Wind and Water Conditions at Lake Arenal
Sometimes it blows every day for weeks on end. The lake temperature varies from 18C (64F) in January to 25C (78F) in May. If you plan to be out on the water all day from December through February or if you are used to sitting around in it all day, you may want a full suit. I only have a thick shortie but I always change into regular clothes when I stop sailing. Later on in the season, by February, a thin shortie or no suit is fine.
There has been a lot of confusion and hearsay about what sailing at lake Arenal is like. I have windsurfed (kiteboarders just double the sail size to get an idea of the kite size) over a 1000 hours both in the Gorge and at Arenal. Here are my facts:
- I windsurf a half meter smaller on average at Arenal compared to the Gorge.
- When it blows at Arenal it blows day and night, there is no waiting for the desert to heat up as is often the case in the Gorge. You can stay in one place. When it blows, it blows where you are.
- There is a bigger difference between the reaches at Lake Arenal on port and on starboard tack than generally is the case in the Gorge. Port and starboard tack at Lake Arenal are completely different.
- The chop at Arenal is nothing like at any place in the Gorge. There is no place in the Gorge that I can compare it to.
- When it is 5.0 or a bigger sail size for me (I weigh 165 lbs and never sail a board bigger than 73 ltr) there isn't much of anything. Neither much chop nor swell. This is when I usually go mountain biking, play tennis or read a book.
- Going out at Tico Wind, on port tack, on a 4.5 or smaller sail the chop gets bigger and starts to form steep 2 to 3 ft ramps. The ramps are very easy to jump as they are all over the place and you are heading into them at an easier angle than most of the time in the Gorge. This also makes it more difficult to get in a rhythm and sail smooth and fast and this is what the negative stories are about. On the return tack on starboard, the surface appears fairly smooth and you can usually sail between two wave fronts for a long time and go very fast. At Arenal only the best windsurfers can jump on starboard tack. When you do, it can be phenomenal because of the added speed. When the wind picks up to 3.5 or 3.0 sail sizes and when the wind aligns with the lake, the ramps get higher and sometimes swell develops but rarely over 5 ft. The swell happens about once a week in season and sometimes lasts half a day and sometimes just for an hour.
- To sum it up: The port tack sailing has lots of easy ramps for jumping and sometimes gnarly sailing. The starboard tack is fast and easy sailing. You choose: Is your glass half empty or half full.
- If you are on inappropriate gear or if you are inexperienced, Arenal can be difficult. If you have not been on the water in a while and if you are out of shape this kind of wind is physically demanding. Not many people have enough time on the water at 35knots+ to be comfortable with this. Our local board breaker, Dave, says: "Deal with it!" Think of that when you are on a 3.2 on your first day at Arenal.
- Peak wind months are from mid December through January and February. It can be insanely windy for extended periods of time. It can be rainy. This may not be a good time to bring an inexperienced windsurf partner. This may not be a good time to bring a whiny non-windsurfer with a high-maintenance hairstyle who doesn't like rain. I have had a season here when I used my 3.0 twelve days. Most of those days I could use it all day and on some of those I wished I had a much smaller sail. Yes, that is tough.
- In March and April Lake Arenal has wind comparable to the Gorge in the summer. The weather is usually very pleasant starting in the middle of February. There may be days for beginners especially later in the season. This is a wonderful time for almost everybody. You may run into migrating butterflies and birds while you are out sailing. It is very beautiful in an exotic way. If you have the money you should experience this.
- Some airlines has very cheap flights occasionally, sign up with them to receive their internet specials. Out of season flights from Boston and New York can be under $500 and even less from Houston or Miami.
- If you plan to come here for an extended period of time I can arrange cheaper but basic accommodations for you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- All of us local sailors love you and would like you to come and visit because we are bored to death hearing the same old boastful stories from our local friends. We will talk you through the difficult parts and invite you to all of our parties and take you mountain biking. And just like at any other sailing site, if you are a guy, we will entertain your wife or girlfriend by making jokes about you while you are out sailing :-)
- Yes, it can get very windy. See the YouTube video below. Flaco is sailing a 4.2 totally overpowered and crashes spectacularly.