Is windsurfing dangerous?
I’m often asked about how safe windsurfing is, my answer is always the same, “it’s as safe you make it and as dangerous as you make it”. It’s safe enough for children and wild enough for adrenaline junkies.
When I say “safe”, I don’t mean that you can completely remove all the risks involved, that’s impossible to do with any sport. I simply mean ensuring that you avoid silly mistakes that could endanger you.
Let’s not forget that certain sports carry more risk than others and when you combine things like speed, water, waves, height and equipment the risks become greater. Obviously sports have different levels of danger and windsurfing has a wide range in its own, there are several disciplines and aspects. For example, if you’re windsurfing a big board, on flat water in 10 knots, it might be safer than going out in 40 knots, common sense.
I find that most people think windsurfing is a “dangerous extreme sport”, yes it is but that’s not all it is. The reason for that idea is that most of us watch it on TV and see the extreme side of wavesailing, little do they know it can be quite relaxing and just as chilled as paddling out on a board.
Windsurfing really does have something for everyone.
For those starting out, here are 5 tips that will help increase the safety of your windsurfing experience.
1. Go with friends.
Most of us might be embarrassed to try something knew or fall in front of friends, so we try it alone first and then brag about it later. I’ve seen the consequences too many times from this type of thinking. I can’t tell you how often I’ve observed those who go out on their own while it’s clearly their first time. What happens? They have a hard time getting back to shore and call for help.
That’s why I say have friends, because they are there to help.
Besides, another great reason to have friends is for the perfect opportunity to say… “Why don’t you give it a go”.
2. Check your gear
Do yourself a favour and make sure it’s all working please. Look for stress cracks on your mast, the base and its rubber join. Do a good job of putting it together so that when you go out, you’re not scrambling around your gear in panic when it falls apart.
This is especially true for those who purchase older and cheaper equipment as well as for beginners who purchase new gear rigging up for the first time.
Breakages happen all the time and there are ways to get around that. One nice tip is that if your fin snaps, tie your harness around your back strap and use it for a rudder.
Use the RIGHT stuff as well, I’m not going to hammer you with tons of gear tips and all its technicalities but at least get some sound advice as to what equipment you should be using. Windsurfers are awesome people and I don’t know of any who wouldn’t want to help.
In general, stay away from the professional equipment, don’t get a massive sail or a tiny one and don’t purchase a tiny board either. A wide board will help your stability and the longer thin ones are generally the older models, new is always a good idea if you can afford it.
If it’s blowing off-shore then don’t even think about going out, if it’s blowing side-off don’t even think about going out! If the wind is at any moment blowing out to sea and off the shore, you will be facing dangerous conditions.
Start out in an onshore direction where the wind is blowing towards the shore or side-on winds which are great conditions for learning. If something goes wrong, then at least you don’t get blown out to sea.
If it’s epic rough and pumping 25 knots plus, then you should probably avoid going out. Of course you need some experience first. Get used to flatter water and lighter winds before going hard, a good start is 8 - 15 knots.
Are there other windsurfers that use that spot? Don’t go windsurfing just anywhere because there could be rocks, shark breeding or other dangerous things under water.
Find out where people windsurf and investigate where the beginner spots are.
5. Watch your intake
I went out sailing just the other day and drank a coffee before heading out, I usually bring a bottle of water with me but this time I forgot and what a stupid thing that was.
I had a few sips from the local tap before heading out, but about half an hour into my sailing I suddenly got very fatigued, I was dehydrated. Luckily water wasn’t far from me and that fixed the problem but it’s a reminder of why we should keep hydrated, oh and have something to eat for god sakes, it will help with the energy levels.
The last thing you want is a surprise episode of profound fatigue, wipe out in deep water and find yourself swimming for your gear. You’ll be surprised at how fast dehydration kicks in when you’re taking in salt-water. I like to have an orange at lunch, oats for breakfast (slow release carbs) and some good protein source foods at lunch. I’m always amazed at how much my performance and energy improves if I have good intake.
There are other highly important tips but I think I should close by saying one final thing, use your gifted brain. If there is anything that seems to clash with your instinct, listen to your gut. Use common sense and don’t be foolish especially if there are others on the water.
Often (not always) when there’s an accident, there’s a fool to blame so don’t be a hero just have decent fun and know your limits.