Windsurfing really is like riding a bike – once you’ve learnt the basics you never look back. ALIX NORMAN gets to grips with the waves
Windsurfing. It’s just like riding a bike. But, there are not quite as many wheels involved – and noticeably fewer opportunities for high-speed bell ringing – but the similarity is that once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll never forget them. I’ve been windsurfing on and off for three years now – not counting my fruitless, self-taught attempts in which my inability to sail back to shore resulted in a closer relationship with the coastguard than one would wish. The point is, ever since I got myself a proper instructor and set my mind to the prospect of the 180 degree turn, I’ve – metaphorically speaking – never looked back.
Each June sees me tentatively squirming into my board shorts – will they fit? Have I grown too large? – and heading down to Makenzie beach in the hope that I can remember my clew from my cleat, my boom from my beam. Ok, I’m showing off: I’m still not sure what any of those terms mean, but when the wind’s in your hair and your bikini’s still on your boobs (occupational hazard when travelling at near-terminal velocities), you know you must be doing something right. And also, I’m lucky enough to have found the right instructor.
“It always takes a few hours to get back to where you stopped the previous season,” declares Jorg Grether, windsurf instructor at MacKenzie Watersports. “But the muscle memory and orientation soon kick in.” To prove his point, he tells me of 61-year-old gentleman who came down the at the start of the summer: “He hadn’t windsurfed in 27 years, and thought he’d forgotten everything, but in 20 minutes he’d remembered how it all worked, and was up and away. Later he told me he’d been the Greek windsurfing champion in the Eighties!”
I’m by no stretch of the imagination ever going to be a champion, but I see Jorg’s point as soon as I’m up on the simulator – something I do each year at the start of the season. While Jorg hangs onto the board and utters helpful advice (“Keep the wind on your back”, “look in the direction you want to go”) I find it’s all coming back to me. And within half an hour I’m braving the waves alone, the splashing and spluttering decreasing as my mind stops trying to take over and allows my body to get on with it.
Back on the beach after that first exhausting twenty minute stint, I find I’m not the only returnee whose muscle memory has been kicking in. “You begin by feeling you don’t have control over anything,” says Marisol, a fellow student who’s back on the board for the first time this year. “But then it starts to happen instinctively. I thought I would need several lessons to begin with, but Jorg encouraged me to go for it, and he was right. I found I knew what I was doing, not intellectually, but instinctively. Plus, this year, I’m not as afraid – I know now that if I fall I won’t get hurt.”
She’s right: unlike biking, falling off a board won’t do you any lasting damage, as long as you remember to hold your breath as you hit the water. And anyway, we’re protected by all kinds of safety measures that Jorg has introduced as a result of his extensive instructor’s training in Europe: impact jackets to protect the upper body, signing in and out of the water so the staff are aware of who’s out in the sea at any given time, a rescue boat permanently in the water to aid floundering – or exhausted – surfers, and all the equipment faultlessly maintained by Jorg himself.
“And we always assess students’ swimming skills before letting them near the water,” says Jorg, “particularly in the case of younger pupils.” On other beaches, and at other times, I’ve swum to the rescue of enough struggling children to know that this is the most sensible – and basic – of safety measures, and yet it’s something so rarely checked by many of the cowboy watersports outfits on the island.
“Swimming skills was the first thing Jorg checked,” says Emma Cooper, who’s brought her two boys and their two friends down for their first lesson. As a mum, she’s understandably concerned about the wellbeing of her charges, and appears impressed by the constant safety awareness that always make this windsurfer feel that bit less nervous back in the water. “All the kids are wearing impact vests, even the instructor,” she says, watching one of her offspring manhandle the sail into position with a determination that’s clear even from the beach. “I’ve never once felt the children weren’t safe, despite the fact it’s quite windy and the waves are fairly strong,” she adds.
While I’m taking a break and giving my core muscles a much-needed rest (I usually lose upward of five kilos each summer just from windsurfing for an hour each week – result!), Jorg is out on the water with the four boys, and they’re all having a whale of a time. As an avid returnee, I’m always inordinately proud each time I successfully complete a turn, but my skills are being put to shame by these kids. Even though it’s their first lesson, by the time I’m ready to head back into the water, two of the youngsters have managed not only to get up a fair bit of speed, but also to turn round and head back.
I swear if I were twenty years younger I’d be a windsurfing prodigy too. But enough excuses, it’s time to head back into the waves and try to catch those kids. I may not have their energy or courage, but experience is on my side.
Windsurfcity is located at the beginning of MacKenzie Beach (not the airport end) and is open seven days a week from 8am to 7pm until the end of October. As well as windsurfing lessons and rental, the club offers Stand Up Paddle surfing (SUP) rental and lessons, and SUP yoga classes. Windsurfing lessons cost €45 per person for a one-hour lesson or €75 per person for a two-hour private minicourse. Six-hour courses are also available at a cost of €140 per adult / €112 per child based on a group of four sharing. Experienced windsurfers can rent all the equipment required at a cost of €25 per hour, plus 5 insurance.
For further information visit windsurfcitycyprus.com or call Jorg Grether on 99 445101