Friday, September 21, 2007

2007 season - lessons and goals

I've been wanting to do a debrief for a while now, and the more I mull over the season, the more I realize that there's really no over-riding grand unifying theory - instead, there's a number of things that I've learned this year (or that have been reinforced in some way - sometimes it takes a while for those lessons to really sink in...) So here goes, in no particular order:

Physical Fitness
I'm in pretty good shape compared to the rest of the fleet - both in the Gorge and at Nationals. The difference is that, since I live in a place that doesn't allow for almost daily sailing, I don't get to build up that windsurfing-specific stamina. Whether it's the last two heats of the 10-round slalom marathon on the second day of the 3-day Gorge Challenge, or the last day of the Nationals when I was reduced to hanging on as my early season decision not to get a formula sail smaller than 9.9 collided with a solid 35 knots and voodoo chop on the course and my cumulative fatigue from the previous four days' racing - multi-day events just got the better of me this season. While there's not full substitute for time on the water (as windsurfing tends to be the best training for windsurfing - duh!) I've started aggressively working on my conditioning. I've been taking very careful notes of what's been aching to the point of immobility, and I'm adjusting my workouts to better target those things. Hopefully, that will bear some fruit next season.

Course Racing - VMG
The Gorge is a bit of an interesting place. Because we're racing with a reasonably small fleet and with long start lines, and because the water tends to be pretty smooth considering how windy it is, this opens a unique opportunity. You can, if you have enough board speed, get away with a super low-drag on-the-edge kind of tuning. For me, that meant my Roberts (with a relatively narrow tail) and very forward-raked R16's in Medium stiffness. That setup is way fast off the breeze, and upwind all it requires for incredible angle AND good speed (what a deal...) is a little bit of room to light up the foils before pushing for angle. That worked great for me all season in the Gorge, as I was right on Bruce's tail. It wasn't until Chris Prior came down for the Gorge Challenge and, with really good angle, started reducing my tactical options (and in the process edged me out of second into third) that I got a bit of a warning that this setup might have serious drawbacks.

Going to Nationals, however, made that very clear in the very first two heats - I simply couldn't play the high-speed game there, as (a) the course layout favored tactical degrees of freedom from grinding and (b) the rough water didn't allow me to take advantage of my speed all the way (it's hard to really light up the foils when you're flying off Crissy voodoo chop). Switching to Finworks fins made a huge difference on day 2 when I got a 4th and a 3rd place finish.

So the goal for next season is to find a better balance that allows me more latitude in my tactics - find better angle off the line so I can create my spaces to accelerate when I need them and can close the door on others, while retaining my boat speed edge. The fins are a key piece in that; tuning the whole package is the other.

Downwind slalom is dead simple; to win, all you have to do is:
  1. Nail your starts EVERY TIME - hit the line at full speed at 0, on the advantaged end, staying clear of anyone who might be OCS and could give you bad air.
  2. Have ample boat speed to avoid being rolled, easily roll others, and stay out in front where you have clean air and undisturbed water. Be able to preserve that speed even in the holes.
  3. Hit the mark first; set your line for the jibe to prevent anyone from cutting in on you.
  4. Accelerate out of the jibe faster than anyone else, even if there are holes.
  5. Repeat 3 and 4 until you finish (in first).
Really, it's that easy ;) Of course, optimizing for these success factors can lead to competing priorities. Sure, you want raw speed and super-fast jibes - that suggests going with relatively small gear and low drag (as well as good control so you don't bounce out). But you also need to punch through the holes and accelerate out of your jibes if it's light - which suggests more power and bigger boards/fins. And for Gorge box slalom courses, a bit of upwind ability is needed as well, also suggesting bigger gear.

Looking at slalom events this year, both in the Gorge and at Nationals, I'm concluding that:
  • I've gotten better at being aggressive on the starts; risking the occasional OCS, my starts have gotten more consistent, and I've started positioning myself a bit better. Gaining more experience has been helpful here.
  • I've gotten more aggressive at fighting for position within the heats, too. While that did cause me to crash in a crucial heat in the final rounds in the Nationals, I still believe it's the way to go - being tentative, for me, has led to at least as many crashes as being aggressive; you can't race slalom defensively and expect any level of success.
  • My jibes have gotten faster and more precise than they were in the past - I guess my slalom racing is finally catching up with my formula racing overall. The weak point is acceleration out of the jibe - the things for me to work on here are (a) getting a bigger board (and thus get better acceleration, as well as be more impervious to holes), and (b) working aggressively on my jibe exits (which is something I can do in the off-season when sailing slalom gear up here - you don't need a training partner to go through jibe drills, just a bunch of commitment and some breeze).
  • I've gotten faster - which is probably a direct result of just forcing myself to keep the hammer down anytime I'm out on my slalom gear, no matter how sketchy it might get. As a side effect, that's resulted in great entertainment for those sailing around me when I'm training, as the Bellinghamsters keep wondering why I'm out there on way too much sail taking big spills every so often...
It's been a good season - can't wait to see what next year will bring!

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