Friday, July 31, 2009


Sitting on my rear end with a busted ankle, I came across a photo spread in windsurfing mag on hero jibes. And it occured to me that a full planing jibe, especially in choppy conditions, tends to be one of those things that people "work" on for years. The reason I'm using those quotes is that it seems most people are stuck in a bit of rut with their jibes; they've internalized some of the conventional wisdom on jibing, and they're focusing on those things, but they never really seem to get rid of their weak spots.

For me as a racer, jibing is a pretty important tool. And when comparing my jibes to those of people like, say, Bruce, or the pros, I find much left to be desired. I have, however, noticed that there are a couple of things that over the years have made a huge difference in my jibes.
Since the "how to jibe" articles always give you the whole package, and since that seems to overwhelm people, here are two things to work on in isolation. Together, they make a huge difference in the quality of a planing step jibe (which, if you want to go fast, is really the only viable thing to do). First, look at that first picture above. This is in the middle of the carve, in the process of oversheeting (and, if you want, laying down) the sail. Be sure to look at the picture in full size, and focus your attention on the area below my front shoulder. If you look closely, you can see that my lats and obliques are engaged. That's because I'm pulling *down* on the boom with my front arm with all my might.

The jibe instructionals in the mags often talk about a straight front arm while oversheeting; the reason they do that is to get you to use the weight of the rig to keep the nose of the board down, not only keeping you from bouncing out of the turn but also engaging the front of the rail. If you're freeriding and only moderately powered, that's fine; if you're in race mode, and you're lit out of your mind, that won't do. Instead, you'll need to get pretty aggressive not only on bending your knees and getting your body weight down and forward, but also actively transfer your
weight onto the rig. That will require active participation rather than just passively letting the weight of the rig take care of things - hence the
engaged lats and obliques.

So then you're onward to stepping your feet and shifting the sail. Look at the second picture (courtesy of Arnaud, who took this at the Blowout).
The jibe exit is the thing lots of sailors completely neglect - they just disintegrate. Here are some key pointers for a poised exit:
  • Legs are still bent - if you're standing up tall in this part (or really any part of your jibe), you'll just end up getting pulled over the handlebars at some point. You're about to flip the sail and sheet in/power up - you had better be braced for that with a low center of gravity.
  • The front hand might have moved forward on the boom - but it's still pulling down. Not as extremely as during the carve, but you're still adding to mast base pressure.
  • Your gaze is forward, towards where you're going. If you start looking at the boom to see where your hands need to go, you're pretty much guaranteed to fumble the exit. Look ahead while aggressively shifting the sail.
There you have it - downward pressure on the front hand during the carve, and a poised exit. This applies on formula and slalom gear alike. If the mantras you've been saying ("bend the knees", "nose to nose", etc.) haven't fully solved your jibe issues, try working on these two things to see if they make a difference for you in aggressively committing to your jibes.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

USWA Nationals - Day 2

More typical Gorge slalom conditions than yesterday's wild ride. The Men/Masters and Grand Masters fleet were split into Gold and Silver fleets, so finally all the top sailors got to compete against each other. Bruce Peterson dominated Gold Fleet racing - straight bullets, except one OCS (he and James Dinnis were both called over early in Heat 10), and a 3rd in Heat 11 where he got buried at the start and clawed his way past a bunch of pretty fierce competitors to challenge the leaders. James Dinnis was charging hard and giving Bruce some keen competition. MacRae Wylde and Chris Prior pushed hard as well and were always mixing it up there. From the Bay Area contingent, David Wells and Steve Bodner were contending with the leaders; Steve took the bullet when both Bruce and James were over early.

Bruce and James provided very instructional sailing all day long. They both had great speed and displayed great starting acumen (they were both over early once - in slalom, if you're never OCS, you're simply not pushing hard enough). Bruce tended to own the advantaged position at the pin end of the line; that move works only if you can be confident that you have enough speed not to get rolled even by people running at a broader angle from above. And both did some beautiful jibing.

There was a bit of contrast in technique, though. James was pulling wide, g-force laydown jibes in the Anders Bringdal tradition. Bruce, on the other hand, varied his technique, but usually made his jibes a bit tighter, especially the exit, while not giving up any exit speed. In the rare instance that he's not the first going into a mark, that usually allows him to get inside the other guy and get up front. In today's racing, that played out only once between him and James, after a start that resulted in a general recall. James was ahead getting into the first mark (before they figured out that the fleet had been recalled) and did a very fast, wide, laydown jibe. Bruce went into the mark a bit higher and wider and exited right at the mark, getting by James on the inside. That's when they both sheeted out and went back to the boat, having noticed the recall, so we didn't get to see that one play out. Would have been fun to see if Bruce could have punched through. It certainly set him up well for the second jibe (as the second reach is tighter, and he had a higher line).

Those jibes were what allowed Bruce to recover from (uncharacteristically) getting buried in the last heat of the day; he made up a lot of ground against a bunch of pretty fast sailors. It's hard to pass on a reach - but Bruce was able to sneak by people on the turns. I guess the lesson is to work those transitions (yes, including tacks - the one tack on the outside in the Gorge box slalom/M-course format tends to be a great opportunity for those who have their short board tacks down solid).

In the Silver Fleet, Torsten Tabel and Jeff Fagerholm were duking it out; in all of the melee, though, one sailor truly stood out. Ben Bamer, after having sat out the first day in the wild conditions (they just don't do slalom in Berkeley...), lined up with the field on his formula board and 10.0. We've seen people do well on Formula gear in the Gorge slalom in the old days, when the upwind leg was more significant, especially on light and patchy days. Friday, however, was nothing like that - the slalom sailors got close to being able to tack right on the mark, and the breeze was pretty filled in (no one was using anything bigger than 7.1, I believe, with most sailors on 6.0-6.5). Despite the lower board speed of that setup, the wider jibes required, and the control issues when power reaching, Ben stuck with the slalom guys; I'm sure that was really good strength training...

The juniors and women's fleet showed a lot of good close racing. Jay Watermeyer is clearly leading that field with strong, consistent sailing; Aaron Cardwell and Alex Nielsen were duking it out for second. There were a lot of really tight races between those three, with Jay usually getting a bit of an advantage through tighter jibes and clean tacking.

Marion Lepert led not only the junior girls, but the women overall as well, with Alyson Fromm in second for the juniors (and still in front of some accomplished, older racers). And then let's not forget the fact that those two (ages 13 and 15), as well as Ben Grodner (age 13) raced all day on Thursday and finished their heats despite the truly crazy conditions. And the Technos came out today, too. It certainly wasn't their kind of conditions, and the kids had to work it pretty hard to get those big boards around the course in what for them were very windy conditions. They all showed some serious guts, though.

And that really gets me to the main story of these Nationals. Between the junior fleet and the Technos, there are 22 sailors age 17 and under on the water. That's out of 68 competitors so far (there are a bunch more in the wings waiting for Formula, as they don't have slalom gear or don't race slalom). These kids are energetic, enthusiastic, and they've all displayed enormously quick progress in their skills. Personally, I'm incredibly stoked to be part of a sport where an experienced guy in his mid-40's can dominate a fleet, and where a bunch of young guns are charging it this hard. Despite the bummer factor of having to sit out the rest of the regatta (and, actually, the racing season) with a cast on my leg, that makes me feel pretty good about things.

I won't be able to report on Saturday's or Sunday's racing, as I got an opportunity to hitch a ride home today (with my left foot in a cast, driving a standard and pulling a trailer for over 300 miles just didn't seem like such a good idea). The forecast for today was for Formula conditions, and despite earlier predictions of a stifling heat wave, even Sunday looks like it will have raceable conditions. Check the VMG Events site for results. The slideshow below has some shots from the junior/women's, silver, and gold fleets that I took from the bluff before I needed to get my leg elevated and iced again; there are links to more pictures at VMG Events.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

USWA Nationals - Day 1

Today saw the windiest slalom racing anyone here in the Gorge can remember in a very long time. I had a real struggle getting my big (and only) 71cm wide slalom board to stay on the water, despite running a 6.2 and a 34cm fin. Bruce was racing his (probably sub-80 liter) small slalom board and a 5.4 - and was LIT. We were racing in age groups, so he ran in the Grand Masters, and I ran in the Men/Masters fleet, with the juniors and women getting their own start (the Techno 293 fleet wisely sat this one out...).

In the Grand Masters, Bruce dominated the fleet, and in the Men/Masters, James Dinnis (of Carbon Art fame) did the honors. If we get a chance to have a final rounds to determine an overall slalom winner, it will be a treat to see those two battle it out. I'll probably get a chance to watch that, too; after three heats of pretty deep finishes (5, 14, 6), struggling with the ballistic conditions on my big board, I finally got a good start with James and Chris Prior in the 4th heat. I nailed my first three jibes, and while James was out of reach, Chris seemed within striking distance as I locked in for the reach to the offset mark and the subsequent tight reach to the start pin to go into the second round.

I'm not quite sure what happened next- I only know that I went over the handlebars in what people on shore called a pretty spectacular wipeout and somehow came down with my left foot coming down hard on the sail (and, probably, beneath it the board). It felt like having twisted my ankle, and in the water, it was pretty clear that something was wrong as I couldn't even kick to swim into waterstart position, much less tolerate the pain of getting that foot up on the deck of the board to get going. Instead, I body dragged to the beach, a bunch of helpful folks got my gear and helped me out of the water, and when 30 minutes of icing failed to numb the pain at all or keep the swelling at bay, it was clear that I should get this looked at. Now it's splinted, with two fractures in the fibular - so I'll be off my left foot for at least a few weeks.

Racing continues tomorrow - since I can't do much else right now, I'll be on shore watching. Pretty bummed at this point, but then again, it's a clean bone injury that required no setting or surgery, and there doesn't seem to be serious damage to the ligaments beyond a mild sprain. And if I had to get hurt windsurfing, it couldn't have happened in a more supportive environment; not only did folks take care of all the logistics for me (thanks, Shelley, Michel, MacRae, Amy), but within five minutes of the injury I was being taken care of by an RN, a PT, and a podiatrist (thanks, Amy, Jay, and John), and then given rides to and from the ER (thanks, Ellen).

The slideshow below shows a bit of action from the 4th heat, as well as the result of me not having much else to do other than take pictures of my bum ankle afterwards... Not sure if the pictures do the conditions justice - it was furry out there. Darren told me later that gusts at the boat reached to 40; apparently, for the last heat, it picked up even more.

US Nationals start today

Yes, the Gorge can be a windy place (nope, that flag didn't get to look like this by just gently sagging off its pole...). We've had really good luck with the wind in the last week and a half. All of last week, I got to sail slalom every day, including the blowout. Monday, all the forecasts except Temira's were blessedly wrong, and we had great Easterlies at Stevenson all day long into the late afternoon (pretty much unheard of) for the junior race camp. Tuesday, Westerlies were back, so the camp moved back to the Event Site with great conditions. Lots of enthusiasm and hard work and fun - those kids are awesome, and if we could bottle that kind of energy... (I'll have a separate write up on the camp soon - it's pretty much claiming its spot as one of the highlights of this season already!).

Yesterday was registration day for the US Nationals, and the Event Site is slowly filling up. Lots of juniors, most of them freshly tuned up after the camp, and a bunch of familiar faces from all over the place. The Kerns are here from Florida, we have a few East Coasters, Charles and Chad Allen from Corpus Christi, Chris Prior and Bill C. from BC, and of course the Bay Area contingent. Yesterday saw full-on slalom conditions at the Event Site, and a bunch of the Bay guys were out getting used to their slalom gear. Lots of fun and big smiles all around.

Looks like today we might actually run some slalom - the forecast is looking promising for that. Tomorrow and Friday look a little lighter, so there should be some good course racing, and Sunday looks like we might get hit with a heat wave and no breeze - but the forecasts have been pretty fluid, so I for one am thinking it's entirely possible we'll get a whole four days of racing.

Major kudos to Bruce Peterson of Sailworks, who jumped in and saved the regatta for several sailors who had chartered gear. The chartered FE rigs didn't arrive as planned due to some logistical snafus, and Bruce stepped up and helped folks out with a killer charter deal that can't come anywhere close to covering his cost, not to mention time and effort. In addition, there was a parade of sailors getting help with all kinds of odds and ends and repairs at the Sailworks loft yesterday, and they all got help, regardless of what brand they were on. Way to go to support the sport!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Blowout - results are up

Results are up at the VMG Site. Note Tyson Poor in 5th and Casey Hauser in 7th. Note also Mark Dix in 6th - on a ten year old sail and a probably 15 year old board. So, what's your excuse, since "I'm not a racer, I do freestyle" and "I only have old gear" obviously won't fly anymore ;)

Thanks to Arnaud Lepert for the picture - this one's actually from the Blowout. I think that's at Viento, mid-jibe (that's the only required mark rounding between Stevenson and the Event Site - so the whole "I don't do courses" doesn't count either...). Dear sponsors, please note the prominent display of the distinctive black Exocet board, as well as the Sailworks, Finworks, and 2ndWind logos ;).

Sunday, July 19, 2009

2009 Gorge Blowout

What a fun race - normally, the Blowout is known as an epic downwinder from Stevenson to the Event Site. That's roughly 17 miles upriver, and since there often is pretty light breeze in Stevenson, and there often are big holes in the wind around the Narrows (just west of Viento), you usually end up massively overpowered once you hit the corridor east of Viento on whatever gear you had to choose to make it through those light places.

This year, conditions were more even - or maybe it only seemed that way, given the incredible range of the gear I was using. Last year, I had serious gear envy; Dale and I had both been running formula gear (Dale on 9.1, I on 9.9), and Bruce, rigging away from the crowd, surprised us on the start line with his big slalom board and 8.2, then proceeded to sneak through the light spots, leave me behind like I was standing still in the windy corridor and almost got Dale. This year, with my Warp Slalom 71 and 8.2 NXsl, with a 42cm Finworks slalom pro, I was properly equipped to overcome that gear envy - and I was amazed at how well this setup was doing compared to the formula gear near the start (where I had to milk it a bit and pump some to battle for clean lanes) - but once it filled in a bit, it was one long, fun ride down to the Event Site.

The committee-boat-as-rabbit start in Stevenson came off pretty cleanly - big holes on the Washington Shore, so it paid off to foresake some of the usual advantage of starting down the line and stay in the breeze in the channel. Within a few minutes, Dale was ahead, Bruce in second, with me and MacRae following. The formula guys (Stephane, Jay, Britt) stayed with us for a while, until things picked up a bit a few miles upriver. Until Viento, and even afterwards, there were a couple times that I actually crossed in front of Bruce, and I had speed and angle with him, but most of the time he was clearly ahead. Home Valley was really windy, and things were patchy and squirrely around Dog Mountain, with Bruce doing a better job of taking advantage of the opportunities in those conditions, slowly but surely putting a bit of distance between us. Meanwhile, MacRae was an ever-looming presence behind me, charging hard and sailing ever consistently with good speed and clean jibes.

Jibing around the mark at Viento (where the first sailor, Dale, served as the rabbit for the start of the Junior Blowout), I got a big kick out of seeing the juniors take off - Allyson, Ben, and Fiona were leading that pack and looking really strong. The big surprise came in the corridor; approaching Swell City, instead of the expected spray fest, the wind was actually pretty light again. The rec sailors were mostly slogging on their 4-ish sails as we came through, and it wasn't until past the Hatchery, towards the bottom of Wells Island, that the breeze picked back up.

Bruce got pretty close to Dale there for a while, but got a little too aggressive about the Oregon Shore at the bottom of the course I think - looked like he got briefly parked in lulls a couple times. In the end, Dale won in 59.07 (pretty close to the course record, I think), Bruce was just behind him (I think the gap was less than 20 seconds!), and I came in 3rd at 1:01:10. MacRae wasn't far behind either in fourth. Full results and some pictures should be up on the VMG Events site soon (I'll post a link when they're up). Full disclosure on the picture above - that wasn't actually from the Blowout, but was taken a couple days earlier by my wife on the same spot on the Event Site jetty where she was helping finish competitors during the race. Since I was on the same setup, it seemed appropriate to use it...

There were 56 competitors in this year's edition. Some standouts:
  • Marion Lepert (13!) ran the full course and won the women's division well in front of Farrah Hall. She ran an Exocet Formula board with, I believe, a 7.2 Sailworks NXsl. Oh yes, she also kicked quite a bit of grown-up male rear-end in the process. To the credit of all those men she beat in the race, they all were genuinely stoked for her.
  • Ben and Allyson, who won the boys and girls divisions, respectively, of the Junior Blowout - and looked really strong in the process. Allyson, by the way, was out sailing some more shortly after finishing, taking advantage of the beautiful conditions.
  • Fiona, who completed her first junior Blowout - on a Starsurfer. She was hanging with Allyson until around Swell City, where she got tripped up by a gnarly barge wake and really wrenched herself a bit. She persevered, however, and finished the race, displaying some serious grit.
  • Jay Watermeyer won the junior division on the full course from Stevenson in a pretty convincing manner.
  • The juniors in general; I'll have to check the results when they come on-line, but I suspect that almost 1/3 of the fleet was under 18.
  • The freestyle guys - Tyson Poor and Casey Hauer, sailing unfamiliar slalom gear and doing very well, thank you very much. Tyson was later seen sailing at the Event Site some more - again on his slalom setup. Perhaps we'll see more of these guys on the course soon?
  • Pieter Botha, who gets the McGyver award for the day. He sailed a really nice, solid race all the way down to just before the Event Site, then broke his mast. He then disconnected his base, stood on the board, and held the rig, aiming for the finish. It was slow going, but he made good steady progress; then, 50 meters or so before crossing the line, a kiter dragged his stuff right into him and Pieter got entangled in the lines - so he ended up swimming for a while to get his gear liberated, then had to swim around the kiter, and by now was downwind from the finish line so he had to swim/paddle back up and around the mark. I'm sure he expended more energy on that finish than he did on the whole rest of the race, but he sure showed some serious determination.
  • Pepi, who managed a top 10 finish - on a Prodigy!
A note on gear choices; a few years ago, the front of the fleet switched from slalom gear to formula gear for this race. This was before my first entry, but I'd speculate that with the slalom gear of the time, the formula stuff just had way better range, allowing you to survive the big breeze in the corridor and just trucking away from the small gear in the light spots. Last year, Bruce in 2nd and MacRae in 4th demonstrated that modern slalom gear with its big range can equalize that gap in the light stuff, and is still way faster when it's windy (last year, I was in front of Bruce until we got into the corridor; from then on, it was simply no contest).

My experience this year was a bit of a revelation. Yes, it's a bit of work in the light stuff - but given that they had to run sails smaller than 10m to ensure survival in the windy spots, the formula guys didn't have much angle (and certainly no speed) on us in the light stuff near the start. Turn out, a big slalom board with a big sail has tremendous glide. And once you get into the breeze and swell, the shorter outlines and curvier rockers of today's slalom boards do a lot better than formula boards - and tons better than those long, flat, narrow slalom boards of years gone by. And while deep downwind runs through large swell with big gusts can be a bit hair-raising even on modern slalom gear, there's a lot less resistance than when you punch a formula setup through those kinds of conditions. Sure made for an enjoyable ride.

Next up are Nationals Thursday through Sunday. The forecast looks great. Before then, I get to help out at Bruce's Junior Race Camp Monday/Tuesday - the kids are already displaying an enormous amount of stoke, so I can't wait.

Monday, July 6, 2009


"What an ugly morning!" says the old lady to her husband as they're walking their dog at Marine Park here in Bellingham. It's about 7am, and I'm derigging after something like 1 1/2 hours of very powered up 7.1 slalom sailing. Sure enough, it's raining sideways, the sky is grey, and the bay is churning with whitecaps and some pretty sizeable swell. Funny thing - there are quite a few characterizations of the morning so far swirling through my head, all of them pretty much diametrically opposed to her assessment. Which would explain why, as I hear it, I break out in laughter; they give me a look, then walk on.

25 knots is a gift no matter when, but here in Bellingham, in the middle of summer, it's sure to make me hum all day long...

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Had a short session on the lake today. No whitecaps in sight; at the end of the dock at Lakewood, I measured right around 8 knots. Took the 10.8 and my Finworks LT, and wouldn't you know it, with a bit of pumping, I popped onto a plane and was able to go upwind at a pretty good angle. There were a number of people who couldn't believe it (a bunch of dinghy racers and sailing instructors, who all have dabbled in windsurfing or maybe are even teaching it). When the wind picked up another knot or two (now you could actually spot the occasional whitecap if you looked upwind, especially since it was so sunny), the whole thing turned from being work to being downright fun.

I'm often told that Formula sailing isn't real windsurfing. But the amazing efficiency of the gear (and it's ready and very reasonably priced availability in gently used form) sure makes it a pretty compelling thing to do in those nice light summer thermals. Other than an 18' skiff or similarly technical (and expensive) performance boat, I can't think of anything that's faster or more exhilarating to sail in the kinds of conditions most of us get most of the time.

And that efficiency provides its own thrills - it's fast, fun, affordable. And no matter how far modern slalom gear has come (or modern freeride gear), none of it can provide that sensation of power in that little wind. Racing the stuff makes it even more fun - but just going out for a cruise is pretty sweet as well.

The picture was from last year at Squamish, in similar wind speeds (courtesy Gwen l'Hirondelle). Yes, if I raced in these kinds of conditions, I'd probably get a 12; but just to get planing and go upwind, the 10.8 is already pretty optimized. Yes, I like stand-up paddling. I also like longboard sailing on my Kona. And I can even see teh appeal of light air freestyle. But given that I like going fast, in light air, there's just no substitute for formula...