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You've taken a lesson and got stoked! You've begged, borrowed, or rented gear to get out a few times; and, now you're sure -- THIS IS IT! -- I'M READY TO GET INTO THIS SPORT FOR REAL. You're thinking --I gotta get my own stuff, but... just what do I need?

Well, you need 5 pieces: a board (with fin), a sail, mast, boom, and mast base/universal joint assembly. (Oh, that's right...you need two other things -- wind and open water -- but those are free.)

Let's consider the five components individually; but, if you don't want to read my advice below, then just click on these suggestions...

Boards

Mistral's N-TRANCE HiFly's MOTION and MAMBO • Exocet's CRUISER - Starboard's START

Sails (value-packaged as complete rig with mast, boom,base/U-joint)

• Mistral's EXPRESS RIG • North's DRIVE rig •

Sails (alone)

Norths' DRIVE

What board to start on?
 


That question is easier to answer in 2005 than ever before. (Less expensive, too!) Since the revolution in equipment over 6 years ago -- see more on this below -- manufacturers have finally pretty much gotten this entry-level, or "first board", concept wired in. Choices are fewer and simpler because we've learned what really works in boards of this class.

Even though windsurfers come in all shapes, sizes, and abilities, all beginners should look for boards that are stable, lightweight, durable, low-cost, and capable of intermediate skills (so you don't outgrow it so quickly); and, now, manufacturers are able to make boards with all five characteristics, or at least 4 and 1/2, in one board. No longer is the first board choice all about where you're willing to make a trade-off, i.e., lightweightness for greater durability, or greater initial stability for future higher performance. After 6 years of trial, some error, and a lot of success, the many various brands of "first boards" have melded into one overall basic design. Of course, there are some bells and whistles added here or there, and still some relative differences. Therefore, my choices presented here have been reduced to about 4 models in '05 instead of 8 or 9 as in previous years. All are better than 2 or 3 years ago. All are less expensive than even last year!

Let me elaborate on two of the board design characteristics. One is " capable of intermediate skills". If you call me to discuss board choice, we'll talk about this for sure. Once you become an advanced-beginner level windsurfer, you would be able to notice, if you had alternatives to test, that a given board will have natural capabilities that another may not, relatively speaking. Some boards seem inclined toward easier manuvering and upwind ability while other shapes are built for early planning and speed in light winds. This distincton in '05 "first board' models is so reduced -- you really can get both! -- that my bringing it up may seem confusing now. However, this general performance dichotomy is endlessly discussed in the world of windsurfing board design. You might as well be aware it's out there. Your personality, goals in the sport, and general athletic ability will determine which factor concerns you most. But, as I said, among current designs listed here, it's not as big a deal as it used to be. But, in the meantime...

...There are a couple other things you need to think about. 1) the usual conditions you can expect to sail in most of the time, and 2) your lifestyle -- how often will you be able to get out there on the water? This brings us to the other design characteristic worth some elaboration: stability.

     
 

In most cases you will be able to get to the lake or beach only when you have scheduled time off -- which is not necessarily when the wind is blowing at 15+mph. It may be 5 mph and puffy or it might be a steady "lake wind advisory", yet, that's the day you're off and ready to go. You want the equipment to "work" as well as possible in whatever conditions you encounter. I want you to have fun the first, as well as each and every time thereafter, you go windsurfing. Also, the frequency with which you get on the water will greatly determine how fast you progress. If it can't be weekly, you need gear that is forgiving and doesn't require all your attention on balance each time you get out. Stability, which comes from volume and width, is the key to (1) drastically reduce the learning curve and (2), more importantly, have fun from the very beginning.

The revolution in equipment that resurrected this sport (around the '97 - '98 season) was initially all about "light-air" sailing. One company began to make ultra-wide boards for greater stability, ease of learning, and ability to "plane" in much less wind. Their success was unbelievable. Soon, all manufacturers followed suit with very wide recreational boards; and then, the next season, increased width was incorporated into all classes of boards (except the extreme "wave" boards). Boards were made shorter and the volume (floatability) was built into the middle to the rear of the boards where the rider stands. Initially, I was worried about this whole revolution -- I feared the sport was going to become "wind platforming" and the whole sensation of surfing would be lost to beginners. But, now, several years have passed and shapers have learned how to enhance the wide designs to achieve higher performance boards that are quite stable, get on a plane easily, cruise comfortably, and maneuver turns in a similar fashion to a traditional short board. Now, that was a true revolution!

(Side Note #1: A Word on Width: As 4 or 5 years have gone by since the "revolt" began, some brands just think boards can't get too wide. They went...um, overboard. If 100cm is OK, why not 110?; why not 120? They are wrong-- boards can get too wide to perform "all-around" as they say. Too much width = excess drag, weight, and bulk that will hold you back in several categories. You can get all the stability any reasonable person needs without going there. I do list one of these "too-wide" boards here simply because they still meet certain needs.) And, concerning length, a board can definiely be too short, also. Stability is affected by the length axis significantly, but of even greater concern is how a too-short board narrows the margin for error in the critcal sail trim, or angle, that all beginners work hard to maintain in order to sail comfortably across the wind. I NEVER ever teach in the sub 280cm boards for that reason. I have a "too-short' model listed below due to its one patented, unique feature that certain individuals might value.

(Side Note #2: A word on Centerboards: In the first 2 or 3 years of this revolutionary change to shorter, wider boards, the board shapers eliminated the centerboards, or daggerboard, that had traditionally been in the very long boards beginners started on. Bad idea. Very bad idea. Upwind ability, the beginners biggest challange, was heavily sacrificed. Manufacturers tried to correct this by adding center fins, side fins, and junk like that with questionable results. However, one brand, F2, in 2002 realized this and their first "revolution" board -- The DISCOVERY -- had a standard retractable centerboard. Why not? Indeed. Now, in 2004, almost all the "first boards" have standard centerbords.)

   
 
I said all that to say this: My goal is to help you get a board that is (a) stable platform for learning and carefree light-air cruising at the lake, (b) has high-performance characteristics so you can progress through all the intermediate skills, such as planning in the footstraps, getting in the harness, going FAST under control, and perhaps carving your first jibe, (c) is easy to handle and durable out of the water,and (d) a good value. So, relax! -- It's easier than ever to get the right board and be successful in this sport -- for everyone! I'm ready to discuss any of these factors mentioned here with you personally.
   
 
MAKE SURE YOU DON'T BUY A USED BOARD THAT IS NOT FROM THE WIDE REVOLUTION OR IS FOR ADVANCED WINDSURFERS.
   
   
   
Board Recommendations
 
For guaranteed success, here are my 2005 "First Board" recommendations. (Click on the hyperlink to see the board and specs.) Remember, MSRP may not be my price -- there is room for meaningful discounts on some models -- and NO national catalog mail order house beats me or would dare to match my no-hassle guarantee of satisfaction.
   
   
   
   
   
 

Mistral "N-Trance" -- (MSRP: $999; add EXPRESS rig, $359, or North DRIVE rig, $569) Only slightly refined in 2005, this model has become "the one" in first board design. Developed in '04 after extensive testing of all major entry-level boards on the market, including classic "old school" beginner boards up to the latest, most extreme "wide body" designs, Mistral launched the N-Trance , a board of superior performance in planning and sub-planning conditions. They focused on a correct length-to-width ratio and Even Volume Distribution to provide stability on both axis, upwind pointing, and improved high-wind control. Two models, both within my not-too-wide, not-too-short requirement: One is 280cm long and 80cm wide with 199 liters of volume. The other, the XL, is 290cm long, 90cm wide with 220 liters which will give heavyweights plenty of float, but in a narrower tail, manuverable performance package! Wow. Add a, comfy and protective EVA rubber-like deck all over, High Resistance Skin, many footsrap positions, and a traditional retractable daggerboard for "get me back to home" ability -- shoot, this is it!

Trade-offs: Not lowest price of all boards here

   
   
   
   
   
   
 

Hifly's "Motion" and "Mambo" -- (MSRP: $749 or with a North Ultra 5.5 sail rig, $999.99) These are dagger-board equipped, poly extruded blow-molded boards that are the ultimate in durability and very affordable. HiFly is all about windsurfing with no worries, mate! Great choice for a family or beach house situation. These models have the same material as it's big brother, the Primo, on which I teach and more people in the world have taken their first windsurfing lesson than any other. Bombproof. Lifetime guarantee! "Motion" is longer and wider, more floaty (290m x 90cm x 219 liters) than the "Mambo" (275 X 80cm x 175 liters). Heavy out of the water at 41 and 35 lbs respectively, but in the water maneuvers nicely, accelerates smoothly onto a plane, and glides easily through the water. Extend the retractable daggerboard to gain stability and upwind performance. Mambo is not for mid-to-heavyweights in the 180 lb.+ range.

Trade-offs: not lightweight; somewhat less top-end performance compared to some models.

   
   
   
 

Exocet's "Cruiser" -- (MSRP: $899) A very successful selling design primarily due to it's ease-of-transportation feature, a unique roller on the tail and a handle cut-out at the nose. Roll it around like luggage! You don't have to carry it. And, hey, that cheap price is nice! Another great family or lake/beach house board. It shares a lot of features with other boards here: overall EVA (rubber) deck, very durable. Large size is super wide at 100cm, volumizing at 205 liters, and has a retractable daggerboard. Medium size is 150 liters and 87cm wide -- suitable for lightweights, kids only. These boards are approaching the too short at 270cm long. Stability from front-to-back can be an issue and also requires more precise sail positioning to track across and upwind.

Trade offs: a bit heavy in the water; short shape creates sail handling issues.

   
   
   
 

Starboard's "Start" -- (MSRP: $902 to $958) The board that makes windsurfing accessible to anyone of any ability, age, weight...or attitude.Super-wide, ultra-stable, rubber-decked learning platform that is hard to fall off of. Several unique features. Domed in the rear of the deck melds to concave up front with a subtle center ridge to help beginners feel the centerline. Unsurpassed security and comfort for rapid learning. Great for the timid beginner or family goofing-around on the occassional trip to the beach or lake. Updated in '05 with a super-smooth, retractable "Clipper Box" center fin system and a shallow-water rear fin supplied as standard equipment. Comes in '05 in 3 sizes. All are very, very short. The (orginal) Large, at 101cm wide X 253cm longand 34 lbs, can be a handful on land but has a carrying handle. It's not a board to take you to the intermediate level. The M is 205 liters and 258cm long X 90cm wide. The S is 235cm X 85cm wide.

Trade-offs: limited capabilites; very short length affects sail handling; propietary center fin

   
   
 
Prices are plus freight which can be from $50 TO $85. (The nationwide windsurfing mail order catalogs charge freight too.) If at all possible, I'll also lend hands-on help to set up the rig and be there to make sure it's right.
   
   
   
Rig and Sail Recommendations
 
Sails from the last 3 to 4 years are also much better than the old beginner's rigs. They are lighter weight and often without mechanical cams (where the batten meets the mast) so they rig easier, uphaul (lift from the water) easier, and transition from one side to the other on turns much easier. Most men should start with something in the 6.2 to 6.7 sq. meter range. Lighter women, something closer to 5.5. I often have good close-out deals on some sizes of ' 04 and ' 03 sails. Some used ones out there are quite suitable. Things I would want to talk with you about: Should you get one or two to begin with? Which size(s)? Are you planning to take it in the ocean? Are you going to go out whenever it blows...or just whenever?
   
 

There are a couple of really good values out there on quality "first" sails in complete rigs that include mast, boom, and extension.

The NorthSails DRIVE is a quality rig package (with excellent 30% carbon mast) at $560 or upper $200's to low $300's for sail alone. Nothing is in it's class quality-wise at that price. I've touched, felt, inspected, and tested it personally. North, the world's largest sail maker, is proud to have their name on this model. Simply the best economy sail I've ever seen. You can get thesail alone and scrounge a used mast or boom, base and extension, or let me complete a reasonable package. All sizes, from 3.7 to 7.0 rig on a 430 mast! For the entry level, it's da bomb!

The Mistral EXPRESS is a quality "kit" economy rig. At. $359 for 5.5 or 6.5 with an epoxy mast and all monofilm sail, boom, base/U-joint. All you need in the basic rig package.

You can't hardly beat Hifly's ULTRA rig price when you buy a HiFly Motion or Mambo board -- $280 additional dollars for a very nice, lightweight sail (made by the world leader, North Sails), epoxy mast, basic aluminum boom, AND the U-joint/ mast base. All you need. These "kit" sails are much, much better performance-wise than kit rigs from just a few years ago, but the main trade-off for the low price is the over-all weight and durability. They are heavier and less rugged than most of their high performance counterparts.

   
   
Mast and Boom
 
I have in stock the boom you ought to get.... $99. A super value in a quality aluminum boom by Chinook. These are exactly like the boomI started on and often still use; they're $30 cheaper than other manufacturers and way less than hi-tech carbon ones you don't need. .
   
  The mast: For years, most beginners started with a basic epoxy for $95. I did for my first 2 years. But, the other lighter option is the carbon-composite which, for the basic 30 % carbon one I would recommend, you jump to about $195. They are lighter and more responsive and someday you will want one. For now, choose betwen the epoxy or 30% carbon, unless you can easily afford a higher percent carbon and lightness of the rig is very important to you.
   
   
Mast base and Universal joint
 


FIRST, A WARNING: If you get this fantastic used-board-with-sail-and-everything-deal from your brother-in-law that has an old, obsolete mast track andmast base/U-joint system, you will be very mad when you realize that, if a piece of this system breaks, that's it -- the board is worthless.The sail, mast, and boom should work on another board, but if you can't find the obsolete replacement U-joint parts -- and I'm pretty good, but I can't work miracles --just toss out the board. To prevent this from happening, call me before you buy that used stuff. I'll go over it with you.

   
 

U-joints and mast bases are really simple, but there are several systems out there. Only two are really standard and soon it will be one, in my humble opinion. Let's go over it. The mast base extension sticks into the bottom of the mast and has the imbedded pulley wheels on it for downhauling the sail. They come in 3 or 4 lengths and each is adjustable in the amount of length they add to your mast. You only need one. This allows a given mast to adjust to fit a variety of sail sizes. Get a longish one. Why not? It only costs a few bucks more and then you have more flexibiity.

An extension is made to accept a U-joint/mastbase (also commonly referred to as just the mast foot or mast base) of the same style. There are only two current styles: (1) the double push-pin cup , or (2) the Euro-pin. Either is perfectly fine and readily available in shops, etc. This universal joint top piece inserts into the bottom of the mast base extension adn locks in place. The flexible piece of the U-joint comes in two shapes and materials, the black rubber hourglass or the orangish-looking urethane tendon. Either is fine. The bottom of the U-joint assembly usually has a threaded bolt and stainless or brass square washer to insert in the mast track of the board. Then, there is a mechanism to tighten down the whole assembly to the board, usually by twisting, which pulls the washer up tight inside the mast track. (Yep, can you believe that? -- it all comes down to that washer holding the sail to the board!) I sell and use myself Windsurfing Hawaii, Chinook, and Streamlined brands of extensions and U-joints. Expect to pay about $55 for the longest mast base extensions. The Windsurfing Hawaii STAR foot "twist and release" U-joint is simple, reliable, inexpensive ($44) and great for beginners (and you'll still be using it when you're an expert).

 

Other minor necessities
 


Up-haul line -- get the braided rope for easy grip -- $18. The basic bungee one is $11.

Boom bra pad -- $13. Attaches to the boom at the mast clamp to cushion the blow if the boom slams into the nose of the board.

Hand-held rigging tool -- $14

That's all, folks!

Chuck Hardin
(706) 860-0639

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