Saturday, April 23, 2011

Remko + Andy + Jem = Loop?

It's getting warmer, and the ABK Camp in Corpus Christi is just 5 days away, so it's time to start thinking about the forward loop again. During the ABK freestyle camp in Bonaire in January, 4 or 5 of us went for the loop, but none of us succeeded. A typical attempt would be as follows:
  • a couple of bounces/pops where the board would get out of the water nicely (especially during the first bounce)
  • a third bounce where the board would barely leave the water
  • going for the loop by throwing the rig forward-leeward while the board was going back down towards the water
  • the board sticking to the water, and the surfer being pulled out of the straps and catapulted around the board
On the upside, nobody got hurt, and no equipment got damaged - but I could not shake the feeling that something was missing. A nice regular wave might have helped, but everyone who tried had no problems popping/chop hopping the board so that the fin was totally free, so at least one of us should have been able to waterstart out of a try. Still, I had the impression that my limited jumping/popping skills were a problem. So I was quite happy to see Jem Hall's forward loop video: he first focuses on jumping "with your tail up", and then adds a tail grab with the back hand as a loop pre-exercise. Below, I am taking Jem's suggestions, and combine them with parts of Andy Brandt's  and Remko de Weerd's loop lectures. I'll illustrate some points with frames from Jem's video. This is intended for average (or perhaps slow-learning) windsurfers like myself, who have a primary emphasis on not getting injured while learning new tricks like the loop.

Skill 1: tail-up, small-surfer jumps
The picture below shows what needs to be done:
Note that the tail of the board is higher than the nose, and that Jem has made himself very small; in some of the examples on his video, you can see that he almost hits his chin with his back knee. The front leg is more extended, and pushes the nose downwind.

 Skill 1a: tail grab jumps
While jumping, grab the tail of the board with your back hand:
The only way to grab the tail of your board is my really pulling your back leg up and making yourself small. Without a tail grab, you may be much more extended than you think in the air, but if you can grab the tail, you're fine.

Skill 2: Sail steering / falling in a jibe / Wymaroo
This is an exercise for light winds (non-planing conditions). It's "Step 1" in Remko's 4-step approach, and Andy's first crash. Here's Jem doing this:
The idea is to put the mast very far to windward in a pivot jibe, and to fall to the windward side while constantly pushing the board downwind with the mast foot (look at the mast angle above). In Remko's video, he does this going up a wave, so that the nose of the board is in the air. However, at most places, you won't have a wave that comes up against the wind. What Andy has added here is that you kick the tail of the board to lift the nose up; if you do this right, you can turn all the way around, ready to waterstart again. This is a fun and perfectly harmless exercise.

Skill 3: Putting it together
When you put the first two skills together, you should be very close to a loop. Look at Jem at the start of a loop:

Look how far to windward his mast is tilted. His backhand is all the way back on the boom. The mast foot pressure is starting to push the nose of the board downwind.
This is a fraction of a second later. Jem is getting small, and looking back. The board has already turned about 90 degrees downwind, and by now, the pressure in the sail is catapulting him around.
Close to the end of the loop, it looks like Jem is about to land on his back in the water. He's starting to get taller again, and to push the sail up. I'll be perfectly happy when I land on my back on this position the first time!
I find the progression of the how-to-loop lectures very interesting. The oldest suggestions I have seen are "just do it", and that obviously worked for some gifted folks. But it did not work for everyone, and I know several windsurfers who suffered season-ending injuries when trying things this way. Remko's approach tried to minimize the injury risks, and I think it did - but it does not work well without a perfect wave (I know, I broke the nose of my board trying to go from the non-planing to the planing version in flat water). Andy added the tail kick to Remko's version, which definitely helps keeping the boards intact. His current loop lecture got many more timid windsurfers like me to try the loop. Adding the jump exercises from Jem's video should help a few of us to complete the loop. It's also an exercise that's perfectly suited for the video sessions in ABK Camps - the jumps look cool, and some windsurfers may discover that they have to get a lot smaller still. The shallow water and lack of waves at many ABK Camp locations may make completing the first loop a bit harder, but that's no excuse for not trying...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

5.5 in 36 mile winds

Last Sunday was a fun day in Kalmus. The wind was certainly having fun making fools of us: after averages of 25-30 mph all morning long, it dropped below 20 when we arrived at the beach. We waited a bit and then decided to rig bigger, only to be almost blown off the water after the first few runs. Rigged smaller, the wind dropped again. Here's the meter readings from iWindsurf for the day:

Nina was lucky enough to take a break during the 4 pm calm; I practiced schlogging my 82 l board with a 4.2 sail instead. But a bit later, the wind finally picked up for good, and the real fun began. By now, the tide was getting low, and the chop started to be better organized, making chop hops and playing with the waves easy.  A couple of times, I got the feeling of actually sailing through the air during chop hops, a rather nice feeling. The boom cam video from early runs showed that I still was way too tall during my jumps - here's an example (albeit taking from shortly before the landing):
Definitely something I need to work on. Getting small should help in the spin loop attempts, too, something I'll start again soon now that the water is getting warmer.

As we got nearer to low tide at 6 pm, the water got very flat, and it was time to switch to speed runs. The wind kept going up, and my top speed started to creep above 50 kmh (31 mph), which is pretty fast for me. By then, the conditions allowed 600 m long speed runs parallel to the beach in knee- to hip-deep water. I was fully powered on a 4.2, but I decided to see if a larger sail would indeed help me go faster. Since I already had the 5.5 Matrix rigged, I took it for a few runs. It's a very top-end oriented sail, and it did indeed hold up very well in 36 mph average winds, with gusts up to 44 mph. The flat water certainly helped, although the strong onshore winds did whip us some noticeable chop even in the shallows. My averages kept creeping higher, and in a run where I caught a nice gust, my top speed was above 55 kmh - a new record for me. I should have gone for a few more runs to get even faster, but I was starting to get pretty tired. A couple of guys asked me about my sail's size, and apparently doubted my mental sanity when I told them it was 5.5 - I guess that's something a speed surfer has to get used to. I actually did switch back to the 4.2 to see if it would be slower than the 5.5, but got only one run in before my arms started to cramp up, and I decided to call it a day.

While sailing slightly overpowered on the 5.5, I practiced waterstarting in both straps, and got better at it. I usually was fully planing in both straps and the harness within a couple of seconds after starting, which (a) felt great, and (b) made sailing rather effortless. Schlogging the 82 l board definitely was a lot more work! Here are the GPS tracks from the second half of the day:
The first runs in the upper part where bump & jump and a bit of wave play. The last set of runs where the speed runs. For once, my speed run tracks show a pronounced difference in angles, with downwind runs followed by a steep upwind part. During the speed runs, I stayed parallel to the waves at about 115-120º; for top speed, I probably should have gone even deeper (125-140º), aiming towards the beach. Still, seeing that the (non-cambered) sail was perfectly easy to handle on both the downwind and upwind legs in the rather strong wind was a nice confidence booster for the next time. The one problem I did have a few times were spinouts. I used the "Carve" 27 cm fin that came with the board, and a weed or speed fin might have worked better. Next time we go to Kalmus during low tide, I'll also make sure to bring my F2 Missile - Kalmus at low tide (and outside of the summer season) is an excellent playground for little speed toys.

Here's a short boom cam video from the first session of the day:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Duxbury in ESE

Some of my best flatwater sessions were in Duxbury during easterly winds. Typically, windspeeds were about 5 mph above the forecast, so when the forecast for today called for ESE in the low 20s, I was hopeful. Dean, the fastest of the Fogland Speed Surfers, just got a new Falcon 111, and the forecast for Avon also looked good, so I was hoping to get some nice speed runs.

When we decided where to go this morning, the wind was better and more steady in Duxbury than on Cape Cod, so it was an easy choice. When we got to Duxbury, we were greeted with white caps and gently rolling chop. With my KA Koncept still waiting for a new batten, I rigged my 7.0 Matrix, which handled 30 mph winds with ease. That also meant I had to take my Skate 110, since my 82 l board does not work well with such a large sail. Not ideal for speed, but I was hoping for some nice flat water at the far side. Windsurfers have to be optimistic ... here's the GPS tracks for the day:
The map is shown so that the wind was coming from the top. So the angle between the sand bar on the left and the wind was steeper than I expected, meaning too much chop for good speed. I tacked up about 2.5 km, but did not find the chitter-chatter flat water I had hoped for. Instead, the further I got up towards the top-left, the less friendly the chop became: at the end, there were steep, maybe one foot high wind-waves, separated by less than 10 feet. On the wide freestyle board, that was just a bit too harsh for speed runs. Indeed, I got my best speed in the middle of the bay, where the wind-driven waves were higher, but further apart, and large enough to have some fun with (although the Skate showed that it was clearly not made for wave play).

The tracks also show that the angle to the wind while tacking was very poor, and got worse the higher up I had tacked. The reason is simple: trying to sail upwind in one direction (to the right), I was hitting the chop at almost a right angle. That would have been a blast for jumping, but when trying to keep the board on the water to make speed upwind, it was no fun at all, so I reduced the angle until I could have some fun. Eventually, I gave up on my quest for flat water, and had a couple of fun downwind runs back to the car. By then, the tide was getting low, and Nina had already stopped sailing an hour earlier after she discovered a small rip in her favorite sail, so I called it a day. The only halfway decent speed I got was a 21.46 knots nautical mile on the way back.

So - what had gone wrong? I went back to my sessions database and looked up the previous sessions that I had remembered as east wind sessions in Duxbury, in particular the one where Gonzalo had kicked my butt on his Fanatic Ray and North race sail. In that session, my mile and hour averages had been higher than today, even though the wind was a few miles lower. However, the wind direction was ENE, not E, as I remembered. Even a pure east wind (90º) should have given some nice flat water, but the 110º ESE wind we had today created bump & jump conditions rather than speed slicks. Well, next time I'll know, use a smaller sail, and have a different kind of fun. 
After we got back home, I noticed that the wind in West Dennis had picked up in the afternoon, with 35 mph averages and 42 mph gusts between 4 and 6:30 pm. Low tide was at 5 pm, and it was -0.3 ft, meaning really flat water. Looks like I missed a great opportunity to try the new (to me) GPS 5.0 sail...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fishing line crash

Here is a short video from my least favorite moments at the Windsurfing Magazine Board Test in Avon, NC last week:

A fisherman had set up nets right in front of the houses where the test took place. The lines were very poorly marked, and almost impossible to see when sailing (the still picture at the beginning of the video is from 2 seconds before I hit the line).

During the first two hours of sailing, at least 4 of the 6 windsurfers on the water hit the line and ended up being catapulted. Most of these guys are way better windsurfers than I am, so this clearly was not a skill issue. The fact that we had to sail straight fins, many of them about 50 cm long, certainly contributed to the damage - the few lucky guys with weed fins went over the nets without more than a bit of a slowdown.

Before Josh, Greg, and I marked the end of the lines with helium balloons that Josh had bought, I saw one dinged board, a bent boom, and my ruined Neil Pryde V8 sail as casualties from the fishing line. The sail could be repaired, but the cost would be more than $200 since 4 panels and the mast sleeve are affected; the sail repair expert I talked to seemed doubtful that it would be worth repairing.
Enough of the negative. Despite the carnage (which also included a broken batten in my KA Koncept, although that probably was due to lack of sailing skills), the board test week was great. We had the opportunity to test about 30 boards in the 100-155 liter range, and I got in at least one session on most of these boards. Here are a few of my take-home lessons:
  1. If you get a chance, try some new boards! Many of the boards in the test really surprised me - many positively, a few negatively. Some boards that I had read great things about really did not work for me; several boards I could not get off fast enough. At the same time, some of these boards were loved by other windsurfers. One slalom board in particular, which I thought of as a board for big and powerful sailors, was well-liked to much-praised by several lighter sailors.
  2. Don't judge a brand by one or two boards. Most manufacturers had sent about 3 boards to the test. But for only one brand (Fanatic) did I like or love all the boards I tested. For most other manufacturers, I loved one or two of the boards, and disliked one or two other boards. I could absolutely not predict which boards I would like or dislike on the water.
  3. Bigger and longer boards can be a lot of fun. One of the boards that I had the most fun on was the F2 Xantos 140. At 263 cm long and 71 cm wide, it's longer and narrower than a lot of the modern boards, some of which were barely 220 cm long and 80+ cm wide. But the longer, narrower shape behaved really well in the chop, and made getting onto a plane really easy. Many of the "modern" wide shapes have only two gears - really slow and fully planing. The Xantos seemed to have intermediate gears, and was willing to go at any speed I liked. Going back a bit further meant a bit more speed, while remaining fully balanced and enjoyable. I think this is a great board for anyone who wants to learn getting into the foot straps, but then keep enjoying the board for years afterwards. Another great board with similar characteristics was the Angulo Kihei 155. This one behaved like a much smaller board in the chop, making little wave rides as effortless as a much smaller board.
  4. Match the board brand to the sailing conditions. This is perhaps overstating things a bit, but just a bit. Two of the most comfortable and controllable boards in the test were the Angulo and Quattro 110 l freeride boards. Even in 35 mph winds, they ate the chop as if it was not there, and were a lot of fun to ride. This really reminded me at the conditions on Maui last year, where I found the chop quite challenging on 85 l JP FSW boards. I have the feeling things would have been a lot easier on Angulo or Quattro boards, and will certainly try those during my trip to Maui later this year. Along the same lines, I thought the Naish Grand Prix 128 was the slalom board that was most comfortable to ride in the chop, and the one that was most suitable to playing with waves. It was also the one that was easiest to pump up onto a plane - one or two small leg pushs, and off it went. Nice!
  5. Footstrap anti-twist locks are really important. Towards the end of the second board test week, a lot of boards had foot straps that were all twisted up. I sailed a couple of boards where the straps had gotten much worse from the beginning to the end of the week. Some of these straps seemed to have no anti-lock system in place, others had the anti-locks installed incorrectly (upside down). Sailing the boards with twisted foot straps was a lot less fun! Nobody took the time to get a screw driver to fix the straps, and that was not an option when we changed boards on the water, as we usually did, anyway. I heard a number of testers complain about foot strap towards the end of the test, and I am sure that some boards got worse reviews from at least some testers because of inadequate or missing anti-twist systems. This seems to be a really easy way for manufacturers to improve the ranking in board tests! It won't help the total "dogs", but there were very few of those in the test.
  6. Hatteras in early spring is great. Considering that just about every East Coast windsurfer I know is going down to Hatteras in April, I may just be the last person to discover this. Oh well - Man wird alt wie eine Kuh und lernt immer noch dazu!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Getting started with GPS surfing

At the recent Windsurfing Magazine board test in Hatteras, several testers expressed interest in using a GPS while sailing, so here is a short guide to get started.

1. Get a GPS
You'll need a waterproof GPS to track your speed. The best GPS for windsurfing is the Locosys Genie GT-31. You may be able to save a few dollars by using a different model, but the GT-31 has the best battery life, supports a SD card for saving years of GPS data and easy transfer to computers for analysis, and has the best accuracy. It's the recommended device on both and the GPS Team Challenge (see below). You can get it from the Midwest Speed Quest web site,, and

2. Get a waterproof arm band
While the GT-31 and other GPS units are waterproof, they will not live through many windsurfing crashes, so you need to get a waterproof armband to put them in. The Aquapac large armband 212 works well. Available from the Midwest Speed Quest web site and
3. Prepare your GPS
If you bought your GPS unit with the arm band and the memory card from the Midwest Speed Quest web site, you should be all set to go. Otherwise, you should update your firmware, and change a few settings by following the instructions at

4. Get analysis software
There are several programs out there to analyze your data. I happen to use GPS Action Replay Pro, which works on Mac OS X and Windows. It's free to try for 60 days, a license costs about $40. The images I show below are from GPS Action Replay Pro. Several web sites mentioned earlier and below also have links to other analysis software.

Now you're ready to go sailing! After sailing, simple remove the card from the GT-31, put it into a card reader, and transfer the file(s) for the day onto your computer. Open the file in the analysis software and analyze! I'll give some examples in a minute.

5. Join and/or the GPS Team Challenge
Check out, a web site where you can join for free and post your sessions to compare them with thousands of other speed surfers from all over the world. Even if you're not aiming to be on the top of the rankings, it's a very useful site to track your sessions and results.

If you have a few buddies who are also into speed surfing in your area, why not form a team on the GPS Team Challenge and compete with teams from all over the world? Teams compete in 5 disciplines: 2 second top speed, 5 x 10 second averages, nautical mile, 1 hour, total distance, and alpha. "Alpha" is 500 m run with a jibe in the middle, and the ends of the run have to be close together (so you can't just go downwind - jibe - downwind). A team can have as many members, but only the best two results in each discipline on a given day count. That's a great system, because it does not hurt your scores to have slower members on your team. If you live in an areas that already has a speed team, you can consider just joining an existing team. Currently, there are only two active teams in the US: the "Fogland Speed Surfers" in the Rhode Island-Cape Code area, and "The Speedsters" in the South West.


Now to some examples of what you can do with GPS data. I will be using a data that Billy generated during the board test when he used a GPS unit for the first time. He was out on a Fanatic Falcon 111 with a Severne 6.3 m sail in 20-25 mph winds in Avon, Cape Hatteras. Here's a screen shot of his tracks:

The top shows where he sailed, with the speed (in mph) encoded by color. His top speed was close to 30 mph, very nice for the chop we had in the sailing area. The lower track shows his speed; the dips in the speed are jibes. You can see that almost all of Billy's jibes where dry, and that he carried considerable speed through his jibes (more than 10 mph for most of them, that's a fully planing jibe). The software makes it easy to zoom in on a particular jibe:

Here's a screen shot of the "Jibe analysis" in GPS Action Replay, sorted by minimum speed:

If you're working on your jibes, you can use the minimum speed and the "Score" as objective measures of how well you did.

Another function you'll use a lot is the speed analysis - here's an example:

As I said, this was Billy's first sailing with a GPS unit. His tracks were pretty much just going back and forth at a right angle to the wind. For top speed, however, it's necessary to go on a deep downwind course, which in turn requires some steeper upwind courses to get back. Here's an example of GPS tracks from the Maui speed challenge:

The top speeds of above 40 mph in these runs where all reached at angles above 130 degrees to the wind, and the tracks have a characteristic S-shape. You can also see that the speed runs were parallel to the dominant wave direction in Kanaha. The best speeds are possible if you have perfectly flat water, for example right behind sand banks or in offshore winds. I find 43 mph in Kanaha extremely impressive...
So much for today. Get a GPS unit and join the fun! You'll probably find that you'll be sailing at angles that you rarely sailed at when just blasting back and forth, and might just find a new way to increase your fun on the water.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Windsurfing Magazine Board Test

We have been in Avon, NC at the Windsurfing Magazine Board Test for the last two days. On Sunday, we arrived early and got a couple of hours of good wind to test a few boards. Yesterday, the wind was in the 30 knot range - a bit too much to test boards here, which are 100 l and bigger.

Since I like speed surfing, I have been thinking about buying a slalom board, so the opportunity to try some slalom boards here was one of the things that drew me here. I got a chance to test two slalom boards from the leading brands which were similar in size, but rather different in style (until the end of the board test, I won't be able to mention which exact boards I tested).

The difference in these two slalom boards is just amazing. I sailed one in 7.0 conditions that I usually like more, the other one overpowered with a 5.8 cambered race sail. Both boards have a reputation of being very technical to sail, so hoping to have a lot of fun on them in the first 20 minute test drive is perhaps too optimistic. Both boards felt very fast, even though I was not anywhere close to tapping into their full speed. The first board would require quite a lot of adjustment in my sailing style. I'm really glad I tested it, because it now seems very unlikely that I'll buy it anytime in the near future. I sailed the second board under conditions where racing pros might have used this board and the 5.8 sail I was using - but for me, a 20 liter smaller board and a 5.0 sail would have been plenty. But while I could never gain enough control for good speed runs, I was much more comfortable on this board. I am looking forward to testing both boards, as well as the other slalom boards here, in the next few days. Hopefully, the fun factor will increase with a bit more practice.

I also tested several free ride boards, some oriented towards speed, at least on towards control in harsh conditions. The last board was a very pleasant surprise - it's from a brand I had never sailed before. Despite being about 20-25 l bigger than what I would have usually picked, it was extremely comfortable, controllable, and fun. It pays for this with reduced top speed, but for fully powered conditions in not-so-flat water, I'll gladly take this trade off. Other testers here brought smaller versions of the board as their private boards, and confirmed that the brand is well known for control and comfort.

One thing I learned is that the board test is not all fun - you will be sailing boards that you don't like at all. These boards will not be the same for all testers; I have traded test boards on the water where the previous tester seemed very glad to get a different board, but I had a great time on the board.

The wind meter reading yesterday reached 30 mph averages, but it seems that the meter understates the true wind on the water. At one point, I was planing on Nina's 76 l wave board with a 3.7 m sail that was trimmed really flat - I almost never get to sail on gear this small. I did not get to sail it for long yesterday, either, since Nina came and claimed her gear. Like most other testers, I did not have any desire to sail the bigger test boards under these conditions, so I took out my 62 l F2 Missile with a 5.0 North Ice sail. This combo worked extremely well and was a lot of fun. The chop and swell outside was sizeable (at least for Hatteras standards), but the narrow speed board and the 26 cm week fin I used handled it very well. Going upwind was a dream, I was able to point the Missile higher than I could ever dream of on most other boards. Unfortunately, I don't get to practice much on this board, so I am still struggling to get it started. In the 5 mm boots I used, getting into the back footstrap once planing was pretty much impossible, so I had to start with both feet in the straps. Out in the chop, this ended up being almost too much for me when the wind picked up a bit more. On my last run in, getting started again took forever, and I eventually sailed in with the back foot out of the strap. That worked fine, but it was amazing how much more work this was for the back leg. Still, this was a lot of fun, and I am looking forward to getting more Missile practice soon. For 5.8 days, though, I'll have to replace the top batten on the KA Koncept first, which broke - perhaps during one of my more violent catapults on the slalom gear.

The best runs of the day where on a test board from a brand that so far I have only had positive experiences with. It is one of the smallest boards in test, but still bigger than what I'd usually have chosen for the conditions. I first tried going out on a 3.7, but the wind took a little break, forcing me to walk back. As soon as I reached the shore, it picked up again, but I still switched to the 5.0. With that, I was slightly overpowered, but the board handled it just beautifully. I had the feeling I just needed to think what the board should do, and it happened all by itself. Stick to the water - done. Jump - and there we go. Play with the waves - no problem. Really amazing for a board this size, it felt a lot smaller, except when I wanted a bit more volume. I came off the water with a big grin on my face that did not fade for a long time.

The forecast for today was a bit crazy and included a Tornado warning, which made us de-rig everything last night. A few brave surfers went out this morning in winds that were even stronger then yesterday, and seemed a lot gustier. Nina and I took a break, after sleeping in a bit. That turned out to be a good choice - by the time we would have rigged and made it out, the thunderstorms had arrived. They have now passed through, though, and it's looking great out there - maybe it's time for some more fun before the wind turns and dies down.