WAVE RIDING with a Sail.


This is a look at how we ride waves on a windsurfer. We use a sail, so we need to use the wind. In some respects this restricts how we ride waves but it also opens up so many possibilities that surfers do not have.

Do I look at command, Wind angles or what?

For me it is Command, without this the board is not going to turn and you are not going to find the drive you need to stay with the wave.

We always work with the down wind turn when we are looking at command, so it can be a Gybe or a Bottom turn.


The back foot is your command foot and the front, your drive.

When wave riding we have our back foot in the strap which means we can give more command and body angulation than in a gybe.

Command………….. The corner of the board by the back foot strap needs to go into the water to cut a groove. The faster the turn, the deeper the groove needs to be. Placing pressure on the back foot will make the nose go up. If you look at C.1. you will see that the back leg is bent and the knee is over the rail of the board.

If you keep your body upright and only put pressure through your toes or you create the angle by lifting your front foot, the command will be weak and the board will not dig that groove. You will see in C. that the body stays perpendicular to the board. The more angle, the more the body will lean.

You need drive, this comes from the sail. It is easier to start the command from neutral as in B.1.  The sail pulls you forwards, creating drive through your front foot B.2/3/4, bringing the nose down. It is important to keep the board angle. A common mistake is your body goes out against the pull of the sail as in C.3.b, releasing the pressure on the rail. This flattens out the curve creating more pressure in the sail, you can not hold it so you open the sail, reducing the drive.

Another common thing that happens, C.4 you try to let the rig pull you forwards to create the drive but you have not given enough command so the board is not cutting a groove.

In C.5 you can see that the radical lay down bottom turn is not you laying down the sail but just created by the amount of lean. For this angle the groove has to be deep and still half of the board will be out of the water.

The drop in and the start of your bottom turn is the most important part of your wave ride. The more speed you can generate the better the wave ride will be. You can always reduce speed when needed, it is very hard to generate more speed after the bottom turn.

You can take a look at an old article I wrote here:-  https://thewavehobbit.wordpress.com/windsurfing/wave-riding-the-bottom-turn/

Now lets have a look at the various sailing angles in the wave ride.


The easiest angle is side shore and is what you should look for to learn.

1.) As you drop into the wave the board will accelerate so you have a lot of apparent wind. To the true wind the sail is angled correctly but to the apparent wind you are almost in neutral.

2.) As you command, you sheet in the sail.

3.) 4.) 5.) is the bottom turn and you have several options with the rig. I have shown 2 options, dark blue where you need the power in the sail, light blue where you have high speed carving speed.

3.a) the rig stays the same angle to the wind as in 2. the board is carving round but will be slowing down. 3.b) the board is accelerating fast so the apparent wind is moving more and more to the front so the sail has to be sheeted in.

4.a) The sail is opened to 90 degrees to the board to generate as much power as possible from the rig. 4.b) The rig has not changed angle in relation to the board.

5.) The rig angle in fact has not changed from 4. as we come into clew first sailing up the wave. From 4.a) the rig does not change in relation to the board, so you are using the power in the rig to stay committed to the carve. From 4.b) you are playing catch up, the rig stays in the same relation to the wind. You are carving round hard and waiting for the board to slow down, as it will as you clime the wave to go into clew first sailing.

6.) You are climbing the wave going into a more neutral position ready for the cutback.

7.) The rig stays at the same angle as you come off the back of the board to give full command.

8.a) The rig stays in the same relation to the wind, with the hand staying back. This gives power through your back triangle, giving more power to your back foot. 8.b) you are moving your back hand forwards, opening the sail. Transferring the power to your front triangle.

9.) The body and rig are going forwards, driving you into your next drop.

10.) Now you are ready to start the whole procedure again.


The patterns we can do in the various wind directions are very different, of cause we can change minor angles to tweak a move but the sailing angles do not change.


Side shore. It is important to generate as much speed as possible in the drop in if you wish to tweak the vertical in the cut back. 1.) The sail has to go into clew first neutral which means you are relying on the speed of the bottom turn. For me a cut back should always be complete. 2.) We can tweak it again by going into head to wind neutral. If you do not complete the cut back it becomes just a top turn where you generate speed from both the top and bottom turns to do a more radical cut back.


Cross on shore. Here you can see that the wave ride is more parallel to the wave. You are nearly always sailing towards the peak, so in 3.) you can start your ride with a back side hit. Notice the sail goes into neutral, so you are using the power of the wave to start your ride. Not the sail.

It is impossible to go vertically back up the wave with speed but you can tweak the vertical snap as in 4.) Quite often you are hitting a pocket that is coming towards you. In 5.) you have some options, in 5a.)  you are just turning to go back along the wave. In 5b.) this can be for various reasons. For example a round house back to the pocket, you do your bottom turn going away from the pocket and your cut back is turning back to the pocket. It is almost like doing a double cut back as you turn to do a back side snap.


Cross off shore. This is the direction most wave sailors dream of. For me it is not my most favourite direction as I like small waves and enjoy cutting back to the pocket. You can see that it is even hard to get a vertical drop due to the acceleration of the wind up the wave face and your apparent wind. So you tend to drop at 45 degrees and in 6.) you can go vertical just for the last section. In 7.) you can go back along the wave but it is not easy due to the strength of the wind, so for example in the wave 360 we do it under the lip.

If we look at what the wind can do on the wave and how the wave gives us different options, Windsurfing waves is a fascinating hobby. (For me my life)

The wave is moving, so it is creating it’s own apparent wind. The strongest effect is in section “A”. Especially in cross off shore conditions.


Side shore. The wind is not affecting the wave so much but any pocket that is traveling towards the wind will be more powerful. Section B.) is where there is the most power, so if we need speed along the wave, it is this section we will work. Section C.) is the weakest part of the wave, so generating power from the rig in this section is important.

Cross on shore. This direction is what most people get, especially on beach breaks where you only get waves if it is windy. It is the hardest direction to do front side riding. There is only power in section “A” and the lip tends to be very crumbly. There is very little power in the wave in section “B” and “C” with the added disadvantage you are in the wind shadow in “C”.

Cross off shore. The wind has quite an acceleration up the face of the wave with it going more off shore in section “A”. It is great for aerials but can make a simple cutback difficult. With aerials is is easy to be blown off the back of the wave if the lip does no through you in front of the wave. The wind holds the wave up, so when the lip does throw, it can be very powerful. The main power is still in section “B” but there is power throughout the wave.


When the wave is small we can do the bottom turn out on the flats (in front of the wave). This gives you better visibility of what the wave is doing, especially when you want to go back into the pocket. We do this mostly in side shore conditions but can be done in all directions.

Ok, now to take a look at the cut back/top turn.


The cut back is not so simple as there are many things going on at the same time. The first thing is the set up and this will depend on the angle you are going back up the wave.

In 1.) you can see that you are clew first, switch stance and you are still committed to the turn.

1.a) being the simplest angle to go back up the wave. The pressure in the sail is not so much and you can be more over the centre of the board, so easier to balance.

You can do a shallow curve up the wave ending at 1.b, but you will need to go further forwards and out away from the board to hold the pull in the sail.

1.c) is the hardest as it is very difficult to sail that close to the wind clew first. It can only be done in very light winds, so you are really only using the power of the wave to surf.

2.) is the tricky part as you are having to transfer from a forward leaning angle, which is easier to balance to a backwards leaning angle. This is very hard to judge the amount you must lean and still stay in balance. It is important to try and keep your upper body vertical. In the bottom turn you knee is over the rail to give the command to the board. In the cutback it is your backside, the more out it goes the more command. It is obvious that in 1.c) you can not tweak the board any more to hit a more critical section but from 1.a and b, it is easier to place the sail in neutral for that split second.

3.) The first thing you will notice is that the body must move a long way around the tail of the board.

There are 2 main styles for the cutback. 3.a) is when we let the back hand slide forwards de-powering the sails as we go around the turn. The sail can be kept more vertical, we can even take the front hand off to do one handed.

3.b) is when we keep the back hand far back on the boom to use the power in the sail. The pressure in the back hand transfers the power through the back triangle. This means the power is going through the back foot. This method is also needed for the aerial. Due to the back hand being back, the rig will be more over.

You can take a look at an one article I wrote here:-  https://thewavehobbit.wordpress.com/windsurfing/wave-riding-the-bottom-turn/a-look-at-3-different-top-turns/


Plus a video here:- https://vimeo.com/86226424

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