Issue 313 - MARCH 2012
If I had to generalise, in waves, I’d rather have a few more litres than a few less.”
How big? It’s the hardest decision the buying windsurfer has to make. There’s no easy answer but Peter Hart helps you unravel the volume conundrum.
“You look nice today darling.” “What do you mean? Don’t I always look nice?” He/she replies determined to misinterpret the good intent. So it is that a well-meaning, off-the-cuff remark leads to war. The moment you start offering advice about board volume, you end up in a similar mire of misunderstanding – every remark inviting a barrage of contradiction and qualification. “Yes Reg, less volume will give you more control in chop … depending on the design … and of course the sail size … actually it might
be better … if it’s gusty, to go a little bigger … but then … etc etc…” Deciding on board size is about the most important kit choice we have to make, influencing control, early planing, manoeuvrability and above all, confidence. I get asked about volume more than any other gear topic; hence I’m going to give it a stab. Because there are few definitive judgements, I shall attack the question via a series of recent real case studies where volume has been the deciding issue. The first one betrays the capriciousness of subject.
THE VOLUME DELUSION
Forgive me if you remember this tale from anther article. About a decade a go, I was involved in some board testing where we were handed a pure white prototype devoid of written measurements, graphics or labels.
We had to sail it and then decide how big it was what it was designed for. Most of us were about 30 litres out. It was Starboard’s new and ‘out there’ Hypersonic (it was a kind of mini Formula board). It was very thick and because it was fitted with an 8.5 rig we assumed it was around 130 litres. It was actually only just over 100. The conclusion? Volume is just one of many measurements, which affects how big or small a board feels. Take the set-up. Put a 5.0 on a 130 litre board in 25 knots and it will feel huge. Put an 8.0 on a 100 ltr free-ride board in 13 knots and it will feel especially tiny. And there are visual cues. A board’s outline, shape and its graphics influence how big it looks. If a board looks big, then we will sail it as if it’s big, which has both positive and negative possibilities.
WATERSTARTING - less is more.
Getting stuck in the ‘waterstarting-sometimes-but-not-always’ rut is inhibiting in that it forces you to carry loads of ‘just in case’ volume. Ironically, the bigger board is far harder to start – you have to come further out of the water and you can’t throw the rig is high. Choose a safe ground a then go for a board you can sink beneath you.
Within reason, the smaller the board, the easier it is to watestart.
VOLUME in the HEAD
On a clinic in Dahab a girl on my course refused to move down from her 110 ltr board even though her petite-ness combined with the 25 knot wind meant she was being bucked by a rabid Bronco. In her head she was convinced she needed a big board ‘to be safe’ (even though she could waterstart). By happy coincidence, the centre had an unlabeled 85 ltr wave board prototype. I took a felt tip and wrote “110 all-rounder” on it and handed it to our victim, lying to her callously that her normal board was being repaired. After the session, (during which for the first time that week she had dared hook in and get into the straps) I casually asked her if she liked the new board. “Yes, much easier.” She said. “It didn’t feel smaller by any chance?” “No not really … just more controllable.” Conclusion? To a large extent volume is in the head. In this instance, her extra litres were an emotional safety blanket but a technical inhibitor. The extra volume did NOT make her safer, just the opposite. The risk of not being able to get going on a smaller board and being washed out to sea were infinitesimally small compared to the real possibility of her getting injured thanks to an out of control crash on the bigger board. The vague notion that that more volume is necessarily both easier and safer, is deeply flawed.
I hesitate to generalise but in my experience with people aiming to reach the Nirvana of being properly comfortable in the straps at speed, so they can then move towards carve gybing with some confidence, the majority are sticking with too many litres for too long. These are some of the issues.
Those looking to master waterstart, planing, straps etc typically err on the side of too much volume.
THE WATERSTART QUESTION – less is more.
Unless you live in Bonaire, Poole Harbour or somewhere with a waist deep lagoon, it’s the ‘can you waterstart or not?’ question that defines your choice of volume. If you can’t, you need to go for a board, the size of which we’ll discuss in a moment, which allows you to uphaul. If you CAN waterstart confidently then a new world unfolds and the choice of volume is determined (mostly) by wind strength and performance criteria. But what if you can “sort of waterstart most of the time as long as it’s windy and the rig has fallen kindly and not sunk?” Racked with doubt you feel you have no choice but to go big. Unconfident about his waterstarting, 80 kg Jeff booked a 130 from the centre, even though he was pretty good and the wind was strong (5.5
weather) – unaware that the board lay at the root of the waterstarting problem. Big boards are harder to waterstart. They sit higher in water and so get knocked off line more easily by the chop. Because you can’t sink them, you can’t throw the rig as high, can’t get enough power AND you have to rise further out of the water to get on. Promising I’d keep an eye on him, I moved him to a 100 ltr board and his waterstarting improved immediately. It concentrated the mind. On the bigger board he had a ‘get out of jail free’ card. If it didn’t happen, he knew he could get on and pull the rig. On the smaller board he couldn’t (or at least he though it wasn’t an option at that stage). Necessity being the mother of invention and all that, he tried harder, gave it more time, worked out a few things. When he did rise up, to begin with he plummeted soon after, the loss of 30 litres exposing his shortage of trimming skills. However, the Charlie Chaplin stage lasted perhaps a day and a half at which point he began to feel the effect of toes and heels; and rather than just standing there, he felt he was the essential link between sail and board and began to actively drive it with the feet. Conclusion. The big board was not only harder to waterstart but also made him numb to the board especially with a small rig. Going smaller, but not too small, caused a few initial upsets but stimulated immediate and rapid progress. www.windsurf.co.uk
SHEDDING LITRES – a tale of two Aussies
Introducing two Australians, 11 year old Harry and his mum Sue. It sounds like a ‘weight watchers’ success story but both saw their windsurfing transform through shedding about 30 litres in a week. Harry had a 3 sq m kiddy rig and started out on 115. It was right for a couple of days as it allowed him to feel his way and get used to being hooked in. But given his weight and such a small rig, there comes a point on a board that size where he’s just standing on a platform getting blown along. In steps we got him down to an 85. One morning we heard a massive ‘click’ as suddenly, he stood up, dropped the hips back, drove the board with the feet and shot off in both straps. For Harry, losing some volume allowed him to feel what was going on underneath him. Mother Sue, athletic and go-for-it, seemed to be on the 130 just through habit. She’s light and hated using sails bigger than 4.7. As she dropped by stages down to 95, the main thing that happed was that board became a much better match for the sail. It was more balanced and above all felt MORE stable the faster it went (just unike the 130), and before she knew it she was in both straps. The 95 was still a bit big for her (about 55 kg) and I explained that soon her board of choice, even in moderate winds, should be a 70 – and even that won’t sink. As a very general statement, people looking to crack planing and waterstarting, due to a misplaced sense of safety, tend to err too much on the chunky side.
Harry (11) and Sue. Both dropped about 30 litres in a week. They didn’t plane any later and gained a load more speed & control.
Despite being roughly the same age, I’m about 40kg heavier than Harry and yet at the start of the week we were on the same size boards. One of us had to change and it wasn’t going to be me.
11 year old Harry on a 110. He’s getting used to the harness but is really just hanging off the boom and getting blown along.
If you can waterstart most of the time, you are only a tip or two away from being able to waterstart ALL the time. Lots of volume won’t help waterstarting practice. To crack it, up the stakes, go for a smaller board and put yourself in a position where you HAVE to do it (just make sure you have a friendly and close lee shore).
UPHAULING ISSUES – can I get home?
People end up on boards that are unnecessarily large because of the volume they think they need to uphaul. You get good at what you practise. Most, having cracked the waterstart, bid good riddance to uphauling and only resort to it in a crisis and then discover they’re very bad at it. On a light wind day in Egypt recently I staged an uphaul challenge and after a few tries and a little advice, a few had managed to uphaul the board which corresponded to their weight in litres – i.e. an 85kg bloke was uphauling an 85ltr board. The following figures are very rough being influenced by such factors as board width, rig size and weight, wind strength and water state but this is the approximate uphauling experience with different board sizes. When we say a volume factor, for example, of +10, we mean 10 more litres than you have kilos – so that’s an 85kg person uphauling a 95 litre board. For those in the special maths class, the figure in brackets is the board volume for an 85kg sailor.
Dropping down to a 90 here, he suddenly feels that he’s the connection between board and rig, stands up, drops his hips back, drives it onto the plane and looks like a pro in the making.
The fact that the smaller board feels more, rather than less stable as it rises onto the plane, was all the incentive Sue needed to unleash the beast.
+100 (185 ltrs). This is beginner territory for uphauling. It’s easy. +100 is also the extra float needed to give the board a decent light wind ‘glide’ and performance. + 60 (145 ltrs). Obviously less stable but feet totally dry. Uphauling should be easily achievable by low intermediate. + 40 (125 ltrs) Feet still dry but getting more and more critical where you stand. It’s easy to upset the trim with heel or toe pressure.
FREE-RIDE VOLUME – why skimp?
You’re gearing up for planing in light winds and need a board to take your 8.0 free—ride rig. Performance machines from 115-150 are all up to the job. Of course sailor weight is an issue but for the job of getting planing easily and going places, I would always go for more rather than less. The further you drop to towards the small end of the scale, the less comfortable the board feels off the plane. For me the whole concept of free-riding is to be able to relax.
A 140 litre free-ride supporting an 8.0 in about 14 knots – a delightfully balanced set-up. Yes a 120 may give you half a knot more top speed but in moderate breezes, a few extra litres makes the whole experience far more relaxing. + 20 (105 ltrs) If you concentrate the weight just around the mastfoot, this is pretty much neutral buoyancy. Water will be slopping over the deck but the board won’t keep sinking. But with heavy feet, it’s easy to sink nose or tail. +10 (95 ltrs) Wet ankles (at least). More expert – still totally achievable but speed is the key. You need to snap the rig up and sheet in. If you linger stationary with the rig half up, you’re going down. + 0 (85 ltrs) We’re in the domain of circus trickery. Still do-able but it may be performed with knees or even waist under water. The quicker you do it and get moving, the more quickly you rise to the surface.
VOLUME and TACKING (the stationary factor)
The girl in the second tale was fooled by the small white board because it was windy and she was therefore never stationary. She still related volume to her beginner experiences when you spend much of the time stationary and where volume equates directly to stability. A small board only feels small when it’s not moving. Think of water-skis – they have zero float but the boat only has to chug of at 2mph in preparation for the off, for them to rise to the surface. In 25 knots of wind, you’re moving a soon as you sheet in to waterstart so the sinky board shoots to the surface. And when she was planing, it was riding higher than her bigger board, which was going slower because she too scared to let it plane. Hence she didn’t notice the difference in volume - just that the smaller one was easier.
TACKING - the volume benchmark
A board only truly reveals its volume when it’s stationary. There’s no manoeuvre like the tack for exposing a lack of litres and technique. The cut-off tacking point for many biggish blokes is around 95 litres – above that they can, below that they can’t. The reason is that boards of less than about 95 litres sink when they stop. There’s a clue – don’t wait for the board to stop before tacking – go early while it’s still moving.
A meaty 140 ltr free-ride is a tacking barge which will support you as you fumble, bumble and generally hang around in mid tack. What pros are good at, especially in the waves, is making small boards appear floaty. They do that by keeping them moving with dainty feet and by continually working the sail. The skill of tacking is an interesting volume benchmark. Steve is a proficient 90kg bloke, who in his words can ‘tack spasmodically.’ His tacking cut-off point (as it is with many) is around 95 litres. Bigger than that, he makes a few; smaller than that and it’s the old tack-plop routine. You know exactly what he’s doing without having to witness it. He’s delaying the tack, waiting for the board to stop before moving the feet. On 100+ ltr board he gets away it because the board just floats him; but the sub 95 ltr board sinks when it stops so over he goes. The trick, with all tricks is to go early when the board is still moving.
SHEDDING LITRES – over-reliance on volume
This is not particularly a dig at light people but they are commonly the guilty ones, especially the ladies, because virtually every board available to them is big. As a result, they get used to ‘big.’ Hence at the crucial stage of mastering the essential skills of early planing and getting into the straps, a ‘lazy’ factor can creep in. Instead of learning to trim the board out of the straps and co-ordinate a little pumping and delicate foot pressure to bounce the board onto the plane, they count on the volume to support them. They dive straight into the straps and then just hook in and wait for something to happen. Sounds perfect and any objections seem like the jealous rantings of fat people – but there will be trouble ahead.
A 95 won’t! There is no better way to sharpen up your tacks than to shed some litres and go early! 1. The board and fin are usually too big for the sail. Say a 55 kg person is on a 110 litre board with a 30cm fin using a 4.2 in 18 knots. There is a tiny window within which that combo sort of works; and that is semi-planing close to the wind with the nose riding high. As soon as they kick off the wind and release properly on the plane, there is not enough sailor or rig weight to resist the lift from the fin and the board and they lose control. 2. When it comes to carve gybing, they never bear away to pick up speed, because it’s way to scary-bouncy; and the rails are too thick, creating too much lift for them to depress; so they have to wash off speed and gybe around a sunken tail = bad habit.
SUPs and the WAVES – big is beautiful and reassuring
I was in Mauritius before Christmas. For some in the group it was their fifth visit and yet for a couple of them this was the first time they’d ventured into the waves. I would like to have put it down to the cumulative effects of sublime tuition. But the real reason was that this was the first year SUPs with sails were available. Those who don’t fancy the waves are generally afraid of death by drowning. They are not the strongest swimmers and fear that in a crisis they wont have the breast-stroking stamina to swim to their kit. SUP to the rescue – easily uphaul-able and yet unlike your regular big, wide windsurfer, most of them (the allrounders at least) have a surfboard rocker-line and are at home in waves. This was a use of volume in a wholly positive light. Big board, small sail, moderate wind, everything happened in slow motion. www.windsurf.co.uk
VOLUME and the FREESTYLE DELUSION
Watching the extraordinary antics of José “Edvan” de Souza Pedro, (BRA 250) in Jeri recently, inspired a couple of the group to take out into the waves. But what they hadn’t clocked was that, despite frequently being 20 feet in the air, Edvan was not wave sailing, he was tricking around in and amongst the waves. He never rode one – in fact in the whole session, he never put the board on its edge. Hence our mates had a terrible time on their fat-butted freestyle boards because they’re not much cop at carving a corner. You can tell a lot about a board’s intended use just by looking at the shape and volume distribution in the rails. When you see a thick slap sided tail on an 88 litre board, you know it’s not designed to grip in a turn. Just the opposite, it’s there cork out and help the rider pop into a trick.
Completely unlike getting out there on a sinky thing in a gale where scenery and white water are rushing past at 100 mph, here they had a chance to actually stop and look. Like surfers they could hang around and wait for waves, see what a swell actually looked like before it broke. We could talk and even had the time to discuss matters on the hoof, like where to take off on the wave, which way to go and when to get off it. After a few goes at that, the wave environment was no longer a mystery and they felt fine about giving it a go on smaller kit when the wind got up again.
The volume is the SUP aids morale and well-being in the waves but without issuing a massive performance penalty. The big board (90) small sail (4.8) combo working under the brilliant control of Edvan de Souza. But imitators beware, the thick rails, tail and flat rocker mean these boards are specifically designed to pop and slide – not much else. Do not mistake for a wave board!
Only 10 litres less but the rails of this quad wave board could not be more different, thin, foiled, super grippy and just begging to be buried.
The board is only 100 ltrs but the tail is as thick as a barn door. Just by looking you know it’s not designed to grip a wave face but boy does it jump!
Dragan from Serbia, his main goal being to learn to jump, opted for a big freestyle board in Jeri and mastered the basics in 5 days – but gybing wasn’t on the agenda.
For any trick, new school or old which involves a slick rig transition, the big board small sail strategy is the way to go (110 freestyle board with a 5.5 here). Being over-powered is not an option so the extra volume allows you to get planing with less sail area.
WAVE RIDING - big still very beautiful
First day at Jericoacoara and despite a strong 25 knot side-shore wind and very easy waves, the majority of the group were subject to long and shameful upwind walks – not so much of a disaster in Jeri as it takes you past about 10 beach cocktail bars but annoying nevertheless. Two days later and they were landing back at the spot every time despite performing downwind rides. The difference? Just 10 litres. Most had moved from 85ish to 95 litre boards even though there were gusts of 25 knots. The extra litres meant: 1. They survived the lulls in the impact zone. Each fall in the white water where the wind was gusty, where it was hard to waterstart and where the downwind rip was strongest cost them about 50m. 2. They had better chance of doing a running beachstart which meant they hit the inside ramps, the best ones for jumping, on the plane. 3. They planed earlier and the board was faster off the plane and so easier to sail upwind. 4. They caught waves earlier and could use the swell to carry them upwind. And the penalty you assume is that the bigger board is stiff and manoeuvrable. That’s the element of design that has changed so much in recent years. Within that critical wave board size between about 80 and 95, the difference in looseness isn’t so great. The bigger boards are shorter, ride lower in the water, hold and edge better and don’t bounce out so easily. Of course at home in cross-on winds and 30 knots, I’ll reach for the wee, squirrily 70, but if the waves are big and there’s doubt about the wind inshore, or if the break is crowded and I need to work to get on the peak, I’ll reach for the 92. It’s a change in culture. Consider these 2 approaches. Small sail, big board. In certain wave conditions and freestyle, you go for a small sail to give you instant power control and stability during tricky moves.
YOUR PERFECT VOLUME – finding the perfect match
There is a board out there for all of us which if you match with the right sail will afford you the greatest joy in the widest range of conditions. Airlines are forcing us to make such a choice. Limited to just one bag of 32kg on my last 2 trips, I basically took one board and one rig. It was great, it worked in just 10 knots under-powered, off the plane big wave riding as well as 28 knots fully maxed jumping and messing about. For the practised sea sailor wanting to jump, ride, go fast and do a few tricks, if you take your weight and add 10 - that is about your ideal board size in litres – and then choose the perfect sail size for that board. For me (85 kg) that was a 95 freestyle wave and a 5.7. It’s the board that just floats me and, with a change of fin, can stay steady in a force 6. The trick to keeping a big board in control is to stop the nose lifting and wind getting under the hull (unless you want to jump). What gets your nose up are too big a fin and potentially too SMALL a sail, which doesn’t provide enough mastfoot pressure. The right sail size to volume match is often more effective than simply going for less power.
SUPs with a small sails have had a life changing effect on many windsurfers – allowing them not just to footle about but also to have a sniff at the waves in lightish winds with a feeling of security that a small wave board just can’t supply. And you select a bigger board which planes earlier, doesn’t sink so much on landing and so planes out of jumps and moves; it glides better and generates more speed in dead situations. Yes the board may be bouncy in the chop on the outside – but what are you doing sailing there? Time to turn round or do something flashy. Small board big sail. Setting up for long reaches and maximum speed, a big powerful rig provides the grunt to plane and the top speed – a small board provides control. But you’re set up to be constantly on the plane.
Select your board volume for waves according to exactly where you’ll be doing your stuff, not for the general wind strength on the outside. A few more litres around the gusty impact zone is usually more help than hindrance 84
As a general rule, and this is as true sailing inland as it is in waves, those who choose their volume for the lulls have more fun than those set up just to handle the gusts. The ‘big board’ small sail strategy seems to fly in the face of the first piece of advice about shedding litres to crack the basics; but here we’re dealing with much smaller differences between big and small (about 10 litres). This subject is already 3000 words old and the surface is barely scratched. It may have to be revisited. In the meantime, remember that big is beautiful… except when you want that extra bit of control … and then again it’s dangerous to be under… but nor do you want to bounce… et-bloody-cetera. More from Peter next month as he looks at the positive side of failure. Oh yes – crashing, can be good. Meanwhile, places on his legendary clinics have been selling like very hot hotcakes this year. There are a very few left. Check out the details on www.peter-hart.com
Having a combo in which you trust and which suits your weight, can punch way above its weight – here a 95 freewave and 5.7 ripping up a reef break in 10 knots of wind …
and here jumping and riding in 25 knots (with a little more downhaul).
Anywhere, but especially in waves, where the wind is a little flakey, those with a little more volume are generally having more fun.