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Finding the Perfect Entry-level Gear

Jan 28, 2008

Author: Derek Rijff

Find the Perfect Big Board
words by Derek Rijff
Head Tester: Derek Rijff
Test Team: Andy Brandt, Ian Brown, Ed DeHart, Pete DeKay, Tom Lepak

Today, the biggest advances in windsurfing are happening in lightwind gear. It started with the Olympics updating its choice of One Design race equipment. Modern shaping now allows the words performance and lightwind to actually be used in the same sentence. The number of lightwind boards has nearly doubled in the last two years, and no longer are they made only to help people progress onto smaller boards.
With so many new options, it has become more difficult to discern which board is right for which rider. Our goal in this year’s lightwind board test is not just to report on the latest models but also to help you understand the subtle differences between your various options. Boards range from stable platforms for first-timers to high-tech hulls for the most technical racers. Answering some quick questions can help you figure out which board you’ll need to ensure an awesome outing with every trek to the beach.

Who will use the board?
If you envision this board being like the village bicycle—ridden around by everyone—then choose a board that guarantees user-friendliness. You’ll be looking at a wide shape (at least 80 cm) with a full EVA deck pad and plenty of volume (over 200 litres). It should also have a centreboard (or centre fin) for stability and straightline tracking.

Are you the fun-loving, try-anything sort, or a motivated, get-things-done type?
With so many boards to choose from, you can now break down the lightwind market into recreational boards and hybrid raceboards. Recreational boards are usually more manoeuvrable and fun for sail-handling tricks. If lightwind means practising moves that you’d like to do in higher winds, look at one of these. As a bonus, you may be able to find something stable enough to teach a smaller beginner on. Hybrids are a combination of old-school longboards with Formula or shortboard design. They’re better for cruising and covering long distances while you sail. They bring a cool new sensation to lightwind, where you feel incredibly efficient as the board glides through the water. Hybrids also plane quicker, handling highwind with ease, and can reach near-shortboard speeds.

At what level do you sail?
Anyone still progressing in the sport will be best served by a recreational board to help build up the skills necessary for riding smaller boards. If you’re an accomplished windsurfer who simply wants to get more days on the water, a hybrid will suit you best.

What level of sailing do you want to reach?
If you’re lucky enough to live in a consistently windy area, it’s possible that you could outgrow your lightwind board. You simply need the board to help you progress as quickly as possible. Choose a board with numerous footstrap inserts so that you can comfortably move into highwind and planing skills. However, for sailing throughout most of North America, a lightwind board will be your most useful option. To keep from outgrowing it, choose one that can be competitively raced or that can take you out into some waves in marginal conditions.

When looking for a recreational board, how do you narrow down the choices?
Getting a board to match your weight is key. Most people will need at least 180 litres of volume to have fun on their first day of windsurfing. Bigger people will need a board above 200 litres. If you’ve got a couple of days experience under your belt and are looking to progress quickly to a smaller board, look for something between 150 and 180 litres. Make sure it has an outboard footstrap setting and a large fin.

If a hybrid sounds right, which one of the numerous options do you go for?
Again, factor in the volume, but the extreme use of the board should be the deciding factor. Select something with enough volume to feel the incredible efficiency that makes these boards better than any old-school longboard. If you like the idea of racing, go with a board that qualifies for a local race series. Some of these races may lead to international competition; others are more like festivals, where the racing is less intense and more about having fun. There are also hybrids that welcome a bit of longboard-style wave action. This may be the most exciting evolution in lightwind sailing as it opens up wavesailing to common folk. Not really a true hybrid, the stand-up paddleboard is also gaining interest for lightwind wavesailing.

Your First Sail
It’s time to get a rig to go with that nice, new, big board. This can be as simple as buying a complete rig that comes with the board or as complicated (yet rewarding) as piecing together the parts. Be careful: numerous options come into play when choosing the sail, mast, boom and extension. With the correctly matched parts, the rig will be easy to put together and a joy to sail. Here are some questions to help steer you in the right direction.

What is the cheapest and easiest way to get started?
Many entry-level boards can be purchased with a nice-matching complete rig. They are lightly built and offer a soft feel, making them beautifully sensitive to light wind. Designed to quickly build sail-handling skills, when used in strong winds, they may become overwhelmed.

What setup best suits the determined and athletic beginner?
Sails are constantly becoming easier to rig and use. The determined beginner should look for a four-to-six-batten wave, freestyle or recreational no-cam sail. You may need a more expensive “skinny” mast for proper rigging, but don’t worry, it will last for years to come. Get proper shop advice when picking the sail size and all the fitting parts.

What kind of rig should I expect from my “good friend” who wants to set me up with his used gear?
Beware. More often than not, this well-intention gift ends up leading to a frustrated first windsurfing experience. Used gear can save you money if done right, but often leads to compromises and more money spent in the long run. There are numerous compatibility issues to be aware of when putting together a rig, so buy from a reputable shop’s consignment section where you can receive some guidance.


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