Unifiber Team Rider Fabio Calò flys the mast tip over the whitewater @photo: FotoFiore
Why do small waves break more masts than big surf? Because in small waves people either often leave the rig flat instead of holding it above the whitewater, or they stress the tip holding it by hand/bodyweight under the wave. In larger surf you can duck under bigger waves more easily or the rig is 'free' and the mast tip not held under tension.
What can you do to protect your mast? Don’t hold the mast tip under stress in any size surf
Windsurfing masts are designed to take a lot of strain and punishment, but the ocean is a powerful force and gallons of moving water focusing on your rig can push materials to the limit.
So, how can you prevent costly a costly snap that can also damage your sail and other gear and result in a long swim home?
The most common snappages and warranty claims come from less experienced riders in smaller surf. Of course less experienced windsurfers are in bigger waves less too, but it’s not that simple.
Naturally, pros or advanced windsurfers are light on their feet and can nimbly tack and skilfully avoid the impact zone, especially in sub-planing conditions. But they also push their limits and find themselves taking a lot of beatings too.
So it may surprise you that the most common breakages from pros are also in small surf. Why is this?
First, let’s get some foundations to the arguments and clear a few things out of the way.
In this post we’ll focus on wave conditions. Most mast issues with race/freerace rigs happen to due to excess UV/heat exposure, being left tensioned for too long and/or camera inducer setups that put too much pressure on the mast and the subsequent wear during rotation causes a weak point. Cammed sails usually also have a lot of tensions so the mast is already quite stressed.
Besides technique, here are some influences that can shorten the lifespan and increase the chances of a break in wave conditions:
1. Longer masts, say above 400/430 are at greater risk of snapping 2. Sails with higher levels of luff curve increase the tension a mast is already operating at before you put it under more pressure 3. SDM masts are weaker than RDM masts 4. Masts with a high level of conical taper can also suffer more than regular, even taper
Before we examine some Pros' theories, here’s a quick hypothesis of our own:
Holding your mast tip, in any size surf is generally not a good idea. Yes, you can and should probably hold your rig somewhere when in the water, for a quick recovery, to prevent it washing into other water users or onto the rocks. BUT if you hold the mast tip under water when a small wave wave breaks, you might hear a SNAP, from any brand of mast in any size waves.
In more powerful waves you may not be able to even hold onto the tip anyway, which kind of backs up the theory that smaller waves break more BECAUSE people hold onto the tip.
Do you need to do this in small surf anyway? Probably not. Can you hold it elsewhere on the rig? (without putting yourself in the ‘don’t get between the you and your gear’ position) YES you can - and should.
Exceptions? Well, in large surf you can use the ‘catapult into the wave’ technique as a monster approaches you and then dive the tip under and through the wave. That’s okay because the wave’s motion will rush it under and past the dangerous lip.
In small surf it may be too shallow or you may think the wave is not powerful enough to tear away your mast and then hold the tip as the wave or whitewater passes over you.
But then your rig is flat and vulnerable and, as the tip surfaces, with you hanging off it, and the rest of the rig and board are swept shorewards and are still gripped by the water, you might hear that dreaded POP!
K4 fins wave warrior and Unifiber team member Steve Thorp gets more than his fair share of waves at the price of lost earnings and nights sleep as he notches up miles chasing swells in the UK and Ireland, rigging up for icy dawn sessions in obscure parts of the coastline and taking a lot of beatings in the line of duty.
‘I nearly always try to get back on my gear if at all possible so the mast is upright, even if I know I’ve got zero chance of staying up. If it’s windy I might also try and ‘launch’ the gear over the top if I really am about to get obliterated.
‘If there’s zero wind and I'm in the impact zone, I try and be in the waterstart position - unless it’s about to break on my head, then I’ll go for the rig-as-vertical-as possible-under-the-water method (assuming it’s deep enough to not hit the bottom). That’s always the main thing with both surfing and windsurfing, is not to leave stuff ‘laying on the top’.
‘As for small waves, well I guess that’s just being careless (if you’re swimming with it), you shouldn’t really be breaking a decent mast in small surf. Just make sure you avoid letting it be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There shouldn’t be any need for ducking it, just keep it flying at all times holding the boom (over the back of the board if no wind).
‘In small waves, if the sail is ‘in the wave action’ (i.e., ducking or laying flat) then different parts of the mast are being exposed to different zones of the waves cycle (some stationary, some up, some down), and that’s probably why people break masts in small waves, because more powerful surf tends to pass anything duckdived under and past the power zone of the wave quite rapidly.
‘The only Unifiber I’ve broken in 2 years was going for a 360 on a head-high wave, being a little late to the lip and it pitching me backwards and breaking onto the area below the boom. One broken mast, one bent extension. I could feel heck of a lot of force come through the boom so it must have connected just right! Pretty impressed to only have broken one considering they’re pretty light and what they’ve been through.’
Damage Limitation with Guy Cribb
Guy Cribb’s not a Unifiber team member, but he is a world-class wave sailor with a lot of experience teaching people how to wave sail and manage themselves and their gear in gnarly situations.These are the basics of INtuition’s Damage Limitation sessions during Guy Cribb’s Freewave and Surf Gods courses with regard to preventing masts from breaking:
‘A mast can break when the rig is flat on the surface, this would be the typical position if you’d accidentally let go of it for example. So rule one is - never let go!
‘Keep the rig out the water whenever possible, flying it in a waterstart position. Fast rig recovery and smooth waterstarting technique is crucial for wave sailing partly to ensure your rig doesn’t get damaged in the surf.
‘If it’s not possible to get the rig out of the water, or, if the wave approaching you is very powerful or large, the next best place to put your rig is well under the water, by duck-diving it.
‘This way the waves energy dissipates before it hits your rig and the wave can roll over the top of you and your equipment with everything still intact, and relatively stress free.
'Intuition’s Damage Limitation sessions teach you exactly how to do this - and much more - but the basics is to slice the rig diagonally under the surface mast first, with both hands on the boom in a wide grip and your knee pushing the mast well under the surface.
'As soon as the wave has passed if you have good waterstarting technique you will be able to recovery the rig and start before the next wave hits you. Cribb’s water starts take less than 10 seconds no matter what dreadful position you might start from.