Thursday, January 31, 2013

Two interesting days

A SW storm brought warm temperatures and nice wind for yesterday and today, so I got treated with two more windsurfing days in January. Yesterday was a "dense fog" session with Hardie at West Dennis. Visibility was less than 300 feet (100 meters), so we had to sail really close to shore to have any idea where we were. That worked at first when the wind was straight south, but later, when it had turned a bit, you'd loose sight of shore quickly, and things got scary. The wind played a few up and down games, too - too little for my 96 l board, then too much for the 110 l board, then just right for the 96 l, but only long enough to get me half a mile away from the launch before dropping. The session ended with a long carry back to the car, but it was still great to be out.

The forecast for today looked not too different, except for even warmer temps, WSW winds, and "partly cloudy" skies with visibility "between 1 and 3 nm". My goal was to go to the Kennedy Slicks, the stone pier in Hyannis Port Harbor that creates nice flat water for speed. Nikita had send an email that he was going out for speed, too, so we had a good chance to improve our standing on the GPS Team Challenge, where we were on the last spot in the monthly rankings. Jerry also called and said he'd come down for a short session, since he had work in the area, anyway.

When we got there, it looked really windy, with white caps forming just a few meters past the stone wall. Readings were still at 35-37 mph averages, so I thought it was a great day to see what real speedsurfers feel like when going out with a 5.8 in these conditions. Nina wanted to try her new 3.4, which would have been big enough for these readings, and Jerry rigged 4.2, after laughing about my size choice. He hit the water first, while Nina had to drive back home to get her Ianovated suit, which we had left there due to some miscommunication.

As I hit the water, the 5.8 was the right choice for easy sailing, since the wind soon dropped down to 26 mph. I did not realize this at first, and was a bit surprised that I did not get speeds near 30 knots. Jerry soon changed to a 5.2, and I switched to a bigger fin as soon as Nina came back. I told her to rig big, which she did - and that was enough for the wind machine to turn back on, with averages in the low 30s. But since Nina wanted to sail instead of just rigging the whole day, she took out the 4.5, and was nicely overpowered for the next couple of hours. 

Jerry had to leave when Nina finally made it onto the water. I was pacing myself a bit, since I wanted to sail with both of them, and so I played around a bit with trimming my gear. After a few adjustments, I finally felt that I had decent control in the 40 mph gusts. Towards the end of the session, I had the bright idea to finally test my Black Project Fins Weed Speed "28" (which actually has a depth of just 23.5 cm). The fin felt just perfect for the conditions, with plenty of grip and absolutely no desire to slip or spin out, even with significant pressure and small chop. With it, I finally saw 31 knots on the GPS twice. The session ended up being my third-fastest ever - not bad for a January session! I also improved my alpha 500 personal best by more than a knot. Nikita had, once again, a faster top speed than I did, so we were able to jump up a few spots in the GPS rankings. What a great day! Did I mention it was warm? Yesterday in the fog in West Dennis, my hands quickly got really cold when I had to swim after my gear; but the storm had warmed up the water by a few degrees overnight, and today I was able to sail with my fingers out of the open-palm mittens most of the time, and also took my hood off a lot. I still liked that I had my Ianovated wetsuit on, and used the tubes to warm my hands at the beginning and in breaks.

Here's a little GoPro video from the last run of the day:

Based on Jerry's suggestion, I used the dive housing today, which sheds the water drops a lot better than the original housing. Can't wait to take it snorkeling (and, of course, windsurfing) in Bonaire!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Windsurf like a 10-year old!

Some of the windsurfers I admire most don't restrict themselves to just one style, but rather do it all: speed, waves, freestyle, bump & jump. Here's a 10-year old Australian showing how it's done:

I can't stop smiling after seeing this video :-)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Two in a row

Another great day in Kalmus today. Unlike yesterday, the wind was up & down for a couple of hours. When it finally settled in around 30 mph at 2 pm, I found myself a bit overpowered on a 5.5. But the Tabou 3S handled the moderate chop gracefully, making it easy to rack up more than 70 km in a 4 1/2 hour session today. That would be a good session on a summer day - great to get it in January! It was nice to see a crowd on the water - Jeff, Martin, and Ron showed up, and maybe 5 other sailors that I don't know.
That's my lovely wife going for a duck jibe. She figured it was warm enough to sail without a hood and without the tubes in the Ianovated wetsuit, so she took the tubes out and put plugs into the tube holes. But she still preferred the suit over her Boost baggy drysuit and her Ion semi-dry suit, since it is very warm and comfortable. A bit later, Martin joined her doing freestyle on the water, and kept going at it for a few hours. Nina took pictures for a few minutes from the beach after her session:
She did not catch me doing anything interesting, since I just did the same old back-and-forth and called it speedsurfing. There are at least 3 things wrong with the jibe entry in the picture above.
The other guy in this picture, Martin, did something interesting all the time. I saw him completing a few beautiful carve 360s, jump head-high, and more. Nina caught a jump landing and a few duck jibes on camera:

We love seeing Martin sail, it's never boring. But we need to get him into an Ianovated wetsuit - today was pretty close to his temperature cutoff, since his old suit has developed quite a few leaks over the years.

Tonight, a big arctic chill will come down to visit us, and stay around from a while, so you probably won't see any blog posts from me for a while.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

We love winter windsurfing

Had a very lovely winter session in Kalmus today. Wind around 30 mph, pretty steady, air around 44 F (7 C), sunny. Our Ianovated wetsuits kept us plenty warm.
I used the tubes pretty much every time I fell to warm up my gloves, but Nina did not need them today.
Both of us worked a bit on freestyle moves without being afraid of falling. Well, low tide helped, we could stand everywhere during our 2 hour session.
Nina worked on Carve 360s and a bit on Shove Its. She also set a personal best for Alpha 500 (a 500 m run with a jibe in the middle, and the ends of the run within 50 m) - congrats!
I did a couple of Flaka prep moves and a bunch of jump jibes, where I am guaranteed to get wet. That was just fine with me, I was sweating most of the time, so a bit of cooling down in the water was often welcome. I'm still amazed that I'd be playing around with freestyle moves in the winter! Amazing what a great wetsuit with a fantastic hand warming system can do.
The water was nice and flat, but with enough little waves to make it interesting. I shied away from trying loops or committed Flaka attempts, and instead just worked on a bit of board control in the air. I thought I did ok, but the GoPro showed that I should pull my back leg a lot higher.
We had the water to ourselves for a while until a kiter showed up. No other windsurfers showed. There was lots of fun to be had today at Kalmus, and it was perfectly safe in the shallow waters. Tomorrow's forecast is very similar to todays, except that it will get even warmer! The best time at Kalmus will be between 11 am and 2 or 3 pm. The wind is expected to turn from SW to W sometime tomorrow afternoon; depending on when and how quickly this happens, we may see howling WSW winds later in the afternoon, or a quick drop near shore when the wind turns west. Whatever happens - I hope to see a few sails on the water tomorrow around noon!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Analyzing the Flaka

Our annual trip to Bonaire is getting closer, so we have started to think about freestyle moves we want to work on. There are still a number of old school tricks to learn, and the loop still beckons, but it also is time to work on new school tricks. In a previous post, I have explained why I thought that the Flaka might be a better first new school move than the Vulcan. At least one young windsurfer I know has indeed learned the Flaka first, and in a relatively short time; but other freestylers had a much harder time with the Flaka than with the Vulcan.

Before I go into any more details, let me show you a Flaka very similar to the one I saw in Bonaire a few years ago which started this whole thought process. This is a short part of the "Girls in Bonaire by Kuma Movie" video:
Two things peaked my interest:
  • It is obvious that the move is very similar to an upwind 360, which can be practiced in light wind
  • The difference is that it starts with a small jump (or rather pop), but as the video shows, turning the board about 45 degrees in the air is sufficient. 
But looking at this movie and other Flaka movies also shows some subtleties that may explain what can make the Flaka a hard move to learn. For the rest of this discussion, I will focus on the first half of the move, until the board is sliding backwards. The second part is identical to the second part of an upwind 360, and therefore should be reasonably easy to do if you have a solid upwind 360.

At least for Flakas with a small initial hop (less than 180 degrees), there are several changes in how the board is railed during the move. The Flaka is typically initiated with a downwind carve, just like a jibe entry, so we pressure is on the toes. For the takeoff, the board is flat:
In this example, the board is back in the water after turning only about 45 degrees:
The tail of the board needs to slide towards downwind, so the weight must be on the heels - otherwise, the toe-side rail would catch, resulting in a crash onto the sail. The "heel-side rail down" can be seen even better on the next picture:
The board continues to slide around until it has turned 180 degrees:
Note that the sailor's weight has moved towards the nose of the board. The back leg is straight, the front leg bent:
Now, the board is relatively flat. The sail is about to be backwinded. Everyone who has ever taken an ABK camp knows that the sail pressure needs to be on the toes for backwinding, and that's what we see:
The board is now angled so that the heel-side rail is up. The sail is backwinded and pushed towards the nose, so it wants to push the nose around. In an upwind 360, we would now move the weight onto the back foot to move the waterline, and this seems to be exactly the same in the Flaka:
In this example, the weight shift may be a bit more than necessary, so she over-rotates a bit. But you can see exactly the same shifts in this movie where Daida Moreno does a very nice Flaka.

To summarize, the Flaka as shown above includes the following weight shifts:
  • toe-side  =>  flat  =>  heel side  =>  flat  =>  toe side
  • weight centered over the board  =>  weight towards nose  =>  weight on back foot
So, there seems to be a lot more going on than one might think at first glance. If you watch Flakas from some of the top guys, some of the elements above may not be visible. That's partly because they often jump the board a full 180 degrees before it hits the water again, so the initial heel-side slide is not present. But I think many windsurfers learning this move will start with jumps that are significantly less than 180 degrees, and therefore need some heel-side slide. 

The entire thing about the rail setting was brought to my attention by my lively wife, and is based on what she heard in a Flaka discussion with ABK Boardsport's Brendon. It makes perfect sense to me after working on 360s a few times in "pesky" winds (around 15 mph), where exact technique is essential. However, I have not seen it mentioned much in Flaka lectures or discussions.

I think the rail-to-rail dynamics may explain the problems that some freestylers who can Vulcan have when learning the Flaka. Unlike the Flaka, which can be done with a relatively small initial jump, the Vulcan pretty much requires a 180 degree jump. While both moves do include a backward slide, the move mechanics otherwise are very different, and learning one move first may actually make learning the other move harder.

There is one more thing that has fascinated me about the Flaka: the similarity of the first half of the Flaka with the jibe. That may sound crazy, since the jibe is a downwind turn and the Flaka start in an upwind jump, so let me explain with some pictures:
On the left side, we have Anders Bringdal entering a step jibe; on the right is Daida Moreno entering a Flaka. They both start carving downwind, getting the sail depowered and behind them, and have the head on front of the mast. There are some differences because Anders is on slalom gear in a lot more wind, but I ask you to ignore these and focus on the similarities.

This is a bit further into the moves. We can see that the boards are starting to point into different directions, but the sail and body positions are pretty similar, with the sail in front of the body, and the shoulders more or less square to the sail. 
A bit further into both moves, we again see both sails in the same position, with the mast towards the viewer. Anders is about to rotate the sail, Daida is about to get backwinded to finish the rotation. Even though Anders is looking forward and Daida is looking to the back, their body positions are similar. The original back foot is now in front, and the shoulders are pretty square to the sail.

From the pictures above, we can conclude that the first half of the Flaka is very similar to a jibe! Except for the jump/pop, sail and body move in a very similar fashion in both moves. The obvious difference is that the feet remain in the straps for the Flaka. So to rotate the body by 180 degrees, and have the old back foot go to the front, we have to pop the board out of the water. Then, instead of stepping forward, we rotate the body 180 degrees, taking the board with is. I this this analogy gets even more amusing when we think about the Flaka 180 instead of the Flaka. In the Flaka 180, the sail is flipped like in a heli tack while sliding backward, and we start sailing back into the direction from where we came. So the Flaka 180 is really the upwind equivalent to the downwind Vulcan. It can be also seen as a heli tack that starts with a jump-turn. And based on the above, that's very similar to a jibe :-)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Exocet boards break, and the company thinks that is fine

I have reported here before that my Exocet WindSUP 10 buckled the second time I took it out in the surf. I thought that the damage taken was way out of proportion to the forces on the board, and therefore was very unhappy when Exocet did not see this as a warranty case.

I was ready to write this off as bad luck, but then I saw posts from "beaglebuddy" on the iWindsurf forum where he described a big structural problem with his Exocet WindSUP. The problem was at a different spot, but also included a major crease - but this board was never taken out into the waves.

What got me a bit upset was the answer that the owner of Exocet sent to beaglebuddy:
Sorry for this late answer, after looking at the pictures and different comments on the forum, i can state that the issue is not due to juncture with PVC
We did have such issues on several short boards with similar crease and in most cases it is due to a hard stress, it does not really matter how many time you have sailed with the board but to me it seems that you "may" have sailed it pretty hard one day in side shore and steep choppy water or took off on a even small jump and got some stress on the board

Such crease can be easily repaired in any shop, but i can't see miss manufacturing from our side 
He acknowledges that the same problem has occurred with a number of Exocet boards. He thinks that "taking off on a even small jump" can cause enough stress to damage the board, but that nothing is wrong with Exocet boards. 

Well, I certainly prefer to have boards that I can jump and take in the surf without breaking! Seeing this attitude by the company owner makes absolutely sure that I will never buy an Exocet board again.

For the record, I have heard from two more Exocet boards that had major problems. One was a WindSUP 10, and the lucky owner got it replaced on warranty "in large part due to the efforts of Steve at Sandy Point Progressive". The other one was an Exocet board that Pete broke in half, but Pete said he had broken other boards, too, and that it was rider error in his case. Still, this makes me wonder. At least around here, Exocet boards are pretty rare, so the number of problem reports seems rather high. 

A few days after writing this post, the US importer of Exocet boards, Steve Gottlieb, responded on the iWindsurf forum thread. While he clarified that some things (like jumping) are not covered by warranty for the longboards, his overall attitude seems much more reasonable. He suggested to contact him directly with unresolved issues, which I did. He responded to my email very quickly, and offered to pay half of the repair cost, which he eventually did pay. However, I now have a board that I am very hesitant to take into waves; which is even heavier than before the repair; and which I cannot sell without taking a huge loss because of the clearly visible major repair.
One of the extremely unpleasant things about this experience came when the main Exocet advocate on the iWindsurf forum, John Ingebritsen, basically accused me of lying on the forum, and then followed up with emails telling me to shut up about Exocet. This seems to be a common theme with Exocet: when Ian Berger reported unexpected major damage to his Exocet SUP board, he was also accused of lying, this time by Steve Gottlieb.

The entire thing seems to come from the top: Exocet's president, Patrice Belbeoch, wrote to Ian:
"This construction is durable and have barely any warranty issues on the entire SUP and Windsurf line".

Saying that they have "barely any warranty issues" works only because they decline all warranty claims! Saying that "This construction is durable" is wrong, and plainly ridiculous if you look at the pictures posted by Ian, my pictures, and the pictures posted by Beaglebuddy on the iWindsurf forum thread.

Exocet thinks their board construction is durable. Many Exocet owners have found out it is not. Exocet's reaction is to deny warranty claims to to accuse users of lying. Do you really want to support such a company?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Winter freestyle

It was sunny, windy, and relatively warm today (41º F, 5º C), so we just had to windsurfing. Nina finally had a good session again, sailing her 90 l Skate / 4.5 m Manic combo. With a very low tide at Kalmus, the water was shallow and flat, perfect for her to practice some freestyle - duck jibes, push tacks, and even a Flaka attempt thrown in. For once, we were not the only windsurfers on the water - someone else joined us. I did not get a chance to chat with him, but we had a couple of fun little drag races.

Even though Nina planed most of the time on her 4.5, we missed the best wind in the morning, and my 5.5 was large enough only for a few runs at the start of the session. I later switched to a 7.0 and practiced finding lanes between waves for speed. No great speeds were to be had, but I'm happy with a top speed that was 20% faster than the highest gusts. We got decent hours and distance numbers, and managed to improve our ranking on the GPS Team Challenge by a couple of spots - nice not to be second-to-last :-)

We both were in our Ianovated suits today, which kept us rather warm. Nina did not use the tubes, except for a minute at the start; I used them a few times at the start and after swims. Nina said she probably could have sailed without her open palm mitts today - what a difference the sun (and a bit of practice in cold weather windsurfing) makes! Although I'm sure that the suit also helped by keeping us very warm. As much as I liked my baggy dry suit, I have to say that I like the warm wetsuit better now, and not just because of the hand warming system. Of course, it helps a lot to have a van to change in - the Nissan NV high roof van was definitely a great investments.

2013 continues to rock, with 3 sessions in the first 8 days, and the next session on the horizon on Thursday: W winds in the mid-20s, sun, low 40s - see you in Skaket for a morning session!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Double forearm layers kill

My lovely wife and I both have the same favorite wind range: mid to upper 20s (mph). So with a forecast of west winds near 25 all day, and matching wind meter readings in the morning, we just had to get out. Air temperatures where a bit above freezing (35º F, 2º C), but the sun was hiding behind clouds all day, so it felt much colder than the last time we were out in similar temperatures.

We decided to sail Skaket Beach in Orleans, which has an excellent fetch in all westerly directions, and promised side-on winds. We started near high tide; both Nina and I wore our Ianovated wetsuits, and a neoprene shirt underneath. My short had short sleeves, Nina's long sleeves, and that ended up making a lot of difference. When I zipped her up, I noticed that the shirt was bunching up near the hands under the wetsuit arms, but did not think much of it.

I ended up having a lovely little session, but Nina did not. At first, she thought that she was way overpowered, because she could not hold on to her rig. That, however, seemed unlikely, since I was just nicely powered on my 5.5, and her 4.5 should therefore have been just right. After not being able to hold on to her gear in the small shore break, though, she discovered that it was not the wind - she simply did not have the power to hold on to her gear. Shortly after the session, her lower arms starting hurting, like they might perhaps after very long regular session.

It appears that the two layers of neoprene severely impacted the blood circulation in her lower arms. I had experienced the same problem a few times: once when I also wore a long sleeve neoprene shirt under a semi-dry suit, and a couple of times with new wetsuits where the lower arms were too tight. Gloves or mittens were not the problem in any of these cases - Nina wore only open-palm mittens today that she has used without any problems many times before, and the same was true when I had problems. The Ianovated wetsuit that she wore today has very wide upper arms, but it has to become narrower at the lower arms. Even small additional constrictions from a neoprene shirt can have a much larger than expected negative impact (Nina actually wore my shirt, with arms that are too long for her and therefore bunched up a bit near the wrists).

Since it seemed so chilly today, I actually did my first few runs with nylon mitten shells on top of my open palm mitts. That kept my hands nicely warm and worked great with the wetsuit tubes, but I could definitely feel that my forearms started to get sore much quicker. So I ditched the nylon shells and kept sailing with only open palm mittens, but I added a couple of short breaks to shake the blood back down into my hands before they got to cold. After perhaps the second or third time, I could feel my hands getting nice and warm, and they remained warm afterwards. Even after a bit longer swims in the ice cold water, breathing through the tubes for a minute would be enough to get the hands warm and comfortable again. Nina, who spend more time than I did in the water, but who also has more "normal" hands that do not get cold as quickly as mine, only used her tubes at the start of the session, and was perfectly warm afterwards. Even though I have used the suit a few times now, I am still amazed how warm it is, and how well the hand warming system works. The only part of me that got cold today was the exposed part of my face - and that bothered me only during the first few minutes (and not any more than it would at a regular skiing session, where the air is often a lot colder).

So, the year 2013 is off to a good start, with a decent session at least for one of us, and the first lesson of the year: avoid anything restrictive on the lower arms, like double neoprene layers.