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.

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