Issue 312 - JAN FEB 2012
PLATEAUX body parts
Getting out of technique ruts is often down to nothing more than engaging different parts of the body in different moves. Here the head and shoulders are leading, the ankles are bending, the front foot is carving and the front arm is controlling the power.
If your windsurfing is stuck, the rut you’re in may be physical as much as technical. Peter Hart suspects the wrong body parts are being used at the wrong moments in the wrong way.
It took me years to become a natural.” I said expecting the whole room to collapse in paroxysms of laughter at my biting, ironic wit. But I was the only one who got the joke. In truth I was trying to make a serious point. People look at pro windsurfers and profess that they make it look so easy because they’re naturals. The insinuation, which can be taken both as a compliment and an insult, is that they’ve breezed to the top. A music journalist got a right earful when he praised the amazing natural talent of Phil Collen, Def Leopard’s lead guitarist. “Natural talent? F***
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off! I’ve been doing this 5 hours a day every day since I was 13. I’m not talented, I’ve just worked f***in’ hard!” He answered. There’s a lot of debate currently about the nature of geniuses and whether they’re born or made. The popular view right now is that you just have to be good enough – and thereafter it’s all about application and determination. So in windsurfing, if you’ve been at it for 10 years and have really put in the time and are NOT getting any better, do you have to conclude, miserably and terminally, that you simply haven’t got what it takes? I don’t think so. If you know what you should be doing but it’s just not happening, then something is stopping you from being skilful. There are physical inhibitors. Too much weight, or weight of the wrong kind, is on the list but the fault is more likely in how you instinctively move your body and its various parts. What you have to work on is becoming a natural. Natural sportsmen and women, without being
told, seem to find the most economical way to balance and generate power. The less natural ones, by contrast, will use little muscle groups for powerful tasks (e.g. using toes to resist the pull of the rig) and big muscle groups for simple tasks such as balancing. Although at the upper levels, windsurfing is dynamic and energetic, getting better comes from doing less.So although you’re reading the technique pages, in this feature we’re going to ignore the technical in favour of the physical. I shall ask you to examine your body parts from head to toe(s) and question whether you can’t change your whole windsurfing game by: * just focusing on a certain body part. * finding different triggers – the physical movement that sets the sequence in motion * using certain bits of the body to take on different tasks. We’ll start at the top and work down.
Gybes and wave-rides lose speed and beauty often because they start badly – namely with the back foot. You’re safest getting in the front seat leading with the upper body. The trigger to turn or pop, should be to drop the front shoulder forward so your upper body over takes your feet. The feeling is that you gybe before the board. That forward move of the head and shoulders should be the trigger to turn and gets everything moving the right way.
Across the wind, crouched ready to commit to the rail.
The part of the body which initiates the carve is the front shoulder which rolls forward. That means you power up the both the mastfoot and the front foot and have control of the nose before you tilt the board with the feet.
Looking where you want to go is good but it’s actually the turn of the head at the right moment and gets everything moving in the right direction, which has the greatest effect. Below we see the tack and the Taka (and aerial upwind 360) which both involve a sudden change of direction upwind. If the head doesn’t lead the charge, the body gets left behind. And in the wave-ride , by turning the head to look down the hill as you carve off the lip, you naturally open the sail (thereby avoiding the dreaded over-sheet) and project onto your front foot
Carving into a tack the head is almost level with the mastfoot. By actually turning the head to look upwind, you automatically open the shoulders and pressure the windward rail.
It’s the same with the Taka. This is the moment just before the upwind ‘pop.’
Where you DON’ T look.
Here are three examples of where NOT to look. 1. The rig change. There’s a lot of hardware swinging around so of course you turn to look at the mast and boom. By looking at it, you’ll move towards it, close the space between body and boom, and end up wearing the rig. The trick is to look away over the front shoulder at the exit of the turn. That way your upper body stays outboard, you maintain space and, so long as you keep turning, the boom will just fall into your hands.
When we have a problem with a move, we tend to stare at the offending limb or rig component; at which point everything grinds to a halt as you try to offer mental instructions.
2. Duck gybe. You only have to be smacked in the nose once by the end of the boom to eye it forever with suspicion. In the duck gybe that
“Where you look is where you go.” Is the current coaching mantra. It’s well meaning and effective so long as people don’t take it too literally. The fact is that there are all sorts of places you can look depending on what you’re up to. For me, two aspects are more important: where you DON’T look and the turn of the head.
Top turning off a wave, it’s the turn of the head, which gets initiates the change from downwind to upwind edge and encourages you to favour the front foot. means having to throw the head back and so lean back. Instead of looking at the boom, look under the sail to the new side. For a start that I’ll make you duck (there’s a clue in the title) and it will take your head out of range of the clew. 3. Feet. It’s the classic. Watching your feet does NOT help them move into the right positions - just the opposite. Feet move automatically into the right positions when they follow the body. If the head looks where you want to go, the body will move that way too followed automatically by the obedient feet.
BORINGLY REPETITIVE Getting your body out of a rut and conditioning it to act differently can be a long process. A board on the sand and a light wind is an effective, although slightly dull, way to re-drill moves like rig changes.
Perform the whole rig and foot change 100 times without looking at the mast or boom. If you turn the head to look out of the turn, you’ll say outboard and the rig will fall into your hands.
THE TURN of the HEAD The body likes to follow the head. Turn your head round now and unless you were a body double in The Exorcist you’ll note that it’s hard to do so without twisting your torso and hips. It’s the turn of the head at the right moment that has the most positive effect on the transition. Three examples: 1. Exiting a gybe. As you enter the gybe you can look around the mast or through the sail at the centre of the circle. As you pass through the wind, by turning the head to look over the back shoulder at your back hand and the clew of the sail, your hips naturally flow over the board and you project to the inside. It’s when the hips get caught over the centreline, often due to you looking at your feet, where the troubles begin. 2 Tack. The tack is a classic gear watching move, where people start to move the feet, then eyeball
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the mast and…stop. There are only two places to look when you tack – the front of the board … and then the front of the board. Look at the front of the board as you enter so you can get oriented relative to the wind. Then as you tack, turn the head over the back shoulder to find the front of the board again. The turn of the head makes you rotate the upper body all the way round and the feet just follow. 3. Loop and jump. The next time you jump, try turning your head back to look at the beach. You may be astonished at how you suddenly sheet in and end up higher than you’ve ever been. Looking back is a forward loop training exercise. The one thing people do NOT do instinctively when looping is rotate the shoulders to the back and sheet in. If you ask the head to look back, it all happens automatically.
Shoulders – a better trigger
It’s a truly great sight watching someone of the calibre of Polakow bottom turning on a massive Jaws wave. It’s a do or die move. He has to turn or be engulfed by a foaming hotel. Slow the footage down and you see the turn starts with a bold extension of the shoulders to drop the rig into the turn, which lowers the nose and gets the whole rail to bite. He knows that if he tries to carve without the whole edge in the water, he’ll spin out and be fish food. By contrast, Jeffrey Gyber, a long time resident of the dodgy gybe exit plateau starts his turn with a push on the back foot. It’s a bad trigger in that it gets him moving backwards from the off. Think of how you walk and manoeuvre on dry land. The shoulders move or turn first and then the feet catch up.
TOTALLY ARMLESS A big change happens in your windsurfing when you get other parts of your body to do the job your biceps and forearms used to. Arms and hands are there to make the finer adjustments, they’re rarely needed to take the power. Even out of the harness, if the arms are extended and the grip light then it’s the back muscles doing the work. Check out the Olympic sailors – there’s barely a bicep between them. In general you might say that the more relaxed your hands and arms, the better you’re sailing.
The better you get, the more you use your hips and core to resist the power. If you start the gybe with a roll of the front shoulder, you drop onto the boom, power up the mastfoot and have control of both the nose and tail of the board.
If you’re sailing out of the harness with a relaxed grip and extended arms, your lats do most of the work; and for uphauling, with extended arms and straight back, it’s the legs.
At a lower level a big change happens in your rig control when the shoulders take over from the biceps. Sheeting in and out whether you’re hooked in or out, should be done by rotating the shoulders, not by heaving on the arms. By using the shoulders you can change the angle of the rig and keep your distance.
The one occasion where you might use maximum arm power to windsurf is when you’ve been caught out by a squall, are massively overpowered, where the rig is twisting inside out and you have to push and pull desperately to avoid being back-winded and slammed. The message now, is that if you’re constantly using arm muscle power, you’re going slowly and doing it wrong.
I devoted a whole article (September issue) to the front arm and how the better you get, the more you use it for power control; so I won’t over-egg the pudding. But I’ll take it a step further and say the better you get, the less you use your arms full stop. Early on we think of windsurfing as an arm sport, because we‘re sailing out of the harness and uphauling a lot. But actually both those activities shouldn’t rely so much on the arms.
One of the many differences between an amateur and a pro, is just how much the latter moves the back hand up and down the boom during manoeuvres, to maximise both the power and extend the sail’s sheeting angle. A good intermediate will move the back hand back before gybing in the knowledge that it helps him sheet in. A pro will move it once and then, as the rig moves forward, he moves it again. It’s
that second move, be it in a gybe or a loop that gives him the leverage and the sudden power. It’s the opposite when he needs to sheet out. The further forward he moves the back hand, the more the sail can open up. There’s a change in mindset in that the back hand position of the hand on the boom alone determines the sheeting angle. For example, going for a really tight gybe or bottom turn, just by getting the back hand by the clew will sheet the sail in without the need to pull.
We just don’t think of our stomachs enough when windsurfing. It’s just that wobbly bit that connects the upper and lower halves. What’s the issue? But in all balance sports, it’s what holds the form together. It’s the hub for the limbs. If it’s floppy your limbs float around like a starfish. Watch a gymnast in mid routine with perfect straight lines. If they make a mistake and lose that tension in the stomach, they fall from the sky like a spider in the wind.
BALANCING from the FEET
The art of balancing is God given but can also be learned. The trick, even in the most complicated moves is to balance from the feet and move the upper body as little as possible.
In windsurfing, tightening the stomach helps in so many ways. Speed. The power gets to the board via your stomach and through the legs. The tighter the stomach, the more direct that power transfer. Early planing. It’s the same deal as above. Also if you do nothing else but tense your stomach, your hips lift, you come up on your toes and become somehow lighter. Balance. We’re back to gymnastics. Imagine a fast tack. With a floppy stomach, you’ll balance by dropping the shoulders and projecting your buttocks. With a tight stomach, you’ll stand more upright with the shoulders over the feet and skip around like a ballerina.
I f you start the tack with the weight blanced over your feet an the upper body upright, you increase your chances tenfold.
Especially if you hold that form as you move round. Losing balance, the instinctive reaction should be to bend the knees, NOT bend at the waist.
How well you use your legs is partly genetic, partly fitness, partly sloth. The leg muscles are the biggest in the body so to perform repetitive full knee bends takes strength and energy. If your legs are weak or you’re just knackered, you’ll leave them straight and try and balance from the waist by dipping the upper body. When people are learning to sail waves where you have to bend the legs to drive the rail and stay in balance as the board accelerates around turns, I urge them to take frequent rests, because it’s when they stop bending the knees that the wheels fall off.
It’s the most underrated joint. Knees steal all the limelight. “Bend the knees, they cry.” When in fact “bend the ankles” would be more accurate advice.You can bend the knees by squatting, as on the toilet, which involves leaning back – the exact movement you don’t want to make when dropping into a gybe. But if you focus on the ankles, it’s almost impossible to bend them without dropping forward and bending the knees.
The most effective way to lose balance is through over-reaction. You feel yourself going one way, and so hurl yourself the other way and then have to make an even bigger over-reaction to compensate for your initial over-reaction – until the pendulum swings too far and off you go. Hence the best general advice is: “balance from the feet up.” Hold the body still and straight, then try and correct just with the toes, then if that’s not enough move up to the ankles, knees and then finally in an emergency move your shoulders.
Mid taka looks like a wildly contorted position but note the weight is still spread over the whole foot.
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Moving up the windsurfing levels where balance and trim need to be ever more acute, I try to get people to feel their toes and heels and so be aware of where the weight and pressure is. If you’re being defensive or like to dig in and grunt off to the horizon with a huge sail, the pressure will tend to be on the heels as you drive all that force into the rails and fin.
The forward loop is strangely similar. The further the back hand goes back, the faster you spin. And just like the gybe, if you turn to look at the back hand, round you go.
It could be a heli tack but is in fact the end of a Taka, and the point to note is how light the grip is. If you lighten the grip you naturally extend your arms. If you squeeze, you bend them. Back-winded that means getting over-powered.
HEAD, HANDS, KNEES and TOES
Mid carve gybe from above pretty much sums up all the above and is a lesson in how to use the body parts. The turn of the head to look at the clew gets the hips flowing over the board. The front toe is over the centreline and pushing. And the ankles are bending and projecting him forward into the turn. The back hand is mobile on the boom and so far back it doesn’t have to pull.
First ensure you have the straps set inboard and that they are wide enough that your front foot straddles the centre-line. As you approach across the wind, the big toe may be curled up gripping the front strap. Then just be aware as you bear away of your foot flattening on the pad and actually feeling the front toe pressing. The happy truth is that you can’t press on the toe without bending the ankle and moving forward – all positive actions.
To summarise … The purpose of this physical focus is twofold – to give you new triggers so the move starts off on the right foot - literally – and also to stop you thinking too much. Hopefully you will see that by concentrating on one task that involves just one part of the body, how many other things naturally fall into place. The last example, the big toe, was a classic example.
The further the back hand moves back, the more you sheet in without having to pull and the harder you carve. And that’s fine until you run into lulls or chop. You’re actually in much better shape, and faster, (especially in fluffy winds) if you let the rig pull you more upright so that the pressure is balanced more evenly over the foot and you can feel both heel and toes. You win races in the lulls. Being able to hold the board level with toe pressure as you lose speed is going to hold you on the plane while others flounder.
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The big toe
One of the major watersheds on the windsurfing journey is learning to carve, or at least initiate the carve, off the front foot. Reluctance to do it can be a fear issue because it means moving forward into catapult territory; or just habit. You’ve spent your life stamping on the tail and can’t stop. One way is to just focus on the big toe. This only works on a sub 100 litre(ish) board that has ‘wave’ somewhere in its title.
A couple of issues back I mentioned the downside of muscle memory. Muscles are just as capable of remembering the bad as well as the good and unless you make positive steps to change something, they will just follow the path most travelled no matter how rutted, steep and miserable it is. If you start a move or skill differently then you break the chain of awfulness and force yourself to change everything else. It’s a physical sport – so lets get physical!z Peter has a mouth-watering clinic schedule for 2012. Check out his website www.peter-hart.com for a video tour and email him for his monthly newsletter on firstname.lastname@example.org