Improve  your  stance  


    por  Ian Fox

     Fonte :

You are sailing along, trying to keep the board from bouncing, your arms are aching, feet are getting sore from the pounding. Just when you think it could not get worse someone whizzes by you, looking cool and relaxed, going twice your speed.

What magic is it that good sailors have? What do they do that makes them faster, gybe better, tire less? One word: stance. Other things play a part of course, equipment choice and setup and fitness among them, but lets assume that those are taken care of. What's left is just the way a sailor uses his body.

Improving your stance is the biggest leap you will ever make in windsurfing. How does one learn something so elusive and seemingly personal? Careful observation of very good windsurfers will show they all use their body in a similar fashion and what I'll do here is break down the differences between an intermediate sailor and an expert.

two sailors and their stance

Lets assume you've got to the stage where you can use a harness comfortably and get in the footstraps. At this stage most sailors end up in the stance shown in this picture.This is a picture of my good friend Edgar. He progressed very fast in the early stages, being a super fit cyclist and triathelete. He's much further along in his skills now than in this picture.

Now lets look at another sailor. This is a picture of Meng Wang, he's a member of Team Bluefinz and an expert with many years under his belt and is lethal in formula competitions. He looks totally at ease, yet this picture was taken just seconds after the start of a race. Comparing the stance of the two sailors is very revealing. The biggest difference is just one simple fact. Meng is hiked out over the water, away from the board and sail whereas Edgar has his weight over the board. This "hiking out" is the key, the very essence of a good stance!

why the need to hike out?

When you are sailing, the key forces you have to cope with are:

  • the lift from the sail
  • drag from the board
  • lift & drag from the fin
The only way to resist and control these forces is through using your body weight. No matter how strong you are, eventually you tire and it becomes impossible to resist these forces further. Using your body weight effectively allows you to sail longer, go faster and keep better control of the board over the water.


If you are not using your weight to counterbalance the forces, then you are a passenger, subject to the rig pulling you around and the board bouncing you up and down. If you hike out, and keep very light and little weight on your feet, putting all your weight in the harness, you are a pilot, guiding and gliding the board and rig without tiring easily.

A stance is a complex thing, you are using your body in three dimensions. In order to understand how to improve this elusive skill, we will break it down into component parts using the stance of our two friends Meng and Edgar.

arms, shoulders and head
Look at the two sailors carefully.
  • Edgars arms are very bent, taking alot of the rigs force on the relatively weak biceps muscle. Meng's arms are straight and relaxed, even though he is racing!
  • Edgar's shoulders are hunched in, Meng's shoulders are rolled out. Just rolling your shoulders can add about 6 to 8cm of extra leverage.
  • Edgar's upper body is twisted in the direction he is going, his back arm thus can't come into play. Meng is square to the sail, his shoulders and hips are parallel to the center line of the board, allowing him to use his body weight to its maximum.
  • The most revealing of all: Meng's head is twisted over his shoulder, looking over his shoulder. Look at Edgar's head. He is facing the way he is going, opening up his entire body to a forward direction instead of keeping his knees, hips and shoulders parallel to the sail.

The end result is simple. All of Meng's actions end up with his weight being taken totally by the harness hook, allowing him to keep his weight off the board, thereby making the board skim lightly over the water. His arms are relaxed and are used to trim the sail to its optimum angle.

Edgar's weight and the force of the rig is being taken by his arms. Although he is probably one of the fittest persons I have ever known, no one can keep up that strain on the arms for long. His weight is on the board, making the board plough through the water and feel bouncy.

So what can Edgar do to improve his stance?

  • first, turn his body to face the sail so that his shoulders and hips are parallel to the board.
  • turn his head so that he now looks over his shoulder.
  • straighten his arms so that they are relaxed.
  • roll his shoulders so that he gets longer arms.
rolling your shoulders

Many people find this tip confusing. How do you roll your shoulders? Look at this picture sequence.

In this picture the arms are outstretched in a normal relaxed position, with the shoulders held square

Here the shoulders have been rolled back, effectively lenghtening the leverage distance between the body and the sail. This is a significant difference and adds considerably to the ability to keep the rig under control.

If you can't wriggle your fingers while holding the boom, or hold the boom with just your thumb and forefinger, then you are not putting enough weight in your harness. The forearm muscles are weak, so learn to hold on to the boom lightly.

The front hand should hold the boom in an underarm grip. This is much less tiring than the overhand grip. Some expert sailors use an overhand grip for upwind as they run their harness lines well back on the boom, but for general use this is the best way to hold the boom with the front hand.
The back hand should hold the boom such that the wrist is in a straight line. When cruising I keep the thumb of my back hand on top of the boom. This simple move serves to keep the forearm relaxed. To sheet in, use your entire back and shoulders, and not your biceps. I'll only move my thumb to do a normal grip when conditions are such that I really need every ounce of control, otherwise, this relaxed top of boom grip allows you to effortlessly stay sheeted in for long periods.

lower body, legs and feet
Lets compare the two stance again, this time focusing on the lower body. Meng's legs are almost straight, with a slight bend to the knees, to absorb and smoothen out the ride of the board. Edgar's legs are bent, bringing his weight inboard. Using his feet Meng is able to trim the board flat. The board thus rides more smoothly over the water. Again, what are the actions Edgar can take to improve his lower body stance?
  • hike out in the harness, and straighten his legs so that there is only a slight bend in the knees.
  • point the toes, use the ball of the feet to pressure the hull.
  • keep the weight off the heels as this tends to sink the rail and prevent the board from sailing flat.

putting it all together

Look carefully at Meng's sail. The foot of the sail is held down to the deck, along the central line of the hull. The entire sail is held upright and exposed to the wind, but sheeted in to get optimum drive. All this has been achieved by his stance.

Look at Edgar's sail. The sail is open, with the foot of the sail well above the board. The angle of the sail to the wind is very open, thereby considerably reducing the power the sail could generate. Just changing his stance would result in the sail automatically being sheeted in, to a rig position similar to Meng's

Thus there is one huge benefit to this stance change. You automatically end up sheeting in more, thus getting more power and drive from the sail in a smoother manner. You go faster, point better and get a much smoother ride over the water. Once this correct stance is achieved its alot easier to begin to deal with the subtleties of picking the correct path through the water and keeping the rig as still as possible. Lastly, learn to look way ahead and not look at your sail and rig. Pick a path through the water. Flex your knees to absorb the big chop and straighten up to drive the board faster through the flat patches. Sail fast, sail smooth!

training tips

All this advice and pictures are well and good but there must be a way to "dry run" many of these improvements. For some time now I've been using a "harness tree" to help with stance improvement. This is an old section of boom, with a harness line, tied to a tree which allows sailors to simulate loading the harness or learning technique on how to use the harness. Its a pretty easy set up to create. Use a boom, rope and whatever support structure you can find. The gallery of pictures below shows you a sequence you can work through to improve your own stance. Below the gallery is a picture of Kevin Pritchard in a perfect stance. Be sure to look through it to understand how the world champion does it.

drills to help improve your stance

Legs and arms are very bent, body is hunched up to the boom, most of the weight is on the feet. Body is also twisted facing forward. Not good!

The first step: relax the arms and lean your head and shoulders back. Keep the arms straight and relaxed. Consciously keep your shoulders and hips parallel to the board, avoid turning your body to face forward.

Straighten out your legs, keeping your entire body relaxed. Feel your weight pull against the harness hook.

Turn your head now to look over shoulder. This will prevent you from turning your body forward. If you turn your body forward your back arm will bend and you will never be able to naturally fully sheet in.

Rise up on your toes. You should trim and pressure the board with the toes and balls of your feet. Putting your heels down tends to force your weight down on the board. Experment with rising and lowering on your toes, you will be suprised at how much more force you can exert by merely rising up on your toes.

Here's a fun exercise to do. Hang all your weight from the harness, lean as far back as you can and put your hands behind your head. This will force all of your weight on to the harness hook. This will give you some idea of just how much power you can generate to control your sail merely by applying your weight to the harness. Good sailors can do this trick on the water, flying along without holding the boom.

a world champion's stance

Lets look at how world champion Kevin Pritchard does it. Draw a line through the middle of the board from its front to rear and you will notice that:

  • his hips,shoulders, knees and ankles are parallel to that line
  • his shoulders are rolled out, with his arms relaxed.
  • body weight is hiked out way out over the water, with feet light on the board.
  • harness lines are long and well back on the boom to allow for hiking out and using the body weight to sheet in.
  • he is neither leaning too far forward or back, he is square to the board, effortlessly using his weight to sheet in
  • feet are driving the board, look at the angle of his back foot.
  • the sail is planted down on the deck, perfectly aligned along the line drawn through the middle of the board.

Effortless. Elegant. Powerful. This is the aim of a perfect stance.