Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Time to mix it up

Looking at my last few posts, it seems that I have been concentrating on speedsurfing recently. So when I read Peconic Puffin's post "The Legend of Frank and Lauralee", I thought is was a nice reminder that there is much more to windsurfing than just going fast. By chance, that was exactly the same feeling I had after a few days of great windsurfing in Kalmus over the weekend.

We had several days of a lovely SW setup where the wind in Kalmus often is a lot stronger than predicted, and stronger than anywhere else in the area. Last Friday, averages in the afternoon were up to 35 mph, with gusts just above 40. On Sunday, averages stayed at 30, with gusts around 35. High tide was in the early afternoon, which meant a lot of high chop both days. Nina sailed our 3.7 both days, I was on a 4.2 and 5.0, fully powered to overpowered.

I was tempted to seek out flat water near the breaker or over at Egg Island for some speed runs. Fortunately, I had tried this the last time before when we had sailed in Kalmus, and it had not worked out well: the wind turned WNW, so instead of perfectly flat water, I got nasty high-frequency chop. That day, I had a lot more fun after turning around and sailing in the chop in front of Kalmus beach, which was higher, but also much better organized and easier to sail. So on the two windy days, I stayed there, too, and worked towards two of my goals for the year: better chop hops, and getting more comfortably in high chop. Not surprisingly, a couple of nice practice days close together resulted in some progress. I sailed old JP 96l board both days, which was ok, but a slightly smaller (and newer) board would have been better. Still, I started feeling much more comfortable and relaxed in the high wind & chop conditions, and at the end of the second day, I managed several dry jibes in a row on the outside, in the high chop. They were not as pretty as my flat water jibes, but dry is dry. The funny thing is that I know well enough what to do - but as soon as wind and chop pick up, I get intimidated, and revert back to old bad habits. As Mike Tyson recently said on the Ultimate Fighter - it's all confidence (and practice). With a couple more days like this, I'll call my goal of being comfortably in high wind and chop accomplished.

It was really nice to see a whole lot of ABK campers show up on Sunday, including Martin, Jeff, and Cliff, along with many other windsurfers (Gonzalo, Vadim, Michael, and a few more). There were a number of kite surfers there, too, which was ok, since they mostly stayed out of the way. Of course, one stupid fellow had to be the exception, and show his supposed superiority by passing windsurfers in the water at a distance of a couple of feet, spraying them while he passed. I did not see the guy myself, but both Nina and Jeff, who spent more time in the water, had the "pleasure" of his close encounters. What an idiot - everyone, even the best surfers and kiters, loose control sometimes, and kiting so close to someone risks serious injury. I heard about this only at the end of the day, otherwise I probably would have asked the guy what he was thinking. On Sunday, I was passing every kiter on the water at will, so it would have been easy enough to be a pain in his ass if he had kept up the attitude. But he was just one bad apple, and I've been sprayed by similar idiots on windsurf boards. If you want to prove you're a great kiter or windsurfer, show it by keeping a mast length distance when passing. If you pass close enough to spray someone in the water, especially when there's plenty of space, the only thing you prove is that you are an inconsiderate idiot.

But back to the fun parts. Good old bump & jump sailing in the chop was a lot of fun. Even if your primary focus is on speedsurfing, there's plenty of reason to mix it up sometimes (i.e. often enough to get comfortably in unusual conditions). For example, practicing chop hops will teach how to control the board in the air, which can be rather useful when a speed board take off from some unexpected chop. Practicing jibes when fully powered in difficult conditions helps to build the skills and confidence needed to jibe at very high speeds, which then lets you reach high alphas and better long-distance averages. And of course, the feeling in a nicely powered jibe is a thousand times better than any chicken jibe or fall, even if the water is shallow enough to stand. If your jibe is already great, keep going on to duck jibes, 360s, donkeys, loops, and new school tricks. Martin showed very nicely why both day - he tried a lot of different things, but when he just jibed, all the extra skills helped him to get around in a really beautiful and fun way.

Another example why one should mix it up is what happened during our last trip to Fogland. Hoping that the wind would pick up just a bit more, I used my big board and big sail, only to be bored to death between the three or so runs that I got onto a plane. Nina instead picked her 76 l board and 5.0 sail, and went to practice Geckos, tacks, heli tacks, and uphauling on a small board. Guess who had more fun and learned more? No contest.

But if you've never done any GPS speedsurfing, you should try it, too, especially if you're at the intermediate level. Here are just a few reasons:
  • To get speed, you have to go deeper downwind than you otherwise would. You'll get more comfortable at this angle with practice, and you may see that planing through jibes gets a lot easier with more speed.
  • To make up for the downwind runs, you'll have to learn to go upwind better, too, so you'll increase your effective range while sailing.
  • You'll be looking for really flat water, which can then help you planing through your jibe and with all kinds of carving moves.
  • For speed, you'll typically want to use larger sails, so you learn to sail better when overpowered, which can give you a security reserve if the wind picks up unexpectedly (or just save you from having to rig a smaller sail).
  • If you find a spot where you can do longer speed runs (like Duxbury in east winds), you'll have plenty of time to experiment with stance and equipment adjustments to learn how to sail more efficiently. If nothing else, this will allow you to use smaller equipment at other times.
The more you mix it up, the more fun you'll have. I always have to think about Dave White here, who has held a number of speedsurfing records, appeared in trick surf instructional videos (despite being "Larger than your average WWF wrestler"), and wave sailed even in hurricanes.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fall speedsurfing

The last week has brought a lot of wind our way - three days of southerly winds and two days of north to northeasterly winds. The south wind came first, and we sailed two days in Fogland and one day in Duxbury. The common theme for all three days was a lot of variation in the wind.

The first day (9/28) in Fogland was the best of the south wind days. I used a 6.2 sail both for light wind and fully powered, and also an 8.5. Worked a bit on jibes, using a Mistral Screamer 116. After replacing the stock 39 cm fin with a 28 cm Select Supercross fin, jibes got a lot smoother, and I managed a new personal best for minimum speed in the jibe (11.2 knots). I also tried sailing the F2 Missile, but the unsteady winds did not exactly help. I managed to get the Missile planing and either be hooked in or in both foot straps, but not both at the same time. Still, a bit of progress.

On the second Fogland day (9/30), the meter readings looked great, with averages of 25 and gusts in the 30s. I rigged another new piece of speed gear, a KA Koncept 5.8 m sail with 3 cambers. I was nicely powered at first, but the wind quality soon got worse, with 2-second long gusts that were just to short to get going, and too far apart to stay planing if by some luck I managed to get onto a plane.

October 1st came with nice south wind readings ahead of a predicted sudden drop. We decided to try Duxbury in southerlies for the first time. When we got there, averages where 30, and gusts in the 40s. Lots of windsurfers there, all the guys on there small wave boards with 3.7 sails. We rigged our 3.7 for Nina, which meant I went out on a 4.2 Expression. The sail was just way to much in the gusts - I got almost blown out of the water, despite being on my narrow and heavy 92l Mistral Edge. No control, no fun - I stopped after a couple of runs. With 200 lb guys being out on 3.7s, and some of them saying they were overpowered or had no fun because the wind was too strong, it did not seem like such a great idea to send Nina out on a 3.7. She hesitated for a long time, but did well when she finally went out for a run on her 76l JP Real World Wave. By then, gusts were reaching upper 40s, and rain clouds were moving in, so we called it a day. It was not just that it was so much wind - the variability was very Gorge-like, with lulls near 20 in one minute and gusts of 45 a few minutes later.

Two days later, we finally got the typical fall winds - NNE, averages in the upper 20s with gusts in the low 30s in Duxbury. The forecast had called for NE winds, so we sailed the south side first, but the wind was too much out of the north for really flat water there. So we switched to the north side, where the direction was perfect for speed runs right next to the grass islands in the middle that created very flat water. On the Mistral Edge with a Matrix 7.0 sail and the Select Supercross 28 cm fin, I got a number of runs about 50 kmh, with a max (1 sec) of 53.36 km(33.2 mph, 28.8 knots). I ended up improving all my short distance personal bests, and I finally reached my stated speed goal for the year, a 5 x 10 sec average above 50 kmh, with an actual average of 51.19. Here's a screen shot of the GPS tracks:

We eventually stopped shortly before sunset - a great day.

This morning, the wind meter readings were even better - averages around 30 mph, gusts in the upper 30s. We headed back to Duxbury early, hoping to park on the ocean side of Powder Point bridge. Last time we had walked over, the sign there stated that parking was allowed for non-residents. Today, we discovered that the main parking lot was closed, the little parking lot on the side almost full, and the only sign threatened a fine of $250 for everyone without a resident sticker. So we had to drive back and start on the land side of the bridge, as usual. I was bumming a bit, since I had hoped to sail my F2 Missile in the flat water at the ocean side of the bay. Instead, I was back on the Edge, although this time with the KA Koncept 5.8 - very nicely powered, too.

I sailed around south and north sides looking for flat water for a while. The north side did not work, the wind was angled oddly to the shore on the far side and the grass island. I walked through the bridge and did a couple of long runs near shore on the south side, but the water had just a bit too much chop, and the wind angle was just a bit off, for top speed. I did, however, got a couple of nautical mile runs that were both over my old personal best, the better one at 45.56 kmh (28.3 mph). Getting back, I again wished that the wind had been just 10 or 20 degrees more to the east, and went back over to the north side where Nina was still sailing, and starting to get worried since she had not seen me for a while.

By now, the tide had dropped enough so that I could touch ground in large areas of the bay, so I decided to give the F2 Missile another go. With only 62 l volume, the board is quite a bit smaller than anything I had sailed before, so it required a few adjustments. Thanks to enough wind, I finally figured it out, and ended up planing comfortably, hooked in and in both foot straps. The chop on the side of the bay where I had to start was too much to allow real speed runs, but I got up to 45 kmh. Hoping for more, I tried to go over to the south side, but the wind shadow of the bridge was just too much, and I could not get going. Schlogging was not an option, either - I sink to my hips if I try, and would have hit ground (a thing I really try to avoid doing with speed fins). So I went back to the other side for a few more runs on the Edge - which, however, Nina was just about to take. So I took her 76 l wave board, and was in for a surprise. Before the missile, the smallest board I had ever sailed was a 74 l board in Maui, and that one just for a few runs. After figuring out how to sail the 62 l Missile, the 76l JP felt - big! I took the baby over to the flat water on the south side, and pushed it to 47 kmh on a couple of runs, but the little wave fin on the board was quite a mismatch to the 5.8 m cambered sail.

On my third try, sailing the Missile turned out to be surprisingly easy. The moderate chop on the "wrong" side of the bay was no problem for the board, and going upwind was surprisingly easy. In hindsight, I regretted that I had not taken the Missile out first thing, and tacked up to the flat water - a whole bunch of new personal bests would certainly have been the reward. But still, this was another great day, with a new personal best for the mile, and first time really sailing the Missile.