Tuesday, February 15, 2011

GoPro LCD BacPac

GoPro has recently released the LCD screen (the "LCD BacPac") for the GoPro Hero HD camera. I just got mine, and played around with it a bit. Using it required a firmware update, which was very easy. No surprises anywhere: the screen looks good, usage is as simple as using the GoPro in general. One nice feature us that the LCD screen now gives explanations when you want to change the settings, so you don't have to remember all the 3-letter codes. The cost of $79 is very reasonable. It comes with 4 backdoors for the housing - waterproof and non-waterproof versions for the normal mount and the wrist mount. Swapping the back doors is easy and takes less than a minute.

The LCD screen should greatly increase the usefulness of the GoPro for learning new tricks, since you'll be able to review movies right after taking them. Just mount the camera to the boom, try the trick, and check the movie to see what you did right and wrong. It's almost like having a boom-mounted Andy Brandt - I can't wait to try it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The end is near!

We went windsurfing at West Dennis today, and had a blast. The wind was not as great as forecast, but good enough to get planing on a 7.0 at first, and later on a 5.5 (albeit slightly underpowered). But the best part were the air temperatures which reached the low 40s (maybe 7 C). With some sun every now and then, it felt downright balmy and allowed us to go "light" on the cold weather gear: fewer layers under the dry suit, open-palm gloves or mitts, and light caps instead of the restrictive full hoods. Nice!

The best part was being able to sail without heavy gloves or mittens. I started out with cut-out gloves and mitt shells, but dropped the shells later. Nina switched from Dakine cold weather mittens to bare hands and later open-palm mitts. It's amazing how much easier things got! My fingers got cold a bit at the end, but that's mainly because I started screwing up my jibes, and the water temperatures are still close to 0 C (32 F). But still, a great day. The weather forecast for this week has a lot more warm days, so the water should start to warm up soon, too. Rejoice, the end of winter is near!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cold, hard fun

We went ice surfing today - a first for both of us. But with Dean and Jeff setting world records and posting great videos, we just had to try it. Dean had kindly offered to let us use one of his ice surfers, and gave us a brief introduction what we should do. But when he explained that the orange flags indicated big holes in the ice, and pointed to the large areas in lake that were not frozen, I started to get just a bit nervous. So when I went out for a trial run and thought the board was shaking and vibrating, he pointed out that it was not the board, but rather my legs...

The first run was very interesting. Picking up speed in the gusty winds was almost too easy, but turning and stopping the board was quite a challenge compared to a freestyle board on (non-frozen) water. My first tack attempts ended in dead stops, which was just fine. The first jibe attempt looked a lot like a typical beginner attempt on water: ok entry, but then going downwind forever... until eventually I hit the emergency break by throwing myself down onto the ice. That was a smart move: I discovered that, yes, the ice was hard, but falling did not really hurt much, so why be afraid? Still, the first session was very short and exhausting. Nina's first session looked similar, with slightly different falls. But after a couple of more tries, things got easier, and we actually managed to (sometimes) turn around without falling or stopping. The wind was quite gusty, and in the strong gusts, even the 4.2 m sail felt a bit big. It did not help that the sail was a cambered race sail, and depowering it was therefore rather difficult. But depowering is the wrong idea, anyway - Dean and Jeff were having fun doing 45+ knot runs. I barely made it above 45 kmh - but that's still about as fast as my best speed during the recent week in Bonaire.

This was a very memorable day - a thousand thanks to Dean for giving us an opportunity to try this. The ice sailing season is almost over, but we'll sure try again next year. Tomorrow should be warm and windy for a nice day of windsurfing in West Dennis.

Here's a short video from today:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Warm but clumsy

Much to my own surprise, I went windsurfing in Cape Cod yesterday. It's been just a little more than a week since I was in the tropical waters of Bonaire, and the snow in my backyard is still 20 inches thick. I thought it would take me a few weeks to get used to the cold weather again; but having to spend a day outside to remove snow and ice from the roof probably helped. So when young Graham posted that he'd go, I decided to join him. It helped that Jerry posted a picture showing that there was almost no snow on the ground on Cape Cod, and that the forecast called for sun and "balmy" 40 degrees Fahrenheit (that's about 5 C).

Original plans had called for Hardings beach, but when the wind turned from W to NW just like the forecast had predicted, Skaket seemed like a better choice. When I got there, Jerry and Peter were rigging 4.7s already. The wind was going down quickly, however, and they mostly schlogged when out on the water. Since they are both much better surfers than I am, and also a lot lighter, I decided to rig my 7.0 instead of trying to plane on the 5.5 that I had rigged.

With water temperatures near 0 C, I decided to dress "extra warm", with neoprene socks inside my 7 mm booties and reusable hand warmers inside the Dakine mittens. All the rigging and dressing took a while, and when I finally got out, the wind had died down to definitely not planeable. I tried for a while, but ended up not having enough wind for water starts. My fingers and feet stayed nice and warm the whole time, but I felt a bit like a deep see diver or astronaut in full gear. Holding on and staying balanced was a big challenge. My arms, which had never gotten sore when sailing for 4 or 5 hours a day in Bonaire, got tired pretty quickly. So I ended up doing more walking than actual sailing - but hey, at least I was warm the entire time.

Even though I did not plane at all, and all the cold weather gear killed any ideas of light-wind playing, it still felt great to be out. Just knowing that windsurfing in Cape Cod at the beginning of February without getting cold feels great. Who knows how much fun I would have had if the wind had been a bit better :)


Having "one of those days" yesterday where I felt like a complete ... on the board made me think about the ABK Freestyle Clinic. It was really helpful to meet a whole bunch of guys who are a lot better windsurfers than I am, to see them work on the water, and to hear how long they have been at this game. This was the 7th ABK camp for me, but Bob, the best surfer in the class, has been going to ABK camps for about 10 years, and tries to go to five camps a year. In my first two ABK camps, I left with the feeling that I had learned a lot: planing through my jibes, backwind sailing, heli tacks, fall jibes, and more. Some of these things (like planing through jibes) I had been working on for years, with limited success.

But in the later camps, my learning progress seemed to slow down quite a bit. Sometimes, I'd work on a trick for most of the day, perhaps getting close, and switch to a new trick the next day, with similar results (for example because the wind went up or down). Worst of all, if I went to new places like Maui where the conditions were very different from what I was used to, I sometimes felt like a total beginner.

But the last camp was an eye opener in many ways. Playing with the fall/jump jibe showed me how close you can be to completing a trick, even if it does not feel that way: Andy just had to make one little suggestion, and I got a bunch of them in a row. For the more difficult and sometimes frustrating tricks, it helped a lot to see better surfers try and fall again and again. Some of these guys I have known for a year or two now, and I am often amazed how much better they have gotten in this time. One example is Priscilla, whom I met for the first time this year. But I had a chance to look at the camp videos of her from last year and from this year, and the improvement is very dramatic. Other examples include Greg, Anthony, and Marty. The common denominator: constantly trying, constantly falling :)

I have to admit that I still have a strong tendency to be lazy, and to just blast back & forth. With a GPS on my arm, I even have the excuse to be working on speed, which is not nearly as trivial as I thought at first. However, one marginal day in Bonaire showed the limits of the BAFing. At first, I tried to plane using bigger sails and fins, with limited success and limited fun. When I switched to light-wind mode and working on difficult light wind tricks, I ended up falling a lot more, but I had at least 10 times more fun.

Another thing that is creeping up on me is the idea that I am starting to understand some of the "basics". When studying Karate, my teacher insisted that good basics are way more important than fancy antics; looking at the success of his students, I have to agree. In windsurfing, I have not heard anyone talk about "basics" the same way, but the principle still applies: there are a few simple movements and principles that you should understand and know how to do well. Then, fancier moves will fall into place almost automatically. One example is the heli tack. Andy does not really teach the heli tack much; instead, he focuses on learning to sail backwinded and clew first. If you can do that, the only other thing to learn is one-handed (neutral) sail movements and "avoiding the bull's horns", and the heli tack is there. Now, I am starting to see similar common elements in moves like push tacks, pile drivers, and duck tacks.

The bottom line: sailing outside your comfort zone and trying new things is what will make you a better sailing. If you look like a fool on any given day, so what? It will all pay off in the long run with more fun. Just enjoy the day, and get some good instruction every now and then.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sorobon Beach Resort

During our recent Bonaire trip, we stayed at the Sorobon Beach Resort for the first time. The Sorobon is right next to the windsurf places on Lac Bay, and had just recently been converted from a "naturalist" (nude) to a regular hotel. Here are some pictures:

The picture above is a view from the little pier, which is shown in the picture below.

Jibe City and the Bonaire Windsurf Place are right next to the Sorobon.

Overall, we loved our stay at the Sorobon. It was nice not needing a car, and just being able to walk over to the hotel during lunch breaks and in the evenings. We had breakfast in the Sorobon every day, and dinner twice. The breakfast was fine - more European than American, although they did have scrambled and cooked eggs. The dinner was good, although not as good as at some places in town, and more expensive than some of the in-town places.

The one bedroom apartment was fine. Each apartment is one half of a bungalow, with a decent sized living room, small bedroom, and bath. Water pressure was great, and we always had hot water (which has not been the case in other hotels we stayed at). The room had A/C, which we never used - we just left the windows open. Our room was close to the ocean, and the steady breeze kept things cool, and mosquitos away. That's a big plus compare to other places, where we often got up in the middle of the night to hunt mosquitos.

The one draw back of the Sorobon is that it's more expensive than many other places (the current weekly list price for a condo is $1350, plus $76 pp is you want breakfast). We had actually booked at an even higher price, but they were nice enough to give us their sale price that they had for January ($99/night) when we asked. A studio at the Kontiki, which is probably a bit larger than the apartments at the Sorobon, costs about $600 less for a week (2 windsurfers), even after including a rental car.

The people working at the Sorobon were all very nice and helpful - a real pleasure to deal with. The beach is also nice, and we saw a lot of families with young kids. For windsurfers who want to bring their non-windsurfing family, the Sorobon is a great choise. We'll definitely think about going back to the Sorobon next year.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

ABK Camp Bonaire video

We were at the ABK Freestyle Camp in Bonaire last week, and had a lot of fun. This was the first time we went to a freestyle camp; our other camps had been regular camps. The difference is that the overall level of skills is higher - no beginners, but a lot of windsurfers who work on advanced moves like Donkey jibes and Vulcans. Here is a video with clips from the camp, and statements from 4 campers:

Great camp. The wind was better than in our previous camps in March. I was planing every day, with only two light wind afternoons in 7 days, and just one day where I used a sail larger than 6.5. Some of the things I worked on:
  • Loop crashes. Just one day, when the wind was strong enough to be fully powered on a 5.6. I think we had about 7 campers trying loop crashes, many for the first time. Noone got hurt, no equipment got damaged - so this part of Andy's approach definitely works well. However, I have not gotten to the point where I am in the air and the tail is fully out of the water, with the nose pointing down. Something always throws my timing off when I go for a loop crash. Maybe some bigger waves and more practice would help - we pretty much practiced the flat-water version.
  • Backwinded jibes (planing). I managed to get to the other side with the board fully planing, but I did not (yet) figure out to carve downwind from the backwinded position. Fun crashes, though :)
  • Duck tacks (non-planing). I had a lot of fun working on duck tacks on the first light-wind afternoon. I used a big board so I could concentrate on sail handling, and managed to throw and catch the sail properly maybe 5 times, including 2 successful complete tacks. Really not so easy pushing the sail into the wind neutrally from the boom end, but the fun part is that you can make all kind of fun other tricks if the sail goes somewhere else - switch stance duck jibes, behind-the-back sail 360s, and sail-body 360s. A lot more fun than trying to plane in marginal conditions.
  • Push tacks (non-planing). If you're spending a lot of time sailing switch stance, anyway, the push tack is a logical thing to do. Funny thing was that I did ok as long as I just concentrated on the sail and foot pressure, without even thinking what exactly I was going for. As soon as Andy pointed out that it was a push tack, and I started thinking, I also started falling. Sometimes, the brain just gets in the way.
The board I was using most of the time was a JP Freestyle 107. It's a nice board, but I hard a hard time planing through my jibes on it, even on the windier days. Looking at the GPS records confirmed that the Fanatic Skate carves a lot better: my best minimum speed in a jibe on the JP was about 6.8 knots; on the Skate, I can often get minimum speeds of 9 or 10 knots. The Skate also has been about 10% faster under similar conditions, although that may be partially due to fin differences.

On a couple of windy days, I also took out a JP Supersport. However, they were seriously underfinned, and gave me lots of spinout problems. Some of the smaller freeride boards had much longer fins that the Supersports. I later discovered that the Supersport with the best fin was the 100l board; but by then, I had already switched to the freestyle boards, which were just way more fun to sail.

Of the sails I tried there, I loved (again) the Gaastra Pilots. They have a very large range if you adjust the outhaul, and are just easy to sail. I heard a story that a Gaastra-sponsored team sailor liked the Pilots so much that he wanted to use them in competition, but was not allowed to, since that's Gaastra's low-end sail.

I also sailed an NP Combat (ok, no surprise) and an NP Fusion, which I hated. Of the Ezzy sails I used, I like the 7.5 Freeride, but hated the 7.5 Infinity, which just seemed extremely heavy (but then, it did not help that the water level was very low when I tried it, and I did not have a chance to plane even with the 7.5).

Compared to the last 2 years, the gear at Jibe City has gotten a lot better. I saw exactly one boom with torn wrapping, and I think it was replaced while I was there. It's easy to see that the place is now managed by a windsurfer. There were lots of positive changes, and this trend will certainly continue. I'm already looking forward to my next Bonaire trip.