Windsurfing manufacturers and shops often have to deal with the reality that newcomers to the sport are reluctant to spend money on a sport that is not well known or understood.
This is understandable, even rationale. Most newcomers have not tried the sport, or even had a lesson; the confidence level is just not developed yet. Some people fear that they are not skilled or dedicated enough to progress far in the sport - after all windsurfing is a very skill-based and technical sport. Windsurfing Swap Meets are a great way to keep used gear in circulation while advanced sailors offer advice to new and intermediate sailors. The swap meet in the picture above at Mariner Sails in Dallas has an unusually fresh selection.
Unless a newcomer is very certain that they are going to love windsurfing, or if they have some kind of knowledge about what they are getting into, they are not likely to spend full retail price on new gear. This is why the used windsurfing market is so strong, and why windsurfing swap meets play such a large role in gear circulation within the community.
Buying new gear is relatively easy; just walk into the nearest windsurfing shop and ask about beginner or entry level boards. Most windsurfing sales people will be able to easily point out the options for your body size and skill level. Buying used gear is not so cut and dry, however. This Mistral Vision is about five years old, very versatile, modern enough to work with rigs sold everywhere, comes with a stock fin, and an example of a perfect used board for sale.
Before looking for used windsurfing gear, beginner and intermediate windsurfers should be aware of several roadblocks in the buying process. Advanced sailors mostly know what they are getting into.
We can attack this problem by moving from the past to present in the world of windsurfing gear...
In the early 80's, when windsurfing was easily one of the most popular water sports around, the one-design long board was king. Everyone had more or less the same windsurfing board with the same rigging, there were few technical advantages from one board to another. Now these old one designs mostly sit derelict in garages, warehouses, or as decorative nicknacks. This original windsurfer is sitting derelict in the shop's warehouse. It would be sailable, but it needs a new U-Joint.
Some of these relics are still sailable. Before buying them one should be aware of a few major problems though. First and foremost are possible cracks or damage to the hull. If there is an opening in the fiberglass the foam inside could become waterlogged, creating a barge-like craft that really should have a diesel engine for propulsion.
Another problem might be the universal joints that wear with age. Never mind that if any of the parts are missing for these things, like the mast base, fin, or dagger-board, finding replacements is like finding the titanic - really difficult. By some stroke of luck, the shop has a mast base for sale that should work with most original windsurfers.
Moving on to the mid 80's, the 'Cambrian explosion' of windsurfing, in this era the short board began to really appear and windsurfing became the extreme spectacle that it remains today. Only trouble is, sails that far back are likely to have problems such as unraveling stitching, small rips, mildew, or UV damage (excessive exposure to sunlight).
Intermediates pay attention, the next part mainly applies to planing conditions. Is the the solution to buy a new sail and rigging for these oldish short boards?
Well, yes, however new sails are radically different than the sails in the mid to late 80's. The physics of modern sails are more like giant wings, but boards of old were designed for old sails with different centers of effort, mast tracks on older boards are much further forward. Establishing a dialed-in plane on a board with a mast track as far as 60 (or more) inches from the tail is a bit awkward, especially with a new sail. It may be wise to steer clear of the old-style short boards. A tape measure is helpful here. If the center of the mast track is somewhere between 45 to 60 inches from the tail modern sails (after the year 2000) will be fine, but a mast track ten inches further forward are 'old-school' - not at all a bad thing if you have an old-school rig and windsurfing guru to teach you how to sail the thing. The Bic Astro Rock was a great board for its day. The mast track is about 8 inches too far forward for 'modern' sailing, which can make sailing with modern rigs awkward on this board.
Lets fast forward a bit to the late 80's to early 90's. Mast tracks are adjustable (though a bit far forward) and more versatile. Adjustable mast track mechanism.
The industry did not quite have its ducks in a row, because if a board is sold without the mast base the buyer will be forced to improvise. If the mast base that fits into the mast track cannot be found you can pretty easily adapt the mast track to a modern rig, especially if the mast track has a metal ledge. Sit down for the solution -
Rip that over-engineered adjustable mast track mechanism out, get a big square brass nut insert (supplied by Chinook and found at most windsurfing shops), and put a modern mast base in. These brass square nuts will allow for a modern mast base if a replacement cannot be found.
This especially works well for old long boards like the Mistral Equipe or Tiga Aloha. They can now be sailed with modern rigging and make excellent entry level boards. This Mistral Equipe can be fitted with a modern rig and make an excellent race longbard even by today's standards. The Tiga Aloha (right) can also be upgraded, but the old mast track mechanism may need to be removed.
So we fast forward a few years more to the late 90's and turn of the century. Sails are now some combination of clear monofilm plastic, kevlar, and dacron. Dacron sails or 'soft' sails are still around, but mostly used for training and are severely retarded as far as performance. They do tend to last longer and stand up to UV damage. Which brings us to the next problem: crackling sails.
When looking at a new sail if it sounds like a bag of potato chips this is a very bad sign. It means the sail has seen some sun, a lot of use, and has a year or two of life at the most. Be prepared to deal with a ripped sail out on the water.
If a sail rolls out with very little noise - thumbs up.
Real easy things to miss are broken or missing battens - check the battens by feeling all around the batten pockets and the batten ends. Be sure they will stay securely inside the pocket. If the sail has cambers examine them closely. Sometimes the batten is actually broken where it inserts into the camber. Beginners should be aware that cambered sails are usually an advanced speed-sailing option. If wave sailing or chop hopping is in the future leave the cambered sail where it is. They scoop up a lot of water which can cause damage to the rigging in extreme conditions.
The mast and the boom are also very important to examine closely. Unless you like spending time on the beach and have been taught the art of 'tie-on' boom just get a clamp-on. Ah...the tie-on boom. I had to go find an old-schooler to learn how to tie the proper knot. This particular boom needs more rope.
Make sure the boom head is in good shape without cracks or damage. Extend and retract the boom to make sure the spring clips work without something falling off.
The mast should be clear of chafing or dings. Beware of very old fiberglass masts that have lost their finish. Even after a shower they can cause severe itching for days from unseen fiberglass splinters. Masts with deformities, discoloration, and abrasions are more likely to break soon. The mast to the left is obviously toast. Look for dings, abrasions, and discoloration (see right).
Take note if an older mast is a flex-tip (usually indicated somewhere near the base of the mast), which is a mast with a more flexible curve near the top (something experimented with in the mid 90's). Such masts are not designed for constant curve sails, which accounts for most of the sails used today.
Lets talk fins...
Fins are a really big deal. It is most preferable to find a board with a 'stock' fin or a fin that is known to work well with the board. If no fin is with the board, we are forced to improvise.
Beginners should look at the fin box and make sure they understand what fin type is needed for the board, whether is be slot A, E, trim box, deep tuttle, or power box. Determine the proper fin-base for the board: tuttle, powerbox, A/E base, or trimbox (fin on bottom).
Almost any fin type can be found new at a windsurfing shop. Used replacement fins may be a challenge. However, some fins look like they should easily fit in some older boards, but the box is too slim. This is a problem, the fin is a must. Unless one is prepared to start cutting the fin base down better to look for a board with a 'stock' fin. This slot-E fin may look like a good fit for the Mistral Equipe, but the Euqip's finbox is too slim; keep looking.
Examine the fine closely for cracks or dings. This can cause cavitation that can really slow the board down. The back edge of this fin has a crack, this could cause cavitation, spinout, or further breakage.
Intermediates also need to be aware of what kind of fin they are getting. Fins affect the behavior of the board radically. Do not get a wave fin if you want to point up-wind and stay planing. Do not get a race fin if you are sailing in two-foot chop. A general rule of thumb for fins is curvy-turny, and straight-forward. Curvy fins make turning easy, and straight fins are for forward drive straight ahead.
For beginners, this is a lot of information to digest. For intermediates, sometimes the only way to understand the differences between windsurfing gear, new and old, is to experiment with it. When looking for used gear it is highly recommended that you have an advanced sailor help or have a windsurfing shop examine the gear. Just like buying a used car or boat, an experienced mechanic who examines the vehicle can save the buyer a lot time and money.