Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Light wind freestyle on small boards for ... speed and planing jibes!

Nina and I attended the ABK Clinic on Cape Cod last weekend. It was a great clinic - we learned lots of new things, met old friends, and made new friends. The weather was almost perfect - sunny, with air and water temperatures in the low 70s. Warm enough to be comfortable, cold enough so we could wear long wet suits to reduce scrapes and bruises from climbing back onto the boards. And that we did a lot - except for the morning of the first day, we had light wind for the entire camp.

I had discussed here before what finally convinced me to practice light wind freestyle on my 110 l Skate, instead of big monster boards: the amazing progress I had seen others make within a year. This time, my Skate initially felt big, after spending most of the summer on a 77 l board. But when the wind dropped and it was time to practice heli tacks, upwind 360s, pile drivers, and their various fin-first and clew-first variations, the board got small again very quickly. It took me a few hours of practice before I could do the tricks I had done last year - but then, I had not practiced any light wind freestyle for months. But the board grew on me again, and I did a few tricks I had never done before - nice! Not surprisingly, Nina picked up a few more tricks than I did, and can now do a few variations that I can't. That was just of time, anyway..

We stayed an extra day on Monday, since the forecast promised planing winds, and I really wanted to work on the spin loop. Alas, the wind remained light again - so Nina and I practiced  sail chi. We eventually got the ducking for switch duck jibes and duck tacks on land, definitely progress (which, however, did not translate to the water, which was a bit choppy for my taste).

As Andy has correctly predicted, we went sailing again today. One reason was that the forecast and the early wind readings looks good; a second reason was that I needed to get away from work after having to deal with a rather saddening task this morning. We decided to go to Fogland because the drive is shorter, and the wind readings there looked better when we left.

When we got there, the wind had just picked up, and we could see some white caps in the bay. Nina was excited to try Vulcans, switch planing, and Flakas, but I just wanted some speed. So I cut the chatting with Fred and Sue short, and went out on my Warp 118 l and Matrix 7.0. Then, something pretty amazing happened:
If you look at the speed graph at the bottom, you can see that I planed through my first 7 jibes - I don't think I have ever planed through 7 jibes in a row before. On a regular day, I'd be perfectly happy with 7 dry jibes in a row! The conditions were quite nice, with flat water near low tide, but the winds were not so strong that planing through jibes was trivial: according to the iWindsurf sensors, wind averages during the runs were 17 mph, and gusts 21 mph. I think the meter readings may have been a couple of miles low - but I'm still very happy with the top speed I got on the one downwind speed run I did. On a "normal" good day in Fogland, I typically get speeds that are maybe 30% faster than the wind speed. This is the first time I got a speed that was 50% faster - cool!

I stopped after a few runs to talk to Fred (that's the other Fred), who had just arrived. By the time he left, the wind was going down, and the rest of the day was a mix of schlogging and mostly marginal planing, with a little basic light wind freestyle mixed in.

Still, these first 10 minutes today were just fantastic. I have no doubt whatsoever that the 2 days of light wind freestyle practice were responsible. The Skate 110 for me is an "almost sinker" - I really have to watch where I put my feet and weight to not drive the board completely under water. Working on tricks like upwind and downwind 360s in light wind for hours has hugely improved my feeling for the board trim and my sail handling. That has paid off big time in better jibes and better top speed for the given conditions. Did I mention that I was pretty amazed about todays top speed for the relatively low wind? I just could not wait to get home and plug the data into the computer to make sure they were no artifact.

One thing that amazes me is how fast and dramatic these improvements were. In total, I probably spent less than 8 hours practicing light wind freestyle last weekend. During our 6 weeks in Maui, were I sailed 37 days and perhaps 2 hours each day on average, I was constantly working on more control and better speed, but my overall gains there were maybe similar. I probably should have taken a lot more time to work on freestyle, and in particular light wind freestyle, there!

So, next time you have the opportunity join an ABK Clinic, stop worrying about the wind and sign up already! You'll definitely learn a lot of new stuff, and maybe some light wind freestyle is exactly what you need to get faster and better at your jibes.

So, once again, thanks to Andy, Brendon, Ed, and Meredith for a super clinic, and for working their obscure, but highly effective magic to create better windsurfers.


  1. Cool, man! I really need to do one of those ABK clinics. I've been of the mind that freestyle is "not my thing," but I think I could get into it especially if it will help with my overall sailing. It is amazing sometimes how a little bit of instruction and deliberate practice can put you leaps ahead of where you would get by just fiddling around in your usual way.

    PS- What fins are you using on the Warp SL 71 now?

    PPS- Big congrats to Nina on her successes!

  2. James, you should definitely come to an ABK clinic. It's always fun, and sailing afterwards is more fun, too.

    For the session, the fin I used was a Select Weed Eliminator L. No weeds, but low tide, so I did not want to use the longer Tectonic you had sold me with the board. I still use the Tectonic when it's really marginal, or when I use my 8.5 sail. When I'm fully powered on 7.0, I also use a Makani Auku 36. I have not hit the top end on any of these fins yet...