Wipeouts: jumping away from the windsurfing equipment is always a smart move | Photo: Carter/PWA

You don't need to be a beginner to get caught by a three-wave set or closeout wave. It happens to the best of us. Here's what you should do when getting washed by waves.

In windsurfing, potentially life-threatening wipeouts are especially dangerous in wave sailing. If you're freestyling in flat waters, the risks are significantly lower.

Waves do not wait for us. They keep coming and hitting everything they encounter with no mercy at all for windsurfers.

"When the wave is too big, and I see I won't make it, there are two options - I 'chicken-tack,' or I start pumping like hell and try to make it," explains pro wave sailor Ricardo Campello.

"If you're willing to take that risk and think you can make it over the top of the lip, try to make the equipment make some kind of forward loop by itself - this is valid for side-off conditions only.

"At least the equipment will get on top of the waves, and I can swim out to sea. If another wave comes, then I'm obviously screwed!" notes the Brazilian-born, multiple-time world windsurfing champion.

The Body Always Comes First

One of the first things you should do is protect your body from getting beaten by the wave itself, but mainly by your own equipment.

The mast, the boom, the board, and the fin can do a lot of damage to your body.

To avoid cuts, lacerations, bruises, broken bones, and eye injuries, you need to make sure you keep a safe distance from the gear.

Whenever possible, jump or swim away from the rig, and never put yourself in front of it. Otherwise, a breaking wave will throw the windsurfing equipment in your direction.

Windsurfing: retrieving your equipment is never an easy task | Photo: Carter/PWA

In theory, the faster you anticipate a wipeout, the safer you will be. If you see trouble coming your way, immediately unhook and analyze your best options.

Do windsurfers really need to ditch their equipment when they're seconds away from suffering a painful wipeout? It depends on the size and power of the wave.

Sometimes, the trick is to perform a technical duck dive, in which the windsurfer pushes his gear underwater as surfers and bodyboarders do with their boards.

It is harder, but it can still be done.

Here's how to defend your gear when you're close to your equipment:

  1. Try to sink the top of the sail underwater;
  2. Climb onto the sail with your back facing the incoming wave;
  3. Hold and push the middle of the boom down;

Now, let's see how you can protect your body when you lose your equipment in a wipeout situation:

  1. If possible, jump away from the board and sail, preferably to the side;
  2. Keep a distance from the windsurfing equipment;
  3. Cover your head with your hands and arms;
  4. Bend your body in a full-fetal position;
  5. Relax, take a deep breath, and let your body submerge;
  6. Swim back to the beach;

Never hold the clew of the boom because the clamp holes may cut your hands.

If you lose your windsurfing equipment, focus on bodysurfing back to shore, safe and sound.

Remember that you can always ask for help. A fellow wave rider could be able to retrieve your board and sail so that you can resume sailing.

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