Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lessons from Matt Pritchard

Today, I finally had a private lesson with Matt Pritchard at Sprecks. Conditions were great, I was fully powered on 4.5 with a 77l board. I did not have a set agenda, other than wanting tips to help me adapt to Maui conditions. The chop here on a typical 25-30 knot day is quite different from the flat water in Fogland or Bonaire..

We started with a few runs where Matt followed me to watch what I was doing. Every time I fell, Matt jumped into the water next to me, and made suggestions. After a few runs, we went back to the beach for a slightly longer discussion.

The first thing Matt fixed was my stance. I was trying to do something like the typical figure 7 stance that works so well on flat water and with big fins. In Maui chop with a 22 cm wave fin, the main thing that happened was spinouts. So the things Matt suggested were:
  • To turn the hips more forward, and to look upwind over the shoulder.
  • To bend the knees a lot, so that I could absorb the chop as needed.
  • To put more pressure on the front foot, with the goal to (at least) have about even pressure on both legs.
  • To really hang down to put all the weight into the harness (I am temporarily using a seat harness because my ribs hurt from an earlier crash).
No rocket science here - I had read about most of these things before. Making these adjustments had a dramatic effect: no more spinouts, a much quieter board, more control, less work. We had some gusts where the meter readings were in the mid-30s, and the actual wind probably around 40, but things staid well under control. Those adjustments alone would have been worth the cost of the lesson! I only wish I had scheduled the lesson a lot earlier...

Here are two "before" and "after" pictures:

The "before" picture is above - a very upright stance, knees straight, hips inward.

The "after" picture shows some progress: hips are twisted forward, the body is further out with more pressure on the harness lines, and the knees are bent, at least a bit. This picture was taken about 15 minutes after the last one, so the stance is still new to me. Here's a picture from a PWA slalom race that shows the figure 6 stance better:

An interesting thing Matt said was that the board and fin were to small for me. He is probably about my weight or a bit less, and he was out on a 96 l board the entire time; I have also seen him use a 106 l board in similar conditions. I have a 93 l board here that I love, but when the wind picks up, I usually switch to the smaller board because the big board became too bouncy. I should add that the 93 l board also has a big fin (30 cm), so keeping something like a figure 7 stance with pretty stiff knees does not usually cause spinouts. However, going through the chop at full speed with stiff knees starts to hurt pretty soon! 

It appears that the common desire to switch to smaller and smaller boards as the wind picks up is linked to failing to adapt the stance to the conditions. I think that just switching to a figure 6 stance with long harness lines, deeply bend knees, forward-twisted hips, and full weight in the harness will make a modern "larger" board like the Angulo Change FW 93 behave at least as well as a 77 l  wave board. Can't wait to try it out! 

I have to admit that just the suggestion of a 2-times Super-X world champion to use a larger board would be good enough for me; but just as good a reason are the wind holes here in Maui. I had to schlog the 77l board twice today, and a few times before that. Yes, it can be done, but it's all work and no fun. Schlogging the 93 l board is 10 x less work - and it's a lot easier to plane through jibes on it, too.

The stance fix was easy, and we then went on to my jibes. Funny enough, my first jibe was dry, and the second one was fully planed through - the only reason I fell was that I did not get into the footstraps again fast enough (and probably also that I did not bend my knees enough after the transition). But the next ones were the more common wet variety, and we went to work.

One thing Matt explained was the timing in the big outside swell. I had tried to figure this out for three weeks know, but the only thing I was able to say for certain was that starting to carve on the wave front generally did not work - I'd run uphill into the next wave, and loose all speed. So Matt explained his approach in the local setup, where the goal is to end up in the trough between 2 waves for the sail flip, so that the next wave pushes you back onto a plane as you accelerate. Tried this a bit, and that worked just fine. But or course, there were plenty of other things to fix!

One of these things is the dreaded bent front arm. In Kanaha, we have often watched the slalom guys do beautiful step jibes, fully planing and always in full control. But most of the not-so-great jibers, myself included, will always bent the front arm at some point, even if they start with a straight arm and a decent oversheeting. In my case, it's a bad habit that I practiced many many years before learning the correct way in ABK camps - so unless I concentrate on leaving the front arm long, it bends automatically. The interesting thing that Matt pointed out is that at the same time, the legs go straight. This, in turn, sinks the tail, and takes a lot of speed out of the turn. On flat water, I can often work around this a bit and still plane through - but in chop, loosing all board speed and standing up straight is a recipe for practicing waterstarts a few seconds later.

Besides the bent front arm, I'm also very likely to be so utterly fascinated by the sail or the nose of the board that I cannot tear my eyes off it, instead of looking where I want to go. I know this is a common mistake, but I was quite unaware that I made it, until Matt pointed it out. Two more things he mentioned that I think will be very helpful are to thing of the back arm and the back leg as being linked, so that the leg moves as soon as the sail transition starts; and to not just step forward, but to bend the front knee and really put weight on the leg to flatten the board out and drive it forward.

Matt was happy with the last jibe I did, where I apparently remembered to do everything he told me to. I think it will need a few more days of practice, but I think I have a better understanding now of what to look for when analyzing my boom cam videos, and I'm definitely motivated to work on it.

Well, a great lesson and a great day, with enough stuff to work on to keep me entertained for a while. As my Karate teacher used to say - the basics have to be right first, everything else will follow!

For all of you who plan to come to Maui for windsurfing - try to schedule a lesson (or a few) with Matt while you are here - the earlier, the better! If you are a flat water sailor like me, who has a hard time getting really comfortable out here, he may give you pointers that make your sailing easier within minutes. Or if you are better or more adventurous, he'll be glad to teach you the loop or other tricks. And, since Matt does get to spend a considerable time windsurfing, he is not just a great teacher, but also a real nice guy.


  1. very nice and helpful article. thanks!
    changing to stance 6 made me sail much more comfortably.