Improve Now!

Simon Bornhoft provides a simple to follow action plan to help you progress with your wind-riding.

It’s rare to rave about a good sailor’s straight-line blasting ability. Admiration and recognition comes when you see crafted control in a tight transition or during a pivotal or precarious moment. Yet ‘good sailors’ do not get better by just blasting. To improve you have to tempt yourself away from straight lines and trying tacks and gybes in their entirety. So the whole premise of the Feasible Freestyle series is not to ‘up trick’ or break your ankles aspiring to be a freestyle god. It’s designed to encourage the body to experiment and simulate actions that are replicated in basic, essential and more advanced areas of the sport. All of these skills, directly or indirectly, develop better understanding, greater rig control, and give you the scope, reason and encouragement to break the move down and perfect its component parts.

A common response is that people aren’t quite sure what to do; they assume lighter winds are boring or that it’s simply ‘out of their league’. Well, if you give this action plan a really good go and combine it with a little back reading from the last series I guarantee that it won’t take long to reap the rewards. I have taught literally thousands of beginners, intermediates and advanced sailors to thrive with these skills.

So, promise yourself three things for this year of windsurfing right now:

1. If the wind goes light, get a larger volume board and work on some skills training.

2. Rather than just blast up and down, try different skills, even if you think they bear little relevance.

3. At every opportunity break moves down into achievable chunks and practice on the land, in light winds and then in a breeze.


I won’t go into technical detail, but ideally try these on high volume boards in light and strengthening winds, and then move into planing situations.

Each session could be five minutes, an hour or a whole weekend. Just start off gradually picking the skills that appeal and apply to you. In time you’ll be able to run through this whole set and transfer them into stronger wind environments. I’ve taught virtual beginners a lot of these skills, and once you get the basics (even on land) it inspires you to be more adventurous.

Skills & Drills

Find shallow and/or flat water – ideally with a grassy area, or better still a sandy beach so you can experiment on land as well. As you’ll see, we’ve suggested a routine and the correct sailing line for each move so you’ll have a system to work to. Even tacking upwind and then gybing downwind is a good discipline – but if you add in these skills you’ll make your sessions incredibly productive. (If you don’t have a beach to sink the fin into, then do the beach skills with the fin out on a boardbag before you hit the water.) Here’s a session plan...

Session 1: Upwind / downwinders (transition – fast tack)

Session 2: Switch-stance (transition – gybe or push tack)

Session 3: Sail 360 & clew-first sailing (transition – gybe or duck gybe)

Session 4: Clew-first beachstart (transition – rig rotator or gybe)

Session 5: Nose sinks (transition – fast tack)

Session 6: Front to sail (transition – tack or heli-tack)

Session 1: Upwind / Downwinders

Why do them? Simulates and enhances tacking and gybing entries and exits.

Complementary Land Skills: Worth practising some shifting & switching footwork on the land to develop middle of the tack.

Fundamental Skills

Vision / sailing line: Head upwind and warm up with a series of at least 10 upwind then downwind movements, getting more aggressive and pronounced.

Opposition: Rig back, body forward heading upwind. Rig forward, body back turning off the wind.

Right Skill, Right Time: Narrow hand and foot spread going upwind, widen hand and foot spread going downwind.

Transition: Head upwind between sets and try a fast tack.


Session 2: Switch-Stance

Why do it? Improves counterbalance, general board / rig handling, and takes the fear out of moving your feet early and quickly for gybes. Plus it links into duck gybe exits, push tacks, duck tacks, helicopter tacks, cowboys and pro moves like vulcans and variations of switch-stance spocks.

Complementary Land Skills: Ideally come into the beach and practice switch-stance on land.


Fundamental Skills

Vision / Sailing Line: Look forward and sail slightly upwind of a beam reach.

Balance: Mast needs to be forward, hips back slightly. Classic ‘opposing’.

Right Skill, Right Time: Hold the mast still and forward, rig slightly sheeted out. Once ‘switched’ twist at the hips and force the forward hip forward (right in pic) to turn the spreader bar into wind.


Beginner-Intermediate: With the feet already switched, bear away and gybe.

Intermediate-Advanced: Once you’ve mastered switch-stance try some push tacks.

more switchstancing

Session 3: Sail 360

Why do them? Quickly enhances rig rotator skills and ability to sail momentarily clew-first during gybe exits. Links into clew-first beachstarts and waterstarts, helicopter tacks, push tacks, duck gybes and pro clew-first moves such as spocks, etc.

Complementary Land Skills: Come into the beach and practice sail 360s on the land.


Fundamental Skills

Vision / Sailing Line: Take a broad reach and try 10 sail 360s, ideally delaying the rotation and sailing clew-first for a while.

Balance: To anticipate the mast swinging forward and downwind, make sure you keep the shoulders back and weight the heels.

Right Skill, Right Time: Wide hand spread, keep broad and pull down on the boom whenever clew-first.

practise, practise, practise...

Advanced: Sail & Sailor 360

You can raise the stakes with some sail and sailor 360s.

Why do them? Develops nimble feet and links into push tacks, upwind 360s, monkey gybes and pro flakas.


Beginner-Intermediate: Non-planing duck gybe.

Intermediate-Advanced: Duck gybe or duck monkey.

Session 4: Clew-First Beachstarts:

clew starts

Why do them? Invaluable aid to every level of gybing. Plus they link into clew-first waterstarts, helicopter tacks, and massively improve rig control.

Fundamental Skills

Vision / Sailing Line: Look forward, clew-first beachstart then sail on a broad reach clew-first for 50-100m.

Opposition: Rig forward and mast downwind, body back and to windward.

Right Skill, Right Time: Keep the clew at roughly 90° to the board, pulling down hard on the boom, with your head near a rear-placed back hand to oppose the leeward mast.


Simply rotate the rig and sail on, or try bearing away into a gybe.

Session 5: Nose Sinks

Why do it? Superb at enhancing and saving shorter board fast tacks by taking the fear and insecurity out of sinking the nose mid-tack. This is an incredibly useful exercise.

nose sinks

Fundamental Skills

Vision / Sailing Line: Look and head right upwind and try 10 nose sinks.

Opposition: Rig is raked right back as front foot and body move forward. When resurfacing, body moves back into a super-7 drop-and-push stance and rig goes forward.

Right Skill, Right Time: Adopt a wide foot and hand spread, especially when sheeting in to turn the board downwind again.

Transition: Fast tacks.

Session 6: Front-to-Sail

Why do it? Front-to-sail (FTS) improves general board / rig handling, saves premature tacks and links into helicopter tacks, upwind 360s, push & duck tacks, and the very achievable cowboy. Plus it is used in spocks, flakas and, to a certain extent, push loops.

front to sail

Fundamental Skills

Vision / Sailing Line: Sail slightly upwind of a beam reach and try going FTS.

Balance: To oppose the rig, the mast needs to be raked back slightly and leant over to windward – the body is therefore forward and downwind of the rig (but over the board’s centreline).

Right Skill, Right Time: Sail upwind and make a positive step forward and to leeward of the mast, whilst simultaneously forcing the mast back and to windward. Once FTS, fan the clew in and out with the back hand to prevent being back-winded and help steering.


Beginner-Intermediate: Turn it into a tack or try a helicopter tack.

Intermediate-Advanced: Upwind 360 or helicopter tack.

front to sail 2


If you’re still saying, “Look, I’m really not that interested and can’t see the value", think about this one more time. If you’re trying to gybe (for instance), there is a moment that you will be clew-first. If you only ever sail clew-first when you gybe, it means you’re spending barely a few seconds per day trying to master a crucial aspect of a turn. If you isolate, develop key skills and increase time spent in non-blasting but relevant situations, your understanding and muscle memory improve greatly.

Not convinced but want to accelerate that learning curve? I’d love to show you...


Make all your mistakes without falling in! Start or interrupt each session with some land-based link skills – a great way to simulate and stimulate!

try it on the beach!