Friday, July 30, 2010

Speedy fun

We had a great day windsurfing in Fogland on Wednesday, with wind averages in the low twenties and gusts near 30. Here's a short video:

(or watch the HD version on the Fogland Windsurfing page on Facebook).

I sailed my freestyle board for the first 90 minutes, and then got to try something new: a ride on Cesar's speed board, a 100 l Naish. That was my first time ever on a speed board - interesting. Definitively fun and fast. Even though I did just a couple of runs back & forth, I clocked my best speed of the entire day on it (49.8 kmh).

I had sailed my freestyle board with a 24 cm fin, which does not allow much pressure and therefore limits speed. After the run on Cesar's board, I wanted a bit more speed, and switched to my old Bic Nova 120 (our fastest board, the Mistral Screamer, still needs to be fixed). I eventually got close to the speed that I had reached on the Naish, but I think the wind had picked up quite a bit by then. The Nova was maxed out for the conditions at 48 kmh, but I bet the Naish would have been at least 5-10 miles faster.

Oh devious Cesar! He is getting everyone at Fogland into speed surfing. You see more and more surfers going for deep-downwind speed runs close to shore, and talking about getting dedicated speed boards. Even Nina finally borrowed my GPS, and reached more than 40 kmh on her 100 l Skate with a 22 cm fin.

Talking about Nina - look again at the video above. This is the same girl that learned to use both footstraps last September, and learned to jibe while planing this March. Her posture on the board is probably the best of all the surfers on this video. She carries a lot of speed through her jibes, until it's time to flip the sail. Once she gets a bit more practice in the sail flip, and sheets in more in the jibe entry, she'll be planing out of the jibes as if it was nothing. So ok, I'm biased - but she gets positive comments on her style and rapid progress almost everytime we are sailing. On Wednesday, someone commented that she makes the jibe look easy.

I have been sailing with Nina for about 5 years now, and I know that her rapid progress is largely due to the three ABK camps she has taken. If you have any interest in improving your windsurfing and you live in or near New England, don't miss the ABK camp in Hyannis from September 10-12!

I may not look as great on a windsurf board as Nina does, but I sure had plenty of fun last Wednesday. I did not try much - a duck jibe that was fine, a little bit of popping, and one loop exercise. I think I picked a bad moment for the loop exercise, though, just as a gust hit. I was not deep enough in the straps, either, and got pulled out, which converted the exercise into a catapult. Must have been a good one - even though I let go of the mast, and despite the dual-density foam nose protector, the mast still dinged the nose of board a bit. I think I put the nose protector a bit too far to the inside. Still, I was glad I had it on - without the protector, the damage would certainly have been bigger. I kept sailing the Skate for a while longer afterwards, but this kept me from trying more loop exercises and other crazy stuff. Next time will be in some chop or waves, when the board is most of the way in the air, and my feet glued to the straps!

On thing I did was on the entire time was jibes. Same old, same old - but always room left for improvement. I played around a bit with Power jibes (opening the sail when going downwind) vs. oversheeted jibes (keeping the sail closed), and with late sail flips, trying to plane out clew first. Another thing I worked on a bit was trying to get speed first, before getting back into the harness lines (which is typically the first thing I do). Here, I got penalized for being too lazy to put my single-point lines on the boom: it got so windy that the wind blew the lines away from me, and it sometimes took a while to get in. I actually had to stop surfing after 3 1/2 hours because my arms started cramping up. Before that, though, I got about 10 jibes in where the minimum speed was close to or above 10 knots - including my fastest min speed ever, at 12.7 knots. Those jibes felt great!

When I looked at the jibes on the boom cam video after coming back home, I noticed a big difference between the jibes on the 110 l Skate and the 120 l Bic Nova. On the Skate, I was much more active, going low both during the jibe entry and again to get speed again at the exit. On the Nova, I was lazier, not going down as much. On the other hand, my front arm was often much better extended on the Nova, and bent too much on the Skate. Plenty of possible reasons for this - the Nova keeps plowing once it's going, I sailed it much more often than the Skate, I was fresher while on the Skate, ...

There are many things that are great about windsurfing. Two of these are:
  1. There are some things that you can keep working on for many years, and still improve and learn new variations, even when you think you're good at it already.
  2. There are so many different ways to have fun - flatwater speed blasting, freeriding, freestyle, bump & jump, waves - it just does not get boring.
The important thing is to try different things, and to appreciate the different ways of having fun. Of course, if you try something new, you'll probably not be good at it, and may have even have to really fight. But the rewards will come - maybe after a week, maybe after a few months, just keep going at it and have fun!

Sometimes, there are silly discussions on iWindsurf, for example whether a longboard or a formula board is "the better choice". My answer: make sure to try both, and try it long enough so you know how to do it. Formula gear (or, more generally, wide boards with big fins & sails) can get you planing early, and go faster than the wind. Long boards may plane a bit slower, but are actually lots of fun in non-planing conditions and (so I have heard) to play in waves. Learn a few low-wind tricks, and instead of being frustrated next time when the forecast is wrong, go and play!

Playing around with different windsurfing "styles" will definitely help you in your "favorite style". Take speed sailing, for example. To go really fast, you need to learn how to sail overpowered, and to go deep downwind. I've done enough of this on my freeride board to be comfortable on deep downwind angles. So when I ended up windsurfing at Maryhill on the Gorge, where the current was so strong that you had to constantly sail deep downwind, I was reasonably comfortable. At the same time, Nina, who had almost never gone deep downwind while planing, hated it!

I also think that the two weeks of chop sailing in Maui and the Gorge have helped me on my favorite venue, flat water. Being forced to sailed the small boards and sails improved by feeling even on big boards, and I can plane earlier now, and stay on the plane better. Sometimes when I get home and look at the wind readings for the day, I'm surprised that I was planing on the gear I had picked - a year earlier, I would have been schlogging most of the time in the same conditions. But there's still plenty of room for improvement left here - the really good windsurfers can usually plane with 1 or 2 meters less sail, compared to reasonably good windsurfers of the same weight on similar boards. And improving skills to plane with smaller equipment seems a lot easier than loosing a lot of weight :)

Following this logic, it is clear that Cesar has done a great job in getting others interested in speedsurfing. Now we'll just have to get him into ABK camps, so he can use freestyle to improve his stance and jibes, for even more speed and fun!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Summer winds

In the last 10 days, we have had three days were we went windsurfing and had enough wind to plane - two days with averages around 18 mph, and one day with a bit more for a couple of hours. I tried to sail my Fanatic Skate on each day, but often, I'd end up with that sinking feeling:

So I used my bigger boards most of the time - the Bic Nova 120 or even the Bic Techno 293. While the Nova does not plane up any faster than the Skate, it handles a large fin and 8.5 m cambered sail much better, and the 10 extra liters make schlogging a lot easier. And if the wind is so low that I schlog most of the time on the Nova, the 80 cm width and 205 l of the Techno usually get me planing.

The last day we went, the wind came from an unusual direction: WNW, instead of the usual S to SW. This meant more variability, and more chop, since the waves have a few miles to build, instead of just a few hundred feet. At first, when wind averages where closer to 15, the swell was small, and the Techno was handling it nicely, staying on a plane even in lulls. When the wind picked up later and the swell got bigger, surfing the Techno was hitting the chop hard and slowing down a lot, and it was time to switch to a smaller board. I tried the Skate with a 7.0 sail first, but of course that was timed perfectly with a lull, where the averages where below 15 mph. As soon as I switched to the Nova and the 8.5 sail, the wind picked up again. Getting superstitious, I stayed on the Nova, although I switched back to the 7.0 sail after a while.

The swell inside the little bay was higher than during the usual southerly winds, but it was still rather tame. Gusts in the afternoon went up to 28 mph, so I was rather nicely powered for a few downwind speed runs. But while the runs felt fast, I barely exceeded 42 kmh; if the water had been flat as usual, I would have been close to 50 kmh. Quite amazing how much difference even a little chop makes, at least with wider boards.

Since I spend most of the time on big gear, I did not try too many interesting things. The first day, I tried a few body drags with the 8.5 m sail. I made it back up onto the board a few times, but the drag time was minimal to non-existent. The times were I held the sail to upright and got catapulted after going of the board were more fun :)

One of the great things in Fogland is that you have to jibe a lot if you stay in the bay, since the runs in the bay are less than 500 m long. This gave me plenty of opportunity to work on keeping my front arm extended in jibes. I have mode some progress:

There is room for further improvement, but this is a lot better than having my front elbow pulled all the way back behind my shoulder, as I often catch myself doing when checking the boom cam videos. I did make a few jibes every day where the min speed was above of near 10 knots, which is not bad.

One thing we tried to do was to simply surf a lot, in preparation for our upcoming trip to Cabarete. We sailed 5-6 hours on day 1 and 3, and definitely felt it the next day. Day 2 was immediately after day 1, and we were so sore that we sailed less, and did not try anything interesting. On day 3, I did a few loop exercises (step 2 in Remko's 4-step approach), and tried couple of duck jibes. I made the first one, although it was not very pretty. On the second one, the mast hit the water and I did a plank walk, which is definitely a great way to cool down. Well, with all the hours surfed recently, and hopefully a few more good days in the next weeks, we should have plenty of energy to try stuff in Cabarete. And shortly thereafter, it's ABK camp time again, and then the fall winds should be back for practicing, and for some Fogland Speedsailing Club sessions.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

ABK camp Cape Cod coming up

The ABK camp in Cape Cod is coming up - Andy Brandt and his crew will be in Hyannis on September 10-12. ABK camps are the best way to improve your windsurfing, and to have more fun on the water. I have written about the ABK camps that I have attended in Bonaire in 2009 and 2010 before, so I won't repeat what I wrote. However, I never blogged about the Cape Cod camp in Hyannis that we attended last September, so here are a few details:

Since the camp took place after Labor Day, the beach was almost empty, except for the maybe 15 campers. The camp took place at the far end of the parking lot, and we sailed in Lewis bay. The ABK team had rented a big truck, and brought salad and sandwich stuff for the lunch breaks. In the evenings, we used the truck to store our rigs, after just taking of the booms - very convenient.

For the lessons, the campers were divided into three groups, based on skill levels. Typically, we would have a theoretical walk through whatever techniques a group was working on at the beach in the morning and again after lunch, and then practice the rest of the morning and afternoon. This sometimes included simulator exercise. Here's what my lovely wife learned in the three days:
  1. Day 1: waterstart. She had done some waterstarts before, but was not comfortable doing them. Sometimes, getting the rig into position would take her 10 minutes and leave her exhausted. Therefore, she sometimes did not surf when it was really windy.
    She practiced waterstarts with her group on the first day, when we had nice strong winds. She learned all the tricks needed, and got really comfortable with waterstarts. Good thing, too, since she needed them for our trips to Maui and the Gorge this year, where she often was overpowered on a 3.6 m sail.
  2. Day 2: footstraps. Before the camp, Nina was surfing only in the front foot strap. She sometimes tried to get into the back strap, but it rarely worked. As a result, she was going only about half speed, and occasionally got catapulted. Even though day 2 was a light wind day, the ABK folks taught her how to get into the back foot strap on a smallish board by hanging down on the boom. The first time we went windsurfing after the camp in high winds, she was in both straps the entire time, speeding along and having a blast. I had to work really hard now to catch her...
  3. Day 3: Heli tack. The heli tack is a fun and useful trick that Nina absolutely wanted to learn. She had tried it on her own a bunch of times, after looking at online videos and instructions, but with limited success. At the end of the third day of camp, she was nailing the first heli tacks, and happy as a clam about it.
At our favorite windsurfing spot in Fogland, several of the regular windsurfers have commented how much Nina has improved in the last two years. Without a doubt, these improvements are mostly due to the three ABK camps she has attended. I have noticed similar levels of improvement in a lot of other campers after even a single camp - although many ABK campers attend as many camps as possible, since each camps brings new skills and more fun.

So - what are you waiting for? Sign up for the camp at! Hope to see in in Kalmus soon!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Going slow is fun, too

A few days ago, we decided to go light wind surfing, and took our Kona Mahalo along. We sailed about 5 hours, without any chance of planing, and had a lot of fun. We did a bit of tandem sailing on the Kona, but most of the time, I used it alone.

It reminded me of the time when I learned windsurfing, when just gliding through the water on an original windsurfer or similar boards in light wind was very fascinating. I have not done to much of this in recent years. But the Kona Mahalo has similar dimensions to the old longboards, and is narrow enough to give this lovely gliding sensation in low winds. I tried to capture some of this with a head-mounted GoPro Hero HD camera:

In our addiction to planing, we often forget that there are other ways to have fun. Board developments in the last 20 years are partially to blame. As boards got wider and shorter, they planed more easily, but they took all the fun out of going slow. My other big boards is a Bic Techno 293, which is not too wide (80 cm) and longer (293 cm) than most other boards out there - but nevertheless, low wind gliding on the narrower and longer Kona Mahalo is a lot more fun.

Another thing that the Kona Mahalo is great for is light wind free style. It's a great platform for sail-oriented tricks, and the soft padding makes scrambling back up a pleasure. It's also great for old-fashioned rail rides, but I have not mastered those yet. Here's a short video of the things we were working on:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Thanks, Andy!

We went windsurfing today and last Friday, 4-5 hours each day. The averages today were 15-17 mph in the first two hours, with gusts to 20. On Friday, averages where around 8-10, gusts did not exceed 12. Both days were fun, but one day was at least 5 x more fun - guess which one?

It was Friday, the day with less wind. Today, conditions were marginal for our equipment (we don't have any formula boards or very large sails). We tried to plane using largish sails (8.5 m & 6.2m), with some success until the wind went down. On Friday, the wind was so low that planing clearly was not an option, so we just did light wind freestyle: heli tacks, clew first heli tacks, light wind water starts, back to the sail sailing, sail-, sail body-, and upwind 360s, boomerangs, back wind tacks, and a few more. We were busy, fell into the water a lot, and got a great workout.

In contrast, we barely played around with some heli tacks today, since we did not want to pull out the big sails more than necessary. Yes, there was some planing and a few nice jibes - but overall, Friday was a lot more fun. We learned a lot more on Friday, too - for example, the sail 360s are a great way to learn sail handling for duck jibes and sail flips for regular planing jibes. Our success rates for most tricks improved quite a bit from the first hour to the last.

Last Friday, there were about 4 other windsurfers in Fogland. Two of them did freestyle on decidedly old-school equipment, the other two rigged big sails and hoped for the wind to pick up (it did not). A few years ago, I would have been in the second group, and the day would have been somewhat frustrating. After 4 ABK camps, I was in the freestyle group instead, and had an awful lot of fun.

Thanks again, Andy! Looking forward to the next camps - hopefully several this fall!