Updated January 15th, 2023
Windsurfing is a great water sport. It’s not the most popular sport in a lot of places. Finding windsurfing lessons and beginner gear can be a challenge in many places. Basic windsurfing is not that hard to learn on your own with the right equipment. I taught myself windsurfing. Choosing the right board and sail goes a long way towards making it easier to learn. We are here to help you pick out the best windsurfing equipment for beginners.
Windsurfing equipment for beginners. What do you need?
Your basic windsurfing setup will consist of a board, sail, mast, boom, mast extension, mast base and uphaul. The board and sail are the most critical items to get right.
Choosing the right beginner board can make or break your windsurfing experience. A windsurfing board that is too unstable will make it very difficult to stand up with the sail. You will do what a lot of us did in the old days and spend days at the lake falling in the water over and over and over. It doesn’t make learning fun. There are a few important things to look for that will make learning easier and more fun. In general, you are looking for a longboard or a freeride board with a daggerboard. Avoid anything labeled as a wave board or freestyle board.
Some really good beginner board choices are:
Dagger board or center fin
The board needs to have a centerboard or center fin around the middle of the board. Most boards with daggerboards were traditionally called longboards and boards without them were shortboards. You do not want a shortboard with no daggerboard to learn with. If there is no centerboard you will have a very challenging time sailing upwind. It will be difficult just to go across the wind. Any board suitable for beginner windsurfer needs a centerboard.
The next most important thing to look for in a beginner windsurf board is width. Look for a board at least 70cm wide or 27.5 inches. A wider board is easier to stand on and it will be easier to uphaul the sail. If the board is too narrow you will fall in the water a ton trying to learn to balance and uphaul.
My first board was a mid 1990s Fanatic Viper. I’m sure it was around 24 inches wide at most. It had plenty of flotation. I am sure in my first 5 days of trying to windsurf I spent 99% of the time falling in the water and 1% of the time sailing. It wasn’t fun. My second board was a F2 Xantos shortboard that was smaller board and even narrower. To be honest it wasn’t fun to sail. The balance had to be perfect to uphaul. I gave up windsurfing for several years after experiencing more frustration than fun.
I gave it a go again later on with a different board. This time I started with a Bic Techno 293. This board is 79cm or 31 inches wide and felt like standing on an aircraft carrier. Uphauling was easy and I could tack and gybe on it my first time out. I made more progress in the first few hours than in the prior several years. Wind surfing became the super fun activity I always imagined it to be. I wish I had that board 10 years earlier during my first try.
Board size has traditionally been labeled as volume. You will hear guys who use shortboards talking about what volume board they use for different wind conditions. A smaller board is easier to handle in high winds (20-40knots) after you know advanced techniques.
The volume of a board dictates how much weight it can float. Look for a board with 190 liters or more of volume. If your a heavier rider over 200 lbs look for a board with at least 225 liters of volume.
Do not think that more volume will make a narrow board okay. A Bic/Tahe Techno 160 with 160 liters and 79cm of width is very easy to stand on. A 190 liter board that is only 60cm wide is not easy to stand on even though the volume says it should float a lot. A long pole may 1000s of liters of volume but only 6 inches wide. You know what will happen if you try to walk across it floating in the water. In you go.
The longer a board is, the easier it will glide and coast. A 350cm KonaOne will be a much faster board in light air than a 297cm Tahe Beach 225. Both will be much faster than a 160 Liter Bic/Tahe Techno 160D which is only 255cm long. As a beginner board width is more important than board length. A wide short high volume board will be easier to sail than a narrow longboard.
If you live in an area that is predominantly light wind you might want to consider a longer board. As you get better it will be more fun to sail. A shorter board will be slower and won’t go upwind as well (even with a daggerboard) as a longer board. If you live in a light wind area consider a long wide board such as a KonaOne. The downside is that longer boards tend to be heavier boards but the performance in light air is worth it.
Another consideration is if you want to use your board for stand up paddleboarding. Boards such as the KonaOne, Tahe Beach and Starboard Rio work very well as a paddle board too. These are considered WindSUP boards. These all tend to be the long and wide category. See our article on WindSUP to learn more.
You will notice some windsurf boards have foot straps. As a beginner you don’t need them and won’t know what to do with them. They are for after you learn to use a harness and get planing. Don’t worry if your beginner board doesn’t have them.
Rigid vs Inflatable boards
There are now a few really good inflatable options for windsurf boards. Starboard and Fanatic both make good entry level inflatable boards. They can be used as both an inflatable SUP and windsurfer. Starboard has a higher performance board with a retractable daggerboard too. Both rigid and inflatable boards are good options. An inflatable board is much much much easier to transport.
A rigid board will last longer. I doubt we will see 40 year old inflatable board on Craigslist 40 years from now still in good usable condition. The inflatable board might get way more use because it’s so much more convenient to use.
There are really only 2 things to consider when looking for a windsurf sail. You want a sail that isn’t too big and doesn’t have cams. You are looking for something labeled as a freeride sail or possibly a wave sail.
Windsurf sails are measured in square meters. As a beginner you want a sail in the 4 to 5 meter size range. If your a larger guy you can go a bit bigger. A larger sail will be more difficult to balance and uphaul. It will be more difficult to rig and transport too. Whatever you do, do not be tempted to buy a big 8 or 9 meter sail just because you saw a good deal on a used 9 meter rig. They are very difficult to uphaul. Start off with a smaller sail. You can keep it as your stronger wind sail later on.
No cams or camber inducers
Cams, cambers or camber inducers are fittings on the ends of the battens in the sails. The go cup around the mast and give the sail a built in shape. Every time you tack or gybe you must snap sail shape from one side to the other. This can be difficult in lighter winds where there isn’t enough breeze to help them snap through.
Cams make the sail much more difficult to rig. You have to make sure they cup the mast when you tension the downhaul. They can slip and move and be a general pain to get set correctly.
Cams need a larger mast sleeve than a camless sail. A larger mast sleeve is more volume to fill with water which means the sail will be heavier and harder to uphaul.
Mast & Boom
Your sail will have a luff length and boom length written somewhere on the sail or sail bag. This will tell you how long a mast and boom you need. It’s easiest as a beginner to go out and buy a rig package that includes the sail, mast, and boom together. This will ensure you have all compatible parts.
Masts are all labeled by length and carbon content. A 460cm 30% mast is 460cm long with 30% carbon. As a beginner, you really don’t need any carbon in your mast. It will just make your mast more expensive. A 0% Carbon epoxy mast will work just fine for your learning stages. As you get better you will want a bigger sail which will need a bigger mast. At that point invest in a 30% or higher carbon mast.
For the boom. All that matters is you get one that has a length range that works with the boom length written on the sail. An aluminum boom will work just fine for you. Many of us who have been windsurfing for years and years still only have aluminum booms. A basic Chinook Aluminum boom will last you for years and work just fine. No need to go carbon.
Miscellaneous parts – mast extension, mast base and uphaul
There are a few small pieces you need to complete the rig. The first is the mast extension. Every sail has a luff length measured in cm. If your luff length is 455cm and they specify a 430cm mast, then you need to make up the other 25cm somewhere. That is where the mast extension comes in. It is a part with adjustable length that lets you set the mast to exactly the luff length of the sail.
You need to attach the mast to the board to use it. This is where the mast base or mast foot comes in. This is a fitting that goes into the mast track on the board and fits into the bottom of the mast extension. There are 2 versions of this. EuroPin and US Base. US Base is most common in the US. The easiest and best mast base system to get is the 2 bolt Tenden base by Chinook. This has a mast base plate that stays with the board. It has a flex fitting that goes into the mast base. The flex fitting attaches to the base plate with a nice slick quick release slide.
One bolt mast bases all need you to slide a fitting into the mast track and twist it to tighten it every time you use the rig. It’s a pain. As a beginner we don’t want things that make the process even more frustrating.
Lastly you need an uphaul. This is a piece of webbing with bungee inside that you use to pull the sail out of the water. It attaches to the front end of your boom and you loop it around your mast base before attaching it to the board.
Life jacket or buoyancy aid
As a beginner, you will be falling in the water a lot. A LOT!!! You won’t be wearing a harness or using it until you get pretty good at cruising around on windsurfer. You don’t need to worry about a life jacket or PFD getting in the way of the harness. Wearing a life jacket is a good idea because you will be falling a lot and landing in the water in weird ways.
Don’t use an inflatable life jacket. If it’s an auto inflator you will inflate it within your first 5 minutes on the board when you fall in. If it’s a manual inflating vest or a belt pack it won’t really do you any good. If you fall and somehow hit your head in a weird way and knock yourself out you won’t be able to pull the inflate cord.
A wetsuit can really help if the water and or air temperature is on the chilly side. You will be going out when it’s windy and going from in the water to standing up in the breeze. You can feel cold from the constant getting wet and drying. I almost always at least wear a wetsuit jacket unless it’s really hot out.
Where to get windsurfing gear?
One of the best places to paddling and beginner windsurf equipment is Green Water Sports. They have a full line of inflatable WindSUP boards that work great for a beginner windsurfer and are easy to transport.
Another great place to shop for windsurfing gear is Isthmus Sailboards. They have been around forever. They have an entire section of their website devoted to beginner packages. It is the only place I go for high performance windsurfing equipment.
Recommended Beginner gear
I would start out with an inflatable board and a windSUP rig. They are much easier to transport than rigid boards. They perform great and are make perfect boards and rigs to learn to windsurf with.
Best Beginner Windsurf Board
Starboard SUP Windsurfing 11’2″ x 31″ x 6″ Inflatable Paddle Board
- For 2019, Starboard injected 25 years of board building innovation into their inflatable board program. Their main focus was to build their boards stiffer, lighter, more stable, safer and way more durable.
- Heated and bonded for life. Glue is never forever. Mechanical bond = Strength and Durability. Starboard’s new welding technique turns two into one – using heat to bond two separate pieces of PVC into a single solid unit. Heat-welded PVC creates a mechanical bond that’s stronger, lasts longer – and is better for the environment.
- What’s new for 2020? New DSC, Deluxe Single Chamber, fusion woven drop stitch New mast base system – for a flat deck in paddle board mode New Re-Cover bag New Tiki pump
Best Beginner Windsurf Sail Rig
Starboard SUP Windsurfing Sail Compact Package
- The Starboard SUP Windsurfing Sail Compact Package is light, powerful and designed specifically for paddle boards, but is also an excellent choice for entry level windsurfers because of its versatility and durability. It comes with everything neatly packed in its compact bag, allowing for easy transportation and storage.
- Available in 3 Rig sizes. 4.5m, 5.5m, and 6.5m
Is used gear any good?
There are a lot of old sails out there. There are garage finds from the 1980s in large numbers on Craigslist. These are okay but you may find that the mast base isn’t compatible with a modern board. There will be no replacement parts. The mast and boom likely aren’t compatible with modern equipment either.
Masts and booms really haven’t changed much since the 1990s. I got my first windsurfer in 1998 and the 460cm PowerX 30% Carbon mast was the same as a current 460cm mast. The same for the Chinook boom, extension and mast base. The sail had similar construction was similar too with less square top. Sails and rig parts from the mid 1990s onwards are okay to buy used if it’s in good condition.
Can I teach myself to windsurf or do I need lessons?
Taking a windsurfing lesson is a good idea but it’s not impossible to learn without it. In many places there are good spots to windsurf but no windsurfing schools or instructors to get a beginner lesson from.
Windsurfing at a beginner level is not that hard and you can teach yourself to do it. It helps to study up on some basic level of sailing as well just to understand the principles behind it all. Thanks to YouTube there are a lot of great how to windsurf videos that make getting started easy.
Mistral used to make a great inflatable training board called a windglider that was very easy to learn to use on your own. They no longer make it. If you can find one that is complete and usable for not much money it’s a great pickup.
Below is a good introductory beginner how to video.
Where can I windsurf at?
You can windsurf almost anywhere there is water and there is somewhere to walk in and out of the water. As a beginner a small lake is really good. At a nearby Ohio state park, they have an almost perfect small lake for learning to windsurf. It is round shape with a beach on one side and grassy shore around the rest. Parking on almost all sides. You can use it for any wind direction.
When you are learning to windsurf and even when you get more advanced, only go out in onshore winds. The wind should be blowing in towards the shore, not out into the lake. Never go out on a day where the wind is blowing you away from shore until you get good at sailing upwind. Many a windsurfer has gotten blown far from where they started and couldn’t get back when on a strong wind offshore day.
How much wind do I need for windsurfing?
Windsurfing can be done in winds from 5mph up to 40mph.
For a long time windsurfing companies focused only on short boards. These are boards with no centerboard and suitable for planing conditions only. They ignored windsurfing equipment that worked well in light air sub planing conditions. The problem is that all beginners need to start out in light air before working up to heavy air. In most parts of the United States, there are lakes but there are not consistently high winds. A short board really needs at least 15 knots or 18mph winds to work.
In the last 10-15 years board makers have become much more focused on light air equipment again. This is because of 2 things. Kitesurfing has really taken over the highwind planing conditions. They are easier to transport and take less time to learn to planing ability. Second, stand up paddle boarding has become really popular. Stand up paddle boards are very similar to windsurfing longboards. A long board can be used for windsurfing when it’s windy and paddle boarding in light to no wind.
How do I transport windsurfing equipment?
The easiest way to transport a windsurf board is with a roof rack on top of your car, truck, or SUV. If you don’t have a roof rack, Thule and Yakima both make racks to fit almost every vehicle available. If you don’t want to invest in a roof rack quite yet there are still ways to do it.
See our guide to transporting a paddleboard without a roof rack for more information. Paddleboards and windsurf boards are exactly the same to transport. All the information applies to both.
You might also like:
- Windsurfing Vs Kitesurfing – What Will I Enjoy The Most?
- The Best Small Sailboat For Beginners. 6 Great Boat Options
Staff Writer | Water Sports
Steve spent his time growing up in South Carolina doing as much as possible on the water. He is an avid stand up paddleboarder and kayaker and loves hitting the lakes and rivers near home. He is a competitive sailor and has competed in sailing at the collegiate level as well as 7 Mackinac Island races.