Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Super-X Freerace

I recently read about FreeRace, a new windsurfing event style that "fuses GPS racing with traditional course/slalom racing". Competitors pick their own course in a pre-defined area, trying to sail as much distance as possible in a given time (typically 30 or 60 minutes). GPS tracks are then analyzed to determine the winner.

Being somewhat of a GPS geek, I thought that might be a good thing to add to the upcoming East Coast Windsurfing Festival Cape Cod.  We had discussed adding a GPS speed discipline to the ECWF, but it is not exactly a natural fit, especially considering that we may not get good wind - and if we do, Kalmus is not a speed venue. But my lovely wife and ECWF co-organizer immediately pointed out one issue with freeracing: it might be a bit boring for everyone on the beach. Without a fixed course, direct competition between racers for spots is large eliminated, so spectators would just watch a few guys go back and force. May I say "booooring"?

Then we came up with the idea to make things more interesting: add a bit of freestyle to the event, similar to the Super-X races that the PWA ran for a few years. Here's the outline:

  • Racers can pick their own course in the pre-defined area, and the total distance they travel during the race period (30 minutes, or maybe even just 10 or 15 minutes) is measured by a GPS they wear
  • In the middle of the race area, close to where the spectators are, a few buoys define the "freestyle area. On each run through the area, racers who perform a trick will be rewarded by adding a "bonus distance" to their total distance. 
  • Better sailors are expected to do harder tricks - sail-body 360s are fine for newbies, but not for someone in the running for King of the Cape!
  • Crowd-pleasing tricks will earn extra "bonus distance" - awe the crowd, and get rewarded! Bring your friends to cheer you on, and improve your chances to win!
  • Only one trick per run through the freestyle area will be scored; competitors will have to sail through the entire area and turn around outside before the next trick counts.
That's the basic outline of our current thinking. I think this could be a real fun event, both in planing and in non-planing conditions. The details need to be filled in, but the idea is that a pure racer who does not do any freestyle would still have a chance to win - unless there's another competitor who's also very fast, but does a lot of cool freestyle during her or his run. Instead of having to pass the guy in front, throwing a few loops and Spocks will secure the victory!

We think this could be a real fun event for the competitors, but also keep spectators entertained, and show them how cool windsurfing can be. Let me know what you think!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Light Wind Freestyle Competition Tips

Andy Brandt showing Back-2-Back in light winds
The lovely Nina is back. The wind promptly dropped again after blowing hard for 3 weeks. So we went for a light wind freestyle session yesterday.

It was a lovely session, and I managed to keep my success-to-fall ratio reasonably high; I even got a couple of clew-first Ankle Biters. But I had to think of my p***-poor performance in the finals at the ECWF Long Island. Not surprisingly, Nina had a couple of tips to avoid such disasters in the future, and I came up with a few things to do myself. Here's the list:

  1. Check the competition area before each heat. Conditions can sometimes change dramatically within a short period of time: the chop may get bigger, making some tricks harder; or wind swell may develop and push you downwind and out of the competition area much faster. So get out a bit earlier! 
  2. Practice short combos with turns. Move combos are nice and get extra points. But if there's no turn in the middle, you'll end up too far away - out of sight. Add a tack or jibe in the middle, and you can stay right in front of the judges.
  3. Practice all tricks on your both sides. I have a couple of high-scoring tricks that I can do only on one side. During the heats, I often found myself trying to get onto the other tack so that I could show these tricks. Big waste of time! 
  4. Compete with small sails on a big board, but practice with bigger sails and on smaller boards. Flashy sail throws like Ankle Biters and Jaw Breakers are a lot harder on smaller boards, and can be almost impossible with larger sails. Even simple moves like Sail-Body 360s are a lot easier with small sails and big boards. So if you want to make the finals in a light wind freestyle competition, forget the freestyle boards and 6 m sails - get the big board (160 l +) and 4 to 5 m sails. But also practice the same moves using bigger sails and smaller boards to build precision. Things will seem a lot easier in competition!
  5. Practice a good way to go back upwind. You will need to go back upwind during competition. If you're just sailing upwind, you are wasting valuable time where the judges will focus on your competitors. So figure out a better way. That could be a tack combo; sailing inside the boom or back-to-back; sailing switch for a while longer before the Duck Tack; or even something simple like leeside sailing. 
  6. Ignore the MC when he calls for "only the hardest tricks". Last year, Eric showed fantastic tricks in the earlier heats, but in the semifinals, he tried only stuff that was very hard. He fell most of the time, and missed the finals. This year, I did (almost) the same thing. Not smart. Instead, start with moves you're certain to nail, and go to harder tricks after these moves have been seen.
So go ahead and start practicing for the East Coast Windsurfing Festival Cape Cod in September! Here's a short video where Andy Brandt illustrates quite a few of the points above:

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

ECWF Long Island 2015

The ECWF Long Island 2015 took place last weekend at Heckscher State Park. About 30 windsurfers competed in racing and freestyle over 2 day; made new friends and saw old friends again; and, most importantly, had tons of fun. Here's a video about the event from Mike Burns, who organized the event:

The event crowned a new King and Queen of the East: Eric Skilbred and Deniz Kalaycioglo. Deniz dominated both the women's freestyle and racing, taking two 1st places. Eric came in 2nd in freestyle after Pierre Coupal, who once again was in his own league, and 4th in the 7.5 m racing (full results here). That put him in a tie with Joe Natalie, who came in 3rd in both 7.5 m racing and freestyle. Eric got the crown because he beat Joe in the majority of the 13 heats racing and freestyle heats that they competed against each other. Congratulations to a well-deserved crown!
The rest of this post is a rather lengthy description purely from my perspective. You may want to stop reading now. You have been warned. 
The event was, once again, a lot of fun. The wind was perfect for longboard racing, with offshore winds on Saturday where planing was possible at times, and slightly lighter onshore wind on Sunday. I had to go without my lovely wife, who is still touring Iceland with her sister. But that left room in the van for Martin, who decided to join me, and got a taste of longboard racing. He did quite well on my Mistral Pandera, coming in 7th despite very limited racing and longboard experience. I just barely placed ahead of him, missing out on the 4th or 5th place trophy that I had taken home at the last 2 events. The top two racers, Pete "The Terminator" and Kurt "The Bonairean", were completely out of my reach in every single race. They both have much better board control, and Kurt, who beat Pete by just 0.5 points, also has a 50 lb weight advantage, which (together with some energetic and skillful pumping)  often allowed him to be the only one planing. Joe and Eric also sailed better than I did, especially on the legs where they could use their wave sailing experience to use the chop to go faster - but I managed to beat each of them in at least one race.

It took me quite a while to get my race mojo, though. In the first race, I had a mediocre start, and then took a dive when a gust pushed my Ultra Cat onto a plane - straight at Joe, who was pointing a bit lower. My Cat behaved as if it was of the furry variety - with a strong will of its own. It completely ignored my desperate attempts to change course, and before I could complete my analysis who had the right of way, it was time to go down to avoid the collision. Joe sailed on, not realizing the danger he had just been in...

A couple of better races followed, but then I got to close to the crowd at the start, and a sailor on a Starboard Go (or similar) tried to jibe right in front of me just as the horn went off. He exhibited a lack of control that was remarkably similar to mine a few races earlier, so I had to go around him - upwind, since he was still going downwind. Not a problem, I thought: there were about a dozen windsurfers close to shore who were trying to get started, but there also was a hole in the middle where I could sail through! Ha! Of course, a few sails and sailors went down, and the hole disappeared. So I got an opportunity to practice first my patience, and then my passing skills, which however were insufficient to catch up with the better racers.

Racing on day two started better, without any major mishaps. In the side-on wind, we ended up with a Le Mans style start from the beach. Downwind starters were allowed to go before the sailors further upwind, evening out the angle advantage that the upwind starters had. So for the next race, I went all the way downwind, hoping to he one of the first on the water. Since I'd be pointing higher than the upwind sailors, I'd have the right of way, and I would be able to push them upwind if they tried to pass. Nice theory - and then, the race director announced a "handicap" start. He called out names to start individually based on (a) his idea of what their current standing was, and (b) their upwind-downwind position. He started with the two guys below me, who indeed usually finished near the end of the pack; skipped me; and then moved up and down the line, letting more than half of the fleet go - all of whom had a better starting position than I had! My starting strategy was completely screwed - instead of being the right-of-way boat, I would now have to pass most of the fleet, while pointing higher than they had to! Not good. But it got worse when he called out the names of some of they guys that I usually was fighting directly with, including the two who would end up directly ahead of me and directly behind me in the final rankings. Not only were they allowed to go first, but they also had an advantage that amounted to several boat length!  he finally got back to the bottom of the line where I was waiting, more than half of the fleet was on the water. This also meant that the guys higher upwind got called a lot quicker than they would have been if everybody had still been in line. So now I had almost the entire field ahead of me - this time, without any fault of my own. I ended up passing more than half of them, but since I had already "used" my throwouts the day before, that was not enough to slip into 5th place overall.

Unfortunately, freestyle went perhaps even worse. In the gusty offshore winds on day won, I had done ok, with one good heat and another heat that was at least ok. I did well enough on day 2 to make it into the finals, which included 5 of the 10 freestyle competitors. And then, things really went downhill. I did not have the slightest chance to beat Pierre, but with a very good heat, I might have beaten Eric. I started ok with a Duck Tack right in front of the judges .. and then I went downwind. Straight out of the competition area! I had totally underestimated how far the side-on boat waves would push me. I did a Sleepy Hollow down there, but nobody saw it, since everyone's eyes were on Pierre and Eric in the competition area.  I even sailed around a bit inside the boom with my back to the sail, hoping someone would notice - but that only got me further away from the action! When I finally made it back into visible space, I ended up either too close to shore, or right next to another competitor, without enough room to do much. I realized how less-than-perfect my choices were, which did not help my emotional balance. Getting desperate, I went for  an Ankle Biters .. which even would have worked, if I had not had balance issues. The sail came back up just fine - but I was in the water. Even my through-the-boom dismount at the end, usually a sure move and crowd please, was poor - a bit late, at the edge of the competition area, and in quite shallow water so that I scraped along the bottom a bit.

After the finals, the first and second place were determined, but the 3rd place was to close to call (perhaps in part because Pierre and Eric certainly demanded attention!). So Rich, Joe, and I were called out again for another two minutes. Joe must have done well, but I suffered what must have been a brain freeze. Even the Duck Tack, which I can typically complete 19 out of 20 tries, needed two attempts. I listened a bit too much to Mike, who said not to do anything easy, and tried mostly harder stuff - without success. When I even fell on a Back-to-Back, another trick that I can do at least 9 out of 10 times, I knew I had lost the 3rd place. This time, I had nobody to blame but myself.

Unfortunately, it looks like this may have been the last ECWF event in Long Island for a while. Between the problems that the Parks department made about accepting our insurance and the dwindling number of participants (with fewer than 10 local competitors), it is likely that next year's event will be moved to another location. That spot will most likely be further away from Cape Cod, so we may not even attend. But I certainly will keep practicing! One of the things I must practice is light wind freestyle in chop.  Side-on winds at Heckscher cause a lot more wind that we'd see in Hatteras, where I do most of my light wind practice; if I practice at home, it's usually also on flat locations like Duxbury Bay or East Bay. Looks like the BIC wind SUP will have to come out of the van more often at Kalmus!