The school year is over and for the past month I’ve been receiving phone calls by parents who want to bring their kids to practice windsurfing.
The question I am answering here is: Is my kid too young to start?
To begin with, there is a lower age limit (tied to the learning capability of the child and how athletic they are) but most importantly, a strength, physical capability and weight limit. I have taken kids as young as 4 together with me on the beginner board, but this needs to be done on the light days of the season and low wind conditions.
In my opinion, the most important parameter for a child to practice windsurfing is water confidence. This is something that can be planted within the first 4 years of a childs’ life. The child needs to be confident around the water and have a familiarity with seeing the shoreline from the water side. Although we always stay close to the shore, the kid needs to be familiar with how it looks from the outside-, not be scared of having water splashed in their face and also have a respect of the sea and some of the possible dangers of being in or on the water. Kids that have been swimming since an early age, kids that have stood on a skateboard and those that have played in the sea, pool or bath tub splashing water in each others’ face tend to be less scared about the idea of jumping onto a windsurfing board. Also, your child needs to be able to swim! If they are confident enough to dive under the board, too, then they are definitely ready to start!
The second most important parameter is size and strength. Why? Because a young windsurfer needs to start by uphauling their sail out of the water, leaning backwards into the wind and counterbalancing the force in the sail with the weight of their body. This is fairly easy for an adult who weighs more than 50 kgs, but for a child it’s more difficult to get used to the wind pulling them. It’s safe to say that they need to be 25kgs or heavier to be able to confidently stabilise themselves on the equipment. I always start with supporting the foot of the sail for them as they sail along, until they figure out how to place their body relative to the sails’ pull instead of having it pulling them over every few meters. An active and strong 5 year old using a 1.0m sail can easily learn and progress, whereas a less physically built 7 year old will struggle, even with a suitable rig. Make sure the school has kids rigs and not small adult rigs or your child may be put off forever.
The third most important parameter is age. A 6 year old will have a shorter attention span than an 8 year old. In general, kids won’t sit to listen to the concepts of the wind for too long. They want to play! They will also get tired pretty fast, so I am always very careful to spot when they’re having fun and when they’re pushing their limits to make their parents proud (they know they’re being watched most of the time – or think they are)! That being said, a kid as young as 6 can learn the basics through observing what I am doing with the equipment. They learn how their body works with the sail and the board very fast! As long as it’s not too windy (which makes them tired uphauling the sail and turning) they will be sailing back and forth on the first or second lesson. A good age to start is between 6 and 7, but my experience says 8 – 10 year olds are in a much better position to have both the learning capability and the necessary weight to pick up windsurfing as they would any other sport like football, basketball or tennis.
Regarding the conditions in which I train children, I always pick the days of the week and times of day when there is light wind and flat water conditions. This ensures that even the lighter ones can handle their sails effortlessly.
As long as the kid is at least 25kgs and willing to learn, they will be able to learn the tack and jibe and sail confidently out and back into the beach. Learning to waterstart is a small mission with kids using too small of a sail, as the lever that can be applied to the board is too small for the kid to be able to get onto it. However, I have taught kids to waterstart (they were really determined those ones)! Until they reach 35-40 kgs, they will be on a 120-160lt board with a small sail.
When I have a child signing up for their first windsurfing lesson, I first coach them one-to-one, so I can give them time to learn the parts of the equipment and how the sail works. I then include them in a group with 1 or 2 more children – this not only makes the whole experience more fun, but the kids can work together as a team and learn from each other!
I love teaching kids to windsurf! The most important thing is to find balance between learning, fun and achievement and to let them play as well.
For those of you out there that windsurf and have a kid, think about how small waves look to a 10 or 15 year old. I started windsurfing when I was 21 and the waves in Greece have looked small most of the time. Imagine being a lucky child sailing 0.30m waves and feeling you’re in Hookipa!
I will be posting pictures in my social media and blog, stay tuned to follow their journey in windsurfing!