Why Take a Lesson?

by Dave Livermore

Unlike many other sports which developed over the centuries, the sport of windsurfing was pretty much fabricated out of whole cloth in a very short period of time. The inventor had an idea and then set about trying to figure out how to get it to work. A new piece of equipment was designed and the designer and his friends figured out how to use it. Most of the pioneer windsurfers learned how to sail by trial and error with little or no information. And indeed, up to this point most people have learned to windsurf with few, if any lessons.

Since then windsurfing has attracted a great number of highly educated professionals from many different fields. Many of these are involved in technical fields which have directly contributed to the technological improvement of our sailing equipment. The development of RAF and CAM sails, advances in fin design, clothing, virtually all aspects of windsurfing have come from enthusiasts who brought their knowledge from other fields of endeavor. The technology of the sport is not the only area in which windsurfing has benefitted from this influx of professionals; one of the least recognized areas of contribution is instruction.

As much as there has been an evolution of Hoyle' Schweitzer's original design there has also been an evolution in the instruction of sailing technique. Over the last few years there has been a dramatic growth in the development of teaching progressions. The experiences of instructors working with thousands of sailors have been distilled into practical amounts of information and procedures which greatly simplify the learning process. For a long time beginning instruction was the only well developed aspect of windsurfing instruction, but as more and more sailors have graduated to higher levels of sailing expertise, the body of instructional knowledge and experience has also grown. With the growth of high wind sailing centers such as the Gorge and Maui, the understanding of advanced sailing techniques has developed into a sophisticated teaching system. What originally took sailors years to learn can now be taught in weeks.

America is probably singular in the world for its' lack of regard for teachers and instruction. It perhaps has to do with the very basis of our nation. A group of highly independent souls did what everybody said couldn't be done; crossed the Atlantic Ocean in leaky boats and tamed a wild continent. Regardless of our present consciousness regarding these past events, the basic philosophy and underlying attitudes remain. Americans are generally independently minded. The famous Anacin advertisement,"Mother, please, I'd rather do it myself!" speaks to our national psyche.

In many other societies in the past and present, teachers and instructors are most highly regarded. Their dedication and highly developed skills are considered to be the foundation for creating a future of growth and prosperity. Without their vision and ability to inspire children and adults alike to grow beyond their present capabilities, the hope for the future of any society is in jeapordy. This outlook applies to the growth and development of sports as well as education. It is a shame that many people do not regard teachers and instructors as a fundamental part of social growth. There is much benefit to be derived from making use of their services.

Perhaps it seems cheating to get help figuring something out, or perhaps our American spirit of adventure dictates that we blunder our way through the wilderness for years before we reach our goals. The fact of the matter is that it will take long enough to learn new windsurfing skills without that. An instructor will not be able to perform the skills for you and magically transfer them to you. He or she will simply be able to more effectively direct your own efforts, help you get a better idea of the skills you need to work on, help you avoid some of the more common pitfalls, and give you personal feedback on your present performance. The effort is all yours.

Windsurfing instructors are, in most cases, no longer beach bums trying to support a habit, but rather, dedicated professionals who have spent many years developing teaching skills and windsurfing instructional progressions to help you make the most effective use of your sailing time. They have spent countless hours working with windsurfers of all skill levels in all kinds of conditions and have probably seen most of the mistakes that can be made, and have developed methods to correct them. They have also spent countless hours trying their own sailing and applying their knowledge of physics and human ergonomics to develop concepts and understandings that will improve their students learning curve. Their goal is to see their students perform to their best potential in the shortest amount of time.

While it is true that lots of sailing is very important (what professional instructors call mileage) to improve sailing skills, it is certainly even more useful if the time spent can be used effectively. Imagine embarking on a journey across the world without a map: if you have a vague idea of where you want to go, you will eventually get there if you spend a long enough time at it. If you manage to get a map and, even better, someone who can help you read it, you stand a very good chance of getting where you want to go with a reasonable amount of effort in a reasonable amount of time. In windsurfing, specific exercises for skill development and technical information are the road maps to facilitate your journey and the instructor is the person who can help you interpret them.

It is interesting to see the basic demographic of windsurfers changing from youngsters who have lots of time to spend on the sport to full time professionals from all walks of life who spend a significant portion of their short vacation time chasing the wind. It is these sailors especially who benefit from instruction. When there is only a limited time to practice and improve a skill, lessons from a qualified technician greatly improve the effective use of your time. It is not uncommon that after a week of frustrating attempts to learn a new skill a sailor will sign up for a lesson on their last day of sailing in the Gorge. A successful lesson thereby ensues and the vacationer goes home to forget most of what they learned. Oh that they could have had a lesson at the beginning of their week so they had a whole vacation to practice and completely learn their new skill and carry it away with them ingrained in the consciousness forever.

Whether you have all summer or just a week, a few hours pent with a good instructor can make the difference between a successful adventure learning new sailing skills and a frustrating study in disappointment, danger, and fatigue.


Dave ¨Spike" Livermore is one of those ski instructors turned windsurfing instructors at Hood River Windsurfing.