent conditions.

Booms

Booms are so important as they’re connecting you to the sail, but also controlling the profile of the sail.

Slalom booms are wider at both the clew end and front end to accommodate the deeper sail profile. Wave boom are not so wide as the sail is flatter.

Depending on what you spend you will get aluminium, glass or carbon construction, with the carbon coming in different tube thicknesses.

I never thought I would be so passionate about boom choice, but I no longer use anything too thick on the tubes as they’re tiring to use especially in the winter. I love my Unibifre thin wave boom as seen on the Unifiber website page. Forgot to say, carbon all the time. Aluminium is too heavy and dead feeling.

Something else that is super important is the head of the boom. They vary in design and width of attachment, some being more stable and solid than others so going for a good brand is worth the money.

Masts

A decent mast will last you a long time barring an accident. They’re not cheap, but you do have options whatever brand you go for.

You generally get: 340cm, 370cm, 400cm, 430cm, 460cm 500cm long versions.

You can get them in varying material layups being: 100% glass, 50/50 carbon glass, 60/40 carbon glass, 70/30 carbon glass, 90/10 carbon glass and 100% carbon.

Full carbon is a bit more expensive and you’ll be told it is way more responsive, but it will be more fragile. In fact 100% carbon is the only mast I’ve ever had snap on me, so I go for a mix nowadays in my waves sails, using the NoLimitz masts brand.

Look after your masts. Don’t drop them, don’t bang them on the floor, keep them clean and washed out.

Fins

Boards are often provided with a fin or fins, depending on the layout options. TBH, fin choice is a huge subject and also one of personal choice.

Tri fin setup – is great for freewave board as it offers loose and grippy  depending on fin sizes.

Quad fin setup – You get the ultimate rail to rail grip for proper down the line, fast wave sailing.

Single fin – works on most boards and generates the most power of any fin setup.  You won’t get the looseness of a multi fin setup, but you will get up to speed quickly, especially if you use a bigger centre fin.

Twin fin – this is my preferred setup for south coast waves.  2 fins, give power, drive and looseness. I am currently trying the setup in an asymmetric layout to loosen up top turns.

Summary

The article “Understanding Windsurfing Equipment” by Ian at Surfs SUP Watersports gives you a quick rundown on the kit we use to windsurf. It’s not super detailed, as that would take a long time, but we have directed you to other sites we trust regarding the information they provide.

Read the next blog about about Windsurfing Terminology. Learn about some the phrases we use and how they relate to windsurfing.

WING SUP SURFING LESSONS

We run regular beginner to improver wing sup surfing lessons.

With over 35 years experience, we are fully insured and certified with: