Sunday, September 12, 2010

Three great days

We just returned from a wonderful three-day ABK camp in Hyannis on Cape Cod. The weather participated only partially. On the upside, we had two sunny days and one cloudy and cooler day; but we had planing-level wind only on one day, and there mostly in the morning.

The camp was quite a bit bigger than last year, with about 20 campers and 4 instructors (Andy, Brendon, Tom, and Ed). It was nice to see two other Foglanders there, besides Nina and myself. Compared to last year, the skill level in the top group was a lot higher. Four surfers (Cliff, Niko, Martin, and Graham) were doing tricks I had never even tried - great to watch.

For me, the highlights of the camp were:
  1. Meeting old and new friends.
  2. Andy Brandt's loop lecture .
  3. The guest lecture by Chris Eldrigde.
As the title of this blog might suggest, I have been thinking about the loop for a while. I've looked at plenty of YouTube videos, online and magazine articles, discussion forums, and so on. I must give Andy credit for getting me to think about the loop - before last year, I thought that was way out of my reach and/or my level of risk tolerance. The first loop lecture I heard from Andy then convinced me that (a) my concerns about getting hurt while trying the loop were justified (several campers who had tried it had gotten injured), and that (b) it is possible to learn the speed loop without getting hurt, given the right approach.

However, all the approaches I looked at seemed to have some shortcomings, as I discussed in a previous post. So I was in for a nice surprise at the newest ABK loop approach. It combines the best elements of previous approaches into three steps, marked by learning to crash in a specific way. It keeps Andy's focus on using sail steering to turn the board, but adds very specific directives. I did the first two steps during camp - the first one non-planing, the second one planing. This is about as far as I had gotten with Remko's approach - but when trying to follow Remko's approach, I ended up being pulled out of the straps in a catapult that did some minor damage to the board, no fun. It's quite possible that this was because I did not have the perfect wave that Remko had for his movie. But with the couple of details that Andy has added, the planing pre-loop crash ended perfectly harmless and fun. I did not quite get all the parts together, but it seems that just a few more tries will get me ready for the third crash, which then gets pretty close to the real thing with a waterstart ending. Judging from just the lecture and the first few tries, Andy has really done magic here by removing (most) risk, adding clear steps and landmarks, and making the loop seem very attainable even for more cautious surfers.

Another highlight of the camp was a guest lecture by Chris Eldridge. Chris is one of the best non-pro windsurfers in the East Coast - check out his videos if you have not seen them yet. He talked about how to learn the Flaka, and also briefly talked about a few other tricks when they came up in the discussion. In his opinion, learning the Flaka and the Grubby is a lot easier than learning the Vulcan, so it makes sense to learn them first. That's quite different from what Andy Brandt and many others think, who are convinced that the Vulcan should be the first new school freestyle trick. Both sides present many good arguments for their view - the difference in opinion may be caused by a difference in attitude, risk tolerance, and patience. It seems that the Vulcan is better for patient and technical windsurfers, while the Flaka may be better for the impatient who'd rather commit to something a bit wilder than try something many hundred times before it works. The best advice seems to be to try it both - some windsurfers may be better of with the Flaka, others with the Vulcan as their first trick.

With just half a day of good wind, I did not get a chance to try the Flaka (I should do the upwind 360 on a freestyle board first, anyway). Instead, I worked on carving 360s, and did get closer than before. The video analysis was really helpful here - it showed clearly that I did not push the rig far enough to the back (just like Andy said...). On the first lightwind day, I learned the push tack the ABK way - that is, one-handed, left-right-left. Much easier this way that what I had tried before, worked great on the big board.

On the last day, I tried to do some lightwind tricks on my freestyle board - tricks that I can do in my sleep on my huge old board. Very frustrating - took many tries just to do a heli tack without falling, and the few I did were ugly and out of control. Andy first send me to downsize my sail, and then sent me back to the basics - practice backwind sailing before the heli tack. That took a few tries and help from him, but I eventually figured it out.

So, why do lightwind tricks on a small, sinking freestyle board if you're not Andy Brandt? Many reasons - here a a few:
  • Two guys in the camp, Martin and Graham, who only use small boards, improved a lot during the last year, even though they sailed less than I did. Graham is young, so he'll learn faster, but Martin is almost my age.
  • After sailing small boards in Maui and the Gorge, where big board were just not an option, I noticed that my skills on big boards had improved a lot. For example, I can now plane on perhaps a meter less sail than before in the same conditions. Looking at the really good guys who can plane on much smaller boards and sails, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
  • It's not really that hard. Ok, I pretty much did start from scratch, pulling the sail out like a beginner and sometimes falling while doing so. But less than 2 hours later, I was getting used to the board. The sailed popped out of my water and into my hands almost like on a big board, backwinding was almost easy, and other things started to work better, too. For a couple of hours, that was quite a bit of progress.
  • Andy says so. Funny reason, but experience tells me that doing as Andy Brandt says is a good strategy, even if I something seems counter-intuitive. A lot of times, the understanding comes a few minutes or days later.
  • Speedsurfing: Since dedicated speed boards are wicked small (my F2 Missile is 62 liters), balance practice on smaller boards for the non-planing moments seems like a good idea (even if freestyle board are huge compared to speed boards).
So, if you happen to see me doing lightwind freestyle on my small freestyle board and looking like a fool, be patient - there is hope that at some point in the future, I may be able to do the things that better surfers like Martin or Cliff can do now. And while the water is still warm, falling a lot is really not a bad thing. The most fun-falls where the pre-loop crashes, though, which can't even be done on a big board.

1 comment:

  1. I would also agree with Chris that those moves are easier. But the Vulcan is like earning your first million, after that everyone also says the second and third million are easier to get. The Vulcan teaches you commitment, dedication, perseverance, and enlightens oneself as to how go about tackling the next hurdle[s]. After the Vulcan, progression seems faster and easier no matter what you do!
    Good seeing you again, see you soon.