Bodywise Part 4: Look, Lean and Lever - Boards Windsurfing

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Bodywise Part 4: Look, Lean and Lever

Simon Bornhoft looks into how we can increase our ability to commit to transitions and create maximum leverage over our kit. Photos by Karen Bornhoft and Ed Schroeder…

Even if we do other forms of exercise, rarely do we have to lean our body at acute angles and rely on nature’s forces to support us. Belief, trust and understanding quite how much we can angle our own bodies is all part of developing our skills as windsurfers. Age, health, fitness and injuries are contributing factors to the full extent of our potential – but as a coach I try to help people reach their potential. So in this issue we’re going to look at the mechanics of leverage and our ability to lean – for both straight lines and corners!

BODYWISE Objective

Q: How can I gain maximum control over a rig when blasting, steering, turning or rig rotating?

A: You need a Spiderman-like grip, the centre of gravity of a sumo wrestler and be able to lean far further than any Italian tower you may have heard of. Here’s how!


Yep, that old chestnut again. Where we look has a monumental effect on where we end up. Ask any aerial circus artist, dancer, gymnast – or a guy I heard of recently who managed to hit the only other car in a car park! Where you focus you will go, and you’ll find that in every aspect of windsurfing from blasting, steering and transitions to waveriding and more spinny aspects of the sport. Look, and you’ll go and/or lean that way too!

We also need to sort our hand and foot placement and leverage over the kit before we can lean, oppose and lever against the rig with less grunt and more finesse.

High Speed Leverage

When blasting in marginal winds, adopt a narrow grip (virtually on, or just either side of, the harness lines). As the wind increases, widen the grip to approximately shoulder width. Our leverage over the board is influenced by subtle changes in our weight distribution, pressure, and flex through our LEGS!

Front leg extension and front foot pressure contrasted with rear leg flex turns the board downwind:

Rear leg extension and rear foot / heel pressure contrasted with front leg flex turns the board upwind:

Lower Speed Leverage

Pottering around in light winds on a large board you can adopt a narrow hand and foot spread. When challenged by big rigs, smaller boards, higher winds or during transitions, we often (if sometimes only temporarily) need to exert maximum leverage over the board and rig. If that is the case, widen your foot spread and grip immediately!

A narrow foot and arm spread massively reduces our ability to turn and direct the board at low speeds:

Quite simply, widen the foot and arm spread (ideally front foot pointing forward rather than sideways). It’s far easier to turn the board and sheet the rig in, just as I’m doing here at the exit of a tack:


Try these simple exercises to remind yourself about the value of leverage:

Try pulling against someone with your hand just past the rear harness line:

Now move the back hand down the boom and pull against them:


When it comes to transitions we want to maximise our ability to accentuate a fundamental windsurfing principle: ‘opposition’. This is when we move the body in the opposite direction to the mast / rig’s movement to create a counterbalance. If we fail to widen our grip and move our hands, then it’s almost impossible to oppose the rig’s forces. So something like not moving the back hand down the boom before step gybing means it’s almost impossible to sheet in, lean into the turn, switch the feet and then control the rig’s rotation.

This theme also relates to gaining control, preventing luffing, all gybe setups, tack exits, duck gybes, sail 360s, upwind 360s, helicopter tacks and loops, etc.

Another Note to Self!

Wrap a piece of tape round the boom about an arm’s length past your rear harness line to remind you to move that back hand.

To illustrate back hand leverage, let’s look at the trickiest moment of a gybe. This is when the board is roughly dead downwind, when you want to be leaning across into the turn, just before unweighting the front foot to switch the feet.

Spot the difference:

They don’t sell gybes in Tesco!

Hands are too close together, encouraging a ‘shopping trolley’ approach to rig control. This limits how far you can angle the rig out of the turn when the inside hip, shoulder and head need to be leaning across into the turn. This tends to keep you upright, taking weight off the inside rail and making it far harder to switch the feet. This is also a common problem in helicopter tacks and upwind 360s.

Wide boy!

If you look above, you can see that a wider grip encourages the body lean across into the turn and pulls the clew hand towards the head. Then the rig can be leant further out of the turn to act as a crucial counterbalance. The rear-placed arm makes it easier to pull down on the boom and keep the rig at 90° to the board.

Look, lean and oppose to counterbalance

Here are more benefits of moving the back hand down the boom and learning to lean.

• The increased lean keeps pressure on the inside rail.

• The continued lean makes unweighting then switching the front foot to replace the carving back foot MUCH EASIER!

• Once the feet are switched you have so much more control over the rig prior to the rotation.

Keen observers will also note the front hand sliding up towards the mast to rotate the rig. Also how the back foot shuffles back to form a wide foot spread to turn, lever and carve that board!

Self Coaching:

Falling into the turn with the rig? Try accentuating leaning the rig out of the turn to oppose.

Q: When do I know I’ve got it?

A: For the theoretical – you should feel like you are virtually at 45° to the water. For the visual or still haven’t quite got it – find a wall or mate and lean like crazy to push them over.

Q: This is all well and good, but how else can I practice to make this happen for ME?

A: Practice clew-first beachstarts, non-planing carve gybes and sail 360s in light winds. Remember to sail on a broad reach when clew-first. (Super-7 ‘drop-&-push stance with the rig at 90° to the board.) Practice, lean and learn!

In tricky situations and when you have a narrow arm and foot spread, be it rotating or controlling a rig, everything becomes much harder:

Levers and Leaning in Transitions:

#1: Super-7 drop-&-push with back hand down the boom, before entering a gybe!:

#2: Push Tacks, upwind 360s and especially when going for heli-tacks – get that back hand down the boom, look and lean!:

#3: During funky freestyle moves you’ll see many top freestylers look, lean and use a rear placed back hand:

Limbs for Levers

Exiting a tack, regular beach / waterstarts, preventing luffing, clew-first beach or waterstarts, heading upwind or downwind off the plane. Get that back hand down the boom!:

BodyWise Simple Summary:

Widen your hand and foot spread to gain control in tricky situations and also improve your chances of opposing the rig for transitions. Try a couple of these points next time out, and let me know how it goes!

Let’s see if you have been paying attention…

In tricky situations to steer the board and control the rig I’ll…

a) __________________where I want to go and lean.

b) Widen my__________________ and __________________ spread.

In transitions where I am even momentarily clew-first I’ll…

c) Slide my __________________ down the boom, before starting the move.

d) Slide my __________________ towards the mast before rotating the rig.

To encourage the board to turn I’ll…

e) Keep the rear / clew arm pulled in close to my __________________

f) Keep the rig at approximately _________ to the board and stay on a _________ reach.


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