Windsurfing Terminology


As with any sport we have our own terminology, that helps explain movements, equipment, conditions and more.

Basic Equipment

  1. Board: This is is the bit you stand on. They come in different sizes and styles depending on the type of windsurfing you’re doing.
    1. Deck: The deck of the board is the topside.
    2. Nose: The nose is the front of the board. 
    3. Tail: The tail is the back of the board.  
    4. Rocker line: Boards have a rocker line, which is the curve shape when you look at the board from the side – this determines many things about how the board performs and can make it slower, fast, more turny etc.
  2. Sail: This is the bit that creates the power to drive you along. In effect it is a large material sheet which catches the wind. Being a large sheet of material it has no structure until you fit a mast into it. Sails come in different sizes and styles for different conditions.
  3. Mast: It is the mast that gives the sail the shape and structure. You slide the mast into the luff tube along the edge of the sail.  They are made from either glass fibre or carbon fibre. They come with different bend curves which is chosen to suit the particular brand of sail.
  4. Boom: This is the bar that you use as a handlebar. The front end attaches to the mast and the backend is tied to the clew of the sail. Booms come in different lengths and can be slightly different shapes to suit different types of sails. They come in either carbon, aluminium or glass/carbon mix.
  5. Uphaul: A thick rope that is attached to the  front end of the boom and then attaches to the bottom of the mast, using a bungee chord. You use it to pull up the sail if you drop it.
  6. Fin: fins are a really big subject as they come in so many shapes, sizes and combinations. It can change how a board turns, the speed, the acceleration and more.
  7. Foot Straps: When you start planing, you need to put your feet into straps that are screwed onto the board. This keeps you attached to the board. They’re also necessary as you start sailing in rougher water and waves.

Sailing Terms

  1. Upwind: This is when you’re looking, heading or sailing up into the direction the wind is coming from. When you start sailing, the main goal is to always get back to your start point and this can often require you to be sable to sail upwind.
  2. Downwind: This is when you’re heading away from the direction the wind is coming from.   If you simply stood on the board and just held the sail upright without powering it up, the wind would gently blow you downwind.  If you head downwind, you would then need to sail upwind to get back to your start point.
  3. Onshore: We use this term when referring to the fact that the wind is blowing onto the shore from out at sea. Depending on the wind strength, this make the water more choppy and rough.
  4. Offshore: We love this one as it can be the most dangerous of all. If the wind blows off the beach and out to sea, you will find the water is smooth unless there is a swell. But as you get further out the wind can increase, making it harder to get back to shore. You will also need to be confident that you can sail upwind.
  5. Tack: Tacking a board is a turning manoeuver. When you tack, you turn the board into the wind i.e upwind before you change sides and then sail away. This turn is used to help gain ground upwind.
  6. Gybe: Gybing is when you turn the board away from the wind, i.e downwind. You gybe downwind before changing sides on the board and sailing away. With gybing you are losing ground and heading off downwind, so you need to be happy that you can tack and sail upwind before you keep gybing.
  7. Windward: When sailing along, you often look windward, which means to look upwind or in the direction the wind is coming from.
  8. Leeward: If you look leeward, you look downwind or in the direction where the wind is blowing to.
  9. Port: The left side of the board when facing forward.
  10. Starboard: The right side of the board when facing forward.
  11. Planing: Normally a board pushes through the water, which is called displacement, where the water is pushed out the way by the hull.  With planing, the hull skims over the water and no longer creates a bow wave. You are now going pretty quick and would benefit from using footstraps and a harness.

Techniques and Manoeuvers

  1. Beach Start: As you improve you’ll want to be able to step up onto your board and sail away, without having to uphaul the sail. If you stand next to your board in thigh deep water, hold the sail above your head in a sailing position, you catch the wind and extend your arms up, so the sail pulls you up onto the board. As the sail pull you up you step into the sailing position and sail away.
  2. Water Start: Mainly used with smaller boards that are hard to uphaul. The sailor lays in the water and positions the sail so it flies just above the water and sailors head.  From there, whilst holding the boom, you put your back foot on the board, then push up with your hand so the sail fills with enough wind to pull you up. As you rise your front foot slides onto the board.
  3. Harness: You will find us using a harness to help reduce strain on the arms. It is also a way to improve technique and position. The harness is effectively  belt around the wait with a metal hook used to grab harness lines, which are looped lines on the boom. Once hooked in  you can relax the arms.
  4. Sheeting In/Out: A bit like an accelerator in a car, we sheet in and out to control the power from the sail.  Holding the boom, you can pull the sail in so you feel more power, then let out the back hand to lessen the power.  Never pull the sail in so it actually goes over the centre-line of the board as you will stall. When I teach, I get people to hold the back hand on the boom with just two fingers and get people to pull in just 2cm  – this gets you to feel the power and play with it. If you simply grab the book and pull in hard in light winds you can kill the power.
  5. Carve Gybe: This turn is made when the board is planing. The sailor banks the board over on its edge and it turns at speed as they sail it round and out onto the other direction.
  6. Duck Gybe: Much like the carve gybe, you sail at speed and bank the board over, but this time you let go of the front hand and hold the wrong end of the boom so the right falls away from you, then pull it back into place on the new side.

Environmental Factors

  1. Wind Speed: Measured in knots or mph, it’s an important gauge for windsurfers as it determines how big a sail we should be using.
  2. Wind Direction: Knowing whether the wind is onshore (towards the shore), offshore (away from the shore), or side-shore (parallel to the shore) helps in planning your session.
  3. Chop: When we say the water is choppy, what we mean is there are tiny waves and bumps forming, mainly due to the wind disturbing the water. It can make si
  4. Swell: Larger, rolling waves that are typically generated by distant weather systems and provide ideal conditions for wave riding.
  5. Flat Water: Calm water with little to no waves, ideal for beginners and freestyle windsurfing.

Styles of Windsurfing

  1. Freeride: This is what most people do at the beginning, where you’re just sailing for fun in smooth conditions.
  2. Wave: Riding and jumping waves, this needs a more skillful sailor and more wind.
  3. Freestyle: Vulcans, flaka, spins and flip are all part of this exciting side to windsurfing.
  4. Slalom: Racing against other sailors at speed, this is an exciting spectator sport.
  5. Wing foiling: Stick a foil on the board and we now have a new level of racing or freeride sailing, which can happen in lighter winds.


The article “Windsurfing Terminology” by Ian at Surfs SUP Watersports  goes over some the words you’ll hear and what they mean.

Once you’re done here, read the next blog in this series called, First Day Windsurfing Tips. You’ll find some really useful tips and guidance for your first time along on the water.


We run regular beginner to improver wing sup surfing lessons.

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