I wish that I had a pound for every time that someone has said to me “I would love to give windsurfing a go…” I’d have at least £266.70 by now – or is that what I’d have with a pound for every time I’d been told that I am rubbish at maths…?
Anyway, what is true is that the majority of the pounds would be pink, because they would come from ladies. They have seen others / their husbands / partners / children have a great time windsurfing, but they feel that it can’t possibly be for them. They are surprised that a slender (ish), half-hundred-year-old like myself can do a sport like windsurfing and think that I must be quite unusual… There is no doubt that windsurfing is male-dominated, but there are over 185,000 UK windsurfers and almost 30% are women. I worked it out and that’s 53,560.08. (I told you I was good at maths!)
Even if you discount the 0.08 as a statistical anomaly and probably not a real person, that still amounts to quite a lot of Babes on Boards!
On the basis that 53,560.08 women can’t be wrong, I am going to explore some of the more commonly held misconceptions about windsurfing in the hope that I can encourage a few more Ladies to Launch.
Myth 1 – You need to be really strong to windsurf
A tiny, young lady racer, aged 14, whom I see regularly at my local windsurfing spot is often out on race sails of a size that makes most men blanch. If you tried windsurfing years ago, it did take a small army to carry the long, heavy fibreglass boards, wooden booms and canvas sails, but modern boards and sails are very light and easy to handle. There are now reduced diameter masts (RDM’s) and narrow-grip booms, which are easier for our dainty hands to grasp. Like any sport, life is always more difficult when you are an absolute beginner, but the secret is technique. With windsurfing, the aim is to get the wind to do the work! Once you master the beach- and water-start (beach-starting is an excellent and achievable thing to learn early on) hauling up the sail becomes largely a thing of the past. Once you routinely use a harness, the sail is held with your body weight, not your arms. If windsurfing is really hard work, you are doing it wrong – or you have taken up wave sailing!
Myth 2 – Windsurfing is dangerous
I have been windsurfing for over a decade and have sustained some terrible injuries from going out in wild waves and gale force winds… I, er, bruised my shin. Twice! It was all very dramatic, you know… It is rather interesting that an RYA (Royal Yachting Association) statistic states that the likelihood of drowning while horse riding is greater than in windsurfing AND sailing PUT TOGETHER! Windsurfing is very safe, provided that you use just a smattering of common sense, as you should any time you are in or around water. You choose when and where you launch and can opt for safe, enclosed waters with instructors and a safety boat on hand if you don’t feel ready to do battle with the raging North Atlantic. You can wear a helmet, a buoyancy aid – although your wetsuit and harness provide buoyancy, as does that rather large, floaty board thing which is always by your side. (Your board tends to stay close by if you drop the sail, because the sail sticks to the water and acts as a big sea anchor.) The biggest hazard I have found is connecting sharply with a hard piece of equipment, which is how I bruised my shin. But the reason it has only happened twice in more than a decade is because you usually fall away from the hard bits of equipment and land in water, which is much more forgiving than carbon fibre! It is not to say that injury is impossible, just that it is much less likely than you may think and on the up side, a day on the water is fun at whatever level you are comfortable with. Even if you never want ride 60ft waves like Jaws in a hurricane, a wonderful, golden day on a windsurfer in light winds on flat water is pure joy!
Myth 3 – Windsurfing is really complicated and technical
If you can get your head around driving a car, the washing instructions for that Betty Barclay suit and the complex multi-tasking required of modern womanhood, you can get your head around windsurfing! Things always appear difficult if you don’t understand them. I am a great believer in seeking professional tuition in anything, right from the outset. Being taught by a partner or friend is not always a road to rapid success (or harmony!) There is a standardised, tried and tested program for teaching windsurfing, which ensures swift and therefore satisfying progress. It will help you to have things explained properly in a way that you can easily understand. Men and women do learn in different ways. A male windsurfing instructor told me on the quiet that he finds it easier to teach ladies. “The girls all listen intently and then do exactly what I tell them. The blokes all scoot off half way through and start doing their own thing!” Sign up to a RYA beginner course and you will windsurfing within a weekend, I guarantee!
Myth 4 – My bum will look big in a wetsuit
Windsurfing can burn 900 calories an hour… Black is very slimming… Oh, get over it and go and have some fun! No-one will look at your bum anyway, because with that big smile on your face, you will instantly look GORGEOUS!
Myth 5 – The boys will laugh at me
It is true that boys can sometimes be somewhat dismissive when it comes to girls having a go at sport. My bro’s impression of a girl throwing a ball is frighteningly accurate – but always makes me laugh! But we are not genetically pre-disposed to throw balls feebly, sideways… If we apply ourselves, the results can be surprising. I don’t think many boys would mock Zara Davies, Bristol-based speed windsurfer, who broke the 50mph barrier last year and happens to be the only woman to hold 2 world records simultaneously… Or Cornwall’s Saskia Sills, 2012 RYA National Youth Champion and Young Sailor of the Year… Or Karin Jaggi, who has excelled in most windsurfing disciplines for YEARS! I have found that the one thing that all windsurfers share is a passion for their sport – and they will welcome and support anyone who shows an interest. Ladies are delighted to greet a kindred spirit and I have found the lads to be rather sweetly protective of me on the beach, keeping an eye out for me when I have been on my own and even spoiling me with cups of tea and jam doughnuts! A word of warning, though. The boys won’t like it if you get better than them 😉
Maybe that is a good reason not to go windsurfing. Quite honesly, there is nothing else stopping you!
If you are interested in testosterone-free, Ladies Only coaching, many of our lovely NWF Windsurfing Gurus run courses just for the girls in the UK and abroad. Check out www.jemhall.com www.peter-hart.com www.windwise.net At NWF there are free taster sessions in all of the featured watersports and free coaching from these and other top coaches. FLOW (For Ladies of Watersports) www.flowindsurfing.com is a resource set up to encourage and support women in watersports. If you want to find a windsurfing school or club near you, check out the RYA website www.rya.org.uk It is always wise to seek medical advice before starting a new form of exercise, but do just go and do it. There is no time like now and believe me, you’re worth it!