Windsurfing is one of the more widely practiced water recreational activities because it can be done in small quiet lakes as well as in rough open water.
With proper training and safety precautions, windsurfing is relatively safe, but the unpredictable nature of environmental conditions (wind and water) plus the high speeds that even beginners can attain can quickly cause a loss of control and serious injuries through collisions or falls.
There are many new windsurfing training organisations gearing programs to children. While it is recommended that children participate in courses, it also increases the responsibility of providers to train young surfers appropriately. Children may not understand changing surf conditions or emergency situations as quickly as adults.
Many windsurfing injuries are caused by the impact of jumps and falls. Muscle and tendon
sprains are very common, especially in the foot/ankle or shoulder areas. While sprains themselves are not that serious, they can cause a windsurfer too much pain to handle the equipment with the necessary strength, which can lead to a more serious problem such as a collision or inability to return to shore.
Why windsurfing can be risky for children and youth ?
Windsurfing is fairly easy to do as a beginner, but also easy to do poorly. Proper positioning and posture are an important part of preventing injuries, but it takes a lot of practice and sore muscles to get that right, leaving children vulnerabl to sprains and exhaustion. Young people surfing in busy waters with boaters and swimmers may find it difficult to negotiate steering and safety rules at the same time, especially under high speeds. Young children may be disadvantaged by not having an understanding of the wind and water currents.
It is expected within the sport of windsurfing that the surfer will spend a lot of time immersed, often re-boarding and launching again in the water. A child must be a very strong swimmer in order to handle that. Additionally, training of children should emphasise the skills of re-boarding and re-launching the mast and sail alone. Balance and stamina are key to this sport. Children may have difficulty realising they are too tired or cold to continue, so it is important that an adult maintain close verbal and visual contact to check on the child while on the water.
Recommendations for windsurf rental and operation
● All surfers must understand and observe boating rules and rights of way.
● Use of a buoyancy aid is mandatory.
● Beginners should only surf in enclosed, calmer waters.
● In cool waters, a wetsuit should be worn, and even in warmer waters a half body suit is recommended to help prevent against abrasions to the skin from the equipment.
● Surfers wishing to rent equipment should have previous adequate training which they can demonstrate by answering questions regarding techniques and rules.
● First time renters should be given training by your staff on the proper operational techniques of the equipment, and a short test launch should be made with your direct supervision.
● Youth and novice surfers should wear protective gear such as windsurfing boots and gloves.
● Record the names, home address and local contact information for each surfer in case of an emergency.
Surfers should be instructed in the following:
● Follow boating right of way rules.
● Understand local safety signage and flags, and accepted safety symbols and cues to use for communication.
● Check twice in every direction for people or objects before gibing (turning quickly).
● Never abandon the board in an emergency. You will swim and float better when holding the board, and will be easier to find.
● Come back to shore as soon as you begin to tire or feel too hot or cold.
● Listen for signals regarding changing conditions. Avoid offshore and onshore winds. Cross shore winds are best.
● Should the winds become too strong, roll up the sail and signal for help.
● Respect speed limits. Stay within safety boundaries and avoid swimmers.
What safety factors to look for in choosing equipment for your operation
Older windsurf models were often 3 metres in length and quite heavy, too heavy for most children to handle. However, newer models are shorter and wider, which provides more stability, and smaller size sails geared toward children are being made. Be sure to not send children out with a sail that is too big or heavy for them. Additionally, have light buoyancy aids on hand in a variety of children’s sizes. Stronger personal flotation devices are not recommended for windsurfers because they can interfere with a surfer’s ability to duck out from under the sail should they fall in the water. Children can, however, use a harness system. If footstraps are used, they should be fitted with a release mechanism to prevent injuries or entrapment in a fall. Have water recreational helmets, footwear and gloves in children’s sizes as well.
● Always have at least 2 staff members present – one to speak with clients and handle training, and the other to assist in launch and landing activity.
● Staff should take care to inspect the equipment before and after each use.
● Be sure that your staff members are trained in CPR and first aid.
● Keep binoculars on hand for monitoring clients, as well as a loud horn and warning light to signal changes in wind and water conditions. Check conditions regularly.
● Have a rescue boat or PWC on hand so that surfers in danger can be reached quickly if no water rescue service is available in the immediate vicinity.
● All staff members should be able to clearly communicate the risks and safety rules to clients. A language barrier could pose a problem should an vaccident occur; both in terms of immediate medical care, and in terms of liability for having failed to properly communicate the rules.
*Source : European Child Safety Alliance, Eurosafe; 2008.- With the support of the European Commission