Whether just a day trip or a six-month voyage, windsurfing involves travel for almost everybody who sails. Few can boast perfect sailing conditions in their backyard.
There are many centers around the world that are completely set up for high-performance sailing, some offering accommodation and instruction as well as equipment for a complete package.
Centers such as these offer a choice of boards and sails suitable for local conditions.
Windsurfing package holidays are great for those just getting into shortboard sailing.
Before booking a holiday at a particular center, check that the equipment available is of recent design and sufficient quantity to go around.
An alternative to basing your holiday at a windsurfing resort is to visit an area with top-quality rental gear.
Experienced sailors, who do not need an instructor or rescue boat around, benefit most from this choice.
It gives you the chance to explore different beaches and surf spots too.
Plan Your Gear Needs
For example, both Maui, Hawaii, and the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon/Washington, USA, have inexhaustible supplies of excellent equipment for rent.
In order to cater to such a large group of transient sailors, both locations have shops offering great deals on used equipment, making both places a good choice for sailors looking to buy equipment at bargain prices.
Some stores also buy back equipment or sell on commission.
Even better deals are often found at the beach, where sailors returning to Europe unload unwanted gear the day before leaving.
Purchasing boards and sails may be better if your vacation is longer than a couple of weeks.
Buying the best new equipment available is not a problem in Maui or the Gorge. In fact, you will be spoiled for choice.
That is, if you are looking for a shortboard; about the only longboards you are likely to see are in the rental shops or on the roofs of racers passing through.
An important point to be aware of when traveling is that windsurfing equipment is not standardized throughout the world.
If you are traveling with your own gear, make sure to bring along spares of anything unique to your rig, especially a spare mast base and fin screws/ plates.
Failure to do so can spoil the fun and involve unplanned spending.
A Short Guide to Popular Destinations
Mother Nature is, at best, unpredictable, but you can improve the odds of finding good windsurfing by visiting areas at the time of year when they are most likely to have wind.
You will not be able to learn to waterstart and sail a shortboard if the wind is blowing less than 15-18 knots, which is about force 5.
Famous worldwide for wind and surf, Maui is also an excellent location for improving sailors.
The best winds occur during summer - May through August - although the surf is generally small at this time of year.
The biggest swells hit the Hawaiian islands in the winter, but the trades are less reliable then.
For a chance of wind and waves, the best months are May and October.
In the Caribbean, excellent sailing can be found on many of the islands. Trade winds blow here all year round but are most consistent in April through July.
The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are both developing very good reputations, and Puerto Rico is noted for being inexpensive.
The closest island to Venezuela, Aruba, is noted for flat water sailing and strong offshore winds, especially during June and July.
Most of the year has wind, but September through November are the least reliable months.
Further east in the Caribbean, Barbados has strong wind from December through March and excellent wave sailing, too.
In the Western Caribbean, Cancun is also windiest from December through March.
This island is being discovered by more sailors every year.
It is still inexpensive and has some of the best wave-sailing conditions in the Caribbean.
Wind is consistent in the summer with small waves. Winter sees the best waves but less consistent wind.
Los Barriles and La Paz, Mexico, located on the southern tip of the Baja peninsula on the Sea of Cortez, are becoming increasingly popular with shortboard sailors from the US.
The area is not yet well known to European sailors.
There are a number of beaches to sail from and good facilities available in some of the specialized windsurfing resorts.
The sailing season runs from November to March, with the months from December to February being most reliable for wind.
Crete, northern Sardinia, southern Corsica, and Tarifa are some of the best spots for shortboard sailing in the Mediterranean Sea.
In the summertime, excellent sailing can be found in the eastern Mediterranean on Crete and other surrounding isles.
The central Med, northern Sardinia, and southern Corsica also offer consistent winds and warm, clean water.
Further west, Tarifa is famous for strong wind but is to be avoided in July and especially August due to the crowds.
The recommended months are May, June, and September, but the wind can blow anytime.
Located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa, the Canary Islands are very popular with European sailors.
It is windiest in the summertime when both excellent waves, high wind, and flat water sailing can be found there.
Like Tarifa, you can expect to sail with sails as small as 3.5 square meters (37.7 square feet) or even smaller for at least part of the time during the summer months - June, July, and August.
How much to bring is a personal choice.
If you will be renting, all you need is your own wetsuit, harness, and perhaps sailing shoes (in case your rental board is slippery or if you are launching in rocky areas).
A World Cup sailor may travel with up to 275 kilograms (600 pounds) of gear, with as many as twelve boards.
If traveling light, you can get by with one board, a couple of sails, a two-piece mast, and a set of booms.
All your luggage could weigh less than 18 kilograms (40 pounds).
A Travel Checklist
- Passport, valid driver's license, credit card, visa (if necessary);
- Sunscreen, sunglasses, cap, sunburn cream, camera;
- Handbook with local information;
- Two or three sails of sizes common at your destination, two-piece mast;
- Adjustable booms;
- Spare fin, fin repair tab, fin screws, and fin screw plates;
- Spare line;
- Small repair kit, duct tape;
- Wetsuit (shorty or vest only if you are going to the tropics);
- Soft roof rack to fit on any car (few car rental agencies can provide racks);
- Pocket calculator;
A First-Aid Kit
- Neosporin and peroxide for cleaning cuts and preventing infection;
- Cloth band-aids (stick better than plastic);
- Extra-strength aspirin, antihistamines;
- Lomotil and Swim ear;
- A meat tenderizer for stingray and jellyfish sting (apply gently, don't rub, and soak in hot water);
- Good tweezers, sharp scissors, and an eye-wash kit;
Traveling Closer to Home
Use a sturdy rack firmly attached to your car.
Pad it to protect your board from damage, especially if you have a custom fiberglass board, as they are not generally as durable as production boards.
Care should also be given in your choice of tie-downs - use webbing straps or similar.
A padded board bag provides additional protection from knocks and ultraviolet rays, which break down and weaken fiberglass.
Mast/rack clips are available to make life easier.
To discourage theft, get locks for your racks and board. When traveling with more than two boards, you will need to stack them.
Place solid foam pads between the boards.
Tower racks, using a center post with bars coming out to the side, permit you to pull out whichever board you require without having to undo the whole stack.
The logistics of traveling with a pile of sailing equipment may initially seem daunting.
Taking time for a bit of advance planning can prevent unwanted adventures.
Your equipment should be in well-padded bags, as baggage handlers are usually hired for brawn rather than finesse.
Be sure to label all baggage clearly inside and out.
Many airlines permit you to travel with two pieces of hold baggage and one carry-on piece.
This means that you can travel with board and quiver bag together as one piece and one large carry-all.
Excess charges often seem to be at the whim of the check-in person, so a little luck is needed.
Arrive at the airport early; you will need the extra time to cart your gear, and it is more likely that your baggage will arrive at the same time as you.
Bring soft roof racks - they are easy to pack and fit most cars.
If you have just traveled halfway around the world to go sailing, the chances are that your body will be a little bit out of sync with your surroundings.
If you suffer badly, you may not feel like slashing the waves for a few days. However, drinking plenty of water on the flight can help.
One of the best ways of overcoming jet lag is to change to local sleep time as soon as you arrive, even if you need sleeping pills the first couple of nights.
Words by Rob Reichenfeld | Windsurfer and Author of "Windsurfing: Step by Step to Success"