Friday, August 23, 2013

Nina's Duck Tack

We'd been looking forward to yesterday for a week - it was the only day with a good wind forecast in a while. When we got to the beach, meter readings hit 25 mph averages, so we rigged 4.5 and 5.3 m sails. Of course, the wind dropped as soon as I started sailing, and I had to switch to a 6.5 and my 110 l Skate. I had enough power to be planing most of the time, but Nina was not so lucky on her 5.3/100 l combo. I saw her planing every now and then, but after a while, she stood at the beach, pouting big time. We did one "final" run out together, just as the wind hit the low for the day, and nobody on the water was planing.

But just as we were ready to give up, I saw more white caps, and most windsurfers on the water got going again. I joined the crowd, and soon was better powered than the entire time before. Nina joined me a few minutes later, and started working on planing duck tacks. Here is a video of Nikita doing one:

Both of us can do the light wind version of the duck tack, which is one of the harder tricks to learn. Nina also had gotten pretty good at going switch while planing - the only thing that was missing was the throw. So she tried it every single time she came in; and tried, and tried again. When my hands started to hurt and I asked her how long she wanted to sail, she said "Until I get a planing duck tack". So we kept sailing until it started getting dark...

Just as I was ready to go in, I saw Nina doing the sail throw part of the duck tack. She is pretty good at this part in light winds, and it showed - the sail went almost all the way down to the water, and then slowly floated back up into her hands. She had just completed her first planing duck tack!

With that, we could stop for the day. Martin, who had also seen her duck tack, could not join us for a little celebration, so we ended up driving home. But tonight, we'll add Nina's first planing duck tack to the things we celebrate when we go out for some nice Japanese food.

My own sailing yesterday was uneventful, as usual. I did try a few Konos with 360 entries early on when the wind was still light, but lost too much speed. Just like 360s in the straps, this is a move where you want to be fully powered or overpowered. Still, my little falls convinced me that the idea is sound (no surprise, since I got it from Andy Brandt). More importantly, they confirmed my suspicion the falls when starting to learn the move will be harmless, or even fun.

I then figured that I should get better at 360s first, and practiced them a bit. I got a couple, which is about twice as good as in most recent sessions, but there is definitely more work that needs to be done. I'm sure a few pointers from the ABK folks at the upcoming Cape Cod camp will straighten me out in no time.


Yesterday's session was fun, but I got more exited when I noticed that my blog has now reached more than 100,000 page views. With about 250 posts so far, that means every post was read about 400 times. The most-read post, with more than 3,000 page hits, was about the Windsurfing Magazine Board Test two years ago. A newer post that has created a lot of interest, with more than 1,600 page hits since last December, was the "No more cold hands" review of the Ianovated wet suit. Anyone in the area who want to see this suit should come to the East Coast Windsurfing Festival Cape Cod - we will have one of the "tube suits" for our raffle.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Why I want to learn the Kono

I am a lawnmower sailor - back and forth, back and forth. I put on a GPS and call it "speedsurfing", but you only need to look at my speeds to see that's just an illusion. Only when the winds are too light to plane do I do freestyle. Ok, I love light wind freestyle. I sometimes even do a little bit of freestyle in high wind. I never really committed to learning new school tricks, though. Now I think I want to learn the Switch Kono:
Kiri Thode mid-Kono in Bonaire
Here are my reasons:
  1. It's one of the coolest looking new school moves. In Bonaire, I have often been absolutely amazed how much air Kiri, Taty, Tonky, and the other pros get in Konos.
  2. Tricktionary states "As soon as you learned how to duck the sail properly it is not that difficult".
  3. Andy Brandt says you do not have to duck the sail! You just start a downwind 360. With enough speed, you end up switch stance backwinded after turning through downwind.
I had almost forgotten Andy's statement until I tried 360s a couple of days ago. In one of the wet tries, I fell backwards, and the board shot up in the air, as if I was doing a jump jibe. That's when it occurred to me - hey, is that not similar to the 360 entry into the Kono? Looking at the Kono in the Tricktionary quickly confirmed that.

This got me excited. My favorite trick is the jump jibe:
I love the way you kick the board vertically in the air. I also love that you are allowed to fall into the water, as long as you get the clew first waterstart to get going again. I do it sometimes just for fun, or when space is tight, and have a reasonably good success rate. Now look at this movie of a Switch Kono:

Ignore that he enters the regular way, going switch and then ducking the sail. You can also get into the position he has 5 seconds into the movie by doing a downwind 360 in the straps. Then, it looks like the sail is powering up and pushing him backwards. That's a very typical fall when learning the 360! The difference here is that he also jumps the board:
The board is almost vertical, but barely out of the water, and the sailor is falling towards the water. Very similar to a jump jibe!

There are, of course, some important differences which I don't fully understand yet. In a jump jibe, we kick the tail of the board through the wind; in a Kono, the nose turns through the wind.  I'm not even sure if the sail is actually powering up backwinded, or if this is more of a neutral slicing of the sail. But there are a few important things here:
  • The entry is very similar to a trick I already do (I mean the downwind 360 entry; I can do light wind duck tacks, but not planing switch ducks).
  • Jumping the board is very similar to a trick I already do (the jump/fall jibe)
  • The falls while working on the move seem very safe: they are either similar to typical 360 falls, or you are hanging under the sail and falling backwards into the water.
All this reduces the "entry barrier" to trying to learn a new trick. The typical first new school move is the Vulcan, but the Vulcan has very high entry barriers. Right away, you need to learn (1) how to pop the board, (2) how to initiate the 180 degree rotation, and (3) how to flip the sail right after takeoff. That's a lot of things to learn! Watching those who learn the Vulcan, the crashes seem sometimes quite violent. Why spend hundreds or thousands of tries on something where the end product is not even that cool? A Kono looks 100 times cooler than a Vulcan. At least one freestyler has reported that he got the Switch Kono during the first session that he tried - but he clearly had quite excellent skills and already knew how to go switch and duck the sail. 

I am not saying that learning the Switch Kono as the first new school freestyle trick is for everyone. The traditional entry (go switch and duck) is not easy, perhaps even harder to learn than the Vulcan. The 360 entry may be a bit easier if you already worked a lot on the 360, as I have. But it is imperative that you turn through downwind on a plane, which requires very good entry speed, good carving speed, and enough wind. Here, for once, my obsession with speedsurfing and perfecting my jibes works in my favor - I can often carry plenty of speed through a turn. Nevertheless, working on this at Kalmus will be a bit a challenge: as soon as the wind gets strong enough, the chop builds up, which makes it a lot harder to carry speed through downwind. But it's only two more weeks until the summer season is over and all flat water strips are available again, and just three more weeks until the ABK clinic in Hyannis. For once, I know exactly what I want to work on if we get enough wind!
A few hours after writing this post, I found a couple of references to this move. Royn Bartholdi describes it on his move pages here. He is using the Gorge waves to keep the speed up through the carve. A discussion on the UK boards forum points out that Robby Naish was probably the first one to do this move in the waves, years before Kiri got credit for inventing the Kono (but Kiri does it on flat water, and starting switch and ducking the sail). Robby can be seen doing this trick at about 3:20 in this video. Then in 2009, Kai Lenny "invented" the move again, and in all modesty called it the "Kaino". I think I'll stick with 360 into Kono, though. I like the pointers about using waves or swell to keep the speed up. Seems like the move to try on a SSW day in Kalmus near low tide!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Freestyle time

Forecast: 12-13 mph. Kalmus wind meter readings from 2-4 pm: averages 16 mph, range 12 - 20 mph. Actual wind a bit more - here are my GPS tracks:
80 minutes of fun on my Skate 110 / Pilot 6.5 / MUF Slalom weed 30 combo. White in the tracks means I was planing. Beautiful water and weather. Full body lycra suit and socks today - no jellyfish stings despite frequent falls. I fell when just jibing - after a few really windy days, I'm not used to flat water and no power in the sail mid-jibe anymore. So it was old school freestyle time: duck jibes, jump jibes, downwind 360s. Got one "wow" from a windsurfer in the water for a decent duck :-)

Reasonably happy with the duck jibes, a few tips from the ABKlers will get me there. The 360s need a bit more work, most were 358s and 359s, just one was dry (and not pretty). Lots of fun on a day that was not supposed to be windy. Next week looks promising - 16s, 14s, even 20s in the forecast. With sun, we should have a few planing days on reasonable gear.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Win a free ABK clinic!

One of many things we loved at the East Coast Windsurfing Festival in Long Island in the past two years was the raffle, where every competitor had a chance to win windsurfing stuff - lots of cool stuff, from T-shirts to masts. So of course, we will have a raffle at the ECWF Cape Cod, too! A number of sponsors have promised to send us raffle items, including a number of high performance fins, a cold weather wetsuit, and a brand new sail. Yesterday, we learned that we will have another really cool giveaway: a free ABK clinic! The lucky winner will be able to choose one of the many ABK camps in the US or on Bonaire, and attend it for free. Thanks, Andy!

I am addicted to ABK camps, and our local ABK clinic in Hyannis is less than 4 weeks away. So I figured I really need to practice the tricks I learned in the past so I'm ready for new stuff, and went sailing yesterday and today. Yesterday's winds were really gusty and straight west winds, instead of the usual south, SW, or WSW winds. I did a long few long runs straight out, looking for steadier winds away from shore, but no luck. Perhaps I should say "bad luck" instead: when I fell on one of my first outside jibes, water starting took a while due to the fluky winds. At some point, I felt something slimy on me - too slimy to be sea grass. Instead, it was one of these lovely creatures:
I did not see it, but the pain started quickly on my right arm and both legs. I rushed to shore to rub the affected areas with sand, and then went back out, only to have the wind die on me shortly thereafter.

Today's forecast was better, with southwesterly winds that often get enhanced by sea breezes. For once, I timed the wind perfectly, and started sailing shortly after it had picked up enough to be nicely powered on 6.5. I played around with duck jibes, chop hops, jump jibes, and slam jibes. I got a few of nice slam jibes - up until today, I had some kind of mental block that kept me from getting them. I was wearing a full-body lycra to avoid further jellyfish stings. I did not see any jellyfish close to shore today; yesterday, I had only seen them in the deeper water half a mile out. Todays wind allowed me to stay in the shallows close to shore - but the one time I sailed a bit further towards the fishing channel, of course I fell when jibing, and of course there were jelly fish right there. Not that I saw them - but their tentacles sound the few square inches of uncovered skin around my ankles. That was about 4 hours ago, and the pain is finally going away...

So if you sail near Kalmus these days, watch out for the oldest multi-organ animal in the water! It's quite possible that there is a little bloom in Lewis Bay, and that the tidal currents carry them out - but that's just a guess. Maybe I'm just not very lucky these days - there were several other windsurfers out today, all of them in shorties, and nobody else seemed to be in pain.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Kalmus wind meter reads low

Two things must be said:
  1. The Kalmus wind meter reads low.
  2. The "Human Forecast" for Kalmus is often too low.
There. I said it. Don't let faulty meter readings and forecasts keep you off the water!

I had the suspicion that the meter readings from the iWindsurf meter in Kalmus were low this year, especially in S and SSW winds, less so in WSW. It was either that, or my planing threshold for my most often used sail-board combos has suddenly dropped by 3-5 mph. I do get a bit better at planing every year, but that's usually more in the range of planing 1 mph earlier than last year. I got some better fins this year, too, and that may have also reduced my planing threshold - but not by that much.

The low Kalmus wind meter readings meant that I sailed without Nina a bunch of times this summer. She does not like big sails, and won't go if it looks like she won't be able to plane on 5.0. On her 90 l board with an 21 cm or shorter fin, that usually means 19 mph averages, better 20 mph for decent power. So what if we have seen many times that she will plane on 5.0 m / 90 l when I plane on 6.5 m / 110 l (yes, I do outweigh her a lot, and need more board and sail)? So what if I know that I'll be planing nicely if the meter reads 16 mph averages? If it was not 19, she did not go.

I had been watching the wind forecast for yesterday closely, and expected wind all day. We had a typical pattern: the NAM computer model predicted a few hours of S winds in the upper teens, the GFS model predicted 20 in the morning, raising to high 20s in the afternoon. I did not look at the human forecast, but heard that it called for something like 18-24 in the afternoon.

What we got was average readings around 20, with gusts in the mid-20s, at 9 am. Since low tide was at 8 am, and we like low tide at Kalmus, we went early. With straight onshore winds and low water levels, I decided to get some more practice on my slalom gear, and took out my 7.0 m race sail and my 90 l slalom board. Nina decided to use her favorite 4.5 m wave sail and a 17 cm fin on her 90 l Skate. If the averages had indeed been 20, that would have been too small to plane consistently - but she was planing close to 100% of the time as soon as she hit the water. That made it official - the Kalmus wind meter reads low, at least in S-SSW winds.

I have gotten used to sailing my comfy Tabou 3S 96 l board in Kalmus, so the slalom combo felt a bit scary. I was very nicely powered, even though the sail-board-fin combo seems to have about zero friction, which meant that I was going scarily fast over the (fortunately orderly) chop. My top speed was about 29 knots, but I was clearly the limiting factor - the gear would have easily gone several knots faster under a better driver. After a few runs, I switched down to the 3S and a 5.5 m non-cambered sail. Nicely powered right away, I went and played with the waves, even managing to get more than two or three turns on the same wave every now and then. Fun!

The wind kept picking up slowly, and I ended the session with a few nicely powered runs on the 4.5 that Nina had rigged. The smallest sail size on the water at that time was John's 3.2, and he was also nicely powered (you guessed right - he is light). By then, I had spent a couple of hours on the water and was starting to make stupid mistakes. Nina was done for the day, so we derigged an drove home. Here is the wind graph for the day:
I stopped sailing just before the averages hit 30. After lunch and a few of hours break at home, I figured that chances to sail in 35+ mph averages are rare, and drove back for a second session. On the way there, I saw tree branches come down while I was driving by; trees swaying in the wind like in a heavy fall storm; and a very angry sea at Craigville Beach. At Kalmus, nobody was on the water when I arrived. I walked down and chatted for a while with Martin, Jay, and Spencer. Standing on wet sand less than 10 feet from the water in onshore winds, we nevertheless got sandblasted, and every now and then, a gust would push one of us a few feet back. The wind felt stronger than anything I have sailed in for a long, long time, perhaps ever. Spencer, who is a better windsurfer than I am, had already hurt his ribs in a fall. Someone else stated that he was overpowered on 3.7, and he was not a light weight. One by one, the sailors went back out. They looked like they had decent control out there, except that everyone was flying the fin on wave gear, with just the last foot of the board touching the water most of the time. Jumps would occasionally end in a big splash, but usually result in pretty big air and prolonged hang times. I even saw something that was darn close to a table top - impressive!

So I suppressed my inner chicken and went out, after all. I almost never sail anything smaller than 4.5, which I have used in 35 mph averages several times in Maui, Hatteras, and Cape Cod, but I decided to rig the 4.0 North Ice, based on what everyone else was sailing and how strong the wind felt. I would have gone with the 3.7, except that the wind was supposed to drop a bit. The board I picked was the Goya One 77 l, which I had not used in almost a year. The small gear took a bit getting used to again, but I eventually felt reasonably comfortable. There were large areas where the waves jacked up nicely, creating very smooth downhill slopes. The waves sometimes crested a bit, but did not really break. It would have been perfect for serious short speed runs, but I focussed on retaining some control instead - after sailing bigger boards with big fins a lot, I had a bit of trouble controlling my back foot pressure. So I ended up going down smooth, steep ramps at perhaps 24 knots, with the sail wide open - and still a lot of pressure in the sail, even though I was going downwind! I'd guess that gusts were at in the high 40s; the wind meter only showed gusts below 40 during this time (6:30-7 pm).

I felt a bit out of my element, which was only reinforced watching the other windsurfers on the water. Martin did nice, long planing jibes, coming out dry or even planing as if it was just the average 4.7 day. He had sailed on his 4.2 most of the afternoon when averages where above 35, and he kept going strong in the sunset. But others on the water outshone him, with crazy slashing, perfectly dry turns, and higher jumps. Amazing to see! One of these guys had not sailed at all this year before today...

I only sailed a bit more than half an hour, and then called it quits, glad to be unhurt. I definitely had more fun in the morning session, which was in conditions that I am much more familiar with. But the evening session was the more memorable one.
The day before also had been windy, and I did some freestyle on my Skate 110 / Pilot 6.5 combo. I tried some planing switch jibes for the first time, and was very surprised to plane out of the second try. My foot placement felt a bit funny, but I'll just have to try more often. Also made some progress on my duck jibes, which ended up being decent on the far side. With yesterday's session, that makes 5 days of sailing in August already. Not a bad summer so far :-)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Welcome, August!

I never thought of August as a windy month, unlike October or November. But this year, August started of rather nicely, with three days of planing on the first three days of the month. It started on Thursday. Meter readings for Kalmus were low, with averages of 13-14 mph and gusts of 16. I went planning on a light wind free style session, but when I got there, I saw lots of white caps, and went out on my big gear instead - a 71 cm wide, 117 l slalom board and an 8.5m V8 sail. The GPS tracks tell the story of what happened:
That's 90 minutes of planing. Top speed was near 28 mph, almost twice as fast as the wind - fun! I had not sailed the big gear much so far this year, so it took a few tries to get the tacks and jibes dialed in, but after a few runs, I at least stayed dry. With onshore winds and low water levels, the chop was perfectly manageable. Great session!

Friday afternoon saw a bit more wind, so I got to sail my new 7 m race sail again, this time on my 90 l slalom board. That turned out to be a lovely combo for the winds that were first up and down, but then increased steadily from 18 mph into the mid-20s. After half an hour in front of Kalmus, I decided to sail over to Egg Island to see what this combo could do on flat water. The sand bar was mostly submerged, but I still had a lot of fun on my first run, which went all the way to the end of Lewis Bay. But on the way in, the harness line snapped, cutting the session short. With quite a bit of walking and a bit of sailing, I finally made it back to Kalmus. By now, the wind was approaching 30, and the chop was getting high, so instead of switching board and sail, I called it a day - the forecast for Saturday looked good, too!

The actual wind prediction for the day was in the upper teens, but meter readings at 9:30 am were showing averages of 25, with gusts to 30. I still got some of this wind when I got onto the water with my 5.5/3S 96 combo, but then the wind dropped, so I decided to rig the 7.0 again, and go out on the big slalom board. That decision worked beautifully as the wind sacrifice. The wind picked up again, and I only made about 2 runs on the bigger gear before I decided that the smaller sail and wave board would be more fun. I had a few hours of big fun on this combo. I finally am starting to figure out how to time the waves on the outside to plane through jibe, and was able to line up a few planed-through jibes on both sides. The lovely Nina, who finally joined me again on the water with here 4.5 / Skate 90 combo, rocked as usual, working on duck tacks, Flakas, and Shove Its, and turning with beautiful duck jibes and planed-through step jibes as if it was nothing. Martin also showed up, and did a great loop try right in front of me, where he turned the board around 180 degrees while still 2 feet in the air. He inspired me to give up my lawn moving ways for a bit, and at least work on chop hops. But just as I was getting mentally ready to go loopy, the wind seemed to drop a bit again. Since the tide was also low, I decided to take the slalom gear for another spin...

As everyone knows, just going back and forth really fast is boring, so I mixed things up a bit. First, I let my front foot slip out of the straps to see if it really is necessary to have both feet in the straps when going over chop at 25 mph. The perhaps not-so-surprising answer was "yes, it is necessary!". I am not quite sure what happened next, but it included a very sudden stop, with me going head-first into the sail. I was still hooked in; the board and sail had stopped completely; my head was stuck to the sail; but my body still had plenty of forward momentum, which being hooked in partially converted into downward momentum. This, in turn, led to not just one, but two a very interesting tests: how much impact will the sail hold, and how far forward can my neck bend? The technora sail passed with flying colors. My head, event though not terribly sharp, would certainly have pierced a monofilm sail. Not sure if that would have been a good thing, since I would have ended up wearing the sail around my neck, with my head under water and my feet sticking into the air. The technora, however, was not impressed at all by being hit with my almost 200 pounds at high speed. Not a dent in it. So the weaker part in this experiment turned out to be my neck. A whole bunch of muscles all the way down to my shoulder blades protested loudly against being stretched too far, and I needed a couple of minutes after the fall before I could even think about making the way back. I eventually did, but that was the end to the session - bouncing over chop after hurting your neck like this is just no fun.

An essential part of being a windsurfer is being superstitious, so I'd love to figure out what caused this. Unfortunately, I have two possible options. The first one is that I had announced that I wanted to do a lot of distance on Saturday. I was just 152 km away from hitting the 10,000 km mark on the GPS Team Challenge, and sailing 152 km should not be too hard... but just as the last time when I announced plans for going for distance, I hurt my neck in a stupid fall. So maybe I jinxed myself?

But it is also possible that the windsurf gods just try to tell me that I should only sail when my lovely wife is sailing. While she was still on the water, I had the best session in a long time, perfectly powered on 5.5, everything being easy. But she had to stop after perhaps 2 1/2 hours, since she had neither sailed nor done any other sport for almost a month. I went back out while she was getting ready to leave, and hurt myself. It does not really happen often that I hurt myself windsurfing, but this was the third time in about as many weeks, all when Nina was not sailing. Do I have to become a freestyler who exhausts himself by trying lots of things in a short time - but only when the lovely Nina is doing the same?

After writing this post, a third possible cause for my recent hurt tendency came to my mind. Both days when I hurt my neck, Martin was working hard on loops. The loop is on my "wanted" list, so I should be doing the same - maybe these crashes are trying to show me that I really should go for it, since I am getting hurt anyway, even if I don't try?
For my GPS-loving fans, here's an interesting tidbit: my top speed on Saturday, when wind gusts went all the way up to 30 mph, was just 0.5 knots faster than on Thursday, when gusts were just 16 mph. Not that I was going slow on Saturday, either - I did a few drag races with Alex, who is getting pretty fast - I had to fully concentrate and apply every little trick I know to keep him at bay. But all those bumps on the water slow most of us down a lot. Besides the higher winds, there also were way more windsurfers out on Saturday - nice to see, but they all make waves, too.