Monday, February 7, 2011

Warm but clumsy

Much to my own surprise, I went windsurfing in Cape Cod yesterday. It's been just a little more than a week since I was in the tropical waters of Bonaire, and the snow in my backyard is still 20 inches thick. I thought it would take me a few weeks to get used to the cold weather again; but having to spend a day outside to remove snow and ice from the roof probably helped. So when young Graham posted that he'd go, I decided to join him. It helped that Jerry posted a picture showing that there was almost no snow on the ground on Cape Cod, and that the forecast called for sun and "balmy" 40 degrees Fahrenheit (that's about 5 C).

Original plans had called for Hardings beach, but when the wind turned from W to NW just like the forecast had predicted, Skaket seemed like a better choice. When I got there, Jerry and Peter were rigging 4.7s already. The wind was going down quickly, however, and they mostly schlogged when out on the water. Since they are both much better surfers than I am, and also a lot lighter, I decided to rig my 7.0 instead of trying to plane on the 5.5 that I had rigged.

With water temperatures near 0 C, I decided to dress "extra warm", with neoprene socks inside my 7 mm booties and reusable hand warmers inside the Dakine mittens. All the rigging and dressing took a while, and when I finally got out, the wind had died down to definitely not planeable. I tried for a while, but ended up not having enough wind for water starts. My fingers and feet stayed nice and warm the whole time, but I felt a bit like a deep see diver or astronaut in full gear. Holding on and staying balanced was a big challenge. My arms, which had never gotten sore when sailing for 4 or 5 hours a day in Bonaire, got tired pretty quickly. So I ended up doing more walking than actual sailing - but hey, at least I was warm the entire time.

Even though I did not plane at all, and all the cold weather gear killed any ideas of light-wind playing, it still felt great to be out. Just knowing that windsurfing in Cape Cod at the beginning of February without getting cold feels great. Who knows how much fun I would have had if the wind had been a bit better :)

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Having "one of those days" yesterday where I felt like a complete ... on the board made me think about the ABK Freestyle Clinic. It was really helpful to meet a whole bunch of guys who are a lot better windsurfers than I am, to see them work on the water, and to hear how long they have been at this game. This was the 7th ABK camp for me, but Bob, the best surfer in the class, has been going to ABK camps for about 10 years, and tries to go to five camps a year. In my first two ABK camps, I left with the feeling that I had learned a lot: planing through my jibes, backwind sailing, heli tacks, fall jibes, and more. Some of these things (like planing through jibes) I had been working on for years, with limited success.

But in the later camps, my learning progress seemed to slow down quite a bit. Sometimes, I'd work on a trick for most of the day, perhaps getting close, and switch to a new trick the next day, with similar results (for example because the wind went up or down). Worst of all, if I went to new places like Maui where the conditions were very different from what I was used to, I sometimes felt like a total beginner.

But the last camp was an eye opener in many ways. Playing with the fall/jump jibe showed me how close you can be to completing a trick, even if it does not feel that way: Andy just had to make one little suggestion, and I got a bunch of them in a row. For the more difficult and sometimes frustrating tricks, it helped a lot to see better surfers try and fall again and again. Some of these guys I have known for a year or two now, and I am often amazed how much better they have gotten in this time. One example is Priscilla, whom I met for the first time this year. But I had a chance to look at the camp videos of her from last year and from this year, and the improvement is very dramatic. Other examples include Greg, Anthony, and Marty. The common denominator: constantly trying, constantly falling :)

I have to admit that I still have a strong tendency to be lazy, and to just blast back & forth. With a GPS on my arm, I even have the excuse to be working on speed, which is not nearly as trivial as I thought at first. However, one marginal day in Bonaire showed the limits of the BAFing. At first, I tried to plane using bigger sails and fins, with limited success and limited fun. When I switched to light-wind mode and working on difficult light wind tricks, I ended up falling a lot more, but I had at least 10 times more fun.

Another thing that is creeping up on me is the idea that I am starting to understand some of the "basics". When studying Karate, my teacher insisted that good basics are way more important than fancy antics; looking at the success of his students, I have to agree. In windsurfing, I have not heard anyone talk about "basics" the same way, but the principle still applies: there are a few simple movements and principles that you should understand and know how to do well. Then, fancier moves will fall into place almost automatically. One example is the heli tack. Andy does not really teach the heli tack much; instead, he focuses on learning to sail backwinded and clew first. If you can do that, the only other thing to learn is one-handed (neutral) sail movements and "avoiding the bull's horns", and the heli tack is there. Now, I am starting to see similar common elements in moves like push tacks, pile drivers, and duck tacks.

The bottom line: sailing outside your comfort zone and trying new things is what will make you a better sailing. If you look like a fool on any given day, so what? It will all pay off in the long run with more fun. Just enjoy the day, and get some good instruction every now and then.

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