Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Wing Progress and Board Demos

 It's been windy the last week - tell me, what can a poor boy do? Well, your's truly has been winging a lot - 5 of the last 6 days. The only break day was not caused by lack of wind, but rather by us not being ready to go out in temperatures close to 10 C (50 F). 

Today, all that TOW has paid off. Here's a picture that tells the story:

If you're familiar with the area, you may notice that I did not start at Kalmus today, but instead launched from Sea Street Beach. When windfoiling, I often sailed over to this area to practice jibes in the noticeably flatter water. I tried that with the wing, too, but since every turn is a jibe, and my jibes are still often wet, that was so much work that I was exhausted when I made it up there. Windfoiling half a mile upwind with a board that's easy to take was a lot easier, even before I started using the harness! So why not start at Sea Street - it's off season, yeah! I called Joanie, and she also came to try out a "new to her" spot, bringing along Jay (who decided to stick with Kalmus) and Bob.

The session ended up being absolutely excellent. I made substantial progress on jibes, which mainly means that I can now depower the wing downwind, and switch hands, without falling off. Well, sometimes, that is. In the best tries, the board even kept turning while I switched hands. But even if it did not, it was often easy to get wind into the wind on the new side to turn the board around more, and then hop-switch the feet. Several times, the board starting foiling again right away after the foot switch. The GPS tracks show that I kept a board speed of 6-7 knots in these jibes, which means the big 2000 front wing kept pushing the whole way through, even though the board was on the water. Fun!!

A couple of days ago, my lower arms had started hurting early in the wing session. Jay later remarked that he had seen me ride nose-high - a very useful observation. Apparently, I had reverted back to my old ways of plowing throw the water, with low speed, the foil at a high angle of attack, and plenty of power in the wing. So today, I concentrated on keeping the board flat, nose down, with minimal wing pressure. I experimented a bit with where to stand, and found that narrowing my stance seemed to help a lot. I had a few runs where everything felt super-easy and super-enjoyable. Maybe I finally got a glimpse of why so many windsurfers and windfoilers have switched to winging.

In my recent sessions, and especially today, I was very happy with my Stingray 140. We had gone to a Cabrinha demo session in West Dennis yesterday, where I had a chance to try two of their foil boards. The first one was a 98 l board, which turned out to be hopelessly too small for me. The chop threw me off the board every single time very quickly; I don't think I ever got a hold of both handles. After a session on my Stingray, which felt very easy in comparison, I then tried the 118 l board, this time with a Cabrinha 1600 front wing. The board is about 2 feet shorter than the Stingray, and 10 cm narrower, but had enough volume and width to at least let me grab both wing handles. After that, though, the trouble started. In the first try, the board started foiling up while I was still on my knees, thinking about getting up. In the next tries, I managed to eventually stand up. But when I stand up, my feet are quite far apart, and the board was so sensitive to any weight shift that I'd either stick the nose into the water, or send it towards the sky while falling off the back. Maybe I could have learned how to deal with this if I'd tried another hour or two - but why, if I can have fun on my old-fashioned and loooong board? So I returned the demo board quickly, and went back to having fun on the Stingray. But at least I learned that I definitely do not want any wing board that shorter than 6 feet anytime soon. Sure, Nina can sail boards that are shorter than 5 feet (she got her workout demoing a 44 l board), but I am no Nina. Cabrinha is a kite brand, and maybe for kiters, boards that are almost 6 feet long feel gigantic. For me, they are ridiculously short. But then, I started windsurfing on 12 ft longboards, which I still think are great (just not quite as great as something with a foil underneath). Maybe the short and tiny boards are just great for radical carving in the hands (or rather, under the feet) of experts. But for this wannabe winger with limited talent and balance, what such a board regards as an instruction to carve radically was just a little unconscious, and probably unintended, weight shift. For me, all that "swing weight" from my long, heavy Stingray means that such little weight shifts will be of little consequence, and that carving jibes on unsteady legs will be nicely predictable. Even with all the length and weight, I can still turn the Stingray faster on the foil than any windsurf board I ever was comfortable with.

Another thing about many of the short foil boards is that they are often quite tall (or fat, if you prefer).  To pack almost 120 liters into a frame shorter than 6 ft and narrower than 2 1/2 ft, the numbers for the remaining dimension has to go up. Which is not problem, once you're in the air and standing near the centerline - but on the water, any additional thickness only increases the instability. I've done a nice experiment to verify this by adding a "foil platform" to an old slalom board. I did not increase the width at the waterline, but added perhaps an inch of two in height, which dramatically improved the usability of the board ... for balance training. But maybe that's the topic of a future post.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Learning by Teaching

 I learned a surprising lesson last weekend during the ABK camp: that teaching others can be a fantastic way to learn. After a couple of years where I did not participate in a single ABK camp, I had major withdrawal symptoms, so I definitely wanted to be part of this year's camp on Cape Cod. I told Andy that it did not matter to me if I joined as a camper or a teacher, and since one of his regular teachers was out due to surgery, and his usual backup teacher could not get away from his job, teaching it was!

I spent the three mornings teaching a "never-ever" beginner. That was great in several respects, including that I was familiar with one-on-one beginner lessons. After taking the windsurf instructor course with Coach Ned a few years back, I had taught several beginners over the years, and the last time was just a few weeks ago. My student did great, learning to tack and going upwind on day one, and having a blast on the next two days, even when the conditions were quite challenging with very light wind and considerable boat chop on day three. He had to deal with some health issues that made physical activity harder for him than for my previous students, but he did not let that keep him from trying hard and doing very well. I was proud of him, and will always remember his energy and positive attitude. I can learn a lot from him in this respect!

In the afternoon on the first two camp days, I helped out a bit with the advanced groups. I started working with Joanie on the wing tack, after listening to Andy's lesson. I have never even tried a tack on the wing, but the lesson was quite clear, and Joanie wanted to practice on the beach, since the wind was too light for foiling. The tack we practiced is the one where you switch the feet first, then turn into the wind and move the sail to the other side. I often switch my feet when windsurfing in light wind, for example to do a new school duck tack, so that seemed easy to me. Watching Joanie step, it became clear that we needed to work on two things: 1. stepping onto the center line, and 2. not moving backward (or forward) when changing the feet to switch. Initially, she had stepped to the side of the center line, and ended up further back on the board. The center line issue was easy to fix, but the stepping backwards was harder, since we started by stepping back with the front foot behind the back foot, and then stepping forward with the back foot. The only way to getting close to not moving back was by taking a larger step forward. After that, we focused on moving the wing to the new side, which we both picked up quickly. 

I thought I had learned what I needed to do for a wing tack, which I thought was great. But going over it in my head a few hours later, I realize that what we did on the beach would never work on the foil. By stepping back with the front foot behind the back foot, the body weight would shift to the back, and the nose of the board would start to come up. Lifting the front foot to move it forward would shift the weight even further back, which would quite likely result in overfoiling and crashing. Perhaps an advanced foiler would be able to do this kind of footwork, lifting the nose on purpose first, and then pushing it back down when stepping forward. But a beginner? 

So I asked my lovely winger wife, who often foils the the vast majority of her tacks, how she switches her feet. The answer: first, step or shuffle your feet closer together, and turn the front foot more towards the nose of the board. Second, step forward with you back foot first, placing it next to the front foot. Third, step back with the old front foot. The entire step sequence moves the body weight much less forward and backward, and should keep the flight height a lot steadier. When I practiced the corrected footwork the next day with Joanie on land, she got it right away, and it felt a lot more natural than the "wrong" footwork. I later made her go out with the beginner windsurf gear (big board, small sail), and had her practice going switch to get her used to the feeling of sailing with a twisted body. She even tried a duck tack when I told her that duck tacks are the best way to get out of a switch stance on a windsurf board!

So within about half an hour of practice on land, and a bit of time to think about it, I learned a rather important piece about how to go switch when winging, which is highly relevant for both tacks and jibes. Fast learned like Nina can figure such things out on their own quickly, but a fast learner I am not. It probably would have taken me multiple days of consistently crashing before I even would have figured out that my approach to stepping might be wrong ... and that's the best cast scenario. But the other thing I learned from this is that foiling wing tacks are a lot simpler than foiling windfoil tacks, and I think this is also true for jibes.

On the second day, Andy put me in charge of the advanced group practicing light wind freestyle for an hour, while he was giving a lecture. That was an interesting challenge. Admittedly, light wind freestyle is something I am reasonably good at, but several windsurfers on the advanced group are very talented and skilled. The first think I learned was that the teacher has to actively approach the student - when you just stand in the water, they will mostly be off practicing something, and mostly ignore you. That even happens to Andy, and perhaps explains why he is so good at giving loud advice. The next thing I learned was that I was able to see quite well what the students were doing wrong, and suggest changes to fix the problems. A couple of times, being on very small gear was part of the problem - several students were working on new light wind tricks on their high wind gear, which barely floated them. One of them did extremely well, but he is clearly one of the most talented windsurfers I have seen. Others were struggling on the small gear, but then very quickly made progress when I put them on the big beginner gear. For us "average mortals", it is a lot easier to learn light wind freestyle on big, stable boards first, before switching to smaller boards. There are exceptions to this rule: moves that require the board to turn, but where the body remains stationary, like upwind or downwind 360s, can be just as easy or even easier on smaller boards. But most moves that include a sail throw or stepping are much easier to learn on big boards.

Looking back at the more than 20 ABK camps that I have participated in, this one was definitely at or near the top with respect to how much I learned: about attitude, perseverance, teaching (thanks to many, much appreciated, tips from Andy), wing foil tacks and jibes, and more. I'm already looking forward to the next time I get to teach.. and I can't wait until we have enough wind for me to wing foil again!