Monday, June 16, 2014

Crashes, Tricks, and Smiles - ECWF Long Island 2014

Last weekend, the East Coast Windsurfing Festival returned to Long Island, after a break in 2013 due to hurricane damage to the event site. And what a fantastic event it was! About 30 windsurfers competed in 6 races and 4 rounds of freestyle heats, followed by the freestyle semi-finals and finals (results are here).

We had great weather for two days - plenty of sun and enough wind to occasionally get planing. Offshore winds on both days create interesting conditions. Races at the ECWF LI start near shore; this made it impossible to start with an upwind leg, which tends to spread the windsurfers out. Big gusts and lulls near shore contributed to plenty of falls, so getting going and not running into someone often was a challenge. Our whole 4-person team from Massachusetts had trouble at the crowded starts. I tried to be smart at the first side, staying near the outside buoy while everyone else was upwind, close to shore. But I misjudged how much I'd drift, and ended up hooking the buoy anchor line with my 56 cm fin. After getting of the board to free the fin and then re-starting, most of the field has rounded the first buoys.

Next time, I tried to be smart, and started near shore - only to discover that I could not turn the 280 l, 12-foot Mahalo fast enough to avoid running aground or into others. The only reason I ended up in the middle of the pack at the finish line was that I fell less during the rest of the course, and gave everyone who looked shaky on their board lots of room. Dani and Nina, who thought that having the right of way would mean others stayed away, were less lucky, and both ended up in collisions. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, and nothing got damaged. But what had been a good placing in the race evaporated...

I eventually got one good start, before screwing up a third time. Day 1 racing certainly explained to me what more experienced racers mean when they say "You have to pay your dues"!

On day 2, the wind had turned a bit, and the course was set a bit differently, with an initial tight reach followed by a jibe that did not have to be close to the buoy - two things that helped to reduce crashes. My friend Dani had to stop sailing because of shoulder pain, and was kind enough to let me use his Starboard Phantom 320, which was a great board for the conditions. I ended up in 3rd place in race 5. in race 6, I had my best start yet, trailing only the unbeatable Kurt Veith on his Starboard Phantom 380 up to the first buoy. Then, I picked a bad course (partly to stay away from others), and let several experienced guys pass me. On the final upwind leg towards the finish buoy, I was in a close battle with Joe Natalie. Checking were he was distracted me enough to (a) go downwind just two feet to much to make the mark, and (b) completely miss that ABK instructor Eric came flying in, pumping onto a plane on his SUP. Eric rounded the buoy  with a tight jibe, taking the spot before me an Joe. Sneaky! But quite impressive.

Somehow, I ended up in fifth place overall, and got to take home a trophy. Thanks, Jerry! Nina, who did race 5 on her Skate 100 and race 6 on my Kona Mahalo, placed second in women's racing. Nice!

Between the racing, we had several rounds of freestyle competition. After the first round, it became clear who would win the freestyle: Pierre Coupal, who had come from Canada to show us what real old school freestyle on an original windsurfer looks like. Here are a few pictures of Pierre in action:

Although nobody else come anywhere close to Pierre's skills, the level of freestyle shown was quite high. I really doubted that I'd make it into the top 5, so I pulled out a couple of tricks that I had last done 30 years ago: the inside-the-boom "neck hold" (no hands), and the "backflip into water start" dismount, where your hold body going up between the boom and the sail. Together with a few duck tacks and simpler tricks, that got me all the way into the finals. By then, I was burned out, and George Pav took the second place behind Pierre.  But George, who puts on a great show and can do about all of the tricks I can do, would probably have beaten me even if I had been a lot fresher. I was quite happy with the third place!

In the women's freestyle, Nina showed tricks that might well have gotten her a second place finish in the men's division. Here's a short movie (sorry, I did not get to film much between all the heats):

All her practice in "pesky" winds paid off, and she took 1st place in women's freestyle. With her second place in racing, she also got crowned "Queen of the East". Congratulations!

I almost managed to get the "King of the East" title. I ended up in a tie with Pete Roesch, who placed second in racing, and sixth in freestyle. The organizers had go down a few tie breaker rules before handing the title to Pete because he had the better placing in one of the two disciplines (2nd in racing vs. my 3rd in freestyle). Congratulations to Pete, King of the East!
Pete and Nina, King and Queen of the East
Clearly, I have a lot of practicing to do before next years event! I'm already looking forward to it, and will not shy away from practicing light wind freestyle in pesky wind anymore. For now, big thanks to the organizers of the ECWF Long Island - Mike and Chrissy Burns, Thom Herring, Chachi, and all the others who helped out and participated.

Here are a few more pictures from the event: