May 4, 2011

Windsurfing versus Kitesurfing

I was recently told that kitesurfing was far easier to learn than windsurfing, and privately I disputed this theory vowing to check it out when I next had some time in front of a computer. So here I am, checking it out, to find that everyone including Wikipedia says “The sport has a considerably steep (i.e. longer) learning curve when compared to other so-called “extreme” sports, like snowboarding, freeride mountain biking or kitesurfing.”

In fact, Wikipedia goes even further with this wonderful analogy: Learning to windsurf can be compared to chess in that there are many pieces moving in different directions which you have to keep track of. After a few goes most finally catch on. Whereas learning to kite board is more like learning checkers.
So, I was wrong. It’s harder to learn to windsurf than kitesurf…

Although you can teach yourself to windsurf, it is adviseable to get a lesson. The thing about teaching yourself is that you will undoubtably pick up some bad habits and they will be very difficult to get rid of later.

So how does windsurfing compare to kitesurfing speed-wise?

In the old days, when the windsurf boards were huge and heavy and the sails enormous, it was very difficult to get high speeds out of a windsurfer, but despite this, in 1983, Fred Haywood became the first Windsurfer to go over 30 knots, an incredible achievement for those days.

Nowadays, with the lighter boards, smaller sails, improved designs (see previous article: hi-tech materials catapult windsurfing into the space age) much greater speeds can be achieved. The Fanatic Belgian Speed Week are just coming to an end. Held in France, the trials have had a challenging week with varying wind conditions. Results are not yet out, but we’ll keep you up to speed as soon as they are…

The challenge in the past has been to see who would be the first to break the elusive 50 knot barrier – the holy grail of speedsailing. Would it be a sailboat, a windsurfer or even, possibly, a kitesurfer?

It was Sebastien Cattelan who did it first, and did it kitesurfing. Subsequently, and most recently, Rob Douglas broke the record again with an astonishing 55.65 knots (103.06 km/h)… at the Luderitz speed trials in Namibia, and again it was kitesurfing that claimed the victory.

Hydroptére, the fabulous experimental sailing hydrofoil, briefly reached 56.3 knots (104.3 km/h; 64.8 mph), in 2008, but capsized shortly thereafter and so the result cannot be counted. She is on record for sustaining a speed of 52.86 knots (97.90 km/h) for 500m in 2009.

The windsurfing world is not far behind. The 50 knot barrier still holds firm, but not necessarily for long. Irish born sailor Finian Maynard, competing for the British Virgin Islands, reached an average speed of 48.70 knots on a windsurfer over a 500 metre course at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (France) in 2005.

The current world record is held by Antoine Albeau, who, in 2008, reached 49,09 knots, (90,91 km/h), on the canal which was specially built for record attempts at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in the Camargue, South of France. At the age of 36, Antoine Albeau dominates the sport. He has 11 world titles to his name and an innumerable collection of national titles. Along with Bjorn Dunerbeck, he is the most titled European windsurfer.

But it will take some time before a beginner is windsurfing like this! The first thing a beginner must master is balance and core stability. Then he needs to acquire a basic understanding of sailing theory, and learn a few techniques before progressing from board sailing to windsurfing. Which takes us back to where we began – get a lesson, it will speed up your progress!

Once this sport is mastered it can be enjoyed, even at an advanced level, for many years and then at a more sedate level for considerably longer still.