Kuba Gąsiewski is a skilled all-round waterman, originally from Poland, but now based in Mauritius, where he is the chief windsurfing instructor at ION CLUB in Le Morne. Kuba rips on any kind of board, from windsurfer to surfboard, kiteboard to SUP, but what he is quickly building a reputation for is challenging the conventions of learning how to windsurf. We’ve featured before his innovative methods for teaching windsurfing to children, but now Kuba has turned his attention to the very basics of windsurfing instruction, which he argues haven’t changed inline with the breakthrough design changes of modern boards and sails. He advocates a more fluid approach to learning and our stance, encouraging us to embrace Bruce Lee’s saying, “Become like water”, arguing that windsurfing is easy if the correct method of instruction is used. Read on as Kuba opens the debate on the methods of teaching windsurfing in the modern age.
Words Kuba Gąsiewski // Photos David Varekamp | Surfkitephoto.com & Remo Pante.
When details are given too prominent a role, learning can become a difficult and frustrating process. With a few little hints and corrections though, what seemed to be so hard, becomes effortless and easy. In fact, windsurfing is an easy sport, once you understand it. Some years ago, windsurfing kit underwent some revolutionary changes. Boards became shorter, wider, more stable and with footstrap positions much closer to the mast. Sails got lighter too, with better balance and became even more effortless to handle. It is so much easier to windsurf now when compared to years ago. So if equipment has changed so much, it’s logical that our way of teaching windsurfing should also be upgraded. Yet most instructors around the world are still using the same concepts as 30 years ago. Therefore making windsurfing as hard, or maybe even harder than it ever was. People say that kitesurfing is easy to learn and windsurfing is difficult! My opinion on that matter is that both are the same, easy to learn! It’s just a question of how you have been taught.
Using just two fingers, find the balance point on the boom so that you can lift the sail up completely horizontal. Place your harness lines close together on that very point. Job done! Photo by Remo Pante.
TAKING A STANCE
Everything begins on your first windsurfing lesson when you get introduced to the stance. In most cases you will be taught to bend your back leg and extend the front leg. Is that really appropriate? This is a windsurfing position, but only once planing downwind! Which is certainly not a topic for the first lesson. To achieve that position you have to place your body over the centre line of the board and shift your weight to your back foot. But due to that very position, the sail opens up, the tail of the board sinks and you lose your balance. After that you end up pulling on your back hand to get some power into the sail to regain stability, but then you start going downwind and have to walk shamefully back to your instructor. You are probably also holding the mast instead of the boom and you’ve been told to keep your arms straight, leading to not applying any downward pressure on the mastfoot, so struggling to keep balance even more. At the end of your first windsurfing experience you have lower back pain from an uncomfortable stance, sore legs from constantly having to walk upwind and the assurance of your instructor that lower back pain is normal at the beginning and will go away after a couple of lessons. Does that sound familiar?
Let’s say that you continue with your lessons and slowly get used to the back pain until finally it is gone, you put up with the battle of learning how to go upwind, which probably took you a number of sessions. Then finally, you try hooking into short harness lines spread wide apart. You are not very comfortable in the harness and your instructor is probably by now explaining to you how you should be pushing your hips forward, straightening your arms and body and being as stiff as possible. You struggle for a couple of holidays but now you feel like you are getting somewhere and would like to progress into planing. So you start using a board without a daggerboard and a bigger sail. You struggle to go upwind and make millions of catapults. Your first planing experience is completely out of control, the nose of the board lifts up, you feel like your board is “dancing” uncontrollably on the fin or it turns completely upwind and stops. In all of those cases you keep coming off the plane and cannot figure out why it is happening. As a solution you take a bigger sail, keeping in mind that you should be really stiff and working your muscles as hard as you can. After some serious “working” holidays you end up planing and sort of controlling it, yet still you wonder why there are sailors on the water who are so much faster than you, but using smaller sails. Then for the next 20 years you try to nail a carve gybe, but somehow, after all those years, it is still your dream windsurfing move to perfect.
I’ve been teaching windsurfing for 11 years, and trust me, the story above is very common, even amongst experienced students. Most people learned windsurfing in the manner described. Standing on the back foot didn’t affect the board that much back in the days when boards were 4 metres long, but that was a long time ago. Now we are riding nearly half that size and shifting the weight of your body to the back makes a huge difference. It simply doesn’t work that way any more.
“Your position must be fluid – constantly changing and adapting to the conditions.”
Bruce Lee once said, “You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” I don’t think Bruce had windsurfing in mind while compiling those wise words, but nothing applies more perfectly to windsurfing than his quote. Your position must be fluid – constantly changing and adapting to the conditions. The water is moving, the wind is hardly ever constant, and you might be changing direction too, so your position cannot be fixed! You must, “Become like water my friend”. Of course there is a bit more to it than that, but still, Bruce’s point is very salient.
So, let’s say that you come to me for your first windsurf lesson. I will tell you to stand comfortably behind the mast, having weight on both of your feet, place your front hand on the boom around 10 cm away from the mast, and back hand shoulder width apart. Holding a boom instead of a mast helps a sail to fill up with wind and therefore allows you to keep a better balance. It’s important to feel that a sail is light, therefore it must be maintained in a close to vertical position. Your arms should be slightly bent with your elbows tucked in and turned down, helping you to apply some mastfoot pressure. Thanks to that you will keep your board flatter, legs lighter and have an extra source of balance. Imagine the mast as a balance stick that you use to support your body weight. The next instruction you would hear from me is to shift your body weight more forward and outside of the board into the wind, rather than staying above the centre line of a board. That instantly will give you the feeling of comfort and set your direction upwind.
So after your first two hours on a windsurfer you are already riding upwind. A basic turn on a big board is a really easy thing to achieve, so for sure we would also nail that. After 4 hours you would be trying a harness and somewhere around the 8th – 10th hour we will likely be getting into planing. Sounds quite unreal, considering how much time back in the day it used to take for most people to get planing for the first time. That doesn’t have to be the case any more, now windsurfing is easy! The most important moment for every windsurfer is learning to use a harness and getting planing. That’s the transition point of becoming a windsurfer, that’s when the true love and addiction starts. First the sensation of trust and ease that we get once we realise that the sail is holding us, that feeling that we can actually relax. After that, getting on to the plane gives an ecstatic experience that just seals the deal. Bang! You are hooked. From now on, every holiday, or in some cases, whole life, is all about windsurfing.
This is the connection point between you and your sail, making it become one bigger unit. Which means that whatever change in position you do, the sail will follow in one way or another, but that will only be achieved if harness lines are placed in the right position. And here is the ultimate question – where is that? I’ve seen so many different ways that people use to set their lines. Frankly speaking, most of them do not make any sense. For instance, counting hands and elbows on the boom, or whatever else, where is the logic behind that? Do we all have the same size of arms, do all sails have the same dimensions? Modern sails are so much more stable than before, the centre point of pressure doesn’t move like it used to. All we have to do now is find the balance point on the boom and place our lines there. How do we do that? The answer is to place your rig on the ground with the mast turned into the wind. Start lifting your sail by the boom using just two fingers. If you grab too close to the mast, you will lift the mast up, but the clew will stay down. Too far from the mast and the clew lifts up. Eventually you will find the place where you can lift the rig up perfectly flat and balanced. That’s where your harness lines should be. Now just join them together. As I mentioned before – sails are very well balanced, so there is no point in having your harness lines wide apart. It just feels heavier and less controllable. Harness lines close together allows you to play with a sail’s power much easier, helps you to get planing faster and makes you relax your arms and feel more response from your rig. There are only benefits coming from it, no negatives. Some say this is only for freestylers or for pro riders. Well, I teach beginners to use a harness that way and they have no problems.
The last thing required is to find the right length for your lines. You should place your elbow inside the loop and be able to grab the boom having your wrist straight. That is the very minimum length. In fact, the longer the better. In my case it’s 38 inches.
Points to note from this shot
1. Head turned slightly upwind to spot gusts.
2. Shoulders dropped loose – relaxed.
3. Elbows tucked in and turned down – giving you clear vision and applying mast pressure.
4. Front hand close to the harness line, back hand shoulder with apart.
5. Round back – like back of a cat.
6. Bum dropped low above the water surface. Maintaining the harness tension and mastfoot pressure.
7. Legs light and flexible without much weight on them.
8. Sail as vertical as possible.
9. Board flat on the water surface.
Points to note from this shot
1. Moving the head forward towards the boom activates your abdominal muscles and also activates your harness.
2. Elbows turned down and arms actively applying down force through the mastfoot.
3. Legs bent in order to drop the bum low down and therefore apply as much mastfoot pressure as possible, to keep the board very flat on the water.
4. This is more of a transition position to get planing or pass through the wind holes. Also very useful when getting into the straps.
Having long harness lines requires you to change your stance; drop your bum low down and round your back like a cat. Your head should lean slightly forward towards the boom and be pretty much at the same height. This movement will help you to properly hang on the harness. By getting lower down you shift most of your weight onto the rig which removes weight from your feet and keeps the board flatter on the water. It planes faster and makes you much more weightless and relaxed. And the windier it is, the lower your bum should drop, eventually in strong wind conditions you will find yourself almost touching the water!
These should be light and free, to be able to respond to chop and wind gusts. While going upwind you will end up bending your front leg and straightening the back one, heading downwind it will be the opposite. If the wind is lighter you might end up bending your knees in order to apply more mast foot pressure. When the wind gets stronger your legs will be more extended. Your knees will be bent when riding over chop and straighter on flat water. The most important thing is to maintain a relaxed stance to be able to quickly respond to changes around you. Do not put your legs in a fixed position, keep them fluid instead. Only in a relaxed state will you be able to fully adapt and respond to ever changing conditions.
It’s been commonly said that arms should be extended and straight. In fact you should keep your arms and shoulders loose, with your elbows pointing down to help you to apply even more mast foot pressure onto the board. Your arms are not really meant to be holding the rig, the harness does. Hands are on the boom just to control the amount of power by sheeting in or sheeting out. Therefore the more relaxed they are, the faster your response to gusts will be. Try holding your boom just by the ends of your fingers.
Imagine two speedboats that are about to get planing. At the first stage of acceleration, both bows are really lifting up, but still going quite slow. In order to speed up, the skipper of the first boat gives more throttle. The other captain is more experienced.
He doesn’t accelerate, instead he sends some crew to the front. Both boats are now planing, yet one is louder, using more energy and will run out of fuel much faster. How does this little story apply to windsurfing? A board is very much like a boat in that when planing it must be flat to the water’s surface. If the nose is lifting up you will need more power in the sail to compensate. If you want you can sail back to the beach and change your sail for a bigger one, that will probably get you going. You can also keep in mind the story of the second skipper and send some “crew” to the front and flatten your board. Technically speaking, planing doesn’t require that much extra than already explained above in the ‘POSITION’ section. If you feel comfortable in your harness, blasting should be a piece of cake, but you might find it very helpful having the right board. What you want is a board that you can feel stable on, can easily uphaul, and most importantly has a front footstrap position approximately one hand away from the mast. Being able to step right into the straps before planing gives great comfort, control and therefore confidence.
Now, if your harness lines are positioned on the centre point of balance, and the wind is strong enough, all you have to do is:
1. Reach with the mast slightly into the wind to turn slightly downwind and pick up speed.
2. Get lower down to channel most of your weight on the mast foot and therefore flatten the board
3. Once accelerating, move your body slightly away from the board and into the wind, adding some pressure to the windward side of the board. That will turn you upwind and give you a sense of control.
Job done! Now you are a fully hooked windsurfing junkie and it wasn’t even as hard as it seemed. There is still a lot to learn, but pretty soon you will be out there ripping waves… see you in the surf!
If you want to join Kuba for some of his innovative teaching, he is running a freeride clinic in Mauritius, 02 – 07 December 2018. For more details see www.ion-club.net/en/events/1073 and you can follow him on Instagram and facebook at @kubaonwave.
Main Photo Kuba airs out in Le Morne, Mauritius.
Photo by David Varekamp | Surfkitephoto.com