Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cold weather windsurfing Do's and Don'ts

Yesterday, my wife and I went windsurfing when it was rather chilly - temperatures in the 40s (about 5 degrees Celsius), no sun, and wind above 20 knots. This was planned as a pretty short tip, but ended up even shorter than planned due to a few problems. This blog describes what worked and what did not work as a list of Do's and Don'ts.

Don't: Use O'Neill Psycho gloves
During my last trip to a windsurf store in Boston, I had bought a pair of O'Neill 3 mm Psycho gloves. They felt very warm and comfortable in the store, so leaving without them seemed like a bad idea. My wife ordered a pair from the web since they did not have her size.
We used them the first time yesterday. My lower arms were sore after just a few minutes - something that usually does not happen anymore. Keeping the fingers bent in these gloves just takes to much effort. I managed by (a) concentrating on committing to the harness, and (b) bending the fingers less, and relying to some extend on the friction from the neoprene gloves. That was ok, but it kept me from trying any interesting tricks.
My wive has much smaller hands, and she found her gloves impossible to use. She could not hold the mast when tacking, which led to a few unwanted waterstarts. She took the gloves off after a few run, and surfed without gloves instead.
I was a bit surprised here, since I had used Glacier gloves from LL Bean or REI before without any problems. They are also neoprene and look similar. However, the neoprene is quite a bit thinner, and bending the fingers is a lot easier.
I think the problem is that O'Neill makes gear for surfing, not for windsurfing. No need to bend the fingers much in surfing, so I bet the gloves are great if you surf without a sail.

Do: Get an Ion 5/4 semidry wetsuit
My wife had recently bought a dry suit, and I got an Ion 5/4 semidry suit because the store did not have a dry suit in my size. We used the new suits for the first time yesterday. I was perfectly happy with my suit. The arms felt a bit cold while at the beach, but were perfectly fine on and in the water. During waterstarts, some water entered through the zipper on the back, but the bib over the zipper worked fine to keep it from trickling down, and the amount of water was pretty small, so I did not get cold. A really nice feature on this suit are the little holes on the lower leg that allow water to escape. They worked perfectly fine, my lower legs remained pretty dry and comfortably warm. When taking the suit off after the session, most if it was just barely damp - "semidry" is indeed an accurate description. In short, I love this suit. No suprise you see many pro windsurfers with Ion suits and/or logos.

Don't: Get long hair caught in the dry suit seals
My wife was not quite as happy with her dry suit - she thought it was leaky, mainly at the top of her back. When I opened her zipper, her fleece sweater looked pretty dry. A closer look showed that some of her hair had been caught in the seal around her neck. It seems that a bit of water entered around the hair, and dripped down. Not much, but enough to make her feel chilly. I believe that the hair was the entire problem; when I go snorkeling without shaving my mustache, a lot of water enters my mask around the nose, since the seal is not tight. To get the dry suit to be really dry, shaving should not be needed - we'll just have to check for stray hair that's caught in the seal next time.

Do: stay warm when changing
One big advantage of dry suits is that changing out of it is easy, since you can keep wearing the layer(s) you had on underneath. Changing out of a tightly fitting neoprene suit can be more of a problem when it's cold and windy. Changing in the car is not an option for me - I drive a Civic, and there's just not enough room. I'm not planning to get a van anytime soon, either.
However, the solution is simple: get a little self-expanding popup tent ($35) and a camping gas heater ($65) from The tent sets up in 15 seconds, including putting some weight in and on it so it does not get blown away. The heater makes it nice and warm in a few minutes, despite the small two mesh windows on the sides. I also brought a small foam pad along, and changed into and out of my suit rather comfortably (and without having to worry about getting ticketed for indecent exposure).

Do: cover your head and feet
You loose most heat through your head, followed by your feet, so covering your hear is essential, and covering the feet is a great idea. I was wearing a neoprene beanie and a helmet; the helmet was primarily to keep the beanie in place. My wife had a neoprene hat with a small chin strap. Both solutions worked well. To keep the feet warm, I was wearing 0.5 mm hydroskin socks under 3 mm neoprene surf shoes; my wife used the same socks and 7 mm O'Neill boots. My feet were fine, hers were toasty, which she liked.

Overall, this surf session had a surreal quality for me. With the beanie and helmet on my head, I did not hear much. Together with the thicker suit and foot gear, I almost felt disconnected from my equipment. I was almost surprised everytime I got into my footstraps and planed easily. The place we went to was really flat for 20+ knots of wind, and easy to sail. So I had some fun, even though I did not feel like trying any new tricks, or even trying to go really fast (I had forgotten to bring the GPS).

Because of the glove problems and the water dripping into her dry suit, my wife did not have much fun. We ended up keeping the session pretty short; but the tide was going out quickly, and it would have been too shallow to keep surfing soon afterwards, anyway.

We'll definitely go again soon, though. We're hoping for a bit higher temperatures (50s would be nice, 60s a dream), and maybe some sun. More important, however, will be to get something to keep my wife's hands warn. Cutting out the palm and inner fingers of the gloves is one possible solution... but that kind of hurts to do that to new $45 gloves.

Yesterday's session was more adventure than fun - but that's generally true when windsurfing in unusual conditions. I'll never forget the story one of my favorite windsufing teachers, Tulpe, told me in Cabarete. A windsurfer who had surfed a lot in Margarita, and thought she was pretty good, came to Cabarete. After the first day in the high chop and waves there, she ended up in tears because she felt like a total beginner again - nothing had worked. The same thing happened to many others that were used to flat water, and it happens to me when I surf in Kalmus or Ned's Point for the first time after spending a lot of time in Bonaire and Fogland. But after getting used to the unusual conditions for a few hours or days, the pure fun usually returns.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tricktionary & Trickpack

I learned that following Andy Brandt's suggestions about windsurfing is generally a good idea. So when he brought the Tricktionary book to the ABK camp in Cape Cod, it really was just a question of when I'd the book, the DVDs, or both. I ordered both (the "Trickpack") a couple of weeks later as a birthday present for my lovely wife. She had been looking for a windsurf book that showed some of the tricks Andy taught us already. I also remembered having a trick book when I started windsurfing, and having a lot of fun trying the "old school" tricks in it (this was about 20 years before most "new school" tricks were invented).

Well, the birthday is still a couple of months away, about the same time that we probably will stop windsurfing because it will be freezing and snowing. Right now, my wife is really eager to try more stuff - she just got the heli tack last time we went out, and wants more. So I decided to give here her birthday present a bit early (after convincing her that she'd really want it now, not in a couple of months).

So, here's my impression of the Tricktionary II book and DVDs:

The book has about 285 pages. The first 50 pages cover the basics, from equipment to waterstart. They are rather useful for beginners and intermediates. Then, still as part of the "basics", some light wind tricks and pre-exercises are covered - from backwind and clew first sailing to sail-body 360s, heli tack, and front loop pre-exercise.

Each trick is shown with a series of 10-15 pictures, and has a written description. Most tricks also have a short intro and tips, and/or "common problems" and their solutions. I looked at some tricks that I can do reasonably well, and learned a couple of new things. I also looked at tricks that I just started working on, and found the combination of the picture series and the description very useful to understand what the trick is about (check out the sample pages here).

One of the best features is the methodical approach. For each trick, a number of pre-exercises are given. If you can do the pre-exercises, then learning the trick will be pretty straightforward; if you try to skip the pre-exercises and go straight for a complicated trick, you will probably be in for a much longer learning period. I learned this lesson during my ABK camps. In my first camp, I did not understand why I should practice backwind sailing or clew first sailing. But in my third camp, all the practice of basics really paid off - I often was able to do a new (light wind) trick on the first or second try, because I knew all the basic moves it was composed of. Even better, I even managed to put together whole new (for me) tricks: when I practiced boomerangs, and the sail came back to much to the side, I simply stepped around it for a boomerang sail-body 360.

I'm not saying this to claim that I am a great windsurfer (I'm not), but rather to illustrate that learning the basic moves will really help to learn more complicated (and more fun) stuff much quicker.

In its methodical approach, the setup of the Tricktionary book is similar to the way the ABK camps I attended were structured. I mentioned before that I am a great ABK fan (as are most or all other campers); so the structure in the book, which is more obvious, is a big plus. The layout and details in the book are also great. The pictures for a trick are arranged in the same way you sail during the trick - for example a straight line for straight-line tricks like a Vulcan, and a half circle for the Power Jibe.

The book is great, and will certainly be with us on every future windsurf trip. So how about the DVD? In short: also great, and even better in combination with the book.

I have looked at a few trick DVD on to check them out before buying. One thing I did not like was the lack of organization in the downloads. The first time, I may want to watch the whole video - but mostly, I want to be able to look up a specific trick I am working on. With the Tricktionary DVD, that's easy. That's an impressive feat, since we are talking about 3 DVDs with 400 minutes of contents. Tricks are organized into categories: basics, jibes, tacks, old school, jumps, switch, and extreme (there are also beginner and wave sections). The DVD is organized much more like a web site, with lots of links and "back" buttons to facilitate navigation. For example, each trick has links to the pre-requisites you should have under your belt before trying the trick.

The trick videos themselves are great, too. At first, the entire trick is shown in normal speed. Then, the trick is explained in detail, with slowdowns and highlighting used very nicely to illustrate what you need to do. The wind directions is also indicated by an arrow on the water, which can be very helpful. The highlighting is great to see what's important - if the mast arm needs to be extended, and the clew arm bent, chances are they are highlighted when the verbal instructions mention this.

There is just one thing that might turn off a few viewers: the voice over in the English version was done with a noticeable German accent. It seems the Tricktionary project was done by German-speaking folks; the authors are Austrian, and the video and pictures show some of the best German Pro windsurfers. However, the voice overs are perfectly understandable in the English version. For me, I'll just listen to the German version. Other languages are also available, but I did not check them out.

For windsurfers who have not been to an ABK or similar camp before, the question might arise: "Why should I get a Tricktionary if I'm not interested in tricks?"

The answer, in my eyes, is simple: To get better and have more fun. I tried to perfect my jibe in many private lessons; I must have listened to at least 10 different Vela clinics about jibes, studied jibe videos many times, and read everything I could find about it. I usually surf where ou have to turn every 500 meters, so I also got plenty of practice. But the real breakthrough came after I started playing around with other tricks again in an ABK camp. Practicing things like backwind and clew first sailing, and 7 different light wind jibe variations, gave me a much better feeling for sail and board handling, and probably helped at least as much as the specific pointers Andy and his instructors gave me. Since then, I am looking forward to each jibe - it's as much fun as just going wicked fast, if not more.

Of course, there is also the other big advantage: I don't get skunked anymore. The times of sitting at the beach and waiting for wind are gone - I go out on the water and practice light wind tricks instead. I did that when I started surfing on Lake Konstanz, since high wind day were extremely rare; I'm glad I started it again. We've actually gone surfing on days when the wind forecast was lousy, specifically to practice light wind tricks - and had as much fun as on high wind days.

So: if you windsurf for fun, get Tricktionary and start practicing tricks!

Links: - US distributor of Tricktionary