Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Support your local board builder

I got the beach late last week only to have Mike Z hand me my future board.
Mind you I hadn't ordered it yet but I made him promise he'd build me one as a prerequisite for giving it back.
It was seriously the most impressed Ive been with a piece of windsurfing equipment in the 20+ years Ive been involved in the sport. I hesitated on even writing this piece because like a good thing, there's only so much that can go around.

Getting my local board builder to build me a new windsurfing board has been like pulling teeth the last few year. He's been endlessly creating prototypes that eventually led to the world speed record being broken by Rob Douglas on a Mikes Lab kite board. Then, all of a sudden, since the kite racers discovered his talents, hes been building and involved in the rapid paced evolution of the kite race boards. The boards have gone from twin tip, to surfboards to something now that more resembles a mini formula board with 3-4 50cm carbon fins. And like the windsurfing fleet, his boards are always found at the top of the fleet. Heineken has been shutting the door on the rest of the kite fleet this year at the local Thursday night race series at the St. Francis Y.C.
His latest creation- a thin shell of carbon and foam seems to weigh 1/2 as much as its competitors. But that's not so unusual with kite boarding these days as things are changing so fast. Racers show up with a new set of canted fins that makes last weeks podium finish obsolete.
Watching kite racing grow is similar to what happened to windsurfing in its peak of the late 80's and early 90's.
I was hoping or maybe dreaming he'd be able to incorporate some of the same ideas back to a windsurfing board.
What he did was nothing short of brilliant.
This sensation was more like flying than windsurfing.
The board glided effortlessly over the water with control and speed.

If you've ridden a Mike's Lab board, you'll know its the equivalent of sitting on the couch with the remote in hand. Pure comfort. His boards are built for the San Francisco Bay where the voodoo chop, ferry wakes and container ships can just about eat any normal windsurfer. One doesn't have too look far to see what I mean with nearly 100% of the local windsurfing racing fleet riding some version of his board. The boards are built to last with solid construction that's hard to find anywhere else.

As I took off from crissy field in 15-20k, it felt like there wasn't even a board beneath my feet. The north warp 7.0 rig and 39 cm fin were attached effortlessly. I looked down to see a board beneath me but I'm really not sure it was even there. At 12 lbs it felt like there was absolutely nothing there as the board flew over the chop with out even the smallest disturbance.
The board was built with his new "kite" construction using a lighter weight foam.
The result is a board that rides and feels way lighter than its competition.
Who would have ever thought Id be thanking kite boarding but that's how development works- full circle.

This could really change windsurfing again in a really good way.
We haven't seen a huge evolution of windsurfing equipment like this since the development of the carbon fin 10 years ago. Its the equivalent of riding a G1o blade vs a full custom carbon race fin.
There's no going back now!

Once I found the right weight placement, (more forward than I thought) it gybed very beautifully. The board tracked effortlessly across the swell.
The tail feels small but it reality it was 20.5" measured one foot off the trailing edge.
The board itself is somewhat odd looking with a wide nose, thin rails and recessed deck but hey. I'm not complaining -what ever works!

Here's the full specs from Mike:
226 x 73 x 52
estimated volume 110-115l.
12lbs before straps.
Strength- same as normal!

Like all MLab boards, you can order any size you want and now with the the new lightweight construction! This particular board was for Sergio in Miami- a smaller lightweight guy interested in getting his slalom kit going at the same time as his formula kit. Now that's a big order!
After only 15 min on the board, Id go as far to say that Mike Z has uped the game for all windsurfing manufactures. Ive already put my order in for a new formula and slalom board.
The wait is going to kill me.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

heavy air rapture

If Friday evenings onslaught of heavy air racing is any indication what will happen today- then bring it on! We started the 3rd Friday night series of the year under what waterhound described as "a cauldron of frothing foam and 25 knot gusts." Easy for him to say as he was on the race deck doing race committee for the evening.
In all actuality it was blowing 15-30k with some huge swell coming in the Bay and a 2-3k ebb tide to stir things up even more. In races like these, its easy to wear yourself out so you've got to maintain control at all times and not let the conditions get the better of you. Even so I was barely hanging on- hoping to duck out after 4 races and take my throwout while sitting the last race out. Not a chance as I went down hard in race 4 at the gybe mark just barely avoiding CRAD.
Race 1 started and I got a nice jump on the fleet. I wasnt in my usual position winning the B buoy but rather down the line a bit in order to get some more control in the hairy conditions. I overstood the top mark and let CRAD slip in and chased him down the rest of the downwind and upwind leg only to finish a close 2nd while he took the bullet.
Race 2 started with Seth showing up and taking control from the get go. Although hes still doesnt have the angle I had, his transitions and speed more than made up for it as he took the bullet in race 2 while CRAD rounded the leeward mark just in front if me. I stalled and tried to pick and lane outpointing him but no luck, so I put the hammer down and drove below him- determined to get past him before the finish. Sure enough, I just got past him as we approached the sea wall to tack and got the quicker transition to take 2nd. Nothing like a little adrenaline to get you going!
Race 3 saw the wind up even more to the upper 20's and although the course was flattening out, it still made for some very challenging conditions. I made the mistake again of overstanding the top mark again and gave Seth some extra breathing room. Unfortunately for him, he sailed some extra distance on the downwind rounding A and then back to B while I sailed the correct course just around B. In the lead, I approached the leeward mark with caution as it was my race to loose. I weaved my way through the big boats who were starting their series off the GGYC and made it around without incident to take the bullet while Seth and the trailing fleet got caught up in a hairy rounding forcing some sailors in the water.
One more race, I thought to myself as I tried to calculate the points in my head to see what I would need to stay in 2nd or even more to 1st for the night. I guess I got a little bit too ahead of myself as I went down hard around the A buoy as CRAD and I gybed overlapped and I went down at the last second to avoid a collision. The ebb was so strong at that point and I could hardly get around the mark. Ouch 6th place. Time to dig deep for the last race.
Thomas jumped back on his formula gear and was in the hunt battling it out against Seth while Tom Purcell sailed a brillant race showing what it takes. I was sitting deep in 5th just behind Al and knew I had to pull everything out on the last leg as we were overlapped. I got the better tack and just got the horn in front of Al as we crossed the line overlapped. Talk about tight racing!
That was good enough to take 2nd after beating CRAD on the tiebreaker. Remembering from last week's racing- every point counts while racing boards.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Light air patience

The second Calcup for the season kicked off in Berkeley this past Saturday under what looked like dismal conditions. A late winter storm was moving in and causing some abnormal patterns to the regular SF Bay sea-breeze. Nonetheless we got an up and down 12-14k of breeze and 3 races after several abandoned attempts when the breeze died off to below planning conditions. As with most light wind racing, patience was the key to finding success.

I had forgotten my race watch so I was relying on how the fleet lined up for the start to judge the time. I kept Xavier to leeward near the pin knowing that I had a bit better angle and the puffs were coming in from the right tending to veer. Inside board always gains on the lift.
The 2 of us got a good jump on the fleet and I gained some separation to windward climbing by keeping my rig upright and holding the uphaul with my front hand. This technique works great when you need to add power to the rig and takes some pressure off the front of the board. It also allows you to control the angle of attack better by making it possible to bring the entire leading edge of the rig to windward and climb. Having a very powerful fin also helps in carrying the momentum. I was using the Z 70 - much softer than any other kashy I have sailed. The NP 10.7 with high boom and a tight tack strap ensured my rig was as powerful as it would get.
We both tacked at the same time with Xavier nailing it and me coming down with speed.
The course added a new twist with 2 immediate gybes required just after to top mark. I realized the inside of the course near the pier was the lightest area so it made sense to try to avoid that area as long as possible. I carried my 2nd gybe out as far as I could to make it on the required side of the starting boat and went just a bit deeper than Xavier ensuring I could round the bottom mark with speed and power. Sure enough, on our approach the leeward mark, Xavier was forced to go deep and slower while I made a clean rounding and off to the 2nd upwind. I sailed to the left corner again making sure to nail the lay line as Xavier tacked off in search for clear air. I had to duck Chip on his kite just near the top mark but managed to squeeze back up and round in a puff and was gone. Wasson and Koch both motored downwind on their big kites while and took the line honors while I hung onto the top position for the formula boards.

Thanks to Lyrah Colvin for the photos..

As the flood increased, it made it harder for most of the fleet on their 11.0's to get going. The key was to stay near the starting line at all times making sure you could get a good approach run for the start to built up the necessary speed required for light air racing. The kites were right in there on the first beat but had a hard time making any moves to windward given the space they required to fly their kites. Xavier tacked first but I held out knowing the wind was lighter up top and the flood was building. Never underestimate the flood tide- especially in a light breeze.

I got around the windward mark in 1st and stayed there played my cards right ensuring I stayed in the breeze the entire race. The kites fell out of the sky near the pier as the wind dropped below 10k. On a formula board, that no problem. You shlog, pump and get going again. For the kites, it was game over and a long swim in. While I have a lot of respect for the kite racers who are pushing the limits of the sport with new technology and hard training, it seems their biggest pitfall is still light winds. When they fail, they fail big. Xavier finished 2nd while Sylvester and Marion were
battling it out for 3rd.
The 3rd race started after a big set of dark and stormy could rolled by and eventually killed the wind. S3 and I made it up to the top mark shlogging the last few minutes. Downwind S3 got the jump and was off but fell off a plane again near the bottom of the course. The race was abandoned at that point and restarted.

A big starboard tack knock on 1st beat gave Xavier who was most leeward board a big advantage as the rest of us got driven down below his stern. With only 1 lap, it was going to be hard to catch up. I saw a chance on the last beat to windward as I saw Xavier underestimate the layline to the finish and as a result, he had to double tack. Even though I carried my line further than him, I still struggled to make it across on port tack and had to tack just at the line and barely made it across in front of S3. Luckily starboard tack trumps everything else and Steve had to duck below me to finish.
A 1,1,2 gave me the top spot for the day and some confidence for the rest of the season. Light air used to be my biggest weakness but now it’s become strength.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Lessons from the Berkeley circle

Its been 2 weeks already since the first Calcup in Berkeley.
A but fuzzy on the specifics but I do recall a few valuable lessons.

The first is- its not how well you do, but how well you recover.
After the first race, I looked down to see my harness bar collapsed.
Game over? Not so fast.
With with quick improvising, I was able to secure some line from the RC, make a few hitches and be ready for race 2.
If you're on a mission- don't let anything stop you!

The second big lesson was to race as if there's no discard.
Because if you're tied at the end of a series, its the sailor with the lower discard that breaks the tie breaker under the RRS and appendix b.

We started off with 2 general recalls and then under a blag flag. I didnt push it and got buried at the start of the first race. I footed to get clear air but it was a quick first beat with all the fleet going left on starboard tack. Xavier tacked first jumping into the lead. Digging my way back through the fleet, my speed and angle felt fast but there's only so many opportunities to gain on a short course- even moreso if you're underpowered and behind. In most cases, its a parade to the favored side. Xavier, Steve and Thomas took the top 3 with Al and Chris just behind an me in 6th.

Race 2 saw Thomas foot right over the top of me with amazing speed off the line. I couldn't hang and got rolled. Although I had better angle I couldn't use it when I needed it. Luckily Xavier tacked early for the top mark and had to double tack. Thomas was out to a strong lead but Chirs and Al were in striking distance- I just needed them to make a mistake. Not a chance. They sailed perfect to the finish without letting up. 4th place

Race 3 saw the breeze build more to get the 9.5 powered up. Chris and I swapped positions at every mark and me just getting the final move to take 2nd. When you really want something. you've got to fight for it. I was out of the harness downwind pumping to make the bottom mark and jumping around to make the last tack just a bit quicker. Xavier sailed fast not letting up one bit to take the bullet. Thomas, unfortunately wore himself out too soon and took a big catapult around the first windward mark and never recovered.

Race 4 & 5 saw the breeze bump up to 18-22k. The 9.5/67cm fin felt at its best in the short steep Berkeley circle chop. I still didnt have the speed of Xavier but was able to hang onto 2nd both races. Comparatively against the rest of the fleet my speed and angle were really good as I got out of some tight situations. In this fleet, you've really got to be aggressive and not leave any opportunity for the fleet behind to catch up. This means shutting the door at the leeward mark and not letting anyone get in a lane above you. I almost let S3 sneak in as I recalled from previous races- if you give him an inch, he'll take a foot.
Now just to find a way to step it up a notch....

At the end of the day it was Xavier taking the regatta with me in 2nd and Steve and Chirs tied for 3rd. The tie breaker goes to the sailor with the better discard.
Race like it counts!