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Getting in over your head? Stop and think!

Windsurfers Windsurfing can be the most fantastic sport: you dance across the water, the board chattering gaily under your feet, the sail pulling you ever faster. Or you glide tranquilly across a lake, enjoying a unique oneness with nature.

Of course, windsurfing can also be a miserable experience: you stand shivering as an icy wind tears at your skin and pulls you out from shore while a 70,000 ton container ship bears down on you from the right and a shark fin glides in from the left. As night falls, the blood eels come…

Not to put too fine a point on it, most of us want to avoid paragraph two, and try to maximize the chances of finding ourselves in paragraph one. The easy way to do that is to keep a keen eye out for sharks and cargo ships… just kidding, that’s only part of the answer. The best way to make sure you enjoy yourself is to be prepared, and just as importantly, to be aware of your limitations.

It doesn’t matter what kind of vessel you’re on, from an 7-foot wave board to a 80-foot yacht. If you go out in conditions you can’t handle, at best you’re probably not going to enjoy the experience, and at worst, you might not survive it.

I remember once wave sailing and seeing a guy come out on a 10’6″ F2 Comet. Now, the Comet is a fine board, but it was never meant to be a wave board. Try playing Ping-Pong with a tennis racquet and you’ll understand. This particular sailor ended up with a broken mast, but not before he had made some enemies by careening around and over other sailors. The board was too big, and he simply couldn’t control it well enough to stay out of trouble. Did he have fun? Maybe, since his actions indicated someone nurturing an antisocial streak. More probably, he wanted to wavesail and simply didn’t think through what he planned to do. What’s worse, he refused to give up, even though most would agree that wishing alone will not shrink ten-plus feet of plastic down to 8 feet.

This story illustrates one of the greatest dangers we face out on the water: ourselves. Our friend on the big board perhaps thought that the problem was his lack of ability, and that by practicing he’d become better. While wanting to improve yourself is a laudable goal, it can never come at the expense of common sense. Windsurfers are fortunate in the sense that, unlike sailboats, we can usually come ashore pretty much where and when we want. That’s a useless option, however, if we don’t exercise it at the right time. If you find yourself unable to even cope with a situation, let alone master it, there’s only one thing to do: get out. And you’d better get out before conditions worsen and you can’t do it without help.

Windsurfing is a magical sport, but that doesn’t mean that we’re immune from the laws of physics, or from our own stupidity. Whenever you’re on the water, stay aware, and listen to your sense before listening to your pride.

Sail safe!

Lawrence Pearlman
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