Windsurfing – It’s Back

So I’m sitting there, wondering about kiteboarding. I’ve heard that the equipment is easy to carry around, it’s pretty easy to learn, and you can kiteboard in all sorts of wind from weak to strong. I had been thinking about kiteboarding for while, mostly since I saw some people do it on the beach north of Puerto Vallarta two years ago. It seemed like a great vacation sport.

How much does it cost to get gear? How often would I use it? Where would I go? And then it hits me. I’m a teacher now. Summers off. And there are consistent winds up at Squamish during the summer for windsurfing and kiteboarding and I still have all my old equipment. Now that my kids are getting older, I can leave them at home and take off for several hours. So after about 18 years of not sailing, it dawned on me that now was the time to start again.

Before I went to Squamish for the first time this year I wondered if my equipment would work. I figured my sails might fall apart, maybe my board would delaminate, who knows what could happen. I also wondered if other windsurfers would be older than me, younger or around the same age. My guess was they would mostly be older. I checked out my gear and everything thing looked to be in good working order, in a 1990’s sort of way.

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My first trip to Squamish was on a Tuesday. I get there and it’s a lot busier than I thought it would be. It was sunny, the place was full of kiters, and it was WINDY. When I first arrived, I spoke with a fellow that just finished his day on a 5.3 sail. He was heavier than me but advised that it would be an ok size. I was looking for advice because I hadn’t really had to judge wind speed for a very long time. The anemometer read 23 knots with gusts to 26. While I was trying to rig my sail, I noticed it getting windier. 20 minutes later my 5.3 went back in the van and I was rigging my 4.7. By the time I had all my gear ready and wetsuit on, the anemometer was saying 27kts with gusts to 30. I was getting a bit nervous. Squamish has a few unique features that make it a great place to sail but also a tricky place. First, the launch is on a very long and narrow spit that sticks into Howe Sound at the mouth of the Squamish river. If you launch a windsurfer on the lee side of the spit, you can get a big wind shadow. If you launch on the river side you have to deal with a strong current that flows downwind. This current forces your board straight upwind. It’s very difficult to “beach start”, because you can’t hold your board across the current, it will flip over. As well, if you get the clew of your sail in the water, the current will sweep over your whole sail. You don’t want to spend too much time in the water because it is only around 6C I think (glacier and snow melt fed river). On the plus side, the Squamish Windsports Society has decent facilities there to help with rigging and fixing up the launch areas, and they have rescue boats if you get into trouble.  Kiters all launch on the lee side of the spit since they don’t have to worry about the wind shadow from the spit itself.  They also would have problems launching with an onshore wind, which there is if you launch on the river.

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I decided to launch on the lee side of the spit and I didn’t have any problems getting enough wind. I was pretty nervous entering the water because I knew it wasn’t going to be some leisurely sail. It didn’t take me too long to figure out that I was way over powered. My older sails don’t have as much range as newer sails, so my 4.7 works best in maybe 23 to 26 knots. Newer sails work across a much wider range of wind. I think if I had a modern day 4.5 sail it would have been perfect. I’m guessing that a new-ish Sailworks Retro 4.5 would work 2.3 to 30 for me.

I only sailed out and back a few times. I didn’t make any of my jibes (turns), of course. Each fall results in a bit of swimming and maneuvering, and fighting with the rig. It all takes its toll on arms that haven’t done much exercise in 18 years or so. With the strong winds and not having my rig tuned properly, I was pretty exhausted after only 45 minutes.

All in all it was a good day. I had likely gone faster on my board that day than I’ve ever gone in the past, it’s a fun feeling. By the end of my short session I was getting my gear tuned a bit better by improving my harness line positions and mast position. I returned to Squamish 2 more times last week and each day things went smoother and smoother for me. I sailed on my 4.7 these days as well, in winds from 23 to 26. It was pretty much the sweetspot for me and that sail.  It’s been a good total body workout for me too, much different from running and cycling.

I’m hoping to get up to Squamish at least 5 more times this August, but the more the better.