Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Flaka (or Grubby?) before Vulcan?

Should the Flaka (or perhaps the Grubby), not the Vulcan, be the first "New School" trick to learn? I think yes, and here's why.

Sitting in the freezing Northeast and battling windsurfing withdrawal symptoms, what can a poor boy do? Well, reading Tricktionary over and over is one idea. Reading about Vulcans, Spocks, Flakas and so on helps, with a YouTube movie thrown in every now and then. But let me change themes for a second, and go back to the ABK camp in Cape Cod last fall. A few guys had the jibe down well enough, and it was time for new pastures. We got one lesson about the speed loop, and one lesson about the Vulcan. Huge difference between the lessons, though:
  • For the speed loop, the main issue was how to avoid getting hurt. The solution was to start small, almost downwind, jumping and turning just a bit before falling on the back into the water. I can fall on my back very well, so technically, that seems to be perfectly doable. Plenty of other articles and lectures about the loop also say it's mostly guts, and very little technique. I think I remember everything Andy talked about in the lecture.
  • The Vulcan lecture was much longer, and had a lot more technical detail. Andy said many windsurfers have to try 1000 or 2000 times before getting it (he was talking about slower learners like myself, not about the 20-year old water wizards who learn everything in 2 years). The problem with the Vulcan is that it introduces many new elements. The ones I remember are: hops from flat water or small chop; turning the board 180 degrees in the air; sliding backwards for the first time; and flipping the sail while in the air. Yes, getting all that together will certainly take me a while. But Andy said that this is the first "New School" trick one needs to learn to get a chance at more fun stuff like Spocks.
Somehow, that did not sit quite right with me. Ok, so I spend decades learning to jibe well - but I don't want to spend a similar time on just the entry trick for New School stuff!

Back to the Tricktionary. It, too, states that the Vulcan is the first New School trick to learn. In the book, it's right after the speed loop (and the speed loop is often not considered a New School move, since there is no backwards-sliding component). But with Tricktionary, I can look at all moves for hours without getting wet, and go back and forth to compare the picture sequences. Furthermore, it also shows pre-requisites for each move.

So, after studying the Gecko, which I hope to learn on my next Bonaire trip, I read that the Gecko "is essentially a non-planing Flaka". Looking at the Flaka pre-exercises, we also see the Upwind 360, both planing and non-planing. Comparing the pictures and descriptions, it seems to me that the Flaka is very similar to both the Gecko and the Upwind 360, the difference being the jump, starting the turn in the air, and then sliding backwards. Yes, there is the backwinded part at the end, but it's there in all these moves. Furthermore, any regular ABK camp attendees ready for New School tricks will know how to do this part (if your backwind sailing is not good enough, Andy will make you practice it - no matter how good you think you are at other stuff!).

This seems to outline a pretty clear path to the Flaka:
  1. Backwind sailing
  2. Backwind jibe, heli tack.
  3. Upwind 360 (nonplaning, then planing).
  4. Gecko.
  5. Flaka.
Compare to the Vulcan, the only new part in step 5 is the essential "New School"  element: jumping the board into a 180 degree turn, and sliding backward. Everything else is part of one of the earlier tricks, or at least very similar.

If the (entirely theoretical) analysis above is right, then the first New School move to learn should be the Flaka, not the Vulcan. Learning the Vulcan after learning the Flaka should be easier, because there is less new stuff (just flipping the sail in the jump). Interestingly enough, Tom Lepak, an ABK instructor currently working on the Vulcan, writes that many surfers suggested to him to learn the Flaka first.

Since all of this is entirely theoretical, I'd love to hear from windsurfers who actually can do the Vulcan and the Flaka what they think.


After getting some feedback about this on the iWindsurf forum, I realized that I had ignored one important difference: the nose of the board spins away from the wind in the Vulcan, but into the wind for the Flaka. I have no clew if that makes the Flaka harder, but can imagine that it does. Also, if one learns the Speed Loop first, that's also a downwind turn. Not sure if that helps with a Vulcan, though, since the mechanics of the turn seem to be rather different (catapult under the sail for the loop, being centered on the board for the Vulcan).

This makes me wonder about the advice to Tom Lepak to go for the Flaka, though. He's managed to turn the 180 degrees downwind for the Vulcan, not upwind. Looking at Tricktionary, a downwind jump with a Flaka-like ending seems to be a Grubby. Which, in turn, seems similar to a speed loop, so we come to a much shorter learning sequence:
  1. Speed loop.
  2. Grubby.
I still have the feeling I'm missing something here. Tricktionary rates the Grubby at the same level of difficulty as the  Spock, and thus as harder than the Vulcan, Willy Skipper, and speed loop.

For those who (like me) barely know about these moves, here are some YouTube videos:

1 comment:

  1. Hi there, I just stumbled on your blog while searching the web for tips on the grubby... I can do a vulcan and a spock, but I have been struggling with the grubby for a while now. I still think the vulcan is by far the easiest move of all of them, and should be the first one you learn, and here's why:
    The vulcan you can basically conclude from a jibe in the footstraps, which is much easier than any of the other "preparing" moves for the grubby (downwind 360, speed loop) or the flaka (upwind 360, gecko). The vulcan is, after all, only a 180 degree turn, and you don't have to jump the board further around than about 130 degrees. Also, you don't need to worry about sail control when you start learning it. You can instead fully concentrate on getting the board around and then worry about the sail later. You can start with a small chop, and don't need to jump off downwind at first.
    The grubby is more difficult, because you first of all have to take off on a much broader reach, and then need to control the sail mid-jump. Let alone the flaka: you actually have to jump into the wind, so the jumping part is backwinded!! If you look at the videos in slow motion, you'll see that the flaka requires a much more awkward body-sail position...

    Anyway... I'm not a pro and haven't even tried a flaka, out of pure fear. So maybe it's much easier and I just need to try it, haha! But then I wonder why I know tons of people who can do a vulcan, but hardly any of my friends have ever managed a flaka?!

    Good luck and enjoy tricktionary.