Thursday, May 5, 2011

Texas report

We are on our way back from a week of windsurfing in Texas - 5 days in Corpus Christi and one day in South Padre Island. In addition to sailing at two spots we had never sailed before, we attended an ABK freestyle camp, and I got a chance to try several great Fanatic and RRD boards. And yes, it was windy every day - most days in the 4.5 - 5.3 range, with a couple of days where I sailed 6.4-7.5 sails.

Bird Island Basin, Corpus Christi
We decided to check out windsurfing in Corpus Christi based on Andy Brandt's suggestion (ignoring Andy's suggestions is always a bad idea, as I have learned the hard way). We also wanted to check out Corpus and South Padre Island (SPI) as possible spots to move to.
The drive from the airport to Padre Island is short enough, but not exactly scenic. Padre Island is a barrier island that is surprisingly untouched by tourism, at least compared to places like Hatteras and SPI. There are a number of condo complexes and maybe 10-15 restaurant and bars, but the nearest supermarket is across the bridge in Corpus Christi. Our apartment in the Palm Bay condo complex, which we had booked through Worldwinds, was very nice, directly at the pool. To get to the Bird Island windsurfing spot, we had to drive for 15 minutes to along an almost deserted road. Here's a view of the beach, with some ABK campers waiting for the camp to start, and the Worldwinds building in the back:

The beach is nice and sandy, the water mostly hip- to chest-deep for mile or so out. Water temperatures at the end of April were in the upper seventies. The water was mostly flat, although there was some nice little chop in the shipping channels for chop hops and tricks like Shove Its. There's plenty of space on the water - even on the weekend, with more than 50 sailors out, it did not feel crowded.

ABK freestyle camp
The ABK camp was full with 20 campers, ranging from absoloute beginners to freestylers working on Vulcans and Spocks. The composition was a bit different from other camps: it included a number of younger windsurfers, and three couples in the advanced group. There were at least 4 or 5 windsurfers there that sailed a lot better than I do, which was great (even though my plan to improve my skills through close observation was at best marginally successful).

This was the first ABK camp I attended were we did not have a single light wind day. We had the usual great lectures, including a Flaka lecture from Brendon that I had not heard before, and worked on 360s, loops, Shove Its, Vulcans, and (one of us) on Spocks. I was pretty impressed to see the others trying Vulcans even when the wind averages were above 30, and gusts above 40. Nina really got into Shove Its, and we could see her take off even in her early attempts. It's a great move when overpowered, and she was sailing a 4.0 and 100 l board while I was fully powered on a 4.5, and had switched from the 110 l Skate to a 95 l FreeWave. The GPS tracks proved that she tried at least 2 or 3 Shove Its on almost every run out .. no surprise she was really tired in the evening. She also learned the fall jibe and tried jump jibes and Vulcans, but that almost got lost in the excitement about the Shove Its. One day, at least 5 of us tried loops, and Donnie got really close to completing one - he got all the way around, and only the waterstart was missing. My progress was rather more incremental, without any breakthroughs. I was still a bit stuck in board testing mode, for which I can partially blame Worldwinds, which offered an excellent selection of current Fanatic and RRD gear. I tried a couple of Fanatic Hawks (100 and 120 l) and loved them, and compared the Hawk 100 to the FreeWave 95, which ended up being a close call in the conditions there - both are lively and fast, and great for flat water and small chop. I think I'll go with the FreeWave for voodoo chop and wave conditions, though.

On the day after camp when the winds were light in the morning, I took out a Fanatic Ray 125 from 2009 with a MauiSails Titan 7.5. That was a rather fast combo, I was planing 99% of the time while others had a much harder time to get going, even on similar sized sails. The board definitely was eager to go fast, and got me up to perhaps 1.5 x wind speed. The ride was pretty physical, although I got tuned in after about one hour (it may have helped that the wind picked up).

After the Ray, I took the opportunity to demo several RRD boards that Tony Kardol had brought down, starting with an RRD FireMove 110. I had loved this board at the Windsurfing Magazine board test, and was eager to see the direct comparison to the Ray, with the same sail and identical conditions. Again, I loved the FireMove, and found it incredibly easy to jibe. Only when I took it for all-out speed runs did I notice some limitations of the design: compared to the thicker rails in the tail of the Ray, the thin tail section had less directional stability, and required more attention to keep going straight.

Next, I tried the RRD Freestyle Wave 120, a board that is very popular with heavier ABK campers. The board was livelier than the FireMove, even though it was narrower, and I found it just a tad harder to jibe in the chop - while the FireMove sliced through chop in the turns like a hot knife through warm butter, the FSW was more comparable to other boards I had sailed before. Still, definitely a great board.

Finally, I got a chance to try an RRD FireStorm 120, a brand new RRD board that is narrower than the FireMove, and more drag-race oriented. The board required just a bit more attention at the start to keep the nose from turning upwind, but accellerated almost as quickly as the Ray, and then hitting a perfect mix of comfort and livelyness. This board absolutely inspired confidence, and made me want so try things, something that usually takes a lot more "getting used to" on other boards. It jibed as well, if not even better than, the FireMove, but when taking it for a short speed run, the higher rails provide excellent grip. The thought I had when stopping because the cold north winds had finally gotten to me was "This board is a drag racer's wet dream". Unfortunately, the smallest size the board comes in is 110 l, but I think that even the 120 l will handle chop at least as well as a typical 95 l freestyle-wave board.

South Padre Island
While in Texas, we decided to drive down to South Padre Island (SPI) to check it out. SPI is a spring break vacation spot full of bars, condos complexes, hotels, and tourist trap shops, but we found it quite charming. In the middle of non-spring break weeks, there are plenty of hotel rooms for less than $50,  with fun restaurants within walking distance. We rented windsurf gear, but sailed only for about one hour, since the sea grass was acting as a constant break, even though we were on weed fins. Funny enough, this spot at the southern tip of Texas was also the first spot where I really got cold while windsurfing this year, since I had only brought my shorty. The water in the Laguna Madre was very flat, despite 25 mph winds. I am a very big fan of flat water, but I can imagine that windsurfing there would get a bit boring if you live there - even the Bird Island Basin had more variable and interesting conditions, with decent chop at some spots. From what I have seen, however, Hatteras offers a better choice of different conditions at the various launch spots and the reef in the middle, as well as (I have heard) better ocean sailing. We also thought that Cape Hatteras has more charm overall, so it's currently out top "we'd like to move there" location. But for sailing in the spring, we definitely plan to go back to Corpus Christi, with its reliable warm winds that blow for weeks on end.  We just hope that we won't have as many jelly fish next time - sailing in leggings and a shorty wet suit really cramped my style (and is one reason why I might not post any boom cam video from this trip).

No comments:

Post a Comment