Saturday, February 27, 2010

Learning the speed loop: a comparison of approaches

Getting ready to finally end the winter break with an ABK camp in Bonaire, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to learn the speed loop. I have looked closely at three different approaches:
  1. The Andy Brandt way. Andy's emphasis is on learning the loop without getting hurt. That's great, and he is responsible for convincing me that I can learn the loop without injuries. His approach is to start with small turns: jump when almost downwind, turn the board through downwind, fall on your back. Then, increase the angle jumped gradually, until starting at a beam reach and completing the loop.
  2. The Tricktionary way. This is a two-step approach: do a looping pre-exercise in light wind without the board, then do the looping fully powered with the board.
  3. The Remko de Weerd way.  Remko describes his approach on the "7 Sons of Freestyle" DVD. It was available on YouTube for a while, but later removed since it was an unauthorized post. He has 4 steps, starting with a non-planing jibe in the foot straps to land on your back, and then increasing the speed and adding the jump and upward pull with the back leg later.
Of the three approaches, the Tricktionary  has the most abrupt progression, while the others are more gradual. No surprise, here - the Tricktionary primarily shows how to do tricks, with a lot of very advanced tricks. Some gifted teens don't need more - they go from learning how to windsurf to multiple New School tricks in a couple of years. Most of Andy Brandt's students, myself included, don't progress anywhere nearly as fast, and need more intermediate steps. Nevertheless, the loop pre-exercise from the Tricktionary definitely is a great exercise. I teaches how several key points of the loop in light wind:
  • positioning the back hand far back
  • moving the sail far windward/forward while sheeting in hard
  • looking back over your shoulder
  • pulling the back leg up
Just as important is that you learn to overcome the fear of being thrown forward by your sail. Doing the pre-exercise in a nice tropical location is a lot of fun, once you overcome the initial fear that you'll end up on the front of the board.

Almost everything written about the speed loop states that this is a technically very easy trick - easier than a planing jibe, which most windsurfers can do when they start learning the speed loop. So why does learning the speed loop often take so long? I think because the things you need to do are exactly the opposite of what you usually do. Instead of looking forward where we are going, we look back over out shoulder, instead of controlling the sail to avoid a catapult, we want to do a catapult with the board. The Tricktionary pre-loop exercise helps to get these counter-intuitive patterns into your muscle memory, and to quiet your brain when it wants to say "But that's wrong!".

As much as I love the pre-exercise - am I ready to fully commit to doing the real thing while fully powered up? I think not... so let's look at the other approaches. Andy Brandt's approach seems to have the focus on avoiding injuries. That's great, since a 50-year old body (a) gets injured more easily, and (b) does not heal as fast as a 20-year old body. But when I watched Brendon's video of his attempts at the speed loop, I was not impressed. Brendon can do tricks that are technically much harder, for example the Spock. Andy's loop approach seems like "underkill" for him. In his video, he goes almost fully downwind before jumping. At this angle, there is very little sail pressure - but according to the Tricktionary, sail steering (i.e. a catapult with the board in the air) is what's really turning the board around in the loop. In other words - this in not really loop practice!

This brings us to Remko's approach that starts with a non-planing jibe in the straps as a "low wind almost loop". Remko also states that avoiding injury is a primary goal, and that's easy to see. The advantage of his approach is that it can be increased gradually by going faster and using chop more and more to jump. Jem Hall also seems to use the low wind jibe-fall in his loop clinics, as can be seen on this video.

The technique section of has a number of interviews with pros about their experience in learning to loop. The common elements are:
  • Fear - most pros found were afraid, too.
  • "When you do decide to do it, go for it 100%." Really commit to the move.
  • "Never let go of the boom" - none of the pros ever got injured in forward loops unless they let go of the boom (and even then, the injuries were minor).
Taken this all together, the following plan emerges:
  • At home:
    • Watch loop videos. Look at them in slow motion and/or frame-by-frame to see and understand what you need to do.
    • Read about the speed loop in the Tricktionary and/or on the web. There are many instruction pages and videos on the various windsurfing magazines sites and on YouTube.
    • Imagine doing the loop. You can do dry runs at any room in your house!
  • On light wind days (or non-planing with a small sail on high wind days):
    • Do the pre-loop exercise from the Tricktionary a  number of times to loose fear, and build up some muscle memory (back hand far back, sheet in hard, look back, pull back foot up).
      • Do the jibe in the straps - fall on your back exercise (Remko's steps 1 & 2).
      • On high wind days:
        • Practice chop hops, focusing on pulling the back leg up and staying tucked in. Try one-hand chop hops with board grabs.
          • When the conditions are right, go for it 100%. Focus on sheeting in hard with a back hand that's far back on the boom, looking back, pulling the back leg in, and staying tucked in.
           After practicing the "at home" stuff for a while now, I can't wait to try the other steps...

          Here's an amusing video from el Toro, who learned the forward loop when he was 60. The last loop is one of the most beautiful forwards I've seen:


          1. Since I wrote this post, Andy Brandt has changed and improved his lecture. The new lecture also includes 3 planned crashes, but has some very nice modifications relative to Remko's approach. Those were absolutely necessary for the real world, where waves that come nicely perpendicular to the wind as in Remko's video are very rare.

          2. The very second thing to do after reading about it and watching it is: Take a ~5m sail to a grassy park on a 10 kt day and go through the motions of the sail handling and catapult yourself gently under the sail.
            Then go and do it on the water - same thing underpowered out of the straps. (You wont ding the nose)
            Then proceed as per Remco's tips.
            Painless. Infallible. Looperific.

          3. I like the idea of doing the motion on a grassy park. But the out-of-straps catapult on the water I do not like at all. I have read this advice before, and tried it a number of times. It's great to get over the initial fear, but there are several problems with it. The biggest one for me was that I did break the nose of my board in one of these tries when a gust hit just as I was going.

          4. Erevyone seems to be making big fuzz about "commitment", but that's not all true! Sure you need to be committed when going high and doing that high loop, but for training it's all different.

            I had some big trouble learning, bad crashes, broken sails, lost motivation to train them etc... Eventually got them after 5 years, first waterstart/wet landing took only 4 days to accomplish!

            But what was wrong???

            Tip #1) I really would say that at least 95% of forward looping problems is because of your hands! Meaning not having your hands back enough on the boom. That's all simple physics.

            Sails is what brings whole loop around, and you're just kinda rolling ball having rolling the sail and kit around you.

            Now if you have hands very forward on the boom the back leech will keep you from rolling. Just not possible to roll that way _easily_ and most propably will just land on your mast. Ever been scared of landing on your kit?

            Remkos approach is nice, because it teaches the most important sail control first. Forward is started kinda slamjibe in air.

            Ensure you have your front hand on harness lines!!! And backhand so far you can take it. DOUBLE CHECK those hands!

            Then small pull will take you on your back, and you will not fall on the kit.

            Tip #2) Mindset of rotation. Many people start imagining forward as "forward somersault", but thats also wrong. That will direct your jump lower and youll crash on your mast again.

            With forward you can start falling on your back, maybe a little forwards and ececute Tip #1). You alway swill fall on your back.

            When lifting off raise your hands up, getting boom as high as possible, bend front leg and push with back leg when lifting off. Tuck up that back leg same time as sheeting in.

            Actually you can rotate whole loop under the sail, keeping your kit all the time over you. Over time you'll learn to do different style of loops, automatically, but hanging under your gear is all safer.

            Tip #3) Forget all that bs about totally committing, looking back, throwing yourself in to the jump. You're just gonna hurt if committing to something you're not able to.

            Take it slow, practice falling in straps a lot, and take your time to get the feeling for the hand and sail movement. Feel the sail pulling you up and falling under the sail.

            Tip #4) Take it easy, and repeat a lot

            Forward is easy to learn, just go and fall on every even smallest chop or wave. You easily can do 5 falls on each tack. So one day means easily 100x repeats, going to rocket your skills... if just have patience to make "mistakes" and not doing it perfectly on the first time! (I really like remkos approach to have your time learning)

            Every even smallest wave or chop is is perfect for learning forward... I just had to travel and spend a month abroad, just to to learn that my home spot, with rather small chop hop, was actually better place to learn than howling winds and big waves!

            5x100 = 500 repetitions, so one week is easily more than enough to learn that loop.

            Tip #5) See Tip #1) again! :)

            Happy looping!