Learning to Waterstart

View count: 2058 | duration: 1:54 | date: 8 years ago on Thursday, August 19, 2010

Learning to waterstart is one the core skills of windsurfing. I only learnt to waterstart reliably back in April (2010). Everyone seems to forget what it feels like to be a clueless beginner. The windsurfing books at the library were out-of-date, and DVD lessons delivered by experts made it look too easy - much easier than it actually is. So I thought I should break it down and pass on some of the tips I got from other windsurfers - at least while its still fresh in my memory.

Step 1: Position the sail

Waterstart step 1 - rig recovery

The first step is to recover the rig and position the board and sail. There are a number really handy techniques I have picked up from other windsurfers on how to recover and handle your rig; too numerous to mention here, so I have placed them in a separate article [ read about rig recovery here ].

To start with, the mast should be perpendicular (90°) to the wind with the clue on the downwind side. The sail must have cleared the water before you grab the boom with both arms, because if clue gets stuck in the water, particularly if the current is pushing against it, it will cause the sail to jack-knife (turn mast up), which catches the wind and flips the sail over. Best to fly the sail first with your front arm on the mast and back hand between the harness lines, then once it is out of the water grab the boom with both hands on either side of the harness lines and position the sail perpendicular to the wind so it can generate lift by sheeting in.

Step 2: Position the board with your back foot

Waterstart step 2 - position the board

With the sail in position, use the mast foot to steer the board into position. It should be pointing in the direction you want to go. Now place you back foot on the board in the centre between the front and back footstraps. Your front foot should hang down in the water. You need it in the water like an anchor to kick against the force of the sail which will begin to drag you down wind.

Water start - practice

This is the first position that you should spend some time practising. Moving the sail forward will cause the nose of the board to point down, moving the sail back will cause the nose of the board to point up. What you want to practice is finding that neutral position in between, where you can hold the sail and board steady and in the right position.

A good time to practice is when the tide is low (assuming there is a shallows where you can stand and practice). Its also useful to wait until the current is flowing in the opposite direction to the wind. That way even though you will get dragged down wind as you practice, you drift back to where you started with the tide, which saves a lot of effort.

Step 3: Move the sail forward and sheet in

Waterstart step 3 - sheet in

You initiate a waterstart by moving the mast forward ever so slightly so the nose of the board begins to turn down wind. This way, the weight of you back foot is stepping forward onto the back of the board rather than pushing against it from the side. You need to pull the back of the board towards you with with your back leg and at the same time -- while keeping your font arm straight -- sheet in with your back hand and keep your front foot hanging down in the water. The sail should feel like it is going to catapult you up and out of the water, so you need to be subtle with your movements. You control the lift with your back hand by adjusting the amount you are sheeting in. Check out this step in the video above, the amount I move the sail forward, and the amount I am sheeting in, is almost imperceptible, but you will get a feel for the lift in your arms, and learn to control it with your back hand.

You should feel like a monkey, hanging off a vine, with all your weight on your front arm and back foot. Your front foot providing resistance in the water and you back hand controlling the lift.

Things to avoid

  • Resist the temptation to bend your front arm. This puts too much weight on the sail, making it difficult to lift you out of the water.
  • Avoid putting too much weight on you back arm or you will over sheet and loose control.
  • Make sure to pull the board in with your back leg, or the sail will push the board sideways rather than help you to step onto the back of the board.

Step 4: Step onto the board with your front foot.

Waterstart step 4 - position feet

As soon as you begin to lift out of the water and your back foot has stepped onto the back of the board, lift your front foot out of the water and place it in the centre of the board, just behind the mast foot. The sail will continue to lift you to a vertical position but keep your knees bent so your centre of gravity is low.

Step 5: Sheet out

Waterstart step 5 - sheet out

As soon as your weight is planted on both your feet and you begin to reach the vertical position, sheet out with your back hand to prevent the sail from continuing to pull you over. Otherwise you will over balance, loose control and unceremoniously fall in.

Step 6: Hook-in

Waterstart step 6 - Hook-in

One of the nice things about the waterstart, is that because all of your weight is already hanging off the sail, the board tends to jump out of the water and onto the plane very easily. You can use this forward momentum to you advantage by hooking-in to the harness lines as soon as you sheet out. Simply step-up as you sheet out, hook-in and lean back, placing all you body weight back on the sail.

Step 7: Step back into the footstraps

Waterstart step 7 - step back into the straps

You will continue to build speed if while you lean back on sail in the previous step, you step back and into your footsraps.

One last Tip

Recently I have taken to wearing a Type-2 life vest when I am out on the water when the tide is high enough that in most places I can't stand. It has a neoprene cover so doubles as an impact vest. Wearing a life vest like this makes water starting and particularly rig recovery much less onerous and tiring.


A big thank you to Heather Berry (Gavin's wife) for taking these pictures of me.

Posted by Henry Thomas, 9 years ago on Sunday, April 18, 2010


Gav said...

Nice work Henry, I found it very easy to understand, will try it out on wednesday at eh.

Posted 8 years ago on Monday, October 18, 2010

Carsten said...

Thanks for the guide, i looked at a lot of other sites, but only this one, together with your videos made it really clear how to water start the laza way. Thanks, Carsten

Posted 6 years ago on Sunday, August 5, 2012

Linas said...

You give so detailed lessons here, which replace instructor. I have learned waterstart from You! Thanks a lot!

Posted 6 years ago on Saturday, August 25, 2012

Henry Thomas said...

Hi Linas,

Really glad you found it helpful and well done, learning to waterstart!


Posted 6 years ago on Saturday, August 25, 2012

Luis Canhoto said...

Hi Henry, Let me present myself. My name is Luis, I'm, 44 , 95 Kg weight, and I´m Portuguese. I´ve started windsurfing recently ( about 2 years ) , and as usual I´ve looked in the Internet for Vid´s about Windsurf Techniques. As You´ve said they often treats us ( beginners ) as "nerds" and make it to ( dam much ) easy . Fortunately I found your videos in the Youtube and discover your site. I found your tips very complete and ( really) easy to understand, emphasysing what is really important abou waterstat . In my next Windsurf session I´ll try your tips , and I´m sure i will succeed this time. I´ll let you know then ! :) Thank you, Luis

Posted 6 years ago on Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Luis Canhoto said...

Hi Henry! ......I did it for the first time !! It was very simple. Just recover the rigg ......pointing the direction and GO.....Thank you for your tips. The next step is " footstraps" .

Posted 6 years ago on Tuesday, May 14, 2013

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