Riding the Wind

By Gary Stone

It's almost a cliché to quote Bob Dylan's song, Blowin' in the Wind. In fact, it is a cliché. But so what? The answer -- at least one of the answers for your waterfront program -- could really be Blowin' in the Wind. Windsurfing, that is. And, even if you already run a program, here are some more tips and tricks for running a great program.


A successful windsurfing program will provide your campers with...

1. That glint in their eye of "getting it" -- sailing around on their own confidently.

2. Improved self esteem and confidence.

3. A thorough understanding of the relationship between the sail and the wind, which translates directly to sailing.

4. A wonderful form of exercise.

5. A peaceful and enjoyable time on the water.

6. Enjoyment of a very environmentally-friendly sport.

7. A lifetime sport. Once kids learn to windsurf, they can return to it again and again throughout their lives, like getting on a bicycle or clicking into a pair of downhill skis.

Controlling the Elements
Here are the elements necessary to get a successful windsurfing program in place:

1. Your key staff person. This person should be excited about teaching windsurfing and be a good sailor in light to moderate winds at a minimum.

2. Certification. To be sure the kids get quality instruction, we recommend your key staff person be US Sailing (www.ussailing.org) certified. When your key person is a US Sailing Certified windsurfing instructor, they have the tools necessary to get kids sailing in a very short period of time with great enthusiasm. Check with vendors on scheduling certification courses and package deals.

3. CPR and first aid certifications. All staff that work in the waterfront programs should have these certifications.

The equipment:
1. Windsurfing boards that provide total stability so the kids can focus on learning what to do with the sail without thinking about their balance. Windsurfing boards have become quite short and wide, making them really easy to balance on, unlike years ago. Although there are many choices in today's market, there is no single "perfect" choice, but the list that is easy for the kids to learn on, is reasonable on camp budgets, and is durable for the long haul is short.

2. Two general types of boards are offered, epoxy sandwich construction with expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam core, ASA skin and EVA foam glued to the deck, and blow molded construction with polypropylene skin, non-skid deck, and urethane foam core.

ASA/EPS/EVA deck board construction -- The EVA deck is very comfortable to climb up and stand on in comparison to a non-skid deck, and these boards are shorter and wider than the current generation of polypropylene boards, with full buoyancy extending right to the edge of the board, providing the most stable platform for kids.

These boards are also lighter and stiffer vs. polypropylene constructions giving them more optimum planing performance. They offer a very high level of resistance to damage by incorporating an EVA padded deck, nose bumper and ASA plastic protective outer skin.


The disadvantage of ASA hulls is less puncture and ding resistance vs. polypropylene construction. ASA boards use an EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam core which can absorb water if the outer skin is punctured to expose foam.

Any puncture of this type must be repaired before returning the hull to the water, or you risk water weight gain and long term damage to the hull. A five-minute epoxy called Ding Stick is a useful material for quick and easy repairs.

Blow-molded polypropylene technology's best feature is its durability in a camp environment. These products can really take abuse and last a very long time. These boards are difficult to puncture, but if punctured, the urethane foam core does not absorb water, so it does not require repair and it will not gain weight.

The outer skin is polypropylene, which maintains a strong bond with the inner urethane core. The disadvantage of polypropylene technology is its heavier weight, less stiff and non-padded deck surface vs. ASA/EPS boards. Also the non-skid deck surface can be a bit rough on knees and elbows when new.

An element to consider is whether your camp boards should have a removable center fin or a retractable daggerboard. The retractable daggerboard offers greater versatility, stability on the water, adjustability and upwind performance versus center fin type boards. A removable center fin is not big enough to make it easy for kids to succeed at going upwind windsurfing so I recommend boards that have a retractable daggerboard.

3. Windsurfing rigs: The rigs have gone through a complete transformation in the last few years and are now incredibly light. A 2.5m2 rig, which is suitable for campers 60-80 pounds, can be easily lifted and carried by your campers. These rigs are also simple for the kids to pull out of the water. Training rigs are so light we have seven-year-old, 50-pound kids windsurfing successfully!

4. Windsurfing sails: Be sure to select sails that are made out of Dacron with vinyl windows or fully laminated sailcloth, not clear polyester film (known in the windsurfing industry as monofilm) because monofilm tears all the way to the edge of the sail when it is punctured and is not nearly durable enough to last in a camp environment.

5. A windsurfing simulator: This land tool allows your instructional staff to teach the kids the dynamics of windsurfing on land before they get in the water, and with stable boards, 95 percent of the kids do some great riding in their first two hours on the water with enough individual attention.

6. Sizing your windsurfing rigs: To determine the sail size range of your rigs, you will need to know the weight ranges of your campers that will participate in the program. If the rigs are too large, it will be more difficult than it needs to be; if they are too small, there won't be enough wind energy to move them around the lake very well.

7. Sizing your windsurfing boards: Once again, knowing the range of weight of your campers is key to selecting the correct boards. Wider, floatier boards for larger campers and somewhat smaller boards for your smaller campers will maximize their success. If you are starting with a small fleet, you'll want to choose somewhat larger boards so that you can accommodate everyone, although ideally a smaller board will be better for your lighter campers.

8. PFDs and foot protection are the final elements that should be included in your windsurfing program to make your program as safe and fun as possible!

Teaching Tips
Here are some teaching tips and tricks submitted by the head windsurfing instructor of the Madison Youth Sailing Foundation, Hans Tiefenthaler:

1. Keep it moving. Have your equipment and lesson plan prepared and don't give kids a chance to get bored.

2. No long explanations. Kids do not care about why a sail works, kinetics theories, etc. Stick to broad, necessary things like the wind clock and keep other explanations concise.

3. Tell kids when they actually need to pay attention and for how long. Say that you need them to pay attention for just three minutes and explain quickly and well the wind clock, safety and general and very basic how-to stuff.

4. Make sure they know what you're talking about. If you tell them to tilt the sail back and they fall over backwards instead of moving the clew towards the water you have things to clear up. Do it on land first, before you have to yell over wind and motors.

5. Give a good, full explanation, and when you're finished give the five second Reader's Digest version too.

6. Banter... Fun teasing and joking is very important. It can lighten up a class, keep people interested and involved, and forms a student-instructor bond which makes the student more cooperative.

7. Pick your battles. Being uptight and following every rule to a T puts a damper on fun in the class. Allow your students to bend a few rules, but be very serious on the rules that count (like safety).

8. Get on the water quickly. The land is hot and boring and the water is fun and new.

9. Have a game plan and share it with your students. If you want them to stay within a certain area tell them to stay there and also tell them why, even if it's just the fact that it's hard for you to get all the way over to that spot across the lake. They'll listen better if they know why they do something and how it helps.

10. Don't talk straight windsurfing. Ask about their families, other sports, hobbies, and so forth. If you know that someone is talented in another sport or hobby you can relate body position and actions in that sport to windsurfing to help them understand. This also fits in with #6.

11. Do the work with them. You, too, need to carry boards and rigs, get your hair wet, and get out of the motorboat once in a while. Give them incentive to sail better; if they catch up to you they can knock you off your board!

Gary Stone is the owner of Isthmus Sailboards and has been an avid windsurfer for 23 years. He is also a board member of the Madison Youth Sailing Foundation. Gary can be reached at gstone@isthmussailboards.com