MOVE ON UP – WINDSURFING TECHNIQUE
Jem Hall gives advice on how to improve your onshore wave sailing.
Photos – Eye Sea You Photo
Smaller onshore wave sessions can be fun, are often available and help develop your skills. This piece is an overview for some basic tips and strategy to help you make the most of these sessions. Firstly, let me sell you why to get into some onshore wave action.
- Available: onshore waves may not offer the quality of the classic side-shore, or side-off days, but they perhaps happen more often and on more beaches around the world.
- Air time: often these bumpy small wave sessions will give you your first jumps either by choice or inadvertently.
- Wiggle it: having these bumps breaking on the inside, or even the option of playing with the swells out the back, can entice people to unhook and embrace their first wave rides.
- Build it: this arena gives you options to build more skills in more areas, as opposed to perhaps the usual flat water transitions and blasting.
- Strategy test: your skill will be held to account here, but your strategy even more so.
- Skills test: wave sailing, in general, places more demands on you, and onshore waves will really challenge you to plane early and keep upwind, make some sound jumps, and lastly choose the right location and transition for either getting back out or heading back in.
Your first onshore wave sessions will most definitely focus your attention on the skills required to get the best out of the conditions. It will likely lead to some reflection and then hopefully some target setting.
These skills can be worked on in flat water, and those listed below are what I suggest to work on.
- Early planing: getting going early will give you speed to get upwind, get over bumps and make some jumps, but most importantly get out the back. It is best to do this by getting in the straps early and working it from there.
- Getting upwind: you will need to be able to do this non-planing and semi-planing and identify any ways you can gain ground. Using the bumps / swell on the way in to get you planing and upwind really helps and any positive wind shifts or big gusts will really help on the way out.
- Wobbling and getting over whitewater: you will be spending some time non-planing, so practice this and be good at balancing with your weight over the board and with the sail not oversheeted.
- Absorbing: sailing fast over the bumpy bits gets you speed, gets you upwind and then puts you in a position to attack your chosen ramps with speed. This is performed by really sucking your knees up at the same time as subtly sheeting out as you go over bumps. Longer harness lines really help here.
- Tacking: upwind is king in onshore sessions, as then you have options for riding, jumping and gybing. A tack out the back will give you a breather and time to assess the waves and bring you upwind. A tack on the inside will give you the ground to bear away, get speed and fly out the back.
- Gybing variety: on the outside you could be ripping through some fast wide gybes on the swell, or gybing tighter onto a wave. Gybes on the inside depend on power and space, and quite often you need a medium speed tighter gybe, as the waves are closer together, so space is not at a premium. Consistent gybes, with some momentum out of them really helps your performance and confidence in waves.
- Jumps: get your tail up and keep it up. Two chop hops per run, both ways, on flat water, will not only hone your technique but also boost your fitness.
One of my favourite questions on every clinic is, ‘What is more important, strategy or technique?’ And the answer is strategy, since without a sound one you are not in a position to utilise good technique, so here are my main tips.
- Find your angle: there is often a better place to launch, perhaps where the wind is better, or waves are smaller, or where you have a better angle to the wave. From here it is easier to get speed and get upwind. Please note that dead onshore is the toughest, so if you can find, side-on, then this is more preferable. Look at where people make the most progress from and even ask more experienced sailors.
- Get out: walk upwind in the water as far as possible, shoulder depth as a guide. This gives you cleaner wind and more chance to get going. Once sailing, ‘chug’ upwind a bit too, to gain some more metres and then from this advantageous position you can get planing. Your first few runs are important, so start in the right place!
- Get speed: when possible, ‘put the hammer down’ and accelerate, as this will get you upwind when you need to and the faster you go, the more choice you have in your angle for either getting over waves or jumping them. Remember a lighter sail will also be easier to handle in the air.
- Change your sailing lines: my Jan/Feb. 2021 article covers this comprehensively, so please check on that and know that rarely are you sailing in straight lines when in the waves. You are looking for better routes, getting more speed, going hard upwind and so on.
- Perfect preparation: this whole onshore wave arena is bumpier and things are happening and changing fast. Therefore you must be precise in your preparation, from unhooking for jumping, to back hand all the way back on your outside gybe. A successful outside transition breeds confidence for the way in.
- Stay out: when first getting your sea legs stay out the back and play on the swells, and then as you gain more confidence you can come more to the inside to have a play in the waves.
- Scan and plan: read the water ahead and spot where is good to get over waves or jump them. Then on the way in, see what swells look fun to wiggle on, or which breaking sections are good to hit. Furthermore, spot your space to tack and gybe.
- Take the option: you may not always have an opportunity to get a good jump, or a wave ride, you might be downwind or not quite in the right place, yet you should seize the opportunity and more often than not, go for it anyway. After this then you can work to get back into a better position or more upwind.
- Walk: if you get washed and are downwind, and have possibly lost your angle to get out, then walk back upwind to get a better launch spot / angle.
This is a complicated new arena where mistakes can and will be made. The saying, ‘Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment’ is relevant, so do not be too hard on yourself and know that both your strategy and technique will improve. However, here are my tips as to what to avoid.
- Staying out: you might be loitering out the back for too long, and too far upwind where the waves are not breaking, when you could be inside amongst the fun waves on offer. As you get better, come more to the inside. However, if it is big, then staying out can be a good option.
- Staying in: you may not be getting upwind enough, or trying too many jumps or rides on the inside and getting washed too much. If this is happening, then head to the outside to give yourself a breather. Have a play out there for a while and then come back to the inside.
- Over gunned: we need bigger sails, boards and fins for onshore wave fun and improvement, but some overdo it. They can have a huge sail up, a tank of a board, or too big a single fin. You still need to get speed, make jumps, rides and turns, so don’t go too big!
- Under gunned: you may go out with too small a sail or board, or may not even own big enough toys to perform in onshore waves. Choose, and have, the right tools for the job.
- Too hard: onshore waves are harder for wave riding frontside and forward looping, for example, yet some people try both of these too much and suffer the negatives of crashing a lot in both. Keep it simple and try achievable moves.
- Transition chaos: people come hurtling into the beach, too close to it, and gybe into the sand, or tack straight into a big wall of water. Location, location, location is of prime importance, so choose the right transition and appreciate the space and positioning required for it.
Generous straps and long lines, as ever.
Balanced floaty boards, that can plane pretty early and will turn. Tri-fin freewaves often excel here, or fast bigger wave boards.
A bigger sailor’s board, like for me, might be a 104 litre freestyle wave (64 cm wide), and you can scale up or down from here.
Fin sizes that work for me are 11-12 cm side fins and a choice of 21.5, 20 or 18.5 cm back fin. Scale for your weight and ability; go a bit bigger if you are not so good or heavier.
Strong sails with a good wind range, so you can take a few washings and also adjust your tension to either produce or control power.
Ezzy sails, RRD (boards, wetsuits & softwear), Chinook & Black Project fins sponsor Jem Hall. Get him live and direct on one of his highly acclaimed coaching holidays – check out his website www.jemhall.com for details. You can also follow him on twitter / Facebook / Instagram.