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Planning Retirement Online

Out of the box - Windsurfing

July 2011

This is our regular OUT OF THE BOX feature where we give suggestions on different things to try.

If you have tried something unusual or different, tell us all about it - and send in a photograph as well if you can – so that we can share your experiences with others.

Email: outofthebox@laterlife.com


 Windsurfing

Wind surfingWhen most of us were at school, we had never heard the term windsurfing. Today it is an excellent sport and activity for all ages and a wonderful way to keep in shape and undertake a good body toning routine while enjoying the great outdoors. Even better – it really is okay for every age group. If you start in your 50s or 70s you probably won’t make the Olympic team, but you can have an enormous amount of fun with lots of opportunity to meet new people and make new friends.

In recent years the equipment has progressed dramatically and now beginners can start with very basic equipment that is light weight and easy to use. You can also find excellent clubs and groups on inland lakes and reservoirs which can be calmer than windsurfing on the sea. You don’t even need to be able to swim as generally you wear a buoyancy aid and also a wetsuit in this country which also helps buoyancy, although many courses do recommend that you can swim at least 50 yards. Personally I think if you are considering a water based activity, learning to swim first really does make good sense.

But if you think you could enjoy a water based activity, then windsurfing could be perfect for you. Starting is the most challenging aspect but if nothing else it will help you improve your co-ordination and balance. Hopefully, though, it will lead to you being able to skim confidently across the surface of the water and have lots of fun.

Windsurfing equipment is really very simple, basically just a board, a mast and a sail. The principle of the sport is that you stand on the board and hold the sail with your hands. By adjusting the position of the sail and your position on the board, you can use the wind to sail across the water in the direction you want to go.

For top windsurfers, high speeds are a major attraction but windsurfers also operate very well at nice gentle speeds. You can’t windsurf in nil wind of course, but for beginners a gentle wind is perfect to give some movement to the sail but also to make it easier to keep the sail under control.

At the very beginning, it is not the wind but the basic balance that is the problem. Generally you stand about knee deep or so in water, the board at right angles across in front of you and the sail lying in the water beyond. It is easier to clamber up onto the board that you would think. But then comes the tricky bit. Balancing on the board, you need to gently pull the sail out of the water into an upright position. This is usually where the fun begins for beginners as all too often a final vigorous pull sends you tumbling back into the water behind the board and you have to start all over again!

But it doesn’t take long to understand the amount of leverage you need to coax the sail up from the water into an upright position, and it is a bit like riding a bicycle. Once you have done it a few times successfully and got the hang of it, you can’t imagine you found it so difficult!

Once you are standing with the sail upright, then you will start to learn to adjust the sail by moving it forward or back or at an angle to catch the best wind, adjusting your balance at the same time. Get it all right and you will find the board will move steadily forward.

Your first real ride forward is tremendously exhilarating and will give you a great sense of achievement. After that, it is simply practice to perfect all the many techniques and make the most of what your equipment and the wind can do.

Of course there is lots of technical terminology and techniques to master as you progress and most instructors will suggest you focus on five fundamentals – stance, balance, vision, trim and power. But once you get on a board all this makes a lot of sense and you don’t need to do a mass of book and theory studying to become proficient at windsurfing.

There are windsurfing schools right around Britain, on lakes as well as on the coast, and also overseas. Many schools and training come under the auspices of the RYA (Royal Yachting Association, www.rya.org.uk) and their website give details of clubs right across the UK and various courses. Many schools offer taster sessions so that you can have a try so see whether you might like it before committing yourself.

The RYA also can provide details of courses overseas – learning to sail at Sunsail’s specialist watersports venue in Greece for instance (www.sunsail.co.uk/beach-clubs) can be a perfect way to mix holiday fun with learning a new activity.

The good news is that even if you become really keen on windsurfing, the equipment isn’t particularly expensive. You will have started on a beginners sail board which will have been very buoyant and reasonably stable. As you progress, you can turn to more high performance boards and for top of the range models, the cost can add up.

But once you have your equipment, the wind comes free and you could have years ahead of a fun and enjoyable activity.

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The above article is part of the features section of laterlife.com called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to laterlife.com written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

It includes both one off articles and also associated regular columns of a more specialist nature such as Healthwise, Gardener's Diary, our regular IT question and answer section called YoucandoIT and there's also 'It could be you' by Maggi Stamp laterlife's counsellor on human relationships. 

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