Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Fear Factor

My winter posts about learning new school freestyle tricks tend to be heretic. I refuse to follow the common belief that "Thou shalt learn the Vulcan as the first new school move!". Of course, I get a lot of flak for these posts. But that's not all bad - at least, it tells me that someone ir reading my blog. And fortunately, burning heretics on a stake is not in fashion anymore.

It does not matter that my non-conformist thoughts usually are provoked by statements from experienced freestylers. Nor does it matter that there are some examples that the "crazy" theories are right. The "Flaka before Vulcan" theory worked great for Graham, who's gone on to much harder tricks since then, still ignoring Vulcans and Spocks from what I have heard. But in the eyes of many, that does not prove anything.

I found myself starting a lengthy answer to Pete's comments to my recent post where I had dared to suggest to learn the Funnel and/or Switch Kono before the Vulcan. Pete makes valid points, and unlike me, he knows what he's talking about because he's done it on the water. So I figured a response would need to be very lengthy, and follow a two-pronged approach:
  1. Invoke a higher authority. That always seems appropriate in religious battles. 
  2. Explain the relevance of a feeling that Pete probably does not know: fear.
To get started, let me show you a brief video that introduces my "higher authority":

That's Andy Brandt, coming in with style in Bonaire. The first time I saw the movie, I thought that was one of the coolest tricks I had ever seen. Here's another example where he uses it to turn around in a lull:

I have also seen Andy do Reverse Duck Jibes live, and I still think it's one of the coolest tricks out there. So cool that it took me a long time to imagine I could learn to do it...

Of course, Andy never suggested to learn the Funnel before the Vulcan. However, he has suggested to try the Switch Kono with a 360 entry (sometime called the Kaino), and he has demonstrated the move - another wicked cool move. I have actually tried the Kaino a few dozen times. I never got close to landing one, but I have managed to get the board into the air, and to turn upwind enough while falling backwards to get wind into the sail from the right side again. So the Switch Kono seems doable - except that I seem to loose too much speed in the 360 entry.

Another thing that Andy made me try is jibing in the straps, flipping the sail without switching the feet, and planing out switch. I have tried that, too, a number of times, and got to the point where I can pick up a little bit of speed again when planing switch on the new side. Not enough to plane at full speed, but enough to know that planing switch in the straps is nothing to be afraid of.

Which brings us to the Fear Factor. If not for the Fear Factor, we'd see a lot of windsurfers throwing spin loops - everyone agrees that it's easier than a planing jibe. The loop is also a very cool-looking move, and supposedly a lot of fun to do. But at the spots where I usually sail, maybe one out of 20 to 50 windsurfers will ever throw a loop - and that's counting only windsurfers with a decent jibe. The rest is mostly to afraid to ever try; a few (like me) will try occasionally, but are too afraid to commit.

For moves like the Vulcan, the Fear Factor also gets in the way. The moves and crashes don't look quite as scary as the loop, and there is nothing scary about just popping the board, so the first baby steps are easy. But sooner or later, commitment to turning the board around in the air is required, and crashes in the footstraps will result. Those who overcome their fear quickly learn that they won't die, and that the crashes (usually) look worse than they feel. But others stop here, saying "maybe next session". My lovely wife never shows any fear of crashing; when learning the planing Duck Tack, she'd practice in 30+ mph wind, crashing 50 times in a row. When good conditions to work on the Vulcan came up during out Texas trip, she popped the board out of the water just fine; but fear kept her from committing to letting go of the rig in the air, and turning the board around.

So why is the Fear Factor so much smaller when going down the Switch-Duck road towards the Funnel / Switch Kono? There are several reason:
  • Going switch can be approached in several non-threatening ways, which include light wind practice, on-land practice, and not switching feet after jibing. This will sometimes lead to crashes, but those crashes are not that different from, say, a blown jibe.
  • Ducking the sail can  be approached in several non-threatening ways. IMO, learning the duck from switch requires some simulator training on the beach ("sail chi"), and then learning the light wind duck tack. 
  • Backwinded crashes are harmless. Before considering the Duck Tack or Funnel, you should learn the planing Carve 360. Unless you are super-human, you will get flattened by a backwinded sail many times while learning, and you'll learn that this is a harmless and fun crash. I am a big chicken, taking just about any excuse to not work on any tricks; but I will try 360s, even when it's really windy, because I know the crashes are harmless.
  • It's worth doing even without the jump. So maybe going down the Switch-Duck road will let you learn the Funnel and Switch Kono, or maybe not. It does not matter much - even if you never pop the board from a backwinded switch stance, you still have mastered the most difficult part of two very cool tricks, the Reverse Duck Jibe and the planing Duck Tack. Seeing Andy do the Reverse Duck Jibe started all this - and the Reverse Duck Jibe also teaches you carving a jibe on the heels, something you can then apply for planing backwind jibes.
What? I convinced you that perhaps there might be something to this theory, at least for some windsurfers with big inner chickens? Well, here's a step-by-step plan for going down the Switch-Duck road.

Step 1: Prerequisites. If you omit these, later steps will be a lot harder.
  1. Sail chi on the beach. You have to be good at luffing the sail from the clew. An hour spend on the beach can save many hours on the water.
  2. Sail switch and backwinded in light wind. Sailing in switch stance and sailing backwinded (or lee side) are basic skills that anyone who came up through ABK camps will have learned. If you have not, it's time to go out and practice. It's much easier to learn in light wind on a big board and small sail than in planing conditions!
  3. Light wind Duck Tack. Learn the Duck Tack in light wind on a big board and a small sail. I mean a really big board and a really small sail - like a 200 liter sailable SUP and a 4.7 m sail for guys. It's a pretty hard trick, but it's also one of the coolest light-wind moves.
  4. Carve 360s. Start with planing downwind 360s out of the footstraps. It's not absolutely essential that you get them, but you should at least get close.
Step 2: Play time. These steps are optional, but helpful.
  1. Jibe without foot switch. Do a regular jibe or duck jibe and flip the sail, but do not switch your feet. Instead, keep sailing on the new reach in switch stance, and try to pick up speed again.
  2. Strap jibe without foot switch. Very similar to step 1, but do not take your back foot out of the strap. Sail as long as you can, then either switch feet or fall backwards.
  3. Carve 360 in the straps. Staying in the straps for a Carve 360 requires that you keep your weight more forward, both when initiating the carve and at the exit. The move requires good power and is a lot easier on flat water.
  4. Kaino crash. Start a Carve 360 in the straps. After the board turns to the new tack and the sail starts to get backwinded, let the sail push you up and backwards while flaring the nose of the board as high as you can. Push the nose towards the wind to get wind into the right side of the sail again. Unless you have a ton of speed on flat water or a wave that pushes you, the chances of actually making a Kaino are very slim. But the crash looks cool and is a lot of fun.
Step 3: Switch planing.
  1. Practice on land. Put a board on a lawn or a sandy beach, and practice switching your feet, like Phil from showed on his instruction video.
  2. Switch on the water. Go sailing, and switch your feet while planing. You may want to try the different approaches that I had described in my previous post to see which one works best for you. 
  3. Keep your speed and direction. Keep practicing the foot switch and planing in switch stance. The goal is to keep your speed up. Keep power in the sail while and after switching your feet, and see how far you can go without going to deep downwind.
Step 4: Ducking the sail. I hope the water is warm! You will crash. A lot.
  1. Duck going downwind. Duck the sail after switching your feet while going slightly downwind. If you kept your speed, going downwind a bit should reduce the apparent wind to levels that are not much higher than during your light wind duck tack practice.  Try to keep the duck quick, not as floaty as Andy did in the videos above. Sail a couple of seconds backwinded, then crash or start on working an exit.
  2. Duck on a beam reach. Try ducking the sail on a beam reach, or even going slightly upwind. This will make the Duck Tack exit easier, and will give you more power for jumps. But you'll also have more apparent wind.
  3. Sail backwinded. Practice sailing in control after ducking the sail. See how far you can go. It seems the pro level freestylers can sail in this position forever!
Step 5: Old school exits. These are optional - go on straight to new school if you like. 
  1. Reverse Duck Jibe. Just copy what Andy does in the videos above :-). But it you did a less "floaty" sail duck, you can keep more speed and even plane out. This part is identical to the ending of the backwind jibe. If can already do backwind jibes, it should be easy; if not, learning backwind jibes should be easier after you mastered the Reverse Duck Jibe.
  2. Duck Tack. Carve upwind instead of downwind to end this as a tack. You will stop planing, so this is identical to the light wind version. 
Step 6: New school exits: Funnel and Switch Kono
  1. Do the Fu. If you pop the board and turn the nose downwind, you'll start a Funnel. But a Funnel is a 540 degree turn - you add a 360 after jumping the board around 180 degrees. When starting out, you don't have to add the 360 - just jump the board 180 degrees, and then sail away. This is the equivalent of a Vulcan, but you're in regular stance here, so sailing away should be easier. Nobody else does it that way, but that's because everyone else has learned the Vulcan first, and then the Spock and Spock 540, so they are already good at sliding backwards through more turns. I don't know what this move is called, but since it's the first 1/3rd of the Funnel, we'll take the first 1/3 of the name, too, and call it the Fu.
  2. Funnel. After you recovered from the initial shock that you managed to jump the board around and were able to sail away from it, it's time to learn sliding backwards. Then, add a 360 turn. Check the videos how to do this, I don't really have a clue.
  3. Switch Kono. If you played around with the Kaino crash in step 2 above, you may have a pretty good idea what to do. I really don't so I'll leave this for another post in the future.
Maybe I wrote this entire post mainly for myself. The approach above does not make any sense for the typical new school freestyler - a young, wild, and most likely blond windsurfer hell-bend on jumping, and without any fear. I'm an older guy, closer to 60 than to 50, with much better light wind freestyle than high wind freestyle, even though I sail much more in high wind than in light winds. I may have managed to keep my gut from expanding too much in the past three decades, but my inner chicken definitely has grown - grown to a size that may be incomprehensible to a 25-year old. But when I look around at an ABK camp, I often see other guys of a similar age, with similar skill sets, and (presumably) similar familiarity of the Fear Factor. So perhaps this post might prove useful to someone else, after all.


  1. well at the end you still have to pop and rotate 180 doesn't matter what side you stand on and what direction.Maybe a grubby? could turn into a loop.
    You need to sail with guys like me and George who just go out and fire each other up to make a move before the other one does, which can take years.

    1. So true about going out with others who work on stuff! But it's quite rare that we see anyone work on sliding moves. Even better if you also have someone who can do the move already. Nina worked on getting her second planing duck tuck for months. The she saw Chris do one, and nailed her second one the day after. Since then, she's been getting them every session she tries. So she rather likes the idea of me working on the same things.