Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 review

We just got 12 inches of snow, and the trailer is buried - looks like the windsurf season is over for the year. Time for a review! This will be a long post, so here is a short version for the impatient reader:
  • Sailed 2900 km (1800 miles) in 105 sessions
  • Checked out a number of new local spots: Ninigret, Pleasant Bay, Chapin, Skaket Beach, Old Silver Beach, Chatham
  • Had a longer windsurf season here in Massachusetts - any day with air temperatures above freezing is a possible windsurf day
  • Enjoyed windsurf trips to Bonaire, Maui, the Gorge, Cabarete, and Hatteras (with Hatteras being my favorite trip)
  • Got more comfortable in higher wind (30-35 mph) and chop
  • Using smaller boards: my "big board" now is a 110 liters (vs. 205 l in 2010) ; the small "go to" board now is an 82 l slalom (vs. 120 l in 2010)
  • Learned to sail a 62 l speed board (a great confidence booster for sailing boards in the 80 l range)
  • Picked up a few new tricks: Carve 360; light wind: push tack, duck upwind 360, clew first pile driver; can now do most of my light wind tricks on a 110 l freestyle board
  • Started the "Fogland Speedsurfers" team in the GPS Team Challenge
  • Met a lot of great new people and old friends
Bottom line: a great year! And now to the long version...

2010 Goal Review
I had posted my goals for the year here at the beginning of the year, so let's have a look:
  1. The speed loop: next year. I worked on low-wind "loop crashes" a couple of days, and on high-wind crashes another day or two. Some of those ended up with pretty harsh crashes onto my back - however, the board was never in danger (after the first, early try, where I let go of the rig and damaged the nose of the board). I have a pretty good idea what I need to do next, and there's a good chance that I'll make a loop if I get a few days with great conditions.
  2. Nice duck jibes:need some more work. I did a few decent duck jibes, but no really nice ones where I planed through. Somehow, this trick just is not so attractive to me.
  3. Speed: ok. My goal was to get my 5 x 10 s averages above 50 kmh, and my current best is 51.19 kmh. I got a couple of boards, fins, and sails that should enable me to go quite a bit faster. I did not get to try these under ideal conditions, but the main limitation seems to be a certain lack of skills. The minimum goal for next year is to break 30 knots.
  4. Chop hops: ok. I got quite a bit of practice this year, so I am feeling more comfortable in the air. There's still plenty of room for improvement, but I should also try pops with turns and sliding for new-school tricks.
  5. Get better in high wind and chop: ok. This year had quite a few sessions in 30+ mph winds with high chop, and there's a definite improvement. Being more comfortable on small boards definitely helps, too.
  6. Tricks: ok. I only picked up one new planing trick, the Carve 360 (and that one required quite a lot of tries and close calls before I got the first one). In light wind, I learned a few more things, including the push tack, duck upwind 360s, and clew first pile driver. Last year, I did all my light wind tricks on big gear (160+ l). This year, I spent a few days re-learning them on a Skate 110 l board. Andy Brandt says that smaller board grow 5 liters which each hour of practice, and that seemed to indeed be the case. Still, going down 50 liters meant about 10 hours of practice. This was time well spent, though - developing a better feeling for smaller boards is definitely a worth-while undertaking.
  7. Planing jibes: ok. My minimum speed improved a bit, but the biggest difference is in the success rate when the sails get small and the chop gets tall. My main limitation here seems to be in the head, not in my technique. When I go into a jibe with enough speed and dedication, things tend to work out. If I try to hold back because of high chop and wind, I usually end up with waterstart practice. When I watch the pros jibe big gear in slalom heats, though, it becomes obvious that there is still a lot of room for further improvement.
So I did not reach all of my goals, but I did ok. Some of my goals I did not work much on at all, so I made little progress; others took much more work than I had expected. The biggest difference for the year, however, was not even on my list of goals: switching to smaller boards. For light wind freestyle, I had doubted that going to smaller boards was worth the effort. But after seeing rather dramatic improvement in the skills of a few people who only used smaller boards (Martin and Graham), I bit the bullet, and learned a lot by doing the same tricks on a much smaller board. My other switch to smaller boards came almost by accident. When looking for a used slalom board for speed surfing, I found a 62 liter speed board instead that I bought. Learning to sail it took several days, but I eventually got comfortable on it. I did not actually reach my top speeds on this board, but knowing I could start and sail it gave me a lot of confidence when sailing boards in the 70 and 80 liter range. Last year, the smallest board I had ever sailed was 88 l, and the smallest board I'd sail several times a year was 96 l. This year, I bought an 82 l board that I think of as my go-to board as soon as I can use a sail smaller than 7.0. But in comparison to a 62 l board, 82 liters seems enormous. Funny though that the 62 l board can handle a 7 meter sail much better than the 82 l board.

There's a take-home lesson in this. As Mike Tyson pointed out in his guest appearance on the Ultimate Fighter, the number one key to success is confidence. I think confidence is one big reason why many young windsurfers progress very quickly, while older windsurfers stagnate or learn slowly. The "I can't do this" or "I'll try it but probably will fail" mentality seems to be much more prevalent in the older windsurfer's brain, and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Younger surfers like Graham are not encumbered with this, so he'll go and try a Shaka before being able to do a really decent jibe. Ok, so he won't complete a Shaka right away, but I bet he'll be doing nice Shove Its and Flakas before me. His dad also illustrates that older windsurfers do not have to progress slowly: he started windsurfing this summer, and now is out there whenever he can, even when it gets cold and the winds are in the 30+ mph range and many more experienced windsurfers wimp out, showing them how to sail fast.

For those of us older windsurfers who are more prone to the "I can't / I'll fail" mentality, a good way to build confidence is by (a) stretching your boundaries further than you are comfortable with, and (b) keep trying, ignoring any initial failures and instead focusing on whatever bits of success you can find. If you make it through, maybe learning to sail a board much smaller than you think you could, or a sail much bigger, or in conditions that are much harsher, you'll be rewarded with plenty of confidence in a slightly less challenging setup. Of course, do it in safe conditions - don't try learning to wave sail in Jaws!

Fogland Speedsurfers

Our favorite local windsurfing spot in the spring and summer is Fogland in Tiverton, Rhode Island. The inside bay offers shallow and flat water in southerly winds, and really invites speedsurfing. Fogland also has Cesar, who loves to speedsurf and has inspired many local surfers to go deeper downwind and faster that they ever did before; and Dani, who is great at organizing beach barbecues. That provided the perfect gestation grounds for the Fogland Speedsurfer team, the only active US team on the GPS team challenge. Unfortunately, we founded the team just before most Fogland windsurfers ended their season, so it was largely up to Nina and myself to keep the team from being at the very bottom of the ranking. However, we later picked up a couple of new team members (Bart and Dean) who go really fast on a regular basis. Dean already taught me a bunch of things in the one session we had together, and I'm sure there is plenty more to learn from him. I can't wait until next spring, when we can have a number of Fogland Speedsurfers on the water at the same time!

Vacation Spot Ratings
We took a bunch of nice trips this year, although they were all just a week or two. Here's my ranking, based on this years trips:
  1. Hatteras. We spent 2 weeks there in great company. We had a lot of days with great wind, and I just love the endless runs in shallow water you can do there.
  2. Bonaire. Always a favorite. Can't wait to be there again.
  3. Gorge. Loved the beer and the variety of sailing spots. Did not like how gusty the wind was, but it sure was interesting.
  4. Maui. I had the least fun sailing there - it's this confidence thing again. This was our first trip to a really windy place this year, and I'm sure I'll like it better next time. But except for windsurfing on the really windy days, I loved Maui.
  5. Cabarete. I love Cabarete, and the only reason that it's at the bottom of this list is that the wind just was not great when we went there in August.
One thing that weighs heavily in the rankings above are the people we met and spent time with at the different places. There were great people we met everywhere, but I distinctly remember many friendly strangers in the Gorge (they all assured us that conditions were unusually harsh, almost every day :). I'll end this post with thanks to just a few people I met this year who taught my something new:
  • Dean taught me how rig my KA Koncept sail and how to go faster in chop, based on many years of racing experience. Looking forward to many more speed days next year!
  • Ron made us go to Skaket Beach, a great west wind spot that we absolutely love. He also gave me the ideas to use nylon mitt shells over gloves with cutoutson the inside for the really cold days.
  • Hardie showed me how to put electric tape around the top of the boots to minimize water entry. Worked great when I tried it, and I really regretted skipping this step the next time I went out.
  • Coach Ned reminded me many times that "It's all good". I hear this all the time in my head on a great day, and it always makes me smile.
So, that's it for 2010. We were fortunate this year that we could extend two business trips into windsurf vacations at great spots, and I thought there was no way next year could be as good. But then, we got lucky, and arranged a 7-week house swap in Maui - so there may be even more windsurfing next year.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Nose control

We went skiing for Nina's birthday a few days ago - here is a short video:

This was the first time in many years that we hit the slopes, which gives a bit of a different perspective. I noticed a few similarities to windsurfing that I had not noticed before. The biggest one was "nose control" - how to distribute your weight to keep the nose of the skis or the windsurf board under control. On skis, I tend to sit back, taking the pressure off the tips and making them nervous and hard to control. I sometimes have similar problems when speedsurfing - too little pressure on the nose of the board makes it bounce too much, and limits top speed. In either case, letting this go to long can lead to harsh landing on resp. in the water.

Obviously, the mechanism how to put pressure on the nose/trips is different between windsurfing and skiing. But what's similar is that a well-balanced stance helps in each case - although the balance on the windsurf board has to involve weight in the harness and pressure on the mast foot.

Being the geek that I am, I could of course not refrain from bringing my windsurf e-toys, the GPS and the GoPro. Well, at least that gives you a view of Nina's lovely backside, so you don't just have to read my words :)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Foil speedsurfing?

AHD has been playing around with foil windsurfers for a while, and may release a production version soon. Here's the AHD video:

Well, foil surfing looks cool, and the obvious question is: what's the speed potential? The reduced surface of the foil should theoretically allow for great speed. The AHD video seem to focus on speed at low winds. Some web pages mention minimal power in the sail while the board is riding on the foil, also indicating great potential.

However, there's one potential problem with the foils. On a conventional windsurfer, it's possible to go faster by reducing the water line and the surface area in contact with the water. A formula board at high speed will ride pretty much only on the fin. Yes, dedicated speed boards are very thin, too, but even wider slalom boards can reach amazingly high speeds through proper shape, rocker lines, and tricks like cutouts. For the foil windsurfers I have seen in videos so far, there is a problem: the foil is entirely in the water, and surface reduction is not possible. If the foils gives enough lift to get going in 15 knots, it probably would generate too much drag and/or lift to go 50 knots.

Here's a simple proposed solution: a multi-foil windsurf board, with maybe 2-4 foils at different depth levels.

At slower speeds, all foils are in the water and provide lift. At higher speeds, as the board rises out of the water, the upper foils are in the air instead of the water, minimizing drag and increasing top-end speed. A larger number of foils (perhaps 3-5) could have the same effect as multiple gears in the car - go faster in higher gears. Of course, the foils may be as fancy as the little airplanes on the AHD AFS-1.

An added bonus of the multi-foil concept could be that the individual foils could be smaller, and therefore less dangerous. The lowest top-speed foil on a speed board could potentially be really small. The hydrodynamics of such a setup are not trivial, but I think it's worth trying out. Maybe 5 years from now, the water speed record will be held by a foil windsurfer, not a kiter :)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Staying warm at 32F

We went windsurfing today at Skaket Beach, despite temperatures that barely made it above the freezing point. But after not going yesterday and missing a perfect day, staying home again would have been too hard. I ended up sailing for 90 minutes, and being perfectly warm the entire time. Air temperatures were between 31 and 33F, water probably around 40-42F, wind 20 mph with gusts to 27 - and it was sunny.

This is the first time in more than 25 years that I went windsurfing when it was this cold. I did, however, remember from the last time that I was nice and warm, despite the cold temperatures. Still, being twice as old as back then, I was just a bit skeptical...

The only parts of my body that got cold at all were my face and my fingers - but not any colder than on an average day of skying. I took a few short breaks to shake my arms to get the blood back down into my fingers, which are clearly the weakest link. I first sailed in O'Neill 3 mm gloves, but my lower arms got tired too quickly, so I switched to what seems to work best: neoprene gloves with the inside of the fingers cut out, and nylon mitt shells (based on a post by Ron C. on iWindsurf). The combination worked perfectly fine, although I may play around with waterproofing the shells a bit for longer swims.

The cold today did wonders for my jibe success rate. At least at first, most of my jibes were dry. Being on my most-used board-sail combination (Skate 110, Matrix 7.0) helped, but I sure tried harder not to fall. Of course, I did fall a few times, including once where I had to swim back to my board for a couple of minutes. I barely felt the water temperature, though, through my dry suit and several layers of polyester underneath. I may even have been a tad overdressed - most of the time, I was sweating a bit. Not bad for a freezing day!

I'm looking forward to (hopefully) many more days of windsurfing this winter - the wind certainly is great this time of the year, with averages in the 20s or higher about every other day. For all those who might think about joining us on the water, here is a list of what I was wearing today:
  • O'Neill Boost dry suit. Baggy, breathable, affordable (~$420).
  • 7 mm O'Neill boots. Very warm. I also wound a couple of layers of electrical tape around near the top to reduce water entry, which worked very well. About $60.
  • O'Neill 3mm Coldwater Hood, $46. Creates an (almost) watertight seal with the neoprene neck of the dry suit. My head is usually hot, even after falling into the water.
  • Neoprene Gloves (Aleutian) with fingers cut out ($20)
  • Nylon Mitt Shells (made from EMS Mitts by cutting the stuffing out)
  • 2-4 layers underneath. Long sleeve "performance" underwear (Old Navy, Target, $10-$20). T-shirt ($8, Old Navy). Fleece pants ($20, Target, Old Navy, Ocean State Job Lot). 2 Fleece sweaters (LL Bean, Old Navy, $15-25). Everything is 90-100% polyester, which wicks away sweat and stays warm even when wet.
Most of the stuff was from Sailworld Cape Cod, although I had to order some things that Jim did not have at Everything together costs less than a new sail at suggested retail prices, and definitely less than a new board. It will allow you to sail on great days like today, when you have the water pretty much to yourself - no crowds like on late summer days. Hope to see you out there soon!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Low tide at West Dennis

Wednesday gave us a rare SE wind, predicted to be in the upper 20s. For December 1st, the air temperatures were nice, too, in the low 50s (~12 C). West Dennis is one of the best spots for SE winds on the Cape, and low tide was in the early afternoon, so we went there.

On the way to the beach, we stopped at the little restaurant next to Inland Sea for an early lunch. Nina soon discovered that the (kite surfing) waitress was not only from Germany, but had grown up in a town just a few miles from her home town. Small world!

We almost expected to be the only ones on the beach, but a couple of kite surfers were there already, and so was Hardie, already planing on 5.8/84 l. A few minutes later, Dean pulled in, and Jeff and Graham showed up a bit later, despite being short on sails after a Hatteras vacation. We knew that Dean was coming, but had never actually met him - he had signed up as a team member for the Fogland Speedsurfers after reading my invitation on the iWindsurf forum. He turned out to be a really nice guy, who also happened to know a lot more about speedsurfing than I do. With his help, I finally got my KA Koncept 5.8 trimmed right for the first time, which made it a really pleasure to sail.

We ended up sailing for almost 3 hours, with the wind picking up the entire time and reaching averages in the low 30s. I experimented with gloves a bit, trying out Ron C's suggestion to use nylon mitt shells over cutout neoprene gloves. The combo kept my hands really warm, but it felt a bit slippery on the boom, so I later switched to O'Neill gloves. These were warm and stuck nicely to the boom, but made my lower arms a bit tired. Well, the lower arms need training for the upcoming freestyle camp in Bonaire, anyway, so as Coach Ned says, it's all good.

I love speedsurfing even more when it gets colder, since I don't really want to work on new freestyle tricks when falling into the water is no fun anymore. Also, getting of the board to turn around and take short breaks is a highly regarded practice in speedsurfing, which gave my lower arms time to recover. In one of these breaks, Dean suggested that I should bear of 10-15 degrees more during my speed runs. This was somewhat a funny suggestion: I knew that I should to deeper for speed, but since I had not been trying hard to go upwind, I always was just going back and forth at more or less right angles to the wind. Another kind-of-excuse I had was that the water was not exactly flat. Low tide at West Dennis means you can stand several hundred meters out, and I actually could touch the ground every single time I fell - but we still had a bit of chop, and even some waves on the outside. But with Dean's example and prompting, I did go deeper off wind right away. Here is what the initial GPS tracks looked like:

Notice that I got my best speeds going out, against the waves. I was bearing off more - not for speed, but to go to the downwind section in search for flatter water.

After Dean's advice, I went for some speed runs going in, with the waves:

Right away, I increased my top speed by 4 miles, nice! The polar graph indicates that I probably could have gone even faster by bearing off more. I dug up some GPS tracks from "real" speed surfers to check this, here's an example:

The track is from Tom Hammerton, downloaded from the HAM Speed Challenge site. He reached his top speeds at much deeper angles, from 133 to 147 degrees. This is consistent with what other sites say, that top speeds are often at 130 degrees or even further downwind.

When going back through some of my saved GPS sessions, I discovered that I had reached my fastest speeds so far without going deep enough - typically at 100 to 110 degrees. Comparing my tracks with Tom's, it also obvious that I do not go hard enough upwind - the pronouced S-shape is missing. That gives me a couple of things to work on next time :)

Well, Wednesday was another great day of sailing: we had a lot of fun, met old and new friends, and I was faster in chop than ever before. It also showed me quite nicely how little I know about speed surfing technique - Dean easily beat my speed by about 5 mph. I can't blame it on my equipment anymore, either - both the board and sail have been clocked at more than 40 knots, and my 28 cm Select Supersport fin, which work beautifully, should have been faster than Dean's weed fin. Dean did have a larger sail (6.7 m vs. 5.8), but he felt that his sail was too big, and I also think that my sail size was probably more appropriate for the 31 mph averages. Clearly, speedsurfing is not just about the equipment - there's quite a bit of skill involved, too. It was great to have help from Dean to get started on learning some of these. And mostly thanks to his speed, we don't have to worry about being dead last on the GPS Team Challenge ranking for this month :)