Can you tell me what makes a sport, any worthwhile activity in fact, entertaining? Well, in my humble opinion two major factors come into play and make a sport entertaining. First of all there is the “stoked factor” - that sport has to be fun, you have to want to do it. When you are done you must walk away with a feeling of exhilaration and as you head home the thoughts going through your head should be something like this: “Man, I can’t wait to do this again!” The second factor is safety. There is a certain thrill that you get from pursuing a potentially dangerous activity and walking away in one piece. The key is preparation, taking the time to make sure that all safety precautions have been taken. Danger is all around us, it is in everything we. Personally I went to take the dog out for a walk one day, and as I was going down the stairs he cut me off, I tripped and broke my foot – just goes to show you that you never know when something can go wrong. The fault was entirely mine because I should have put him on a leash.
Now in regards to windsurfing safety, there are several things that you must be aware of. I will start with a few basic safety tips and work my way up from there. Keep in mind that most times common sense is the best safety precaution of all.
Health & Safety
Before going out on the open water you must think about your health. Here are a few tips and pointers:
- Wear sunglasses! Don’t put your eyes at risk. The sun is bad enough when you are on the beach; when you are out windsurfing on the open sea its effects are doubled because it glares off the water. It is a good idea to protect your eyes even if it overcast because clouds do not block UV rays. Prevent eye damage by wearing sunglasses.
- Wear sunscreen! Don’t put your skin at risk. The sun does not affect your eyes alone; it also affects your skin. Harmful UV rays can cause skin cancer, so it is best to protect yourself. Wearing a rash guard is also a good idea.
- Wear an insulating neoprene suit. If the situation calls for it wear booties and gloves as well. Keep yourself protected from hypothermia as it can prove to be fatal. One of the least dangerous things that could happen is catching a cold.
- Stay hydrated! Drink plenty of liquids. If the only beverages that you can find to drink are alcoholic beverages, perhaps it would be best to stay on the beach and enjoy that drink instead of going windsurfing. Do not go windsurfing if you are under the influence of alcoholic beverages. Also, if you came by car, take a taxi back home or ask a friend (that did not drink) to take you home.
These are general safety tips on a wide range of windsurfing related topics:
- The lifeguard is out there with a purpose – that purpose is to assure secure conditions for all beach and water users. They will arbor flags of different colors, according to the meteorological conditions. You are well advised to learn what they mean and obey them. For example if you see an orange windsock it means that the wind conditions are dangerous. If you see a red flag, it means that you should not enter the water.
- When you are out on the open water and you get in some sort of trouble, shouting from the top of your lungs will be of little help. No one on the beach will be able to hear your voice – first of all you are so far out that you would have to shout incredibly hard for your voice to carry that far; secondly your voice (assuming that it did carry that far) would have to compete with other background noise such as the sound of breaking waves, the whistle of the wind, other people talking, and so on. Hand signals are your best option. The hand signal for “help” goes like this: wave both hands on top of your head.
- Take a flare with you. If no one sees your hand signals, they will surely spot the flare.
- If you see someone struggling in the water, alert a lifeguard or the emergency services. If you can aid him without putting your own safety at risk, do it!
- Did you ask yourself the three golden questions? Before heading out to sea, ask yourself these questions:
- How good am I at swimming (long distances)?
- If something goes wrong, am I covered by insurance?
- Am I skilled enough to go out on the open water?
- Wear a helmet! Wear a PFD (personal flotation device), buoyancy aid or life jacket! What if something hits you in the head and you fall in the water? The helmet will protect your skull and the PFD will keep you afloat. When you fall in the water the mast may fall on your head – the helmet will help; if you do not have a helmet on, as soon as you hit the water raise you hands so as to protect your head.
- If at any time you detect damages to your equipment, postpone your windsurfing session. Get your gear repaired or replace it with new one and then go out windsurfing.
- If the meteorological or water conditions are more than you can handle, postpone your windsurfing session. Surely you can find a safer activity to occupy your time with.
- Never leave your windsurfing equipment on the beach unattended.
Specific Safety Rules
Keep all the safety guidelines presented above in mind when windsurfing. Add the following ones to them.
Before you leave the house, take some time and do the following:
- Check to see if the meteorological conditions are suitable for windsurfing. Look out the window, turn on the weather channel on TV, go online and check the weather forecast, phone a friend that is already at the beach, etc. If the conditions are not suitable, then there’s no point in leaving, is it?
- In the comfort of your own home, with no one bothering or distracting you, take the time to inspect your gear. Look for any sign of damage such as worn ropes, loose fittings, torn sail, and so on.
- If you live with someone, let him/her know that you are going out windsurfing. If you live alone, phone a friend and let him know that you are going out to windsurf and let that friend know when you plan to return. If something goes wrong that friend will inform the authorities and they will initiate a search.
When you get to the beach, follow these safety guidelines:
- Be aware of local windsurfing conditions.
- Try not to go out on the open water alone.
- If the beach is also used by kitesurfers, follow these safety rules:
- Stay clear of kite lines. Getting tangled in them is not a pretty sight, especially since these lines can cut through flesh when tensioned.
- Try to avoid runaway kites. Stay well clear of kites and kite lines that can easily grab innocent bystanders.
- If you spot a kitesurfer in trouble, get a lifeguard. If you must approach him, do this with caution. Ask him where the kite and kite lines are before approaching him.
While you are out on the open water, follow these safety guidelines:
- Do not sail in offshore winds. They will only push you further and further out to sea and unless you are skilled enough to handle them you will have a hard time getting back to shore.
- Do not be tempted to go too far out. Keep in mind that in case of an emergency you will have to swim back to shore.
- Keep your speed low when leaving the beach as well as when returning to shore.
- If you get tired, get back on land.
- Try to avoid impact with other water users. Get out the way of larger water crafts that could hurt you. Non-commercial motorized vehicles must yield, but commercial motorized vehicles always have the right of way.
- Obey the “rules of the road”. For example starboard always has the right of way and overtakers must yield.
- Do not jibe into another sailor.
- Perform a self-rescue if the situation calls for it.
- If you are windsurfing in shallow water, keep in mind that if you fall in the water you could hurt yourself by hitting submerged objects. Try no to fall of your board when sailing in shallow waters.
- If at any time you wipe out and your board and sail become separated, recover the board first. It makes sense to recover it first because it is big and buoyant.
Worst Case Scenario
If against all odds the worst happens (despite the fact that you took all the necessary safety precautions), do the following:
- Try to stay calm. Take a few minutes to regain your composure – most of the times you will find yourself disoriented and confused after a bad wipeout. Assess the situation and try to figure a way out. You must use your energy in a constructive way, not waste it!
- If the board and sail have become separated, try to recover the board, not the sail. The board will offer much needed buoyancy.
- Try to get back to shore as fast as possible. If you have suffered an injury, it is crucial that you get back on land before the onset of shock. Do not hesitate to ask a nearby water user for help. Signaling to shore that you need help is also a good idea.