It’s a popular public misconception that learning to windsurf takes a while. Reader Elise Gire shares her own rather faster track approach of learning from up-hauling all the way through to short board sailing, water start, harness, foot straps and jibing in 50 days on the water! Granted this was in Maui, but it still shows with some dogged determination what can be achieved! The story doesn’t end there; Elise is now sailing in the waves and planning to enter her first wave competition. Read on for excerpts from the diary she kept during the first fifty days of her windsurf journey and an inspiring tale!
Words Elise Gire // Photos Paula Mantia and Joey Sanchez
Originally published within the July ’17 edition
After moving to Maui in January 2016, I decided to learn the awesome sport of windsurfing. My mum Paula and stepdad Jon are both windsurfers on the island and after years and years of watching from the beach on my trips here I was finally ready for a change and a challenge. This is a glimpse into what I experienced in the first 50 days of windsurfing, from my first lesson to where I am now.
Day 1: Lesson one of three was with Spencer from Pritchard Windsurfing. We headed to Upper Kanaha Beach Park to start with a brief land lesson on up-hauling. Soon enough I was hopping on the 150 litre board, amped and ready to go. I quickly learned that this was much easier said than done. After what felt like a million attempts, I remember thinking how was it so hard to get on a board and start going? The two hour lesson came to an end,
I was sore, feeling a bit discouraged and had a lot to review before the days ahead. I remember feeling very motivated to just get to a point where I could just sail out and back.
Day 3: I finally started getting the hang of up-hauling and had my first real ride going out! Keeping my weight low and centred on the board was a key tip for me with up-hauling. I also learned that when my hands got to the top of the up-haul rope, I needed to keep my arms extended and away from me and not in close or I would fall backwards when I went to grab the boom. Getting the first ride felt like all my hard work so far was worth it.
Day 6: I met my friend Bea Sanchez-Diaz (Victor Fernandez’s wife) who was also learning to windsurf. She was already water starting both ways and it really motivated me to ditch the up-hauling and start practicing some water starts. I asked my Mom to teach me how to rig my own gear. So I would practice rigging in the backyard until I was able to go to Kanaha by myself and sail with Bea. Mainly to do a lot (a LOT) of catapulting! Starting all the way upwind, I would practice water start after water start until I was at the end of the beach and then walk my rig back up to do it all over again.
Day 7: First water start!! Somewhere between drowning and catapulting, is water starting. What really worked for me was keeping my arms straight, and my head down, hanging on the boom. When I felt the resistance of the wind I would push the sail into the wind as opposed to letting the wind pull my whole body weight up causing me to be flung over. Back foot resting on the board, arms pushing the sail up into the wind, standing up and stomping my front foot next to the mast, and bracing back with back knee bent. I used to keep count how many water starts I got that day, and try to just get one more the following day, instead of looking out at the pros practicing back loops and getting discouraged. Focusing on the little victories were my key to staying motivated and not giving up in this phase.
Day 10: Windsurfing has a really funny way of putting you back in check. On day 10, I was walking my board down to the beach; since it was huge (125 litres) I would walk the board down first and then the sail. When I was walking the sail down to the beach a gust came and blew my sail right on top of me…I was pinned under my sail on the beach!! I ran into a road block with learning to handle the sail. It seems like a weird thing to get stuck on, but manoeuvring the sail was confusing and challenging. I brought my Mom into the water with me and I would put the sail in all different positions and then ask her what to do in that situation. I practiced over and over what to do when the sail falls in different ways to get the hang of it.
“ I have become motivated by the challenges of the sport, there’s always more to learn! Windsurfing doesn’t come easy and I think that is the best part for me. ”
Day 13: I took a harness / foot straps lesson with Spencer. It was the first time I wore a harness, and I was excited to learn! I got my water start and sailed out, farther than I ever had. I tried water starting on the way back and I couldn’t get it. This side was so much harder. It felt like writing with your opposite hand, or riding a skateboard on the opposite stance. I ended up drifting all the way from Upper Kanaha, past the weird wave, and down to Lower Kanaha. I saw my Mom and Matt Pritchard watching from the beach… and I realized I still had a lot of practicing to do!
Day 17: Water start breakthrough! I started getting water starts coming back. My ah-ha moment with water starting on the outside was practicing the motions over and over to make it feel comfortable. It felt so awkward at first, and got easier with time. Getting water starts coming in felt like I was handed the keys to a new car. It changed the sport for me completely, and this is when my addiction for windsurfing really began.
Day 21: The first time planing I finally understood what people were describing. It was unlike any feeling in the world! When I was flying across the water, nothing else mattered and it is still the best and most freeing experience I’ve had. Trying shorter boards, practicing getting in and out of my harness and footstraps and learning to stay upwind was the new goal. I moved down to an 85 litre board.
Day 28: First jibing lesson with Matt Pritchard at Sprecks. We did a land lesson and then hit the water to practice step-jibes. I didn’t get any that day but had a lot of great instruction that I could practice. He set the goal for me to have my jibes both ways by day 50. This seemed impossible at the time, but I was back at Kanaha every day practicing.
Day 42: Still not getting any jibes, but getting close, I decided to take another jibe lesson this time with John Crews from HST. He slowed things down by teaching me the clew first jibe. This is a slower jibe where you switch your feet first and sail with the clew first until you are ready to flip to sail. The next day, on day 43, I got my first 2 jibes!
Day 50: Practiced and practiced my jibes, trying to get as many in a row as I could. My record was 14 consecutive jibes! Then I was ready to add speed. I started practicing the step jibe that Matt taught me.
Throughout my windsurf journey I have become motivated by the challenges of the sport, there’s always more to learn! Windsurfing doesn’t come easy and I think that is the best part for me. It makes you earn it, and at the same time it’s the most fun thing I’ve ever done!
Learning to windsurf this year allowed me to experience things that I couldn’t have imagined of before, like drawing my own lines through the water with my board, dragging my hand across the turquoise ocean, being able to sail with friends and family and share stories about our sessions, even traveling for windsurfing to SoloSports in Punta San Carlos, Baja, Mexico and being able to sail in small waves. Today, I am now actually working here at SoloSports (a windsurf/kite fly in all inclusive destination resort) and am on day 120 of my windsurf journey. I’m really looking forward to competing in my first windsurf contest here in Punta San Carlos, the IWT Baja Desert Showdown in August and I can’t wait to see what is in store for my windsurfing future!