Saturday, August 18, 2012

How to make everyone happy or: why you should blog

If you are reading this, chances are at least 10:1 that you are a windsurfer. Chances are also at least that high that you do not blog about windsurfing, thereby depriving me and countless other windsurfers of much-needed reading material on windless days. So let me briefly explain why you should blog about your windsurfing:
  1. To make yourself happy. Ok, I assume you live at a place where you cannot windsurf every day.  Blogging about windsurfing on those other days will make you happier, because you will be writing about something that makes you happy. It's that simple. As for the days were you were not quite happy with your windsurfing, read on to point 3 below.
  2. Make others happy. Do I really need to explain this? There are plenty of windsurfers our there who love to read about windsurfing, but there is not really that much new stuff written about windsurfing on a regular basis. More blogs will give all us us more to read! Yes, some blogs are more interesting than others, but different people have different tastes. I absolutely love speedsurfing blogs and can't wait for the next post by Martin Ogier or Anders Bjorkqvist, but often I'm happy just reading how wind and waves were at a different spot on the planet.
  3. Get help and make everyone happy. How if you could ask some of the best windsurfers in your country for help to improve your windsurfing, and they'd be happy to give you tips? Well, that's kind of what I did in my last blog entry, and I got three very helpful responses. Most windsurfers are happy to help others with tips; I'm certainly happy for the help I received; and some of my readers may find something useful in my discussion about this below. 
Maybe this sounds goofy, but I'm dead serious. Start blogging and tell us about your windsurfing! Then, send me a link to your blog so I can add your blog to the list of "Other blogs". And do not worry that you may not be the greatest writer in the world - this is not a literary competition, and nobody is forced to read what you write!
But now to the topic of the day: jibing. I had explained in my last post that my jibing has gotten worse recently. Within a few days, I got some high-caliber feedback which I will discuss in a minute. But let me start with the results: during a very nice session yesterday where I played around with the various suggestions, I made some definite progress. Three jibes had higher minimum speeds than any of the jibes in the last couple of sessions, including one that was really quite decent. This despite the fact that I fell a lot more than usual during my jibes! My "poor" jibes in the previous sessions were almost all dry, but yesterday, my "wet rate" was probably above 50%. This, however, does not bother me at all: I have seen many times that concentrating on one part of a technique will make windsurfers "forget" other parts they already knew. Once the technique modifications have become ingrained, the other parts will come back, too.

So, let's look at the tips I received in response to my last blog entry:
  1. Watch the position of the new back foot! Keep the weight forward to keep the board level.
  2. The back hand need to go back further!
  3. Change your feet early!
  4. Time the throw right (and oversheet), especially in light winds.
Before I discuss each point in detail, let me point out the qualifications of two of the three windsurfers who offered their help by commenting (sorry, I don't know anything about the first commenter). One of them is known as "Roo" in the speedsurfing community. He currently holds the #1 spot in alpha racing for US windsurfers on (for those who are not speedsurfers: alpha racing basically is going wicked fast for 250 m, jibing at top speed, and returning to within 50 meters of where you started). The other one goes is known in East Coast racing circles as "The Terminator" and "The Eliminator", and won the 7.5 m division at the East Coast Windsurfing Festival this year (after plenty of wins and top-three ranks in previous years). So, definitely some highly qualified advisors...

1. Watch the position of the new back foot! This was the first tip I received, and it brought back memories of countless jibe clinics, where the importance of where to step was emphasized. Some instructors said it was important to place the old back foot just before the rear footstraps, and to place the new back foot in front of the old back foot when stepping back. However, other instructors thought that the old back foot should be placed more forward, right behind the front straps, and the new back foot behind the old back foot. Still other instructors did not specify, and did not seem to care..
Thinking about this, I realized that I did not know where exactly I was stepping on a slalom board. I typically place my old back foot somewhere in the middle between the straps, trying to have it point forward. On a freestyle board with foot straps close to the center, I can just twist the old front  out of the straps, so it will be far forward. But on a slalom board straps mounted far outside, a step is needed. I looked back at the videos, and on the pictures I posted, I had actually stepped in front of my old back foot; but in other jibes, I had stepped behind it.  
I also went back to videos that I had made at the Maui Race Series last year to see how better windsurfers step during jibes on modern slalom gear. Looking only at planed-through step jibes (the vast majority of jibes on the movies), I noticed the following:
  • The step back with the old front foot was generally much less noticeable than the step forward with the old back foot. The step was smaller, the foot stayed closer to the board, and the change in body position was small.
  • Virtually all racers stepped so the old front foot was placed in front of the old back foot.
  • In quite a few of the jibes, the board did point upward during the step, a bit like mine had in the pictures I had posted. Note, however, that I was jibing in perfectly flat water, while the Maui racers had to deal with more wind and wicked chop.
I tried to concentrate on my foot positioning during a number of my jibe attempts, and on placing the old front foot before the old back foot. However, whenever I did concentrate my stepping, the chances of falling a bit later were significantly increased. Nevertheless, this is something that will deserve a closer look every now and then.

The back hand need to go back further! This is something that I have heard many times before. Roo caught it on the picture I posted, and I verified on the videos that I did not move my hand back before the jibe. I think this is mainly because of deeply ingrained "wrong" muscle memory - I have been doing it this way for decades. Even though I know better, unless I happen to think about it during the jibe entry, I forget to do it.
There is something that may contribute a bit to this problem: at the side of the picture, I often do jibes at the end of downwind speed runs. In speed runs, I tend to widen my grip on the boom (imitating what I have seen on speedsurfing videos). Also, since I am going full speed at a deep downwind angle, I have little pressure in the sail. But one of the main reasons that I recall for moving the back hand back is "for better leverage when sheeting in". This argument may be perfectly true when sailing in high wind and chop, but it does not apply at the end of a downwind speed run - even less so when entering a lull, or an area where the wind drops because it is shielded by the peninsula in Fogland.
So it appears I am thinking "I don't have to move my back hand back further because I have very little pressure in the sail, and I can sheet in without much effort". Maybe that's even sub-conscious, but it needs to change! Not moving the back hand far back leads to the following problems:
  • The back elbow needs to bend to oversheet the sail. There is a very strong tendency to bend both arms to a similar degree, so chances are that the front arm will bend, too, instead of remaining straight (note that even Rossi, a PWA pro, is doing this on the picture from the Trictionary video in my previous post!).
  • Just changing the angle of the elbow a bit will open the sail up instead of keeping it oversheeted. Once that happens and the sail begins to power up, the lack of leverage will make it open up more. In high wind conditions, the natural consequence is to do a sail-first jibe (Speed jibe) instead of a step jibe - and I have previously explained why that is not a good thing.
One of the jibing pointers I received from Matt Pritchard during my jibing lesson last year was that the back foot should move at the same time as the clew of the sail - when the sail goes forward from the oversheeted position, the back foot should also go forward ("think of the back foot tied to the clew of your sail"). This happens much more naturally if you move the back hand far back during the entry, and then leave both arms extended: when you move the sail forward, you have to rotate your upper body, and that naturally leads to the lower body rotation and your feet stepping back and forward. In contrast, if your elbows are bent at the start, a lot of the sail movement can be done by just changing the angle of your elbows. Stepping now requires careful coordination, and chances are that the timing will not be as good.
I did follow Roo's advice and concentrated on moving the back hand back before the start of the jibe. I'm not sure how often I remembered to do it, and how often I forgot (I really need my boom cam back!), but when I remembered, I'm sure it helped. 

Roo also suggested: "Change your feet as early as you can, long before you flip your rig!". I am not sure I fully understand this. As I said above, when the clew moves forward, the front foot should move forward at the same time. With the sail oversheeted, the front foot cannot really move earlier. It can move later, and I agree that that's a bad idea. I think the old front foot should move just before the old back foot moves; it could possibly move early, but you'd end up in a plie stance that's not really natural.
Of course, moving the sail and switching the feet, and then staying clew first for a bit, certainly is an option. In this case, the feet would change long before the rig flip. However, my understanding is that this is primarily a move for when  you loose to much speed in a jibe, or when you need extra control before the sail flip (e.g. in the waves). In the Maui race videos, the sail flip usually followed right away after stepping forward. Looking at these videos, I noticed that when the stepping was delayed relative to opening up the sail, the jibes generally ended up worse than with an earlier foot switch.

Finally, Pete points out the importance of oversheeting and timing the sail throw right in light winds, since our speed in light winds exceeds the wind speed. In recent sessions, we had wind averages of 15-18 mph, but the board speed when turning downwind during the jibe entry was typically around 25 mph. I looked at some of the GPS tracks, and I typically keep a speed of about 20 mph when almost dead downwind. As Pete points out, opening the sail up would effectively have the effect of putting on the brakes. I remember Andy Brandt explaining how to do the sail flip when going faster than the wind, although I forgot the details - I think it started with slicing the sail forward neutrally. I recall having to fight resistance from backwinding a few times, but it is quite possible that this was a problem more often than I realized - especially when jibing into lulls (since the runs in the Fogland bay are short (~ 500m), and the wind is tends to be gusty, jibing in or into lulls is something that is impossible to avoid).

Pete's remark helped me understand that not oversheeting in jibes is always a bad idea. If you are going faster than the wind, opening the sail up early will slow you down (or, in extreme cases, through you off backwards). If you are going slower than the wind, for example in chop, opening up the sail gradually sometimes feels good because you keep pressure in the sail. That's how we sail, and sail pressure usually helps us stay balanced. The right amount of sail pressure can also help with the sail flip. BUT (and that's a big but!) as we open the sail when carving downwind, we have to counter-act the sails pull by leaning to the back of the board - more precisely, towards the rear quadrant. If we now want to flip the sail, that's exactly where our body would want to go. If we hit a big piece of chop and the board comes out of the water, we'll probably push it sideways and end up wet.
In contrast, if we oversheet correctly, to the point were we have no pressure in the sail, the body has to be in a perfect position above the board - actually leaning forward and into the curve to counter the centrifugal force of our carve. In this position, getting airborne over a piece of chop is no big deal, since we'll be landing perfectly balanced. That said, it is actually less likely that we'll get airborne in the middle of the jibe: since we are leaning forward and inward, the oversheeted rig has to lean even further inward. The weight of the rig will exert mass base pressure that keeps more of the leeward edge in the water. A bit earlier, while the fully sheeted-in sail is pulling us into the forward-inward position, things are even better, as Alan Cadiz points out in his jibe video: the force of the sail, which is perpendicular to the sail surface, is pulling the board into the turn and pressing it into the water. So without a doubt, oversheeting is the right thing to do in jibes, be it for better control in chop, or to avoid backwinding in flat water speedsailing.

My lovely wife just pointed out that an easy way to avoid the backwinding issues is to duck jibe. Since the sail is neutral from the point of the throw until the board has turned through the wind, and since the carve through the dreading downwind region in nice and steady, getting backwinded is not an issue. I have often heard that planing through jibes in marginal conditions is easier with duck jibes. I am sure Nina agrees - she had to demonstrate that by fulling planing through a duck jibe in our last session. Interestingly, she also says that she is much more likely to fully sheet in, and therefore accelerate during the jibe entry, in duck jibes, because she makes sure to move the back hand as far back as possible early on.

Nina probably could have repeated the beautiful planed-through duck jibe without problems, but she gets bored to easily. So she switched to working on the planing push tack. Since she had recently practiced light wind freestyle in "pesky" winds (12-15 mph) quite often, she managed to complete her first one ever, and then to another one a bit later. I have never even tried a push tack while planing, and neither have I planed through a duck jibe really well yet, so she is definitely getting better than me. That could just drive a man to speedsurfing :-) (something she finds very boring until the weather gets so cold that she does not want to fall anymore). Although I actually like the idea of her sailing better than I do - I love sailing with better windsurfers. There were several tricks that I learned at ABK camps primarily because Nina had learned them, and I did not want to fall behind.

Even for "plain old" speedsurfing, the one thing that always makes me set new personal bests is sailing with racers who are faster than I am. Sometimes I get useful tips from them, sometimes I imitate them, and sometimes they just show me that I could be doing a lot better. Yesterday, Bart and Leo joined us in Fogland, and helped me step up my game a bit. Bart did many beautiful planed-through jibes, taking away all my "it's not windy enough" and "I must have hit a lull" excuses. He also chased me across the river a number of times. The first time, I looked around when I heard him coming, got rewarded with a spinout, and was quickly passed. The next few times, I stubbornly refused to look back when I heard him coming, and instead looked for anything that I could do to pick up speed. I had a lot of voices in my head from all the private lessons and clinics I have taken over the years, and it can be a lot of fun trying to figure out who to listen to: the ABK instructors yelling to keep the knees straight and to use body tension, or Matt Pritchard telling me to bend the knees? Finding the right mix for the conditions can be challenging; hearing someone trying to pass you gives me all the motivation I need to see what works best. It also helps to fully keep you "in the moment", and the session ends up being more fun and more relaxing.

To finish up, I want to thank my readers for the tips they have given me to get over the temporary hump in my jibing career. The suggestions have already helped, and will certainly keep me busy on improving my jibes for a few sessions. Then it will be time for the ABK clinic in Hyannis, where working on completely different things usually also has a very positive effect on my jibes. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Career setbacks

I have quoted Beth Winkler's "Jibing is a career" here before, and I'm afraid I'm in the middle of a career setback. For a while, I was able to blame the wind for my poor jibing - it is hard to plane through jibes when you are just barely powered, and there just is not enough wind to get planing after a jibe. But we recently had several sessions with decent wind, where other windsurfers showed that planing through jibes was possible. Here is a list of the GPS data from my best jibes in the last session:
In the best jibe of the day, I slowed down from 24.9 knots at the entry to 6.8 knots at the slowest point of the jibe. That's not really planed through anymore, despite plenty of entry speed! I went back to my database and old GPS files to see what a decent day should look like:
These data are from the same spot (Fogland, RI) with similar winds (18-25 mph southerlies). Despite entering the jibes with less speed, the minimum speeds in the jibes were a lot higher, and I planed through about 4 jibes in this much shorter session. What am I doing wrong?

Well, I did not really have a clew. The GoPro is already packed for moving and in storage, so I have not been able to see myself for I while. I focused on a couple of things I often forget (keeping the front arm straight and pointing the back foot forward), so I was pretty sure that was not the problem. Maybe I had picked up some bad habits by often going for really tight jibes because going upwind in marginal conditions is so hard? Well, a few movies that my friend Dani made from shore last time gave me some pointers:
The board is pointing skyward just as I step and flip the sail. It's not supposed to do that, it's supposed to be flat! If here had been any chop, I would have surely wiped out a second later. Even in flat water, pointing the board like this will kill speed. I'd love to blame the board, but since I have done great jibes on it before, I had to see what I am doing wrong.

The first thing that comes to mind is that I am not putting enough pressure on the mast foot. Well, I have heard that mast foot pressure cures just about anything; it is indeed easy to imagine that somehow pushing down on the mast foot would keep the board flatter. My problem with "mast foot pressure" is that it does not really tell me what to do with my body. Perhaps I could pull downward on the front arm, but that does not really work from me when I am flipping the sail in the middle of the jibe. So let's instead look at what is happening a bit earlier in the jibe:
I'm carving, perhaps a second or two before initiating the sail flip. One obvious problem is that the sail is not sheeted in enough. Here's what it should look like:
In this Power Jibe from the Tricktionary, Rossi has sheeted in at least 20-30 degrees more than I have. Therefore, he does not have any pressure in the sail, but I still do. Rossi's upper body is bent forward towards the nose of the board; I am hanging back a bit, still countering the pull of the sail. Here's a picture of another windsurfer from last weekend who seems to have the same bad habits:
He has already stepped, but you can see from the angle of this body that he is leaning back, bringing the nose of the board far out of the water. Compare this to Andy Brandt just before he starts stepping and flipping the sail:
He has pushed the sailed behind him with an extended front arm. His head is above the mast foot, and the board is nice and flat.

So ok, I should oversheet the sail - I knew that. But maybe I never really understood why. I have heard "to disrupt the laminar flow of air over the sail" - not convincing. I have also heard "to turn the motor off" - but I never knew why I should turn it off. Looking at the pictures above, some possible reasons come to mind:

  • If you keep power in the sail during the turn, you need to counter that power by pulling in the other direction. When you are almost downwind and the sail is wide open, your body weight will be moving towards the back of the board, sinking the tail.
  • But if you oversheet and remove any pressure from the sail, you will have to move your body forward, assuming a neutral, forward-oriented stance on the board. It is also easier to let the rig lean towards the water as in the last picture above, which drives the rail in for more control.
So far, so good - sheet in and carve, let the sail power accelerate you into the turn and pull you up over the board, keep sheeted in and carving so that the sail looses power. With a neutral "surfing" stance on the board, any bounces over chop will not affect your balance.

The next thing to look at is the sail flip and stepping. We'll only consider a step jibe here, where the feet move at the same time as the sail. In the jibe above, I started leaning backwards, so even after stepping with both feet, my weight was still too far back:
Again, the nose of the board is pointing up, the tail is sinking, and my speed is going down rapidly. Because my weight was to far back earlier, it stays back even after the forward step - basically, I am off balance.

One of the things about jibes that has always puzzled me is the pushing of the sail behind you, as Andy does in the picture above (and the video below). I have done it a few times, mostly during ABK camps, and it usually resulted in very nice jibes. But I never really understood why it works. Well, one thing it probably does is that it makes sure that you really oversheet the sail to the point of stalling, and before you are all the way downwind. But I think this is only part of the story. From doing plenty of dry jibes in my kitchen and basement, I think there is a more dynamic aspect to the "push behind": it is a way of winding up for the subsequent sail flip and foot switch. If you do a "Power Jibe" were you open the sail gradually, the step back with the old front foot and the step forward with the old back foot are "static": your overall body position and balance does not change much; if it does, your weight shifts towards the back of the board first, sinking the tail. This will be less noticeable on boards with footstraps that are forward and close to the center like freestyle boards, and more pronounced on slalom or freeride gear.

But if you first push the sail behind you for a second, and then throw your arms and the rig forward, while stepping back with the old front foot, the entire movement becomes much more dynamic. Through the "untwisting", the old back foot will naturally follow the boom end of the sail forward, and the body weight naturally shifts onto the front foot, flattening out the board. With more weight on the front foot, the rig can fall back a bit during the flip without sinking the tail and slowing you down. Then, as you pull the sail forward towards the nose of the board, you naturally move your weight back onto the back foot, and get ready to re-accelerate in bow-and arrow position. Instead of having several separate parts that seem independent from each other, you end up with one fluid, dance-like movement from oversheeting to re-accelerating. Just watch Andy demonstrate:
If you like what you see and you live anywhere close to Cape Cod, make sure to sign up for the ABK Clinic in Hyannis next month! The wind already is picking up, and my bet is that this will be a great fall season on Cape Cod. See you there!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Waiting for fall

I used to love the summer, but this year is different. It's not so much the heat - yes, this summer is hot, but up here in the northeast, we are at least not getting cooked with 100+F weeks, as big parts of the US are.

The lack of wind is a bit more annoying. We had a couple of decent days recently, but it seems the wind we get in a typical fall week is now spread out over a month or more. Maybe it is the combined effect of many small things - dirtier water with more weeds in Fogland; plenty of boats that prefer to anchor so that they are in the way of the maximum number of windsurfers, in a bay that's barely 500 m long; lots of rainy days; and stupid summer colds that sap energy.

But I think what really is killing me is just having to wait. After many weeks of being crazy busy preparing the house for sale and looking for a new house on Cape Cod, we now have to wait about six weeks for the banks to do their things. Just wait, and hope that everything goes as planned with three or more linked mortgage applications and moves. There are plenty of things we'd like to do, like buying new furniture, SUPs (sailable ones of course), maybe a high roof van - but all that has to wait, too, since spending too much now might jeopardize the mortgage. So wait we must, until everything will get crazy again a week or so before the move.

Enough of the negative stuff. We had one great session last week with 12-26 mph winds. Nina actually planed a few times on a 4.5, and had fun with light wind freestyle in the lulls. I went for speed with Dani on our 8.5 resp. 7.5. Bart joined us a bit later, and showed us how it's done on Dani's slalom gear. He sailed way higher angles, planed through all his jibes, looked just fantastic on gear he had never sailed, and easily beat our GPS speeds by a few knots. But it was great being on the water with a much better sailor. We tried to emulate some of the things he did, and probably picked up a knot or two in speed. His much higher upwind angles on very similar gear convinced me that I should also get an adjustable outhaul for my larger sails; but I think simply sailing more with racers, and perhaps participating in a few more races, will make a big difference. Well, just a few more weeks, and the windy season will start, with us living much closer to the water - knock on wood!