Friday, December 9, 2011

Windsurfing as anti-aging medicine

"The Time a Person Spends Windsurfing is not Deducted from their Lifespan..."
This is how noshuzbluz signs all posts on the discussion forum. I am currently in Germany, and have been spending a lot of time in hospitals and other areas where almost everyone you see is old, and this line is constantly popping up in my head.

There is a stark difference between the older persons I see here, and the windsurfers of similar age that I see on the local beaches or in ABK clinics. The picture on the left is from an ABK clinic earlier this year in Bonaire. Two of the windsurfers in the picture kicked my butt on the water - including Stew, the guy in the white shirt, who in in his seventies. When I assembled a little video from the clinic, he was the only one who had a completed 360 captured on video...

Stew is definitely not an exception - I have met many windsurfers in their 60s and 70s that are much better windsurfers than I am. Many of them play and work harder than I do on the water - I think noshuzbluz is onto something.

I read a little about the effects on exercise on aging, and I have come to the conclusion that noshuzbluz statement is probably an understatement - that the time spent windsurfing actually get added to your life span - probably with a significant multiplier. If you don't believe me and think that this is just a justification to sail a lot, do some reading - maybe start with this article from the Harvard Medical School. Plenty of studies have shown that regular exercise reduces the likelihood of all kinds of diseases, from cardiovascular diseases to osteoporosis,  dementia, and cancer. The best exercise regimens include cardio and strength training as well as balance training. If you have ever spent an hour on a windsurf board, you know that windsurfing is just about an ideal mix.

The biggest challenge with any exercise is sticking to it on the long run. Going to a gym is interesting for a little while, but most people stop going regularly after a few months - I have done that many times, with all kinds of different gyms, over the past 20 years. Obviously, windsurfing can be different, and keep you interested for decades. But that's not a given, and I have met plenty of (often former) windsurfers where the stoke has gone away over the years. Below are a few suggestions that may help to keep the stoke alive. They are organized by some of the tips given in the Harvard Medical School article I cited above.
  • Explore a variety of activities. I love the just going back and forth fast, but it does get boring eventually. Most windsurfers spend years getting learning to plane and jibe confidently in difficult conditions. Learning and struggling is part of what makes windsurfing interesting, and stopping to learn new things once you have mastered the jibe (or perhaps the duck jibe) can be the beginning of the end. There's a lot more to learn - just do an ABK clinic, or take some private lessons at a qualified instructor. If there is none where you sail, take a trip to new places, and experience new venues. Or just get a GPS, and learn how to sail faster and longer. Chances are that you'll be sailing at angles and speeds you never sailed at before soon! If you can find some other local sailors with similar interests, even better! Form an informal little club or a team on the GPS Team Challenge site, and multiply your fun!
  • Exercise regularly. If you are lucky enough to live at a spot where you have wind and waves all the time, you're probably doing this already. But for the vast majority of us who do not live on a spot like Maui, this probably means that we need to widen our horizons a bit. Perhaps get a sailable SUP and play in small waves when there is not enough wind to plane, or paddle around marshes and re-discover your inner Tom Sawyer. Learn some light wind freestyle, and there will be no more skunked days! It may seem a bit silly at first, but it can be a lot of fun once you get over the initial hump. Some of my best windsurfing days this year were light wind days - and my year included 123 sessions and 6 1/2 weeks on Maui.
  • Listen to your body. This is perhaps the most important thing as we get older. In your 20s, you can perhaps ignore your pain, because you will recover within a day or two. In your 50s, that's not such a good idea anymore. The two things that helped me the most here are (1) getting great instruction, and (2) long distance windsurfing. Great windsurf teachers like Andy Brandt and Matt Pritchard gave me the necessary technical basis. Going for top one-hour average speeds and maximum distances in a day forced me to recall anything they ever told me, and to listen to small complaints that my body was sending me which I could have easily ignored during shorter sessions. For example, really bending your knees and committing all your weight to the harness are essential to sail a hundred miles a day and get off the water without pain in your knees and hips, and blisters on your hands.
  • Use good equipment. There is nothing wrong with using old equipment that you know exactly how to sail - but if you have not sailed any new equipment recently, you absolutely should! Some of the new boards and sails that I tested during the last year just blew me away. I would have never believed that it's possible to combine speed, agility, and comfort the way that some of the newer shapes do. When I replaced a 10-year old sail that I though of as perfectly fine a couple of years ago with the equivalent new model from the same manufacturer, I was totally amazed by the improvement in performance. Of course, not every new board or sail is perfect for everyone, so try a few different new things. If you are sailing a newer shape or kind of board for the first time, give it some time - you probably will have to adjust your sailing style a bit, but you may end up with a lot more fun. Again, getting some qualified instruction may be a great idea. How about a week at WorldWinds in Texas, or at a Vela center in the Caribbean? 
  • Have more fun. That's the most important advice, and all the other things above are just ways to get there. Try new things, but don't get too serious about anything. Learning new stuff is great, but don't forget how to enjoy just blasting back and forth from time to time, without "working" on something! I am following the speedsurfing scene most closely now, and many of the greatest speedsurfers are also great wave sailors and/or freestylers. Just do what seems most fun at the moment! The more things you know how to do, the more fun you'll have. The best example is our friend Marty, and excellent freestyler, even though he does not get to spend nearly as much time on the water as I do. But when he makes it to the beach, he is always out there having fun, no matter if it's blowing 35 or 5.

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