A lot of people have been asking me how do I get planing more easily? Most of that boils down to technique. The most important part of this technique is Mast Foot Pressure or MFP as we will refer to it from here on out. MFP is what tells the board to GIDDY UP and get going. Without this, you will never gain control over your board and be able to windsurf properly.
Some common occurrences take place before you even hit the water. Setting up your rig and getting tuned in for your body height and weight are uber important. Tuning the sail with the right amount of downhaul for the conditions is a big factor. If we take a 200lb 6’2” dude and dial in his 6.2 Freerwave sail for 13-22knots it would be different to a 5’6 135lb girl. I think we can all agree on that?? For the big boy, I would recommend not as much downhaul- he is gonna need a little more power up higher in the sail to get him going. When you pull too much downhaul, you flatten out the top of the sail and this kills the power. How much less downhaul? I would normally recommend no more than 2cm off of the spec. For the girl in this same amount of wind I would suggest downhauling to full spec maybe even a touch more to give control and ease in the big gusts. The worst feeling for any windsurfer is getting that unwanted catapult! That hurts. By pulling more downhaul, the top of the sail flattens out and releases the power. The sail feels lighter in the hands when planing and doesn’t pull you around so much. If you think about the sail being fuller up top, this is a recipe for getting launched over the bars (also known as the unintentional forward loop attempt)!
As for the outhaul, the heavier the weight, the less outhaul you will need to pull. The amount of outhaul you pull is relevant to how much downhaul you have. When the mast bends with more downhaul, it causes the need for more outhaul because there is more material that bunches up. It works both ways, so with less downhaul, not as much outhaul is required. I like to use the boom touching theory to set the outhaul. If the wind is really light and I need planing power, I set the outhaul so that the last 12”s or 30.48cm’s of sail might just barely be able to touch the boom. If it is draping over the boom that is not enough outhaul and can damage your sail. One thing to note if you are using the manufacturers specs on the sail, if you are not using the exact recommended mast, everything about those specs goes out the window!!! Very important to note this…..
How about your board? In a perfect world, we would all have the latest and greatest LTD construction and all the bells and whistles right? Not always the case for many……I’m a big fan of using what you have unless it is just way too old and gonna hinder your performance which in turn bums you out on windsurfing- Not good!!! Most boards now days are pretty darn good. The biggest problem I see is using too small of a board- bigger is normally better especially when it comes to planing. Duhhhhhh- If you don’t have the means to buy bigger boards, consider going up a few cm in your fin size, that can give you some more horsepower. For earlier planing you can also move your footstraps further forward on the board so that you an get in them and be going more quickly- not as much weight further back on the tail. The downside here is top end speed…. the windier it is the further back you want to be on the board for better control and speed. There is a lot going on with the board and setup- pay attention to what the good guys are doing at your beach and ask questions- most windsurfers are pretty friendly!
Setting your boom to at least shoulder height when standing upright next to your mast while on the board is the best place to start (you can do this on the beach). Once this is established, you want to make sure you can easily get into AND out of your harness lines. Too short = too hard so consider longer vs shorter. A lot of sailors ride with a boom too low and never find that magic sweet spot of pure bliss while sailing. Too low of boom also gets you into a bad habit of too short of harness lines- this greatly reduces MFP! Some people challenge this notion of longer lines until they experience the balance for themselves. Common complaints are that my bum is hitting the water and I use my arms too much. Most of the time, what is actually happening is they are pulling the rig too far over to windward and trying to muscle it rather than letting the harness do the work. When the harness is doing the work, your weight is dropping down into the harness engaging the lines and guess what this does naturally……. it gives MFP ! When everything is set up correctly, you don’t even have to think about Mast Foot Pressure, it just happens, like magic! All of the sudden, you and your board are acting as one unit, a connection to the wind. You can finally breathe, smile and play the piano while blasting along.
Jumping onto your board for your first run out, it is very important to get that front foot all the way up to the mast track. Keep your back foot between the straps so you have a pretty wide stance. Most people don’t get the front foot far enough forward and the board rounds up into wind and they can easily fall off. The other key factor is keeping the rig away from you- let the sail pull you onto the board and with your hips up in light wind get your body weight over the centerline of the board, arms extended with the rig pulling you along. As soon as you pull in on those arms and bring the sail too far over towards your body, you are walking a fine line of falling off. Think of the sail as your helper to keep you over the center of the board and pull you along. Once you get into some real wind, rather than pull with your arms, think more of dropping your weight to get lower and feel the sail start to pull you along. Keep your front foot pointed towards the nose of the board and as you get moving you should be ready to hook in to your harness. Whatever you do, don’t look at your harness lines, your boom or your hands or your feet- this is one of the biggest reasons for getting catapulted. Just like driving your car, you don’t look at the gas pedal when you accelerate into traffic do you??? You should be able to get into your harness without having to look at your lines. If you can’t do this, i suggest practicing on the beach to get a feel for this movement.
Once in your lines you can then start to think about getting your front foot in the strap- make sure you are heading upwind and in control. Feel with your feet and first slide your back foot back(to keep a wider stance) and then your front foot back so that you can ease it into the front strap. If you are a first time footstrapper, make the straps BIG so you don’t have to mess with wedging them in. A bigger strap will receive your foot better- especially if you are wearing booties! Keep your weight low at all times during this process. When your legs are straight there is a better chance for getting catapulted!!! With your front foot now in the strap, keep your head up watching the wind coming towards you. Put some pressure into your front foot to get the nose of the board to go downwind- this will start your planing process. As you get going now it is time to get that back foot in the strap. There is no great rush to do this and many people panic right about now and lose their flow- the back foot can slowly work its way back to the strap and without ever looking, find its way in. This should all be on auto flow. Another great way to practice this is on the beach- take your fin out of your board and work on hooking in to your harness, moving your feet back and getting into the straps- all without looking! If you can’t do it on the land, don’t expect to do it on the water.
As you now sail off into the sunset, be sure to keep your head up looking upwind where you want to go. Twist the hips upwind and find the connection to your rig through your harness. One way to think about this connection is by pushing the rig away from you to engage the lines- at the same time you are dropping your weight by bending your knees/ankles to keep the harness in the lines….. all this is generating the MFP that keeps us in the flow.
Hopefully this can help you on your way to improving your windsurfing. Stay tuned for more How To’s coming to you in 2014 at www.pritchardwindsurfing.com
Check out this video to see Santiago from Argentina learning how to get planing and in the straps for his first time ever! He had the ride of his life…..
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