Mary Richards - Part 1

Summer is here. In a lot of places, summer means gentle breezes or more. Bonaire is breezy in June. Same with the Mediterranean, Hawaii, the Gorge and the Atlantic coast. Here, we have hot air whose only movement is straight up in the afternoon into the stratosphere igniting a thunderstorm.

Let's be honest. Atlanta just isn't really windy. Sure, in late fall, winter and early spring we can get some good winds but unless you are absolutely a) mad, and/or b) hard-core, you may decide windsurfing on a 42 degree (Freedom Unitsahrenheit) isn't for you. If you are a) mad and/or b) hard-core, you still have to come to grips with the fact that for much of the year whitecaps just aren't a regular thing.


Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
- Theme to the Mary Tyler Moore show (after Season 1)

But all is not lost. There are things you can do to boost your time on the water. With a bit of proper gear selection and mental adjustment, you can have a blast in lighter winds. In this multi-part series, we'll look at some options. This is not meant to be exhaustive but to give you ideas on how to get more out of those low wind days. There's no need to be sitting on the beach and missing out.

The longboard

  • Pros: Can be had cheap used. Good for wind speeds from 5-25. Often, best choice if you want to race locally. Windward ability means you can go places.
  • Cons: Can be hard to transport. Finding a good board may take some time. Not as stable nor quick to plane as wider boards.
  • Cost: Used: $-$$ New: $$$$

Twenty years ago, the longboard was not only the go to option in light winds, it might be all that a windsurfer would own. A lot of windsurfers simply had one longboard and maybe a couple of sails. These days, owning a longboard is the exception. Their powerful centerboard converts even a modest breeze into power - you aren't slipping away downwind- and the ability to go upwind isn't only handy for racing but gets you out of the standard back and forth. If you want to explore your lake or take a long distance sail, the longboard makes it easy. Longboards are so good at touring that Jono Dunnett used one a couple of years ago to sail 2000 miles around Britain.

Equipe and IMCO

The original Mistral Equipe and it's heavier version, the Mistral One Design (IMCO) which was the Olympic windsurfer for three different games.

If you race in the Southeast, a longboard, most of the time, is the winning piece of equipment. We just don't have steady enough wind most of the time for a shortboard to make it around the race course. One lull going upwind and a longboard will eat a Formula board's lunch. (Don't ask us how we know.)

Equipe II

The Mistral Equipe II in the original color scheme. The Superlight II was the heavier and more recreational version of this shape. The tail is a bit wider than the first version, mirroring the trend in shortboards for wider tails with bigger fins in the early '90s.

Longboards, however, are... well, long. They won't fit really inside anything except for a large van or longer trailer. So, up they go on the roof. You'll need roof racks, and after a hard day, a pretty strong back. If you are looking for a board, spending extra on a lighter one is worth it just for this alone. Used boards can be hard to come by as they haven't been made for many years but they do pop up every once in a while. If you have room, we'd suggest you snagging one. Spare parts are a hassle, too, so make sure that all the parts are there and no special mast foot is required unless you are very mechanically adept.

While longboards were once the teaching tool of choice, there are much wider (and easier) options available now so unless someone is particularly motivated, they shouldn't be used for a beginner. While they are the fastest windsurfers through the water, wider boards will get on top of the water, plane, faster. New boards are expensive and hard to come by which limits how many new or recent used ones are available. But they are stellar performers in the right conditions.

Starboard Phantom 377

Current state of the art: Starboard Phantom 377. Note the wings which help it plane early.

We should make special mention of the Kona One Design which is in current production and an active racing one design (all boards same specs) class. While they aren't quite as fast as the full blown race boards, they are more modernly wide so plane easily and can be easily paddled. Most old longboards are uncomfortably narrow to paddle.

Notable examples: Used: Mistral Competition, One Design (IMCO), Superlight, Superlight II, Equipe, Equipe II, Fanatic Ultra and Mega Cats. New: Kona One Design, Starboard Phantom 377.

Good overview of raceboards: Choosing a raceboard

Longboards are boring? Until you've looped one, you can't use that excuse.

The transitional board

  • Pros: Can be very cheap used. Good for wind speeds from 5-25. The centerboard/fin gives you more options in light winds than a shortboard. New ones good for beginners.
  • Cons: Old used ones are typically narrow and not beginner friendly. Newer ones rare and can be expensive.
  • Cost: Used: $-$$ New: $$$

In the olden days, a class of boards called transitionals filled the gap between racing longboards with their 12 ft of lengthy goodness, large centerboard and multitude of footstraps and the simplicity of a shortboard. They were the "having your cake and eating it, too" of windsurfing. Longer than a shortboard and with a centerboard for light air glide and staying upwind. Shorter than a longboard so more lively on a plane, easier to carry and transport and more simple to operate. On a light day, you'd get the longboard feel and as the breeze picked up, you weren't planing with nine feet of board sticking out in front of you. In short, a compromise. And, like many compromises, you'd often just have been better off with two boards. If you ever considered racing, you'd find their shorter length and smaller centerboard gave you a great back row seat to the rest of the fleet as they sped upwind. When the wind came up, they often weren't very lively and the water shooting up the centerboard well just reminded you one reason why. They weren't bad boards but they weren't inspiring, either.

However, used ones from the '90s can be had for a Benjamin or less so they are a decent way to have something for those light days when you want to dink around and explore. The centerboards aren't race worthy but they will get you smartly upwind all the same. But, before a newbie gets tempted, many of these boards lack both the width and volume for those first outings. They often weren't more than 150-160 liters in a skinny 60-64cm width. A lot of us are sailing 100 liter boards wider than that now in 25-30 mph winds. You'll actually find a wide short board (80+cm) more stable and floaty.

Bic Rumba

Bic Rumba - a common transitional board for the 90s. A shortened version of a raceboard and about as wide as a modern 105-110 liter short board.

In the past fifteen years, a new group of transitionals came on the market inspired by the move to wider designs - generally 80+cm wide). Some, like the F2 Discovery and Starboard Rio have centerboards, while others like many Starboard models (Go, Start, etc. and some Bic Novas) have center fins. Usually, the centerfins can be removed and replaced by a plug so that in planing conditions, you aren't hindered by a draggy centerboard well and gasket. These newer, wider boards are great for beginners and with proper fins and footstrap placement, many are respectable planing light air performers with a big sail. While still a compromise, they have a much wider range of use than their ancestors.

F2 Discovery

Mistral Ntrance

Starboard Rio

Modern transitionals with more volume and width but less length than older boards. These make good teaching and light air boards.

A special class of "transitional" boards should be mentioned. Some were/are intended for racing. The first widespread design was the Mistral Prodigy which was supposed to combine the virtues of the old longboards with the newer and wider formula boards. However, Mistral made them quite heavy and they were never lively performers. More recently produced, the Bic Techno 293 is both a racing class for Juniors - the stepping stone for the Olympic RS:X class, and a reasonable alternative for someone looking for a current production board. The RS:X and RS:One are Neil Pryde's Olympic class board and recreational alternative respectively. They are actively raced elsewhere in the world but they never managed much penetration here in the US in part because of the cost of a complete RS:X, about $6600, for a board that is heavier than 25 yr old Mistral Equipe.

Coming soon: Wide, SUP, Foil

Husker Du version

Before Kiteboarding: Kiteskiing 1995

Before kitesurfing or kiteboarding made it big in the U.S., kiteskiing was a thing. Not skiing like they do in Norway but like Cypress Gardens, FL. In 1995, kiteskiers were invited to ESPN's Extreme Games (now X-Games).

Kiting 1995

Bill Herderich summoned up this gem of an article from the bowels of his basement, the American Kiter Fall 1995 issue with an article about the event. Unfortunately, it isn't the inspiring story of the early days but, in a tale we all recognize, how not enough wind not only kept the event from running as planned and gave them virtually no airtime but gave ESPN the excuse to underpay the competitors.

Besides the drama, the article is worth reading to see what the state of the art was then: rigid kites, skis instead of boards and control bars that look like a tight rope walker's balance pole.

Bill scanned it for us and is available as a pdf: 1995-kite-espn-games.pdf


For the beginning windsurfer, there are a number of milestones along the path of improvement. None of these steps are obligatory but their accomplishment means that you can windsurf longer, easier and in a broader range of conditions. It's no fun to be on the water struggling or the beach while your buds and budettes are having a good time.

After windsurfers start to become comfortable being out in planing strength winds and getting used to the harness, they begin to learn to put their feet into the footstraps. These same straps that seemed so illogically placed at the sinky tail of the board suddenly are now appearing underfoot. They've been told that footstraps are handy (footy?) things to use but, as soon as they pick up one foot or the other to put them into the straps, bad things seem to happen: catapaults, veering upwind, falling on the sail. While more experienced sailors will swear that they abhor the idea of planing without being in the straps, the newly-minted intermediate sees it oppositely. Footstraps seems to be the cause of problems, not a cure.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then maybe these videos at 24000 words per second (24frames per second x 1000) can help. All these videos are in English. Well, they're by English windsurfers. For some curious reason while Americans on youtube are asking friends to "hold my beer" or "watch this", the English are making quality tutorials. Oh, how the colonies have lost their way. But, we digress.

Get Windsurfing

Sam Ross

Jem Hall tunes the footstraps


More general tips from Sam Ross

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Journal Entry: April 8

When I began seriously windsurfing, I began to keep a journal, notes in a little spiral bound notebook. It was quite helpful. I logged my sessions and noted sail trim settings - downhaul, outhaul, etc.
I ran across it the other day when cleaning out the garage and ran across this entry:

That was twenty three years ago. I'd had a good day windsurfing and then got in the car and turned on the radio.

I would have written that differently had I known that it would be posted for public consumption. Nirvana was a big deal as we transitioned from the synth New Wave and hair metal of the 80s to the grunge of the 90s and Kurt Cobain was, arguably, its biggest voice.

As is typical for me, the self-discipline petered out after a few more entries. That's probably for the best as a few of the other entries were horribly arrogant for a newbie. I'm not very good now, two decades later, so to read my self-assessment then is a bit cringey. Ah, the folly of youth.

Oh, and Amy is one my wife's good friends from med school. Just in case anybody was thinking, "What?"