One aspect of windsurfing that I find extremely exciting is all the adventurous exploration. Whether you travel worldwide or are relatively limited in scouting range new places to windsurf can always be discovered. I usually start with a map, mark areas of possible interest, then get in a car or boat and start driving.
Every windsurf spot yields a uniqueness of sensation that is difficult to describe. You may sail in a relatively ordinary lake with flat water and unremarkable shrubbery, at a small estuary among bottle-nose dolphins and sea-skimming pelicans, or in the Hawaiian Islands near a volcano among towering waves, the sensations and energy you come away with are always unique, and ultimately good.
Often while driving over bridges and causeways, flying on airplanes, or boating, we see a place that looks like it may be a cool windsurfing spot.
Simply sailing a spot is a no-brainer way of scouting, only sailing a spot without doing preliminary non-sailing exploration can lead to an unpleasant session. Case in point - a sailor drives over a causeway seeing a small estuary of flat, clean water with an open area of clean wind and decides it might be a great flat water slalom area. He comes back some day and sails at the spot when the wind is about right for a 5.0 sail, does a great reach out, but sees some birds walking around in the water, only at that point he is already shredding at thirty knots, the birds fly away, and he hits the sand bar catapulting his body over the rig with a crash into the hard sand.
The situation may have been worse if it had been an unseen coral reef or oyster reef that could cut a windsurfer's gear or body to shreds. Other things that cannot always be anticipated besides shallow sand bars or reefs is weeds, wind shadows, unexpected boat traffic, wildlife, underwater obstacles such as pipes, stumps, and wrecks, you get the idea.
But half the fun is scouting. There are several safe and accurate ways to do this, and each as its own advantages and disadvantage. Here are some of the ways I have found work well. Use a Long Board
Instead of sailing an unexplored place in high wind with a low volume board it is always better to use a large high to medium volume board equipped with a dagger board. Preferably a board you do not mind getting scratched up a little (same with the fin). An old long board serves this purpose well. If you run upon an oyster bed or coral reef the best case scenario is merely a bit of scratching on the dagger board, which you should be able to feel and hear and make a course correction before truly running aground. Worst case scenario the bottom of your already old board gets a scrape.
The dagger board acts as an excellent depth finder. Most fins are no longer than a dagger board. Therefore as long as the dagger board is extended you know that it's likely any board can sail in the area without running aground.
If I do not have access to some of the other methods discussed later, my old Tiga Aloha is what I use. At this point the dagger board on the thing has so many scrapes it is amazing how little drag it imposes. I use the long board at locations where no one else is sailing, but where I am told it's sailable. Use a Kayak
A kayak is a great way to check out multiple spots in a day, especially if you have a kayak that can cover a lot of ground. Small rapids kayaks are not ideal for this. Something with a long keel can cover a long distance effortlessly. From a kayak you can check water depth up to four feet at any time with the paddle. Underwater obstacles are easy to spot. Wildlife can be surveyed with little to no fear (sharks usually do not know what to make of kayakers). It's easier to fall off a windsurf board than fall out of a kayak, this is a famous National Geographic picture. Most sharks are just curious.
A kayak moves slow enough to really see things not normally seen from a windsurf board. Something almost as good as a kayak if you have the stamina is a standup paddle board, the only disadvantage of a SUP board is that the distance covered may be less, and you cannot typically carry much provisions on it.
Not long after I learned to windsurf I made a trip on a fourth of July back to my home town. I was lucky to have an aunt who had a pair of Hurricane recreational touring kayaks. These were light and fast. Not all that stable with a low carrying capacity, but perfect for covering some good ground amongst all the small islands, bayous, and lagoons around my home town. There is so much one does not see from a power boat, a kayak allows you to really appreciate the location. This was overall about a six mile journey. Found several sand bars and oyster reefs I knew nothing about. Power Boat Scouting
The best way to cover the most ground with the least effort is to use a motor boat. You can take an oar or pole to check the depth and obstacles as you go. Most small motor boats have a draft similar to a windsurf board, so generally wherever a windsurfer can go a motor boat can go. Some motor boats can cruise on a plane in less than six inches of water - not usually the case for windsurfers. The only disadvantage of motorboats is the tendency to cover a large area too fast. Unlike a long board or kayak, you may miss several details. Motorboats are a good way of getting to a remote lagoon or island, and then perhaps go sailing once you get there. The great thing about motorboats is that you can carry windsurfing gear on them.
After my windsurfing renaissance I immediately realized how much I had taken the coastal areas where I grew up for granted. Again, lucky to have family that takes to the water like old sharks, my grandfather was only too happy to help me explore, as he had made his living for years catching blue crab with some two hundred crab traps scattered throughout the local waters. We set out with a long pole on his crab boat (which usually was some kind of modified shallow draft motor boat), and made several stops. Grandpa had his crabtraps in strings of 10-25 scattered throughout all my secret windsurfing spots. They made pretty good jibe markers.
"Here's Baroom Bay," he would say as we would slow down to check the bottom. "There's an oyster bed to the northwest over by that shack, but see, its less than 6 feet deep almost everywhere. This could be a good place for your surf-sailing!
" Small Sailboat Scouting
Scouting from a small sailboat such as a dinghy or catamaran can be effective because they allow for a good feel of the wind, they go slow enough to catch the details, and sometimes they are large enough to carry gear. The disadvantage is the limitation of where to go. When the destination is upwind it can be a challenge taking the time to get there. Also, sailboats may have a draft that is undesirable for scouting shallow flats. The Ultimate Windsurf Scouting Machine
This boat is my absolute favorite watercraft aside from windsurf boards. The Hobie Adventure Island 'Sal-Yak' is a kayak that is also a tri-maran powered by wind, conventional kayak paddling, and a pedal drive unit called a Mirage Drive. When there is little to no wind you can paddle or pedal it wherever you want, even very shallow water, without any problem. When the wind kicks up you can unfurl the sail simply by pulling the main sheet out, cleat the rope, extend the centerboard, and you're off. I fell in love with these Adventure Islands, the ultimate coastal exploration vessel - and it can carry windsurf boards!
Now before I go one let me make the disclaimer that I am not trying to sell these boats, I simply have sailed them, and being the coastal explorer I am, I know a good, versatile watercraft when I see one. Why is this thing so great for finding windsurf spots as compared to the other methods?
It's better than an old long board because you can get comfortable, stay out longer, and if the wind goes to nil you can paddle or pedal to wherever you are going.
It's better than a kayak as it has the power to get through strong currents, it has a sail allowing it to travel faster than a kayak when there is wind, and it allows one to get a good feel for the wind at the location.
It's better than a powerboat because it is not too fast but close and intimate with the water, it allows one to observe all the details that make a good windsurfing spot, and it is non-polluting.
It's better than a sailboat because of the shallow draft, the ability to get around without wind, and unlike small catamarans or dinghies such as the sunfish, it actually has quite the carrying capacity. In fact, one can easily put windsurfing gear on either side of the boat across the akas (the outrigger braces for the pontoons). There is even an optional trampoline add-on for the space between the main hull and the amas (pontoons).
A properly equipped and provisioned Adventure Island could conceivably spend days camping, transporting windsurfing gear for sailing, and scouting for windsurf spots along coastal areas or large lakes.
Whatever your method for scouting, even if the sailing session was not ideal, you can come away with a new adventure to tell your friends about, or even post on windsurfquest.net !