How I Got Windsurfing (Eventually)
I had my first exciting ride on a windsurf board at about 14 years of age while on holiday in Spain. I remember the first time I managed to get the mast upright and grab the boom. The board was suddenly transformed from a wobbly platform into a speeding missile. After the exhilaration came the panic and, with no idea what to do next, I did what I still do when panic sets in – I let go and jumped off. Unfortunately, I fell off the board into an invasion of jellyfish. I still remember the pain and the red marks across the front of my body like slashes from Freddy Krueger's steel fingers.
It was the 1980s and the BIC headline tempted me with their pitch 'There's a reason for its [windsurfing] popularity: it's easy'. I must have believed them (or was swayed by the glamorous picture) because I became the owner of their 'biggest' selling board - the Dufour Wing. At 200 litres and over 12 feet long it weighed a ton, had a partially retractable dagger board and a 6.3m triangle for a sail. The boom seemed as long as the board and was always floppy to match the sail which, in my hands, was always flappy.
The only time I got it flying like a wing was when it took off and ripped the cheap Halford's roof rack off my Hillman Minx on the M3. I really should have learnt that cheap is not always cheerful – but I didn't.
Once I started earning money I bought a Vintner 340 complete with a 5.6m sail which had battens! It was an ugly thick plastic board, but it had pink footstraps and it was cheap. I added harness lines and a bright pink nappy harness – it was the 1980s and pink was in.
I read magazine articles by the famous names of the era and desperately wanted to plane in my footstraps like others seemed to do with ease. Despite many enjoyable outings with my boards, I had no idea how to achieve anything other than light wind straight line sailing and the odd tack. BIC had lied to me: windsurfing isn’t easy, it’s hard. Eventually I resigned myself to never being able to windsurf and, believe me, that failure hurt for years.
It’s never too late
Fast forward a couple of decades, a wife and 3 daughters and at 47 I decided to have another go. My two youngest were prepared to have a go too so in 2008 I booked us on a 2 week Club Vass holiday to Dahab. We spent the first week in the beginner group because the girls were complete beginners and I needed to relearn some basics. It was great fun and I progressed to the intermediate group for the second week. The fulfilment of a lifetime ambition had arrived – intermediates used a harness and planed in the footstraps! Sadly, I ended that week little better off than when I started. I did get planing a few times but was staring at the kit so much that I once ran aground ripping the fin from the board and dashing myself on some rocks. Leaving Dahab, I felt that windsurfing was beyond me and it was seven more years before the desire to plane in the footstraps resurfaced.
I was now into my early 50s. My 80s kit had all been dumped after rotting down the side of my Dad’s house for the best part of 30 years. I only had a MG sports car so no room for kit and, anyway, I knew it was pointless buying my own kit as I would never use it – such was my pessimism about my ability to windsurf. Browsing the internet one day in 2015 I saw an advert for a two-day course on Hayling Island with Simon Bornhoft (I remembered that name from the 80s). I could use his spare kit too, so I booked on his course. Although the course was full of great advice from Simon, by far the best thing that happened to me was that I became friends with Lance Mepsted. We were both in B&Bs locally and went to the cinema that evening to watch Jurassic World. Without this chance friendship, I do not believe I would still be windsurfing today or had as much fun and enjoyment from it.
Thank you Lance.
Flat, shallow water is the answer
Hayling Island was famous for windsurfing, but I had found it difficult in the waves and tiring in the deep water. I needed somewhere flatter and shallower to practice what I had learnt. Poole Windsurfing offered a package deal of 10 hours in Poole Harbour using their kit, wetsuit and boots. I drove down there 5 times in the summer of 2015 to use my 10 hours. Their service was excellent with a young lad putting the kit over the wall into the water and then taking it out at the end of my time. This was a bonus as I was always knackered and just wanted to warm up with a cup of tea. I did get planing many times but the board would either turn up wind and grind to a halt or I would get catapulted painfully. Windsurfing wasn’t getting easier.
If only YouTube had been there in the 80s
I have always read a lot about windsurfing but now there is YouTube and loads of ‘how to’ videos. I watched dozens of them and marvelled at how easy windsurfing looks when others do it. I knew I needed more help but did not know where to go, particularly as I did not have my own kit. My favourite videos were by a young couple called Phil Richards & Danielle Lucas of Getwindsurfing. With Phil’s amusing slow narration, their videos are clear and easy to follow and the water always seems to be clear and blue and inviting.
Lance persuaded me to go to the National Watersports Festival in September 2015 at Hayling Island. I rented kit from the OTC at Portland Harbour and I was instructed to go to the Tabou stand at NWF and ask for a guy called Ross Williams. He would fix me up with some kit. Ross recommended a big board as it was very light wind all weekend and picked a brand new Tabou Rocket Wide board along with a brand new Gaastra Cosmic sail. I had no idea how to rig the sail so Ross did this for me (he seemed to know what he was doing) and carried all the kit to the water. He also helped Lance rig his sail and could not have been more friendly. The service I received for quite a modest rental was outstanding and it was only later that someone told me Ross Williams is one of the top windsurfers in the world.
As I was leaving NWF on Sunday afternoon, I noticed an attractive young woman who looked familiar. ‘Are you Danielle?’ I asked. ‘Yes’ she said and within 5 minutes had sold me a weekend course in Portland Harbour in October. How could I resist? I persuaded Lance to join the course too and we rented kit from the OTC again.
Portland Harbour and Weymouth
I loved that first weekend course in October 2015. For all of Saturday I continued with my struggles to get planing with the board turning up wind or me being catapulted. Exhausted from repeatedly climbing on the board and uphauling I did get very frustrated on the water. Danielle was incredibly patient though and always suggested something positive for me to do to improve. On the Sunday morning I managed to put all the advice into practice for one long run across Portland Harbour planing with both feet in the footstraps. Danielle had followed and witnessed my triumph. I gave her a big hug in appreciation for her help. It was an emotional moment.
In the afternoon, Lance grabbed the board and sail combination that had propelled me to my first real windsurfing achievement, and I wasn’t able to repeat the feat – thanks Lance, I thought we were friends. In fact, I didn’t repeat my success for another year and went back to struggling to plane, turning the board upwind and getting catapulted – very frustrating.
I really enjoy going to Portland Harbour and have been to four Getwindsurfing courses there so far. On a good day the harbour has flat water and is shallow for a large area at low tide.
Here I am planing in both straps at Portland Harbour in October 2016. I am using the harness now but not fully committing to it. You can see that I am too upright with too much weight through my feet. The board is cruising at an angle rather than being flat on the water. If I dropped lower, using the harness rather than pulling with my arms, the sail would power up more and there would be more mast foot pressure to flatten the board. More power and a flatter board mean more speed and more fun.
It was incredibly windy on the Saturday in October and I would have packed in but for Phil gently persuading me to have another go after I stormed out of the water cursing ‘never again’. The picture on the right is a typical ending for me on that day. One of the advantages of doing the clinics is that I spend more time on the water than I would otherwise. More time on the water doing what Phil & Danielle instruct me to do has allowed me to progress more than I thought I ever would.
The beautiful blue water of Lac Bay in Bonaire
While sitting in a pub in Weymouth, Phil told us about this beautiful windsurfing destination called Bonaire in the Caribbean. It has clear blue water, warm temperatures and consistent wind. Plus, it has a coral reef that results in permanently flat, shallow water. I was sold to again and in January 2016 I joined my second Getwindsurfing clinic.
Bonaire is the best place I have been to for learning to windsurf. The area of waist deep water is vast so you never have to uphaul. Beach starts improve dramatically and you can focus on technique without getting too tired. The Jibe City staff are friendly and you only need to carry a board a few feet to the water and your sail will arrive and be connected to your board for you – my idea of windsurfing heaven.
A benefit of the Getwindsurfing clinics is that Phil & Danielle attract students of all ages and we have a great time on and off the water. Sitting at the Hangout bar drinking Pina Coladas with Sean’s infectious laugh, Lance, Alice, Tina and many others, before weaving our way home on our scooters, are some of my best memories. I have now been to Bonaire four times and it is one the most relaxing places I know.
I now had the money to learn from my early mistakes of buying the cheapest kit available. In early 2016 I invested in a Tabou Rocket Wide board and two Severne sails. I still only had a two-seater car so I also had to buy a second car just to transport the new kit. I measured the inside of several car models and found that the Renault Grand Scenic is the best option and it has proven to be excellent. I had hoped to restrict the amount of kit I own but this is not easy and I now have two boards (Tabou Rocket Wide 108 litre and Starboard Kode 94 litre) and nine sails (3.7m to 7.5m). Having my own kit really helped me advance and I recommend it if you are trying to progress in this challenging sport.
I have been to Getwindsurfing UK clinics in Hayling Island, Portland Harbour, Queen Mary Reservoir and wave sailing in Cornwall. The most surprising for me were the two trips to Cornwall. We camped at Stithians Lake and, while the girls had a Diva clinic with Danielle, the men went wave sailing on the fabulous coast of Cornwall. The highlight in both years was Gwithian Beach in St Ives Bay. Gwithian is an enormous sandy beach backed by large sand dunes. It’s true you need to carry your kit a long way, which is not my favourite thing to do, however, the gentle waves are a lovely introduction to wave sailing and it’s well worth the effort.
Brouwersdam in the Netherlands
In October 2019, Lance and I went on the Getwindsurfing clinic at Brouwersdam. Danielle had mentioned they were impressed with the location when they went in 2018 so I wanted to find out if it is good for a short break from home. It most definitely is and I will be going again in 2020.
The enclosed water area is massive - Lance planed for over half an hour before turning back. There are multiple launch sites so it should always to possible to get good conditions regardless of the wind direction. The main location has a large café, fully stocked shop, changing rooms, free parking and grass areas to rig your kit. There is a reasonable area of shallow water and plenty of scope for progressing in flat water conditions. Brouwersdam is the best place I have been, outside of Bonaire, to learn to windsurf and I recommend it. On the North Sea side of the coast there are huge sandy beaches with play areas and cafes, so it is perfect for a family visit too.
Glorious Greek Island
Alongside Bonaire, my favourite destination is Palekastro in Crete. I have done two Getwindsurfing clinics there and will go again in 2020. The town is small and quiet but has everything that is needed on a windsurfing holiday – reasonably priced bars and restaurants. The Cretan people are incredibly friendly and the pace of life so relaxed that it’s a pleasure just to be there.
The windsurfing at Kouremenos beach can be challenging and not ideal for beginners but great for intermediates. Although you have to carry your own kit to the water, it’s only 25 yards over mostly sand so not too much of a hardship (I like my holiday windsurfing to be low effort). Small trees provide shade on the beach and there is a lovely café.
The best thing about the clinic in Crete though is the group of likeminded windsurfers who go back every year. Tom and Vicky, Mark and Nicky, Mark and Kathy, Steve and Judy, Chris and Neal (not a couple) and many others. If you like challenging windsurfing, a relaxed lifestyle, great company and plates of complimentary fruit with your beer and raki then Palekastro in Crete is the place to go.
I spent 30 years wanting to plane in footstraps but continually got frustrated and demoralised at my lack of ability. I have been catapulted so many times that I’m amazed I persevered. Thankfully, I realised I couldn’t achieve this ambition on my own and I am so grateful that I met Danielle in 2015. With help from Getwindsurfing, I have gone from consistent failure to consistent improver. I have this photo (taken by Danielle in Crete) hanging on my wall at home to prove that it is possible to achieve your ambitions with the right coaching. Thank you Phil & Danielle for your patience and encouragement – I couldn’t have done it without you.
Thank you to my many windsurfing friends who I have met through Getwindsurfing. It’s been a pleasure windsurfing with you and talking about it over a beer, pina colada and raki (or two). Here’s to many more years of fun and friendship.