Pt 3 Intermediate/advanced
LOOK and LEARN
Working on a new move, it’s all too easy to fall prey to the dreaded paralysis by analysis’ syndrome. In so many instances the key to success lies in very simply, where you look. Peter explains.
Cast your mind back to your school days and the end of term prize-giving. The award for most improved woodworker goes to the young, shy and very surprised Timmy Smith who unfortunately is sat right at the back of the hall. The poor kid, starts to make the long journey up to the podium. Pathologically self-conscious, he starts to think about how he’s walking. Within a few steps he’s moving his arms and legs with all the co-ordination of an octopus after a bottle of tequila and collapses at the head master’s feet.
Now I’m not a medical expert but as far as I can make out, the head contains the brainy bit. It’s good at things like adding sums, writing poems and taking in the view. But what it seems spectacularly bad at is instructing the rest of the body to perform co-ordinated physical tasks.
Doctors have informed that our muscles and limbs don’t actually have brain or a memory and yet our bodies seems much better at doing things when we just give them a task and let them get on with it. We jump higher when we have a bar to jump over. We run faster when we’re being chased.
Windsurfing is pretty technical. Often a lot of things need to happen in a very short space of time and so it’s all too easy to catch ‘Timmy Smith Syndrome’ and over-think.
The most radical change in my approach to teaching the carve gybe, is whereas once I started at the feet and worked up, getting people to concentrate on pressuring the edge; I now start with the head and work down, happy in the knowledge that if the eyes and head start moving in the right direction, there’s a good chance everything else will follow.
Faced with a daunting challenge, the head can drop both physically and metaphorically. Every beginner in any balance sport you care to mention, skiing, surfing, windsurfing – automatically breaks at the waist and sticks their bum out when threatened. They somehow feel safer with their heads nearer the ground – and yet the best way to balance is to stand upright with the hips between the feet. It’s a classic case of the brain having no idea how to operate the controls.
Here are a selection of skills and moves where a change in outlook can make an immediate and dramatic difference.
Speed through the chop
Try running across a stony beach in bare feet. If you look down and try to plan every step, you make slow and painful process. If you lift your head and sprint, somehow your brain seems to process the ground ahead and you automatically put your feet in the right places (although it’s not a guarantee).
It’s the same sailing through chop. If you’re up to 30 knots you may be hitting three bits of chop every second. If you stare at the bit of water just in front of the board and try to react to every one … well you can’t and end up looking like a perpetual motion machine.
Instead, lift your head and take in the wider picture. Try to spot the rogue chops, which need to be avoided or absorbed but other than that just trust in the board’s rockerline (a squillion hours of R & D have gone into that rockerline) and let it ride.
Just lift your head and let it ride!
Quicker waterstarts – lick the mastfoot.
So you can waterstart - but how quick and instinctive is it especially if there are predators about? Given a crisis, many stare at the back of the board and try to heave themselves over the tail - it just doesn’t work.
Instead, eyeball the mastbase, and as you rise up, try to put your nose on it. It helps for two reasons.
1. Especially in light wind waterstarts, you have to end up forward on the board. Where you look is where you tend to end up.
2. The only way to get the head near the mastfoot, is to throw the rig upright, which is the way to generate more power.
Throw your head towards the mastfoot and you’ll automatically throw the rig upright and gain more power.
Gybes – turn a blind eye to the probem areas.
Although the definitive gybe troubleshooting manual could make War and Peace look like a pamphlet, a simple turn of the head can give you your first planing gybe – honestly.
Many start they gybes like a youthful Robby Naish, dropping onto the rail and slicing through the ocean like a knife through warm butter. But as they reach downwind, they start thinking about the traditional problem area – the rig and foot change. And that’s where they look, either down at their feet, or the mast. At that point they lose their shape, their commitment, the board levels out and it’ all over.
So try this. On entry, look through the window of the sail at the centre of the turning circle. Then, and this is the key bit, as you turn through the wind and open the sail out to initiate the rig change, turn your head to look at your back hand – i.e. towards the exit of the turn. That alone will get your hips moving through to the new side, will help you stay on the inside of the arc and keep the rail depressed.
Throughout the gybe keep looking to where you want to end up – not where you are. By turning the head to face the back hand and the exit of the gybe, you get everything moving to the inside where you can control the forces of the turn.
Tacks and the ballerina.
It’s a similar story with small board tacks – well all tacks for that matter. People get half way round, scent victory, stop and make a lunge for the new side of the boom hoping that the rig will save them.
There’s a simple mantra with tacks – “feet then rig!” That is to say, get the feet round first before throwing the rig forward and powering up on the new tack. If you do it the other way round (rig then feet) the mast blocks your path to the new side and you’ve nowhere to go but in.
Use like the head like the pirouetting ice-skater, who turns their head to where they want to end up, focuses on a certain point and then lets the body catch up (it also stops them getting dizzy).
As you start the tack, look at the front of the board so you can see where you are relative to the wind and waves. Then as you start to step around the mast, you’re your head over the back shoulder and look for the front of the board again. The feet will follow naturally and speedily and it stops you grabbing the boom prematurely.
As a way to help you complete the tack, keep looking for the front of the board
The forward loop. What you can’t see, you can be afraid of.
The forward loop – technically the easiest move in windsurfing (FAR easier than a small board tack) and yet the hardest to go for.
When I’m teaching the loop – and most other fast moves for that matter - I’m aware that people can only focus on one thing. (Actually most people, for the first few attempts, claim someone pushed the flush button in their brain the moment they took off – they remembered nothing.)
Assuming they’re at least hitting the wave with a little speed and getting airborne, all I tell them to do is to turn and look at the back of the boom. It achieves two things.
1. It makes you sheet in – and it’s sudden powering of the rig rather than any fancy gymnastics, that spins you round.
2. It affords you a really quite pleasant and unthreatening view of the sky. The popular alternative is to stare forwards over the nose at the yawning ocean 10 feet below – which is exactly where you’ll end up – head first.
Look back and sheet in – it’s all you’ve got to do!
So that’s it – the key to life, windsurfing and everything – look where you’re going!