DUCK FOR GLORY
Words Peter Hart // Photos Alex Best & Hart Photography
Originally published within the Sepetmber ’16 edition.
The duck gybe was the first planing freestyle trick. Harty affirms that it’s still one of the most rewarding and serves as a technique gateway. And unlike most others, it’s actually functional.
What is the best, most satisfying manoeuvre in windsurfing?
It’s clearly the one with which you had an instant bond; which complied with your skill set; which you have mastered to the point where you initiate it knowing you are going to succeed; which in turn allows you to relax and showboat; and which you enjoy rolling out time after time like a party piece, partly because it elicits a ripple of peer recognition and partly because it feels SO good. And if that same move is vaguely functional and ends with you facing a different direction, all the better.
So it’s subjective – except it isn’t. I can tell you quite categorically that the duck gybe is the windsurfing move – end of story. I’m not here to pooh pooh the upper levels of freestyle, which are magnificent. However, a ‘double Burner’ is as relevant to the recreational windsurfer as a Formula 1 car is to economic urban motoring. You need specialist kit and even more specialist athleticism.
The duck gybe, however, falls into the reach of anyone who can plane on pretty much any design of board or rig (although some are more suitable than others).
And hear this …
When the very best are training to do something new, they go through the same cognitive phase as regular mortals – crashing, burning, readjusting, crashing burning etc. But the good ones recognise when repeated failure during a session has caused them to over-think, tighten up and send the improvement graph into reverse.
At that point they stop and perform their ‘trigger’ move a few times. A trigger move is one which they can perform without thinking; which has a natural flow; which mixes power, balance and subtlety and which gets them moving like an instinctive athlete again. Having reset the systems, they return to the original task.
For many that move is the duck gybe. Why? For a start it happens on the water. You’re carving and therefore feeling and responding to that subtle board water contact. You’re going with the wind, tapping into the force rather than battling against it. There’s no move where you exploit the power of the rig more efficiently – dumping it and regaining it just at the right moments. The rig change is an explosive throw and catch demanding slick, mobile hands. And because it’s a fast curve, you have to take up dynamic, but not impossibly bendy positions to resist the centrifuge. That is, of course, assuming you do it well … which not everyone does … in fact it is possible to do it horribly …which is why we’re here.
RIG and FOOT CHANGE TIMINGS
The beautifully hand crafted diagram left shows the relative timings of the rig and foot change between a carve gybe, the step version, and the duck gybe. The most obvious deduction is of course that the duck rig change happens much earlier. In fact if you’ve passed through the wind, it’s already too late. But it also shows how the transition is spaced out over the arc to give a sensation of unhurried flow. Of course normal carve gybes can flow too but it’s harder because rig release and foot change are all crammed in at the end.
What it is
Two elements separate a duck gybe from a regular gybe, on or off the plane. The first is that the rig change occurs before you pass through the wind. And the second is the rig change itself. In the regular gybe you release the back hand first so the clew swings over the front of the board. In the duck gybe you release the front had so that the mast swings away over the front of the board, at the same time you ‘duck’ under the foot of the sail to reach the new side.
The rig change is actually more efficient. In the regular rig change, the clew swings round through 180º or more. It takes a while. The longer the board is depowered and running on momentum, the more it slows down.
In a well-timed duck, the rig only passes through about 60°. You’re without drive for only a tick. Having the rig switched and sheeted in by dead downwind, you are like that motorcyclist opening up the throttle to scream out of the turn. That feeling of being able to power up the rail half way through is glorious in the extreme.
It sounds simple enough. Indeed when I get people to try the rig change on dry land with a small sail in light wind, the common reaction is: “why haven’t you shown us this before? It’s SO much easier!”
And so it is – but ‘dry land,’ ‘small rig,’ ‘light wind’ gave the game away there. A planing wind brings extra, but not insurmountable challenges.
“ For those wallowing in the marshy wastelands of the ‘not quite planing out of carve gybes’ plateau, the duck gybe introduces them to the elements missing from their regular carving game, like speed and doing the rig change earlier while on the plane ”
Bearing just off the wind, at this stage it could be a regular fast carve, with knees and ankles and body projecting to the centre of the circle and rig forward and sheeted in. The back hand is as far back as is comfortable.
One second into the carve about 20° off the wind use both hands to launch the rig at the nose and relax the grip of the front hand. Note the head is turning to look at the clew, which keeps the body moving over the rail.
Slide the front hand all the way to the end of the boom and let the rig fall away on an extended front arm. Your head ducks under the foot. The board is still carving.
As the sail pivots round and the new side of the boom presents itself, pull the rig upright by throwing the end of the boom over your shoulder. In this one the mast dropped pretty close to the water because we went for an early rig release and a steep carve.
The hands drop into their normal places on the boom. Feet still in their carving positions, this is the fun part – powering out of the turn. Keep the sail open – don’t over-sheet. Check the extreme inside body angle to resist the sail and the centrifuge.
Crank across the wind in the switch foot stance and change the feet at your leisure. Check the head always looking out of the turn.
The main challenge of the duck gybe is …
… Power control. The rig change happens from board reach to broad reach – the zone where it’s hardest to sheet out and control the sail’s power.
But that very challenge should provide a positive incentive. The best way to control power broad to the wind, is to go fast.
When you get your board speed up to or near the speed of the wind, the rig softens. Your first and best tip is right there – speed is very much your mate.
Unlike the normal carve gybe, it’s impossible to do a planing duck gybe slowly.
The slicker your technique the wider your window of opportunity. However, the duck gybe is not a move for all occasions. The nature of the rig change, passing behind the clew, means it’s not suited to huge sails. And once you commit to the rig release, you have to see it through and hold a steady line. If you slow down or divert course, the sudden build up of apparent wind from behind, will rip the rig from your grasp.
The regular carve gybe gives you more spontaneous control of the shape of the turn. You can delay the rig change, exit clew first, and therefore speed up, slow down and widen or tighten the arc for tactical or avoidance reasons. Hence it remains the gybe of choice for racing and tricky situations.
RIGHT TIME, PLACE, HUMAN and MACHINE
Your first attempt at this move will shape your relationship with it for years to come – so be good to yourself and make it a happy one. Choice of kit and conditions are hugely influential.
Sail type and size.
The hands move to the new side of the boom via the clew end of the boom, so the bigger the sail, the longer and more awkward that journey. For learning, go for a boom less than 190cm, which means a sail under about 6.5.
The less area under the boom the less the chance of getting a batten in the eye when you duck; hence a wave, freestyle or crossover design is better than a racy freeride or slalom rig.
As an 87 kg bloke, my favourite ducking size is 5.2 – 5.7. Ultimately, duck gybing very small sails is a real joy because the booms are so short. But in adult 3.5 weather the window for error is tiny and the mistakes especially violent.
A crucial design element for smaller people is clew height. On some models the clew is cut so high that they can’t reach the clew end of the boom – essential for a clean rig change.
Board design and size
Board design is less critical but favour something that is fast and carves sweetly – a fsw or freemove board is ideal. Err on the side of extra volume. A bigger board with a flat rocker has more glide and will carry more speed during the rig transition.
Wind and water. Force 5 and using a sail where you’re planing freely but not hanging on, is ideal. In the early stages being slightly underpowered puts you in a more go-for-it frame of mind.
Trying duck gybes for the first time maxed out could scar you for life.
Flat water is always an advantage. Chop kills speed and makes for reticent carving.
You don’t need to be planing out of carve gybes but should at least be at the level where you’re embracing the feeling of accelerating into them. In the duck, you flip the rig before changing the feet, so if you favour the ‘old skool’ strap to strap carve gybe where you also exit switch foot, you’ll start ahead of the game.
Now I want to point out that both the athletes in the pics below, Steve and Andy, completed their gybes. But both now would be the first to comment that their hand positions are less than ideal. Andy is obeying the original manual, which says “cross the front hand over the back hand to grab the end of the boom.” The problem with that is that if you keep hold of the boom with the back hand, you can’t reach the end of the boom. Furthermore, the act of crossing the hands makes you lean back. Steve has not got his front hand far enough back and is trying to grab both sides of the boom at the same time – which leaves him with a nostril full of batten. The third character shows that if you throw the rig forward and get the front hand all the way to the end of the boom, you have space to manoeuvre and can see what’s going on.
Crossing the hands over to reach the end of the boom is popular knowledge but it makes you lean back. PHOTO Hart Photography.
A face full of sail comes from leaving the front hand in the middle of the boom and trying to handle both side of the boom at the same time. PHOTO Hart Photography.
Chucking the rig forward so the front hand gets right to the end of the boom opens up the pathway and lets you see what’s going on. PHOTO Alex Best.
NAILING the PROCESS
The duck is fun to learn because despite its speed and fluency, you can break it down and practise the elements separately before gluing them back together. The process of the rig change, which hand goes where, when and in which order; the release, throw and catch, is the same whether it’s force 2 or 10.
Session one should definitely be in a force 2 with a small sail (under 6.0) on a big board. I specify force 2 because by a 3 there’s enough force in the rig to make the non-planing duck almost harder than the real version.
Here’s what can be learned off the plane.
You get a feeling for the timing.
The mast falls into the wind direction so if you duck early across the wind it falls towards the water, almost behind you. You can recover it but you find yourself blocked by it.
If you go very late after the eye of the wind, the rig blows to the wrong side and the new side of the boom never presents itself.
When you release on a broad reach, the rig falls about 45° to the inside of the nose and the new side of the boom presents itself – perfect.
You get a feeling for the tempo.
You’ve got more time than you think… so long as you don’t panic. The common reaction as you release the front hand and the rig falls away is to lean or be pulled forward off balance as the mast drops away. The key lesson is that the sail only rotates as far as downwind and then it stops and plays dead. The trick is not to follow it but to stand steady and let it complete its rotation, and then move the hands to the new side.
“ Most of the shape and power is in the front of the sail, which is why the mast drops so suddenly to the water when you release it ”
Lets not get over-excited. There’s a quite a leap between doing it at 5 mph and 20 mph. But at least now you have a sense of what it is, the timing and the mechanics of the rig change. All you have to do is chuck in the carve…
DUCKING – the ISSUES.
The greatest challenge as you take the duck into planing winds, is actually making yourself go for one. The thought of letting the front hand go at speed, despite all the light wind practice, still feels wrong – there is so much force there, you will surely just pile in on top of the kit. The problem is that if you obey survival instincts, slow down and stay close to the wind, the power build up means that if you do release the front hand, the mast will smack the water, the board will stop but you won’t. The resulting Superman act is more spectacular than painful but it confirms your suspicions that it was never going to turn out well. Like the forward loop, it’s the act of playing safe that makes it dangerous.
There is no easy way. Success only comes from embracing the paradoxical notion that to avoid a crash you have to bear away and go fast.
Once embraced, the chances of completing a duck are very high. The aim then is to up the success rate and make them look beautiful.
“ If you want to get military about it in the carve gybe you release the rig after 3 seconds. In the duck gybe it’s after just one second ”
LOOK, THROW, DUCK!
From the crow’s nest we get the perfect view of the key moment – the initiation and the throw. You can try and play safe by just letting go and trying to scramble your hands to the new side but it rarely works and is never pretty. The only true course is total explosive commitment. You need to boss the rig and open up the pathway to the new tack by hurling it forward out of the way. In the first pic you can see how the turn of the head to look at the clew initiates both the duck and the carve – so by the second frame the body is totally committed to the inside.
Both arms bend as they prepare to hurl the rig forward – and front hand is opening its grasp …
… ready to slide all the way to the end.
BEAUTY in the BASICS
Beautiful, consistent duck gybes come from adhering to the same basic principles you employ to improve tacks, normal gybes and whatever; attack with speed, commit and make space by handling the rig at arm’s length. The latter is especially relevant to the duck gybe.
When threatened we tend to hug the rig like a safety blanket in the vain hope that it will support us in our time of greatest need – forgetting that the closer it is to you, the less room you have to move and the less chance you have of keeping out of its way.
The commonest sight is that of sailors not getting their front hand to the back end of the boom and then trying to hang onto both ends of the boom at the same time. The consequences are many and varied.
If you don’t move your hands to the back of the boom, the end of the boom or the foot batten can smack you in the mush. That only has to happen once for you to instinctively throw your head and shoulders back out of the way as soon as you duck. Just like the normal carve, as soon as you move into the back seat, you sink the tail and slow down. If you slow down and stop carving, you’ll get over-powered.
To control the power on the new tack, you have to get your new front hand onto the new side of the boom in front of the balance point – i.e. in front of the harness lines. From that position you can open the sail and spill wind.
But if the foot of the sail is in your face, you physically can’t reach to the front of the boom. And if you grab the boom behind the harness lines, you will accidentally power the sail up … in a bad way.
SEXING it UP
My friend Harry’s duck gybe was something to behold. It was he who inspired the famous ‘3 counties gybe’ – a gybe so long you pass through 3 counties on the way to completing it. You could see him building up from miles out, creeping the back hand further and further back and bearing away more and more. At warp speed with the drums rolling and virtually on a run he would level off (this only worked on very flat water) and release the front hand. There followed a frantic and hugely comical dance where he appeared to be wrestling a set of bagpipes as the board squirrelled from edge to edge. With the grace of a young hippo he’d seize the new side of the boom and sit down to resist the surge.
But it wasn’t over yet. Almost stationary and still on a run, he’d use the sail to squirt the board around the last 90° – followed by a cacophonous “yes!”
What it lacked in flow, speed, grace and efficiency, it made up for with enthusiasm. Such an interpretation is pretty common.
Here to finish are 3 ways to make a good thing great.
“ Timing. Everyone goes too late to begin with because thanks to carve and flare gybe conditioning, that’s what they’re used to ”
With victory in sight, it’s tempting to lunge for the new side of the boom and grab it … wherever. But if you so much as touch any part of the boom behind the harness lines, you will power the sail up and away it flies. The lessons are: pull the sail to you, don’t go looking for it; and: the new front hand has to grab the sail in front of the harness lines if it is to be able to sheet out and control it.
(Left) The front hand has grabbed the boom too far back and has sheeted it in prematurely – and that sudden power is driving the rail under. From the facial expression you can surmise that all did not end well.
(Right) It’s an easy move to drill on the beach – that of hurling the end of the boom back so the front hand falls into its rightful place.
Launch, release and catch
The instruction to absorb with caution is ‘start the rig change by releasing the front hand and crossing over the back hand to reach the back end of the boom.’ It sort of works but the act of crossing the hands makes you lean back.
What we want is a carve gybe where you maintain your committed, forward-leaning position and make the rig move around you. The moment you reach here and there and go looking for it, you’ll take the pressure off the edge and the board will misbehave.
In an average duck gybe people just let go of the rig – in a good one, they actively launch it out of the way. As you initiate, you use both arms to throw the rig at the front of the board; and then catch the end of the boom as it whistles past you. To take control on the new tack, don’t lean forward and go looking for the new side of the boom, but hurl the rig back, LET GO and drop the hands into their sailing positions as the boom comes in reach.
Carve, carve and carve!
The trigger to throw the rig should be the act of carving. If you think about moving your hip towards the clew and actually ducking and looking under the foot of the sail, not only can you orientate yourself but will also naturally move over the inside rail and carve. And the faster you turn through that downwind zone, the less chance you have of losing it.
Keeping the arc long is a good way to get one in the bag – but the tight ones draw the crowds. One way to make yourself commit is to go for a very early rig change almost across the wind. The mast seems to be heading for the water but if you crank hard on the rail, the board suddenly catches up with it to enormous applause.
Depower then throw
The act of releasing a powered up rig brings about a massive trim and balance change that rarely ends well. The best depower the rig just before releasing so the sail rotates with less violence. Just like a normal gybe, there are 2 ways to do it.
Over-sheet. Make it part of a lay-down gybe. Drop the rig forward and down to hide it. If you over-sheet it as well, the clew should be right in front of you. Sheet out. Just before ducking, open the back hand momentarily so the rig is almost balancing itself – and then throw it upwind of the nose of the board. This also increases the arc of the mast and gives you a little more time to showboat – drag a hand, scratch your nose etc.
“ The regular rig change happens at the back end of the gybe at the point where you’re usually losing speed. The ducking rig change happens at the beginning when you’re still accelerating ”
Accelerating out. If you’ve got the sail vaguely under control downwind on the new tack but are not planing out – well shame on you; but it’s typically one of two things.
Over-sheeting. At the end of a carve gybe you pull on the back hand to
power up and plane away. It’s a natural reflex to do the same in the duck, except this time you’re very broad to the wind. At this point of sail, to pull in the back hand is to oversheet and depower. Instead think about holding the back hand open to present the sail to the wind, and only gather it in as you carve across the wind.
Levelling off. If you let the board flatten off downwind, you will quickly run out of gas (there’s no power that broad to the wind.). And if you let your hips drift over the centreline, you can’t resist the power as you sheet in, nor maintain any pressure on the rail.
The key to a planing exit in the standard carve and the duck, is to push the hips across and make yourself the centre of the circle right from the off.
Harty has a fabulous new website www.peter-hart.com revealing news of everything windsurfing including spaces on up and coming clinics. Email him for his monthly newsletter on [email protected] or like his Peter Hart Masterclass page.