13. Water Starting and Footstraps

Water starting is an indispensable trick if you want to sail in higher winds or move to a "short board." Short boards do not have enough flotation to easily stand on uphaul the sail. Water starting is kind of magical. You are swimming around, and the hand of God picks you up, and she places you on your board. No more back breaking uphauling, doesn't that sound good?

For learning water starting I highly recommend the DVD "ABC's of Waterstarting" by Dasher. You can buy it at many shops or on line at many places (here is one). (While you are at it you might get Dasher's "The 12 Step Jibe with Dasher"). Because this DVD is so complete, I will not go through waterstarting in detail (get the DVD!) but I will just add a few points. (But get the DVD.)

It is easier to learn to waterstart in some locations than others. The wind needs to be pretty strong (~15 to ~17 MPH is ideal), and chest high water is perfect. With the water at chest high depth, you have to try to waterstart (not beach start) but you can rest between attempts. Since you need it to be windy, you should have mastered the harness before trying.

Its easier to learn waterstarting if you are wearing a PFD (life jacket). You will float higher out of the water and that will help you get up. The PFD should be a snug fit so that it does not ride up. Kayak PFDs work pretty well and they are high waisted and will not interfere with a seat harness.

I think that knowing how to beach start helps waterstarting. Waterstarting is beach starting, but in deeper water. You need a beach. The wind should be approximately 90° to the board (beam reach) and you should be standing on the upwind side of the board, behind the mast. You will have to have the centerboard partway up, because the water is shallow. Your hands should be on the boom in the normal sailing position and you should feel the power of the wind in the sail. You are sailing in place. Your hands are around the balance point of the sail.

Put your rear foot on the centerline of the board. Gently step on the board. Do not let the wind out of the sail. You want it to propel you forward and give you something to lean against. After getting shallow water beach starts, try in slightly deeper water.


Finally, I find that it is helpful if you have your booms a bit on the low side while working on waterstarting. Now, get the ABC's of Waterstarting DVD and get wet.



Before getting into the footstraps, review the advanced safety page. It is important that you adjust your footstraps to be safe.

Getting into the footstraps is not about getting into the footstraps, its about achieving a good high wind stance (such as the one shown here from an ABK advertisement). This is the end product: The sailor is well out from the board, with nothing under him but water. His body is straight (red line). Most of his weight is hanging from the boom (MBP: black arrow). The sail is sheeted in (almost over the board) and his hips are facing the board, not forward. His hands are only lightly on the boom, and he is in the footstraps. But how do you get there?

You have to go through the gears! First gear, you just waterstarted (or uphauled) and you are standing near the mast. Pick up a little speed and hook in (second gear). As you gain speed, slowly start to move toward the back of the board, sheet in (bring the sail in) and start getting your body over the water (as in the picture). To sheet in, you move your hip so they are facing the sail, not forward. In other words, you bring the sail in with your hips, not your arms. Now you are in the total stance (right) and you have moved back so that your rear foot in just in the middle of the board in front of the rear strap, and your front foot is just beside the front footstrap. You are hanging your weight from the harness so there is little weight on your feet. You are going fast. You look like the sailor on the right (fourth gear).

You put your front foot in the front footstrap. Since you are hanging from the harness (black arrow), you have little weight on your feet. Do not look at your foot as you put it in the footstrap. But how do you know where the strap is? Try this: Glance at your foot, look where you are going, regain speed and then put your foot in the front strap without looking. (You took an early peek).

Get more speed before putting you back foot in the rear strap. You are going to have to learn forward hanging from your harness lines to get the weight off your rear foot. Put that in, sail away.

One thing you might try before actually putting either foot in the straps is see if you can take your weight off either foot (lift it) without disturbing the board. If you have enough weight on your harness lines, you should be able to lift a foot without disturbing the board. If you can do that, getting into the straps will be easy.

Check your stance: body straight, hanging from the harness, arms straight, hips facing the sail, light grip on the boom (no white knuckles), arms only shoulder width apart, relaxed, and are you smiling? Ain' t life grand?


You have finally achieved the stance at the right, and you are speeding along at a 1000 MPH. Suddenly, you are going sideways at 1000 MPH! What the forestay! Welcome to spin-out. The good news is that you do not spin-out unless your planeing and so you have progressed.

Spin-out is caused by something, usually a bubble of air or a piece of seaweed, attaching itself to the fin disturbing the flow of water around the fin. The easiest way to get out of a spin out is to sheet out, slow down, and head off the wind. It is more important to prevent spin out so you do not have to slow down. Here are some steps you can take.

1. A lot of spin out is cause by bouncing out of the water. If you have a very bouncy ride try the following: sheet in a lot more and hang more weight on your harness. You need more MBP! Sheeting in channels the force of the wind to the mast base (front of the board) and off your feet. More weight committed to your harness does the same thing.

2. You weight should be evenly distributed to your front and back foot. In the old days, you put more weight on your back foot and "road the fin." That does not work for new boards. If you are still spinning out, shift your weight forward in the harness.

3. Check your fin. If it has dings, etc., try to smooth it out with a scotch bite green scruffy (kind you buff old paint with), or very very fine sand paper. You do not want to change the shape of the fin, just smooth out the imperfections.

4. Give your sail more downhaul. More downhaul moves the center of effort of the sail forward and off the fin.

5. If your fin location is adjustable, try moving it forward 1/4 of an inch (1 cm).

6. Be sensitive to your board. Sometimes I can feel my fin slip a bit before I catastrophically spin out. This feeling is a warning to adjust my stance.


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