Balancing act

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Indy Lifestyle Online
When you're facing several duckings in a murky reservoir, windsurfing doesn't seem too attractive for the beginner. "It's a high adrenaline activity," says my teacher for the day, Graham Fuller from Surf Sales. "When you master windsurfing you can't get enough of it - the problem is that it's so hard. You have to simultaneously stand up, balance on the surfboard, drag the sail out of the water, turn it sideways into the wind and get the board moving."

Before taking the plunge at the Queen Mary Sailing Club in Middlesex, I learn some horrendous statistics about windsurfing; for every 100 people who try, only seven succeed, and of that proportion, only 14 per cent continue."

This isn't the sort of pep-talk that a complete novice necessarily wants to hear, but I'm trying a new windsurf board that may revolutionise the sport for beginners.

"You could bungee jump or parachute for the first time and you'd immediately get a feel for the sport, even if you did it badly," claims Graham. "What we're trying to do is put something in the market place that gets you on the water and delivers the feel of windsurfing."

The new product, made by Swiss company Mistral, is called a WindGlider. When I join him (in full wet suit) at the water's edge, he's in the process of inflating the board.

The WindGlider is quite small in size (8ft by 4ft), lightweight, and with a smaller sail than conventional windsurfs. The extra width and buoyancy of the oval-shaped inflatable hull offers beginners extra stability when trying to balance - a fact I'm counting on.

As Graham gives me a series of instructions on steering, I nervously nod my head as his words slip in one ear and out of the other.

Just to add some extra pressure, he informs me that I'm the first person in the UK to test the WindGlider - if it really is "idiot proof" we'll soon find out.

Stepping onto the WindGlider, the first thing that surprises you is how stable the platform is. I have to pull the sail out of the water before I can start; I manage it after two attempts, but nothing happens.

I'm stationary and dry, but Graham won't let me enjoy the status quo and shouts from the bank to tilt the sail down and to the side. I tilt the sail down and suddenly I can feel the wind tugging at the sail and I'm off.

It's a nerve-racking, but exhilarating feeling. Several times the wind strongly pulls the sail, and I lose my footing, but whenever I over-balance, the board stays stable and doesn't dunk me in the drink.

You have to steer the board at an angle to the wind and, after a little bit of experimentation, I'm travelling at a fair speed but away from the bank. I'm thinking about turning around - a tricky manoeuvre as the wind seems so strong.

I pluck up courage to step around the board to the other side and in true Weeble style, I wobble but I don't fall down. Now I'm buzzing. I've travelled around 100 metres, and the bank is getting closer. Any remaining nerves have long since dissipated and when I look down and see the tip of the board cleanly cutting through the water I do my own impression of Leonardo DiCaprio's "I'm the king of the world" Titanic speech. But unlike Leonardo, I reach land safe, sound, exhilarated and dry.

Call Mistral for further information about the WindGlider (01303 850 880) or Royal Yachting Association (01703 627 400) and the windsurfing Hotline (0990 100 555)

Queen Mary Sailing Club, Ashford Rd, Middlessex (01784 248 881)

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