Sunday 29 January 2012

Starting Speedsurfing - Part 2 - The Disciplines

The founders of the current wave of speedsurfing addiction throughout the world came thanks largely to the Dutch guys at and more recently the Australian export in the form of the GPS Team Challenge. Both of these have set the disciplines, keeping them simple and varied. Each discipline requires a different approach and once you get to really know your local spot as opposed to just sailing there you will understand what I mean. I confess to going to sleep deciding what I will go for tomorrow which is dependent on the wind direction, water state and also what the Portland Pirates team will need if there is anything I can offer in the month. This article is the second of a series, all advice articles can be found in the page here.

The main categories are as follows, I have grouped them into areas that require very similar approaches to your windsurfing;
Peak and 2sec Peak, 10second run and 5x10 second average
500m run and Nautical Mile run
Hour and Distance
Alpha (500m with a gybe, ending within a 50m radius of the start) 

What follows are my views on how to train or plan and what to think about when going for your personal bests in the disciplines, I expect over time this will evolve into a more useful document as I get more input from fellow speedsurfers. I will attempt to describe the things to consider, and include my own experiences of success and failure. Each and every category gives a real sense of achievement when you get your bests and the wide range allows you a focus each time you go out no matter what the conditions.

Peak and 2sec Peak, 10second run and 5x10 second average
Martyn Ogier at the end of a 10sec run on a broad course with significant
rolling chop of certain death at the end.
These are grouped together for a beginner perspective, once you develop your skills the 10second approach can be vastly different to the peak, due to wind direction and water state down the course.

The very first few sessions on the water when armed with your GPS you will see an improvement in the peak speeds recorded as you learn to bear away from the wind. The peak is possibly the easiest of all the disciplines up to a certain level, all it requires is you to hammer across the wind looking for the flat water and gust, then bear away with it, this will give you acceleration and the longer you can hold it the faster you will go. 

Holding it longer is the key to consistency and the 10second run, when you first start count to 10 while holding the board down in what will probably become choppy water. The reason the water becomes choppier (or death chop / rolling swell) is that you are bearing off the wind, so going further out in the case of close in speed runs on flat water. For the 10 second you really want to start the count from the first 'slingshot' (Peter De Wit writing for Windsurfer International).  Once you start to get your 10 second runs within a knot or two of your peaks then you are developing a real consistency to your speed technique. Non speed venues will inevitably have more confused chop in the 10 second run, with the speed venue like West Kirby pictured above the chop is 'organised' into a rolling swell and as you hit it at speed you start to rattle the fillings from your teeth.

So run across the wind as fast as you currently can, preferably with a big sail, you should feel a bit overpowered doing this as you need that extra sail area for the run downwind. As you see the darker patch on hopefully flatish water you bear off by scissoring the tail under your arse and kick the nose gently away. This is akin to preparing for a catapult, but without the kit breaking, body flying through the air part. The similarities to the catapult are due to also pushing with your front hand like you would when going for a forward loop, this really powers the sail up, and as long as your body shifts over a bent back leg you will control the power. This will give you the acceleration for the peak on the run and if you hold it for 10 seconds then the first of your required 5 runs. If you develop your skill you simply repeat the slingshot again with the next gust, taking you deeper downwind, giving you an even higher peak and a better 10second speed.

The 5 x 10 second average is the hardest in this section. This is calculated by adding the top 5 10 second runs together and dividing by 5, so it is the 'mean' average which proves beyond doubt that you do use maths after high school (ok, the upload or software does all this for you). Unfortunately due to the way it is calculated you could not do one run at say 40 knots that lasts 50 seconds, the software would simple find the fastest 10seconds within that run and it would only count as one. 

When I first started I got too excited each time in the right conditions about my peak speed. Each run in overpowered conditions takes a fair bit out of you, I saw 35knots on my display for the first time and stopped for 20mins completely elated, of course I lost out on the best wind and water to get a great average.  You simply need to do all of the above 5 times which sounds easy, it is when sailing normally but in those normal or average conditions there are other disciplines you will want to go for. 

The kit to use if you have a choice are smaller boards, smaller fins and bigger sails, this is over generalising but it is a start and I do not want to get too bogged down with discussing kit choices here.

Weymouth Speed Week, Competition for average speed over 500m
500m run, Nautical Mile run
When in competition a 500m run should be in a straight line, from the start bouy to the end, any arc in the middle and you are covering distance that will only slow the average over 500m down. I made this mistake in my first ever competition at Weymouth Speed Week 2011, it took my average 500m from 30.5knots (gps-results with an arc throughout the run) to 29.4knots (straight line speed from entering the course to exiting).

The best advice for sailing on a course is to enter as fast as you can and visualise a point well beyond the exit bouys to avoid backing off too soon. When backing off at speed you can cause a crash, by carving upwind you will slow down but to release power at speed while off the wind can cause spin out or a huge lift from the fin which upsets the trim of the board. On a speed course the last thing you want to do is waste all the effort you put in over the first 450m and the run up, so aim to slow down well after the end.

In GPS competition the 500m run can be with an arc so you can follow the instructions above for about 25-30seconds, which of course depends on speed. For a 500m run you will want a slightly bigger fin than the 10second run, sail and board can be similar although I have had faster speeds with a slightly bigger board than when attempting it with the same kit that I would use for 10 second runs.

The 500m run is tiring as you have to keep the hammer down over 500m. Be careful not to oversheet, as is natural at first on the run. When you are going for 500m you must have got up to a good speed and be anticipating a few points to bear away on route, of course the wind will vary a lot more over 500m than on a 10 second run. You must learn to watch the water state, when hammering it with power in the sail your stance will be considerably different than the times that the water goes more glossy when in a lull. If you do not adjust your stance and sail trim then you will either find your arse skipping over the surface or end up pulling the clew in too much depowering the sail. Either case will slow you down considerably more that lifting up and shifting your weight a touch to accommodate the reduced wind in your sail.

The Nautical Mile is one of the hardest disciplines, especially on smaller areas of water due to the gybe. We will not discuss gybing here but more the water state and kit to consider over the nautical mile. Where I sail on Portland Harbour I would say there are 4 sections of water to consider depending on the tide and direction of the wind for the run. The start is generally quite flat allowing a quick bear off to get up to speed, the next section is choppier but easily controllable due to the speed gained at the start. The next section goes over a channel in the water that has large volumes of water flowing in or out (tide dependent) and is often very confused chop, and the final section can flatten out more but has big holes in the wind due to the land differences there.

Given those different water states a larger board and fin will inevitably get you better speeds at first. Every location will be different and due to the distance involved there is nothing I can add to advise you other than try it, try it and try it again. Some runs will surprise you, and each will be different as you will be sailing for at least 5 minutes to get back to your start point which can mean a distinct change in conditions. There are a few spots around the world with constant winds and a long run that give amazing results, The Ray at Southend and La Franqui in the south of France to name but two.

GPS Results, My best distance session of 201.44Km.
Hour and Distance
Both of these take real commitment but can give you your first really satisfying scores as not as many speedsurfers go for these disciplines. There are people on GPS Speedsurfing who have never posted an average hour speed, and their distances show it. These are currently my favourite disciplines to compete for as I know I do not yet have the skill to compete in the top speeds.

The kit choice is 'go comfy', use kit you are totally familiar with. It is as simple as that really. The advice in terms of sailing for an hour is try to do long runs without bearing off, you will only need to go upwind later which will reduce your average more the the bear off increased it. If you drop a gybe then don't give up. I remember Hans Kresiel, who is one of the best in the world, posting an amazing hour with nearly a 28knot average, which included 3 crashes!

I find the hardest bit when going for an hour is the commitment to not bearing off, or going for a nautical mile with a bear off. Its okay if you make that your last run so only ever go for that once you have completed the hour (just in case...). Your arms may ache for moments but it will pass, your legs may ache at the ends of the runs but on the other tack they will rest a little bit. It is a great discipline for getting your fitness up and a real achievement believe me. It will also force you to trim your harness lines to perfection, this will reduce the feeling that your muscles will pop at the end of each long run.

For Distance, just keep going, take a break perhaps every 2 hours or when you require it. Nutrition and keeping hydrated are one of the key things to remember for this. I will do a full article on nutrition for windsurfing in the future. Basically I would eat a MASSIVE bowl of porridge full of nuts and fruit before the session and have some 'healthy oat bars' for refueling. Avoid sugary foods as these will give you a boost of energy for the short term which will quickly fade. Simple fruit juices and water are the best for hydration, never attempt to use these energy drinks as they are just designed to make kids uncontrollable at school and dentists even more wealthy. Following the session you should eat protein, not masses as you can only absorb a certain amount. For example a chicken breast every 90minutes about 3 times is better than half a chicken straight away.

Before and after a distance session you could do a dynamic warm up and warm down, this is like the footballers do with gradual increasing movements to get the muscles working freely. You may look a bit of a tit hopping around the car park but you will perform better and more importantly you could reduce the aches that you will inevitably get the next day. Static stretching should be avoided as this is the quickest way to damage a muscle unless you are already very flexible, stretching should only be performed while the muscles are warm anyway.

If you take too long a break it is hard to get motivated to go back out as your muscles will already have started to break down, get back out and the first few runs will be hell but it gets easier, and if you are going for a personal best once the body starts really tiring have a nice place to go in your mind and just simply count the runs to your goal. The other thing that happens when you return to the water after a break is your hands start to sting, again this passes and is nothing like as bad as the hot aches from cold water.

After a big distance session you will notice your skills improve massively. The mind is a wonderful thing and develops instincts so well. Towards the end of distance sessions as your body starts to switch off you will find that your stance changes to conserve energy which can only be a good thing. You will also get to know and understand your kit so incredibly well.

The Alpha

Possibly the most frustrating of the disciplines, the Alpha requires real skill in gybing. When the conditions are wrong to train specifically for any disciplines then the best option is short runs and plenty of gybes, learning to get back close to the start. The alpha, named as such after the greek symbol for the letter a, represents well the principle of the Alpha. It is a 500m run with a gybe half way finishing within a 50m radius of the start. If you end outside the 50m radius created from the start point then it is not an alpha, it is just a good gybe with 2 250m ish runs.

There are many approaches to the alpha, but clearly crossing your path like the symbol would mean 2 upwind runs, hence not the fastest. The fastest I have seen is from a shape shown above right, sailing very fast across the wind with a tight but fast gybe and fast across the wind parallel to the start run. The entry and exits should be as fast as possible, no slowing down to reduce speed in case of a crash, hammer the kit into the gybe like you would bearing away on a 10 second run. 

This is a generalisation, but gets the point across, if you are upwind on both legs then you will likely be slower over the distance, unless of course the
actual water state is suited to such a track, for example West Kirby tight to the wall.
Of course thought every alpha is like a snowflake, consisting of a very similar structure but when analysed each one is different. In my experience I cannot get above 17 or 18 knots without a full planing gybe, currently my gybes are semi planing at the end to score a good alpha for me of 20knots. My fast planing exits are still too wide to get a good alpha, and they either force me to carve hard upwind on the second leg or miss out completely. A good fast gybe after a decent run can of course lead to a good nautical mile so you have options to go for it if you feel that the gybe was too wide. Most alphas will involve a downwind run with a leg slightly upwind, or vice versa, the two pictured above are at either extreme end of the choices open to you.

Like I said at the start of this article, these are my opinions and are open to argument, all I hope is that some of them will help you on the road to achieving your personal goals in each and every one of the speedsurfing disciplines. Please contact me if there is anything you think I should add , I want this article to evolve to perfection in readiness for a new website we are planning -

Good Speed and Winds
'The Bus'. Contributions by Mike George K888 and Rolf de Ruiter.


  1. Hey Lea. I posted some comments in Seabreeze, so won't repost them here, but something I've just noticed is that your Alpha diagrams show a red circle with a 50m radius. In fact, it should be a 25m radius, as the distance between start and end points needs to be less than 50m, not the radius of the circle.

  2. Cheers Dylan, corrected that now with a different diagram. Thought I had it wrong, it was late last night when I was writing this so thats my excuse. It makes a lot more sense that way, with a radius of 50m from the start. I was thinking how the hell the software could calculate it otherwise, it would be a huge algorithm, but with a singular start point and 50m radiating from that its a lot more simple. (I guess)


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