Sunday, March 25, 2007

Beach sport? Yachting? Both!

Windsurfing mag has a feature on power sails this month. Looks like the Hucker got some good press - for good reason, I'd say. Interesting to me, however, were some of the comments made by the sailmakers (this is only available in the print edition, not on the mag's web site). In his blurb, Dave Ezzy says something to the effect that Formula was this big diversion - huge sails for going upwind/downwind, and the average sailor, he contends, got 'reamed' by that development.

Which begs the question - how exactly does the average sailor get 'reamed' by a small segment of the market going off and doing its own thing? I race Formula and think it's awesome, but I don't have any illusions about this being something that's applicable to everyone. What's learned in the process can and does filter down to the rec market, though - you can't tell me that all the stuff sailmakers learned in making these huge sails rock solid didn't play into what they did to apply rig tension to smaller sails in ways that allowed more low-end combined with good stability at the hairy edge.

Instead, this to me looks like more of the old "that's not really windsurfing" attitude I see a lot. There's this apparent division between people who think windsurfing is a beach sport (something to be enjoyed only if planing on small gear, with an emphasis on waves and Bump & Jump), and those (a much smaller group, I admit) who think of windsurfing as sailing in the yachting sense (racing on upwind/downwind courses, sailing big gear in light winds, etc.)

To the beach sport crowd, sailing in 8 knots is a way station - something that needs to be done to learn how to windsurf in the first place. Later on, when skills have advanced, they'd consider 8 knots time to play volleyball on the beach, have a beer, and bitch about the lack of breeze.

To the sailing (yachting) crowd, 8 knots is an invitation to play - be it on longboards (for those who just want to cruise around and enjoy the gliding sensation), or be it on Formula gear (for those who have the racing and performance bug).

If you live on Maui, it's easy to see how you would fall exclusively into the beach sport camp. With ample breeze most of the year and tons of wave action, that seems natural. Dave Ezzy lives on Maui. He certainly has proven to be a very capable wave sailor, and he's passed on the stoke (those pics of his son Graham ripping it up with the pros are truly inspiring). Good on him! What he's apparently not getting, though, is that there's a world where reliable 20 knots and waves don't happen. In that world, you're dealing with 8 knots and flat water most of the time. And even in places where you do have lots of times with lots of wind (think San Francisco Bay or the Gorge - noone's ever complained about those not being B&J friendly...), there are lots of people who, because of work or familiy commitments, or traffic etc., can triple their time on the water easily (not to mention lengthen their season to year-round) by finding a way to enjoy 8 knots of breeze.

There are different ways to enjoy 8 knots. If you're on Maui, you get one of the new SUP-inspired long boards, slog out through the surf, and basically get to go surfing without needing to paddle. Cool. If you live near flat water, you can putter around on a longboard in sub-planing mode. Or, you can go for the high-performance option and sail Formula gear. If you're a competitive person, you know which one you're choosing.

So there's an option to have a rewarding, high-performance, exciting sailing experience in 8-12 knots. It's called Formula, and it works. I know, you can plane on big slalom gear in 10 knots these days - but nursing my plane in hours of ho-hum BAF sailing isn't really doing it for me, and I like to range around and go places - Formula will get me there in a way nothing else will (not even the highest-performance racing longboards).

So exactly how providing a high-performance option for those 8 knots and up means the average sailor gets 'reamed' is beyond me. Maybe the mag can get Dave Ezzy to clarify that - I simply don't get it. You could argue it's because everyone now thinks they have to have monster sails and boards and buy stuff that's not appropriate for them. Hmmm.... - coming from the wave-camp, I'd be careful with that one, lest someone might seek to place blame for the thousands of flat-water inland sailors getting skunked at their home spots every weekend because the conditions aren't right for their small wave or freestyle gear...

The cool thing about windsurfing is that it's not just a beach sport, and it's not just yachting. It's got the best of both worlds, and it spans a tremendous range. All of it's fun - as long as you're not hung up on what someone else tells you is proper windsurfing. There's lots to do in this sport, and lots of people get different kicks from all kinds of things. Racing (small gear or large; downwind or on UW/DW courses or long distance), wave sailing, freestyling, B&J sailing, longboard racing or cruising, tandem sailing - it's all good stuff. What the sport needs is stoke, and fortunatly there's lots of that around. What the sport doesn't need are judgmental attitudes. Nobody's getting reamed if we on the lunatic fringe go off and race formula gear UW/DW. Nobody's getting reamed just because magazines show inspirational (and aspirational) shots of sailors ripping it up on Maui. There's no need for that kind of rhetoric - just get over it.


PeconicPuffin said...

I think you're right about Ezzy's comments being Maui-centric. I'd also like to point out that for some of us, 5-10 knots is also time to get on a big board and play with freestyle...the nonplaning variety.

I'd like to try one of those Huckers...spoke with someone yesterday who says they perform as advertised when jumping!

USA 4 Steve Bodner said...

Id say the formula gear/light wind trend is benifitinng the ave. windsurfer more than we realize- the current generation of slalom sails have way more range than years ago and are easier to handle and more stable. For a rec sailor- that means having less equipment and more opportunity to use it.
The wider boards have also made it easier to plane in lighter wind as well as get additional people learning quicker- with a stablier platform- ie *bd go