Let’s face it, although windsurfing is an incredible sport and a lot of fun, it is quite complicated especially when you are a beginner. Remembering how to turn, what direction the wind is coming from, getting the tides right and making sure you have all the correct windsurfing equipment is a lot to take on!
Understanding the equipment you need to windsurf will make your progression a lot faster, ensure you buy the right gear and it’s also a mental checklist you need to remember every time you go on the water. There is nothing more annoying than forgetting your harness or UJ and having to drive back home again.
This article will focus primarily on beginner windsurfing equipment, and lists everything you need to get on the water. However, intermediate windsurfers and those looking to buy kit will also benefit from some of the tips given below.
Table of Contents
What equipment is needed for windsurfing?
The board is the most important piece of windsurfing equipment.
Windsurfing boards come in all shapes and sizes, depending on the ability of the windsurfer and the conditions they want to use it in. There are boards designed for beginners, speed, jumping, wave riding, racing, light winds, strong winds and more! There are even boards that can be used for windsurfing and paddleboarding – you might be interested in reading our WindSup board review.
It’s safe to say that with so much choice, it can be very easy to use the wrong one unless you know what to look for.
The biggest mistake people make when windsurfing is using a board that is too small and narrow. If balancing on the board is an issue, then learning how to tack and gybe (turn around) will be so much more difficult.
Windsurf boards are measured in length, width and volume. Width and volume are the most important, especially if you want a beginner windsurfing kit to learn on.
Width equates to stability, so the wider the board the more stable it is. Width also helps the board pick up speed in lighter winds which is perfect for any beginner or intermediate. Conversely, a narrow board will be less stable but more manoeuvrable and easier to turn in strong winds.
The volume equates to the buoyancy of the board. The higher the volume, the more float the board has. Beginners and intermediates will want a board with high volume, whereas advanced windsurfers, especially wave riders, will have a board that sinks if they aren’t moving. This is important because in strong winds you want to control the board as much as possible, but a board with high volume will bounce around on top of the water and be impossible to handle.
Normally the dimensions will be listed somewhere on the board. Here is what you want to see if you are looking for a beginner windsurfing board:
Width at least 75cms
Volume at least 180 litres
The fin is a very important part of the board and must not be forgotten! The fin is how the board maintains direction and grips the water, without it you will just drift downwind.
The fin goes underneath the board and is normally attached with a screw, so remember to bring a screwdriver every time you go windsurfing.
It’s essential to know there are multiple types of fittings (called a ‘Box’) for a windsurfing fin and your board will only fit one type. The most common are US Box, Powerbox, Tuttle and Deep Tuttle. These words sound pretty strange, but after a quick Google, you’ll be familiar with what type of fitting your board has.
You need to know this because the screw length and size varies with each fitting. It also means you can’t just use any fin with any board.
Another feature of the board are the footstraps. These are less technical than fins but you need to be aware of them.
Footstraps are designed to connect your body to the board, which results in greater control in stronger winds. Attaching yourself to the board also gives you the ability to jump – this is when windsurfing gets very exciting!
Footstraps are attached with specialist screws that are a certain length and do not pierce the board.
The term windsurfing rig is generally used for all components needed to ‘rig’ a sail. The rig is the engine and gives power to the board.
Included in a windsurf rig is the sail, boom, mast, mast extension and UJ.
The sail is a large cut of material, usually monofilm and dacron, that fills with wind to create forward momentum. These days sails are technically very advanced and are better described as similar to a plane wing that creates lift by making the wind flow at very particular angles.
Understanding how a sail works is not life changing for a beginner windsurfer, but knowing what size sail to use makes the world of difference when learning.
Sails are measured in meter squared.
For an adult beginner windsurfer, a good sail size to start with should be between 4.0m2 and 5.5m2. You will be able to find the size of the sail at the bottom. Here it will also tell you what size mast, boom and extension to use.
The reason for a sail this size is that it offers enough power to get you moving, but is not too heavy to pick up out the water or too cumbersome to maneuver.
Bear in mind sail size and power is directly related to wind strength. Beginners will want to practice in 5 – 15 knots of wind, so a sail this size is perfect. Advanced windsurfers going out in 15 knots will want a sail around 7m – 8m, where if it was 40 knots they will probably use a 3.5m – 4m size sail.
At this point, the type of sail does not really matter for a beginner windsurfer, as long it is not a race sail.
Sails are cut differently and use different material depending on their use. There are sails designed for speed and racing that are incredibly efficient but heavy, waves sails are small and manoeuvrable and freeride sails are well balanced and easy to use for the average windsurfer.
The boom has a number of functions on a windsurf rig. It is what you hold onto, it gives the sail shape and it’s also how you steer.
Back in the old days, this was called a ‘wishbone’, but nobody calls it that anymore.
The boom is attached to the mast at one end and the other is attached to the sail. On the mast end, the boom can be adjusted depending on how tall you are. A comfortable height for the boom should be between chest and shoulder height. The other end of the boom is also adjustable, so you can extend the length depending on the sail size you use.
For a beginner rig, the boom size should be adjustable between 140cm – 190cm.
The boom is also where you might find harness lines. These hang off the boom for intermediate and advanced windsurfers to hook into, so they can use their body weight for counterbalance.
The mast is the pole that keeps the sail upright and is inserted into the sail through the luff tube. Masts are normally in 2 sections that easily fit together for easy transportation.
Masts are now mostly made from carbon, and their carbon percentage relates to how lightweight it is. A mast that is 100% carbon will be extremely light and offer great performance, but will be expensive. Beginners should look for masts that are at least 40% carbon.
The length of masts vary and you will normally find masts in 30cm intervals. Standard masts sizes are 370cms, 400cms, 430cms, 460cms and 490cms. The bigger the sail, the longer mast is needed. For a sail that is 4m, a 370cms mast will fit nicely. A 5.5m sail will probably require a 430cms mast.
One fact about masts that many beginners and intermediates do not know is that the flex varies between manufacturers. Some masts flex more at the top, some at the bottom and some have a constant curve. This is very important to know because this means not all masts and sails are interchangeable, and no matter how hard you try you will never be able to rig the sail right.
The mast extension is a key bit of windsurfing equipment not often talked about. Windsurfing sails need a specific mast length that normally does not fit into any standard. When a sail says its length is 418cms, this means you rig it on a 400cm mast then set the mast extension to 18cms.
The mast extension is also where you’ll find the rope and pulleys to give the sail its tension.
The UJ (Universal Joint) is how you attach the sail to the board. This is often attached to the board first, then to the sail after you have rigged it.
Keep a close eye on the rubber part of the UJ, as this tends to wear down over time and can break whilst windsurfing.
Don’t forget to attach your uphaul to the boom! This is how you lift the sail out the water.
What to wear windsurfing
Along with the windsurfing board and rig, you also need to wear the right stuff, especially here in the UK when it’s quite often cold and windy at the same time.
First up is the wetsuit, which will definitely be needed if you plan to windsurf in the UK.
Wetsuits come in different thicknesses depending on how cold the sea and air temperature is. In the winter months I use a 5mm wetsuit for windsurfing, and in the summers normally a 3mm summer or shorty wetsuit on very warm days.
There are specialist windsurfing wetsuits that are made to stop windchill and keep you slightly warmer than surfing wetsuits. However, in recent years I’ve used an O’Neill Hyperfreak surfing wetsuit because of its flexibility and comfort.
Windsurfing wetsuit boots
Windsurfing wetsuit boots do 2 things, keep our feet warm, give us more grip on the board and protect our feet from sharp stones.
We have reviewed the best windsurfing boots in another article.
Buoyancy aid or harness
Finally, you need some buoyancy just in case you get into trouble or are not a confident swimmer.
For complete beginners, we recommend putting on a buoyancy aid until you are comfortable and confident doing the basics. Soon after you should get comfortable in a harness, which offers some float but most importantly saves your arms and puts the force of the sail through your body.
How do I choose windsurfing equipment?
When choosing windsurfing equipment, you need to consider your ability, in what conditions you plan to windsurf in and what budget you have. We have broken this down into competence, conditions and cost.
Choosing windsurfing equipment must firstly be about your ability level. If you are a beginner, then buy a board you can easily progress on. Look for something that is wide and stable.
Understand what conditions you plan to windsurf in and buy kit accordingly. I live on the south coast of England where we get some strong storms which I need a 4m sail and wave board, but also some nice summer breezes where I use a 5.2. If you live in a light wind area, go for bigger equipment, whereas if you’re lucky enough to have strong winds nearby, buy smaller equipment.
Windsurf equipment is expensive and buying new is not an option for many people.
If you’re buying second hand, make sure you fully understand your ability and conditions you plan to windsurf in, then you’ll be able to know what type of equipment to look for. Then keep your eyes peeled on Facebook Marketplace and eBay.
I would always recommend beginner and early intermediates buy second hand equipment, because you are likely to progress and outgrow your kit quite quickly.
Of course, if you are able to buy new, then go to your nearest windsurfing shop and they’ll be able to offer you the perfect equipment for your ability.
About the author
Watersports Pro is managed by Ollie, who has been in the industry since 2007. A paddleboard and advanced windsurfing instructor, Ollie has travelled the world teaching these sports.
Now based on the South Coast of England, he shares his experience and knowledge on watersportspro.co.uk.