Of (wash)boards, sails and plenty of wind
First steps on land...
Arrival to Abu Soma Beach, Hotel Intercontinental. This extensive, five star hotel complex has been built into the middle of the desert. It will be our home for the next six days.
But our exploration of the hotel needs to wait. Right now, we - four Munich girls - are keen on getting to know the Surf and Kite Station “Surfmotion”, situated about five minutes of the hotel. We had been in contact with owner Peter and his assistant Petra already, and thus look forward to meeting them in person. We encounter a wooden hut by the beach, with a nice looking bar, an office, a big equipment storage in the back of the house and a nice international team that has already been waiting for us.
Claudia and myself have subscribed to the windsurfer’s course and are introduced to our teacher Filip from Poland. He looks just like any girl would imagine their surf teacher to look: sandy hair, bright blue eyes and in great shape. The willingness to learn new skills rises instantly!
Our two female friends have decided to go kiting, the conditions at Soma Bay being ideal for this sport: lots of wind and very shallow water. After meeting and greeting everyone, we arrange our first windsurfing lesson for the next day.
... and on the water
The next day, Claudia and I have our first theory lesson at the station - the wind being too strong for our first practical tryouts on the water. On the trainer (a board with a sail “skeleton”), I learn that my board should always be positioned in a 90-degree-angle to the wind and how to pull the sail out of the water without hurting my back. (Step 2).
On the next, less windy day, we finally take our equipment out to the water. But, before being allowed to grab our sails and smoothly glide over the water (at least that’s how we imagine it to be), we need to do our homework first. Filip wants us to get a feeling for the board and makes us walk, tilt and jump on the boards. (Step 1).
After that, it is time to assemble our sails and try our first meters on the water. I hoist my sail with extra power out of the water and sail away immediately. I have no clue, where to, but the board is moving - a great feeling. After a few meters, however, my sailing trip is over and the sail and I crash into the water. But still - the first windsurfing moves went faster than I had expected.
The turning around (pulling the sail over the back of the board and thus turning 180 degrees) also works out fine and I can sail another few meters before ending up in the ocean again. This is how we spent our first hours as windsurfer fresh”women”: practising until we are exhausted - but happy.
Upwind, downwind, in any case, there’s wind
The third day comes and with it comes a lot of wind. However, Filip seems to have great faith in our abilities. After having learned how to steer on the trainer by changing the position of the mast (step 5 and 6) in order to go upwind or downwind, we are to put our new skills into practice. Filip also shows us how to pick up speed or break by pulling the sail close or opening it, skills that come in handy with changing wind conditions.
Now I understand what it means to surf with strong wind: as soon as I pull the sail up, it seems to come to life, jumping to the left and to the right and eventually sliding out of my hands after a long fight. Watching this, Filip shouts in regular intervals with the patience of a buddhist kindergardener: “Not bad! But remember the correct body position! Front leg straight!”
It’s all about balance
Filip had already shown us the basic body position (step 3) on the beach. The body forms a straight line, upper body leaning back, arms straight, body and sail forming a V. Sounds okay in theory, but is much harder on the water when you’re on a wobbly board trying to keep a sail straight. This is why we spend the next lesson just practising the right body position whilst going up and downwind.
And we’re getting good at it. Both Claudia and myself manage to surf from one side of the shallow water tongue to the other, turn around and come back. Of course, the odd blast or wave still tricked us every now and then, but generally speaking we got the hang of it, knowing how to control the pressure on the sail thus taking longer rides. And the best thing about it: it’s great fun!
Our last day. The wind wants to celebrate our leaving do by donating extra power. Filip can see that we are already more than busy just trying to stay on our boards. And yet, there is one last thing that we need to learn: the beach start. If you can do a beach start, you’re an advanced windsurfer (at least this is what Wikipedia claims).
And indeed, the beach start isn’t easy: whilst keeping the sail in a neutral position to the wind, I have to position my board in the right angle and put my back foot on it. What follows, is a combination of body tension and faith: bringing more wind into the sail, I push off the ground with my weight leg and let the wind pull me out of the water. It takes me numerous tries to understand the principle behind it, then, suddenly, it works! Wind, equipment and myself form a unity that draws me out of the water. It’s an amazing feeling!
Since you should always stop at the top, this highlight marks the end of our last surfing lesson. Thank god there is some photographic evidence taken by the fotografer. At least I can take it home and watch it at my Munich desk, whenever I feel like it. And one thing is for sure: I’ll have to get back onto a board, soon!
Windsurfing: step by step guide for beginners
Step 1: Balance on the water
Standing: Stand upright on your board and get a feeling for it. Keep your knees slightly bent; this way, you can counterbalance the waves. Walking: take little steps to the front and back of the board. Extend your arms to improve your balance.Jumping and wobbling: If there’s two of you, get on one board together. No try to rock the board to make your partner fall off, whilst not losing the balance yourself.
Step 2: Uphauling the sail
Positioning the board: Put your board in a 90 degree angle to the wind, nose pointing in your riding direction. The sail is on the side sheltered from the wind (“lee”), the mast forms a 90 degree angle to the board. Starting position: Place your feet on the axis of the board, on opposite sides of the mast-foot, equally spaced. Stand at a shoulder's length, bend your knees slightly, arms outstretched, back straight. Catch the uphaul line with both hands. Lifting the sail up: Slowly lean back with the help of your body weight while pulling your sail out of the water. Arms remain outstretched. Keep the back straight. Grab the uphaul line further up step by step. Grab mast and boom: Once the rig is close enough, grab the mast with your front hand underneath the boom. Wait for it to subside and keep your arms straight. Then grab the boom with your back hand.
Step 3: Basic position
Feet: The front foot is parallel to the board just behind the mast (with stronger wind, you must place it further to the back). The back foot is at shoulder’s length behind it at an acute angle. Legs: The front leg is straight, the back leg is bent. Your body weight is on the back leg. Torso: Push your hip forward, lean your upper body back and keep your arms straight.
Step 4: Tack (turning around)
Passing into the turn: To do that, you need to head up, which means to navigate slightly "against" the wind. Lean the rig towards the back (tail) with outstretched arms. Weight the back foot. As a counterweight, turn your hips a bit forward.Foot forward and change grip: When the board clearly starts to turn, put your front foot in front of the mast-foot. The rig remains leaned to the back. Grab the mast below the boom with the front hand. Change foot position and balance sail: When the board has turned by 90 degrees, put your back foot in front of the mast-foot. Let go of your back hand and grab the mast underneath the boom with both hands. Pulling the sail over the tail: Keep turning your board by actively pulling the sail over the tail. You can support the turn with your feet. The rotation center is the mast-foot: itt should always be in between your feet. Change hands and assume new position: Once the board nose is pointing towards the new direction, first take the boom (on the new side) with your back hand, then with your front hand. Assume the basic position.
Step 5: Surfing against (up) the wind / to “head up”
Imagine standing at the beach and looking at the sea. The wind comes directly from your left. If you surf straight out to the say, you’re surfing “beam reach” (perpendicular to the wind). If you want to go further to the left, e.g. to get back to your starting point, you have to head up - meaning you will surf against the wind. Not completely, but partially. Lean the rig back: Lean the rig (sail) towards the back of the board. Keep your arms outstretched and bring your hands a little closer together. Sheet in: this means, use your back hand to bring the sail a little closer to you. This way, you can take up more speed. Turn you hip: To not cant over backwards, turn your hip a bit forward as a counterweight. Keep the weight on the back foot.
Step 6: Surfing with (down) the wind / to “fall off”
To surf with the wind means to fall off. Lean the rig to the front: The rig has to be leaned towards the nose of the boardChange your grip: Your front hand (mast hand) moves closer to the mast, your back hand (sailing hand) moves closer to the end of the sail. Stretch the mast arm and sheet in with your sailing arm. Body position: With the wind blowing into your sail more strongly now, you must counterbalance the sail by leaning backward with a straight body.
Step 7: Beach Start
Basic position: put the board in a right angle to the wind. With one hand, hold the board tail whilst pulling the boom onto the board with the other, until it lies on top of the board.
Lift your sail: Grab the boom with both hands and lift the sail up slowly, always keeping it at a neutral position to the wind. Push the sail up to the height of your shoulders. Balance sail, position board: Your back hand controls the pressure of the wind. By “sheeting in”, you will feel how the wind starts pulling you up. By extending pressure onto the mast-foot (this is a stirring movement) with your sail, you can position your board until the nose shows into the right direction (beam reach). Put the back foot on the tail. Now start pulling the sail towards you. Leaving the water: When you’re ready, sheet in to increase the pressure. Push your back foot off the ground and allow the wind in the sail to pull you out of the water. Put your front foot into the basic positon (behind the mast). Important: Your body weight has to come onto the front foot immediately.
All photos by: Philipp Schwingel / www.i-c-u.net
Surf centre in Egypt:
Owner: Peter Müller
Where can I learn how to windsurf?
Windsurfing during the holidays?
To find the best holiday location for windsurfing, you should get the advice of an expert. The easiest way is probably to contact a large tour operator such as Club Mistral or Surf & Action Company. The people working there are windsurfing experts and know all spots that they offer personally, therefore they can tell you exactly just how nice the hotel is, how far away it is from the school or which spot is best suited for beginners, advanced surfers and / or kite surfers. This way, you can tailor your next holiday exactly to your needs, no matter whether the travel budget is big or small.
Surf & Action Company Touristik GmbH
Grünwalder Weg 28 g
Phone: +49 89 6281670
Club Mistral Windsurfing GmbH
Christoph-Selhamerstr. 2D-82362 Weilheimwww.club-mistral.com
Phone: +49 881 9254960
Take-away info: the pocket guide
Each year, World of Windsurfing e.V. issues a pocket guide containing the most important information for beginners. You can order it directly from World of Windsurfing: email@example.com