The weather, the environment and windsurfing

Amy Carter editor of Boards magazine continues her guide to weather and windsurfing

Steve Thorp 2 C Ben Proffitt Steve Thorp (credit: Ben Proffitt) Understanding the weather is part of the rich and exciting experience of being a windsurfer. You will never completely master either of these things, but this means there is always something new to keep you hooked.

Wind speed and direction

The most important weather indicator that you want to look for when windsurfing is of course wind speed and direction. A learner might look for a wind speed of 7-18 knots (Force 3 to 5). This is windy enough to get a response from the sail but not too windy to be out of control. Wind direction or more specifically wind orientation is something else we look for.

As you gain experience of a local area, you may find that a particular wind direction suits one location over an alternative. Indeed you may also find that a specific wind direction may accentuate the wind speed due to a thermal enhancement (e.g. sea breeze) or acceleration due to topography. Beach orientation and sea bed topography also effect what wave action will be present at the beach. This is where the weather forecasting websites above can help, but it's also extremely beneficial to pay attention to these localised effects yourself.

Generally speaking, if you are getting in to windsurfing for the first time you don't have to worry too much about too many detailed weather factors (I am assuming you are taking advice from an instructor) but by making an effort to understand them you can make more sense out of the forecasts available to you and perhaps read between the lines.

Tides and swell

As well as wind speed and direction, I personally look at tides and the wave (also known as swell) characteristics: wave height, wave period and wave direction. Broadly speaking, wave height tells me how high the waves may be, wave period tells me how much energy and power the waves will have and the wave direction tells me what angle the waves will need to wrap through to reach my favourite beach. Tides will also affect the waves on their approach to the shore but this effect varies greatly from beach to beach.

Useful sites

Essential weather and information websites to take with you on this journey are:

Additional sites that are worth also referencing are:

Steve Thorp is one of the few windsurfers that takes his weather addiction even further. Steve can be seen driving inordinate distances, back and forth across the country, around his day job just to find the location with the perfect combination of conditions. He has many tales to tell of when the weather has gone his way, and when it hasn't, here he shares just a few.

Steve Thorp c Ben Proffitt Steve Thorp (credit: Ben Proffitt) "I check the weather websites at least twice a day, to make sure I don't miss any opportunities for speedsailing or wavesailing. For speedsailing we use a GPS device and compete against windsurfers from around the world by posting our results on gpsspeedsurfing.com. The aim is to just go as fast as possible, to go really fast we need the basic ingredients of flat water and as much wind as possible; with modern windsurfing equipment we can easily sail in a Force 10 and this is when we go quickest. Obviously as a speedsailor it's important not to miss these days as they don't come around too often!

Speedsailing

One such day was the 3rd of January this year. Sailors from all over Europe had been watching the forecast for a week in the build up to the big day. West Kirby on the Wirral was predicted winds of Force 9, gusting to Force 10 from a Westerly direction. Perfect. 'The Kirb' as it's known is one of Europe's best speedsailing venues - a man made lake formed by a wall out into the Dee estuary which gets filled to the brim at high tide and remains full when the tide recedes giving mirror flat water. Westerly winds get a squeeze across the top of Wales, then blow over miles of flat estuary sands before hitting the Kirb with full force.

The day didn't disappoint, three windsurfers from Holland (Jaques van der Hout, Jurjen van der Noord and Hans Kreisel) set the fastest average speeds putting them firmly into the 'all time' GPS top 10 - they're still leading the 2012 GPS ranking at this point in the year. I set the fastest ever GPS peak speed for a windsurfer at 58 mph. January 3rd 2012 was definitely a day to remember and cemented the UK on the world speedsailing map!

It doesn't always work out though! We once went across the Channel and drove for 10 hours down through France to score a Force 10 Tramontana wind at La Franqui. We were frothing with excitement as we neared the beach, as we could feel the wind buffeting the van, and in contrast to the usual UK speedsailing weather it was brilliant sunshine. Unfortunately, on closer inspection we found that the usually ruler straight sandy beach dropping away into deep water was now a mess of sandbars. We hadn't known, but three weeks earlier a storm had 'destroyed' the beach and our speed strip, with big onshore wind and waves. Two hours later we were driving home.

Wavesailing

My other obsession is wavesailing. This is perhaps harder to forecast, as our favourite conditions are perfect, big surf and wind in excess of 20 mph which ideally needs to blow at a 30 degree offshore angle to the waves. This is referred to as 'cross off' and allows us to ride the waves 'down the line' as a surfer would and also holds the waves up giving maximum power when they break, sometimes with enough force to barrel. Those are the dream conditions we long for.

The British Isles are a great place to live as a wavesailor, provided you're prepared to travel and chase the ideal conditions; the West coast of Ireland, the North coast of Scotland, Devon, Cornwall and many other stretches of the British coastline are all capable of producing world class conditions on their day. 

It's hard to resist a good forecast when you see it and almost always ends up with us driving to the beach, even if it's 10 hours away on the North Coast of Scotland. I recently made the trip up to Thurso with British wavesailing champion Ben Proffitt on a forecast we couldn't ignore - strong Westerly winds and waves over 20 ft. We knew the waves would wrap around the points up there giving us perfect down the line riding conditions with mast high waves. Another professional windsurfer, Timo Mullen, also turned up having driven from Bournemouth! We all enjoyed some epic conditions which would compare with anywhere in the world, all be it a bit colder than Hawaii or Australia! I'm still feeling the stoke from riding those waves months later...."

There is no doubt, that any windsurfer, at any level will become to rely on the weather and cherish the days on which mother nature delivers. We are at her mercy, but there is nothing like being out in the elements and harnessing the power of the wind as you glide across the water.

Taking your first steps in windsurfing couldn't be easier, head to Boards basics to find out more about getting involved.

Read the introduction to windsurfing by Amy Carter editor of  Boards Magazine.

Read more about the different styles of windsurfing including the Olympic discipline RS:X

Amy Carter Amy Carter Edited by Amy Carter - Editor for Boards Magazine and Boardseeker International.

George Shillito is sponsored by Tushingham/Starboard, Gul International, O'Shea Surf, Polkerris Beach Company and Liive Sunglasses.

James Cox is sponsored by Quatro International, Ezzy Sails, K4 Fins and Bigsalty Weather. 

Steve Thorp is sponsored by Dave Noble windsurfing, Simmer, K4fins and Gps-speed.co.uk.

Last updated: 1 August 2012

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