Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Loop Takeoff

I had a chance to study Martin's loop try videos, and want to share my theories with you. Just to be clear: I am talking about learning to do a mostly horizontal spin loop in moderate chop or small waves.

A lesson I learned from working on jibes is that the problems you see are often caused by doing something wrong much earlier in the move. I think the same thing applies here. I will also assume that Martin's problems are similar to problems I have had when trying to loop, and to problems I have seen other ABK campers have. Let me start with a picture from an ABK camp in Bonaire in 2011:
This is the takeoff for one of my first loop tries. I got the nose of the board up nicely, which is good. But you can see that my body is angled very far back, which is bad. I never got the nose to go down and the tail to go up; instead, the board just dropped back onto the water tail-first, and I got catapulted around a bit. Now let's look at one of Marty'ns tries from the video I posted yesterday:
Takeoff #6
His body position is a little better than mine, but also looks wrong. The next picture shows how this try (#6 in the video) ended:
Landing #6

The board landed tail-first, and Marty fell to the inside. Now let's look at his next try. The takeoff:
Takeoff #7
Do you notice the subtle differences? We'll come back to that, but let's first check out the landing:
Landing #7
This time, the front half of the board hits the water first, and Martin's body is a bit more to the right side, closer to where it should be.

Now look back at the takeoff pictures. In the first picture, Martin's front leg is straight; in the second picture, his front leg is bent a little bit. This allows his body to be a bit more upright over the board.

Now let's look at Jerry's takeoff posture:
Jerry looping
Jerry's front leg is bent quite a bit, and his back leg is straight. That allows his body to be much more over the board. His upper body is also straight over his back leg, not bent forward like Marty's. Looking at the other "great loop" example in the video, we can see the same thing:
Joseph Pons demonstrating loop takeoff posture
Again, the back leg is straight, the front leg is bent, and the body is mostly over the board.

Once the board leaves the water, the legs should do two things: the back leg is pulled in to pull the tail up; and the front leg extends to push the nose down and downwind. It's easy to see how this would work in Joseph's and Jerry's example. But in Martin's takeoff #6, his front leg is already extended, and his back leg is already bent a bit; the only think he could do would be bending his back leg more, which would not be enough to level the board.

Amuse me for a minute, and assume that the analysis above is correct. To fix the problem, we need to have Martin bent his front leg more at takeoff, and keep the back leg extended. That will keep his body more over the board, making it easier to move the sail to windward - forward. Once the nose turns downwind, causing the sail to load up, his body will also be in a much better position to get thrown around, giving him a chance to complete his first loop.

The goal is clear - how do we get there? Our challenge is to over-write "bad" muscle memories from many, many tries.  But fortunately, Martin already has the necessary skills - he can do tail grab jumps, and he can pop the board in flat water. So here's the prescription:
  1. Do the "wheelie" crash from the ABK loop lesson (that's stopping the board by opening the sail and stomping on the tail; slalom sailors often stop this way). Make sure the sail is open, and try to stay as upright over the board as possible; the front leg should be bent much more than the back leg.
  2. Practice pops in flat sections. Think of a variation of Andy Brandt's "independent arms" - we're going for independent legs (and, of course, being over the board). About 20 should do.
  3. Try loops. Think of it as a trail grab pop, but instead of letting go with the back hand to grab the tail, move the rig to windward, look back, and hold on!
I changed the prescription a day after the initial post - I took out tail grab jumps, and instead added the "wheelie" exercise that Andy Brandt has as a part of the ABK lecture. The tail grab jump may help to learn the loop (Jem Hall thinks so), but in all jumps, there's a strong tendency to lean the body back to counter-act sail pressure. That's counter-productive in a loop, where we want give into the sail pressure to be thrown around. In contrast, I think the "wheelie stop" crash exercise may be a good way to learn to get the nose of the board up by bending the front leg. I'm not 100% sure of this, but I plan to try it out soon!

Visualization can also be helpful, so here's a video with a slow-motion "starboard" version of Josep Pons' loop:

Shortly after I posted the video about Martin's loop tries, his friend Nikita sent him an email with tips. Nikita actually knows how to loop (and Vulcan, Grubby, Spock, etc.), so I thought I'd share his comments here (I added the highlighting):
"Now, Peter says that there is a mystery as to why you can't loop. Watching the video, the culprit seems pretty clear to me - you stay way back when you jump! You have to move both you and the rig much more forward as you are going up the ramp. As it is, you are not even catapulting. If you are not catapulting, you won't loop. You seem to be trying to do it sort of safely, but you really have to be going for some serious catapults if you want to get there.
When we were all in Hawaii, I was going farther than you in my loop attempts, but was still not getting close. Sergei told me that I was jumping my normal jumps and THEN trying to move the rig forward in the air - wasn't working. Once I started leaning forward going into the jump, then my rotation really improved.
Obviously, if you lean forward as you are going up, there is no way to land safely, other than looping. You will 100% catapult. This is a very uncomfortable feeling, but the only way of doing it. You've got to be more aggressive and be prepared for those bumps and bruises.
It's actually very similar with all the other moves: Vulcan, Spock, Grubby, Flaka, etc etc. You have to jump way forward as you are taking off. Basically overcome your fear of the catapult and forgo any thought of landing a normal jump. That's probably why Andy has been telling Boris to not even learn to jump and go straight for the Vulcan - knowing how to jump properly keeps you too far back. I don't think I agree with his approach (jumping is fun in itself!), but the issue is clear - normal jumps and freestyle jumps are very very different, even on takeoff."

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