Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Crazy fast


Looks like the kiters have done it - that's Tillman Heinig running well over 50 knots over 500m according to his GPS (so no, it's not a WSSRC-sanctioned record). There's some discussion in the community, with Finian Maynard pointing out that the run was over a curved course, and that the projected 500m speed was a little below 50 knots - oh well. Even so, I'm still very impressed by this; as somebody points out in that thread, when you have a running race, you don't account for turns, you only care about time over distance run, and in this case, 500m were covered at over 50 knots.

But check out that video a bit more closely - Tillman is going at warp speed in just a few inches of water, right next to shore; that takes some major balls. Good on him for making it happen for himself. I wish it had been a windsurfer, but hey, whether it's a kiter or a foiling tri or a windsurfer, I'm still stoked about it.

The next chance to officially break the all-out record and get over 50 knots, however, presents itself to a bunch of windsurfers: Driven by Wind, Dave White's even in South England, is looking at a spectacular forecast for tomorrow, Thursday. If that materializes, and if all the stars line up right, there's a pretty good chance one or more of those sailors will bag 50+ over 500 (on a straight course, with WSSRC observers and sanctioned video timing). Good luck, guys!

Friday, January 25, 2008

The view from home


...or, more precisely, the view from Tony's porch, two houses down from mine. Tony took this a few weeks ago; this was my second session back on the water after recovering from my shoulder injury. I was out on my 7.2 Sailworks NXfw and my new Exocet Warp Slalom 67, and the combo worked exceedingly well even in the somewhat gusty and streaky conditions found on the lake (the board glides well through lulls and stays controllable even in the big gusts, and the sail is just so insanely rangey that it's truly a joy).

And that pretty much answers the obvious (at least to all my non-sailing friends and neighbors) question as to why I don't sail the lake more often. It's rare for winds to be anything other than really flukey due to the terrain all around. The hills don't outright block the wind (we get tremendous southeasterlies shaking the house all the time in the winter), but they do make it very inconsistent.

That said, sailing the lake does have its charms. The views are nice, safety is a non-issue, it takes me all of a minute to get to the launch at Bloedel Donovan Park, and my kids get extremely excited seeing Dad on the water from their own deck. On this particular day, the wind was SE, but too easterly to sail the bay, plus I only had a short window of opportunity - so instead of waiting for things to fill in from the south and squander my chance to sail, I had a pretty nice session and got back to working. Not a bad life ;)

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008



The past few days, you could be excused for not remembering that this was the Pacific Northwest. It's been clear and cold. Sunday saw great NE winds coming down through the Fraser River valley (see graph to the right). I was flying solo with the kids, and the wind readings along with the brilliant sunshine had me thinking about finding a babysitter for a couple of hours. Taking the kids down to the Bay to play on the beach, I was struck by just how incredibly clear and beautiful it was (the Canadian Cascades looked like you could just reach out and touch them, and the abundant sunshine was creating the most amazing low-altitude rainbow in the spray that got blown off the chop). Perfect slalom conditions - except the temperature was right at the freezing mark, and with the wind chill, my desire to sail diminished rather quickly.

On Monday, we took advantage of the weather and the recent abundant snowfall on Mt. Baker coinciding with the holiday to do a family ski-day. It was a bit like Colorado without the lift lines (or the attitudes, for that matter). Gorgeous views, super-fluffy snow (and lots of it), and a good time being had by all. Fear not, however - nasty weather (and with it reasonable temperatures along with good winds) are back in the forecast for later this week.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Glimpse the future of windsurfing competition

Dave White's Driven by Wind event is on in England. Big names, putting up big speeds in (so far) conditions that are well below what's to be expected from this place. Remember, this is where Martin van Meurs already broke 50 knots for short bursts (on a suboptimal day), so there's huge potential here.

I've been stoked about what these guys are doing for competition; while I'm of a racer than a speedsailor, it's exciting to me how events like this, and the awesome success of the gps grassroots racing movement, have revived interest in going fast despite the industry and press drumbeat over the past decade or so (you know all that drivel about anything to do with competition or going fast being uncool and devoid of 'soul'... - different issue, though.)

What gets me really excited about this one, though, is not so much that there's a record attempt at a great venue, with official WSSRC observation (and thus the potential for a new all-out record and an official 500m run over 50 knots). Don't get me wrong, that's really cool, and it adds yet another opportunity to what's happening at the canal in France.

No, the really sweet thing about all this is that Dave has gone out and done what I've been dreaming about for years - he's put a real-time display on the web. Virtual spectator-type technology has been available for a while now; it's made America's Cup coverage interesting to the average person (that is anyone not immersed in sailboat racing) by showing clearly what's happening on a course. In this particular case the appeal is more about immediacy (after all, we don't really care which of these guys is where on the course, we just want to know how fast they're going). But the fact that this event, without million-dollar budgets, has been able to put this together is (besides being a huge credit to Dave and his buddies) proof that the technology has come down to a price-point that makes it feasible for mainstream use.

Imagine real-time gps tracks, along with real-time footage from helmet/boom cams, all packaged together with footage from start/chase boat cams. We've talked about it for years; we're finally at the point where it should be feasible to put it together for real events, then use it (a) to present to crowds on the beach (think big events in Europe where people actually show up to watch even if they're not married to any of the competitors) and (b) to put together a package for channels like OLN or Discovery or ESPN. Can you imagine what that would do to make it clear to people just how exciting racing sailboards (even course racing, which is notoriously hard to follow for spectators) can be? Remember - this kind of presentation made the America's Cup exciting to watch - and those guys go what, 8 knots?

Good times!

Monday, January 14, 2008


i·den·ti·ty (-dnt-t)n. pl. i·den·ti·ties
1. The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known[...]
2. The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group.
Source: TheFreeDictionary

What are some of the things that come to mind when people ask you what you are? Not who, but what? What's your identity? For most of us, it's more than one thing - sure, we're all human beings. Then there are the roles we play (father, son, professional, etc.). And for many of us, windsurfer is a big part of that. It is for me - windsurfing being my passion, being a windsurfer is definitely a piece of that package that's my identity.

So when I was off the water for about 2 1/2 months with a bum shoulder, did that make me less of a windsurfer? Yes - I wasn't constantly behaving like a windsurfer (such as frantically checking the wind, keeping an eye on the forecast, trying to carve out time for a session, working on gear). Except when I still was (such as obsessing about gear choices for next season, reading windsurfing sites on the net, training in the gym to prepare for next racing season, driving by the bay on windy days to at least get a visual). So then it's really a No?

Funny thing, this windsurfing thing - once it's got you hooked, it's not like you're just dropping out while you're not doing it. There's something more to being a windsurfer than going windsurfing. I'm sure the same is true of other passionate pursuits, and it's what makes them different from pastimes and hobbies. The former are an outlet for something deep inside you - your personality, your character, your hopes, your self. If you're a passionate windsurfer, then that at least partially defines you, gives you an identity (or allows you to express you identity, more like it...). Whether you race, or live to sail waves, or spend hours working on your freestyle moves, you probably get what I'm saying. If, however, you think I'm completely off my rocker, then you're probably seeing windsurfing as a hobby or a pastime (or, also possible, you're right and I really am off my rocker...).

My injury was not severe. Within a week I knew that I wouldn't need surgery, and that complete recovery was virtually assured if only I put in the time, discipline, and work to heal up. Still, it made me think about what I'd do if I couldn't windsurf. I don't have an answer to that. I do know, however, that I'd need (and be able) to find another outlet for that passion. I don't know what I could find that would scratch that same itch, or even if that would be necessary - perhaps I could be just as happy and immersed in something not involving speed and water. I didn't have to really go there - knowing that I'd be back, the person at the gym working on his rehab was a windsurfer getting back on the water. I had the luxury of not having to solve the identity puzzle.

In the last couple years, I've found that what creates identity in the sense of the second definition above (the group membership piece) is more about the passion than the actual outlet. I'm a windsurfer, but as a competitor I feel kinship with those who are competitive in all kinds of other things as well, whether they're triathletes or rowers or kayakers or soccer players - as long as they are truly into their thing so you can see them light up when they talk about it, I feel like we're members of the same tribe. Same goes for others who may not have a competitive bone in their body, but who are passionate members of the water tribe - surfers, swimmers, sailors, rowers, and with a bit of a phase change skiers and snowboarders.

Nonetheless, after a few good sessions (and no adverse effect on my shoulder), I somehow feel more settled. Sure - I'd be OK if I couldn't windsurf again; my identity is more rooted in the passion than in the activity itself. And surely, there'd be tremendous potential for personal growth in the challenge of finding something else that lights me up the same way. But there's a reason I've chosen that outlet (or is it more a matter of it having chosen me?), and for now, I'm damn glad that it's still in my life.

Sail on!