PETER HART MASTERCLASS | EMBRACING THE CHANGES
It’s been a while since our sport has seen quite so many groundbreaking changes. Peter Hart, with comments from his peers, casts a critical eye over the new trends and coaching methods, offering advice on how to blossom in the new environment.
Words Peter Hart // Photos Dave White, Brett Kenny, Hart Photography, John Carter, John Michelin & Barbara Close.
Originally published within the November December ’18 edition.
It will be a sad day indeed when windsurfing’s designers and innovators collectively decide that their creative juices have dried up and our sport stands still. Any activity that stagnates, generally shrinks and dies. Well 2018 has been the antithesis of such a situation. In fact not since the 80s have we witnessed so much change and development in such a short period. Our sport is officially buzzing. But wasps buzz too … and they can be quite annoying … but probably because we don’t understand what they’re trying to tell us. Over a year on the windy, global road, I get to view windsurfing from many angles and hear many opinions from the all corners of the sport. In no particular order these are just a few of my observations.
Sam Ross – no stranger to this magazine, Sam does a lot work with instructors and junior elite squads and is our foremost pioneering foiler.
Tris Best – Windsurf’s test editor, runs the OTC from the shores of Portland Harbour. He not only teaches all ages but also gets to try pretty much every bit of kit on the market.
Ollie Scott – manager of Club Vass for the past 10 years, is an experienced all-round sailor who sees daily how hundreds of clients react to new designs and various styles of tuition.
Colin ‘Whippy’ Dixon – a younger, ruder version of myself.
Monty Spindler – eminent, vastly experienced sail designer, originally of ART Sails, now of his own brand, Loftsails. Based in Tarifa with his test team and hooked on foiling.
There is simply more kit about looking to give us different experiences, different sensations and point us down different performance avenues – some quite niche. And there’s a greater diversity of design within the same categories. When kit changes, inevitably some gets left behind. Change and diversity are bound to sew a few seeds of confusion into the lives of formerly unconfused ‘windies’. It’s all good, in that it all works, but to end up with the right bits, a whole new level of knowledge is required. And above all, it’s time to see boards more than just in terms of their bulk.
Litre fixation – it’s not just about the volume
Imagine you’re looking for someone you’ve never met. You ask a friend to describe them and they say: “Ah yes, John Smith – he’s easy to spot. He’s about 86 litres.” You are none the wiser. You have no idea whether he’s tall, thin, fat or short; handsome or ugly, a saint or a psychopath. From pro to beginner, we’re all guilty of it. When we talk about board size, volume is our ‘go to’ stat. Compared to other measurements, it actually tells you very little about how a model will perform or feel under the feet. It’s no longer even a reliable indicator of load carrying and stability.
THE VOLUME CONSPIRACY
Volume is but one measurement and does not tell you as much as you think. The good sailors tune into other dimensions and relate speed, trim, stability and carving characteristics to length, outline shape, thickness and width.
What are you looking at? The 120 is wider and potentially more stable than the ‘compact’ 130. The 2 offer very different sensations under foot. Photo Hart Photography.
The big step for freeriders moving to compact designs with smaller fins is getting off the back foot, especially sailing upwind. The first step is to sail with the back foot forward of the strap. Photo Hart Photography.
For example, the improving freerider looking for say a 120 litre all-rounder, has got 2 extremes of design to choose from, both purporting to do much the same thing – plane early, go fast, be relatively forgiving and carve a mean turn. On the one hand you have wide, curvy, thin-railed freemove designs like the Starboard Atom and RRD Firemove. On the other you have the new, more compact, narrower, parallel railed shapes like the Severne Fox or Fanatic Blast. Watching people hop onto the latter from the more traditional wide style shape, you can expect 2 totally different reactions, depending on their history. One may say: “Brilliant! At last they’ve made a board that feels like my original Mistral Screamer.” The other, meanwhile, may comment: “Where’s all the volume gone?” The new compact designs feel a lot smaller.
Sam Ross – “A whole generation learned on wide style. The blurb says: ‘A 120 litre feels bigger than it is.’ But if you’ve learned on it, it doesn’t – it just feels like 120 litres! So when they get on a narrower board it feels a lot smaller. Volume is a convenient badge, but actually width and length have always told us more.”
SUPs are a good way of ridding yourself of ‘litre fixation’ and familiarising yourself with the influence of length and width. On a recent course I offered my 8’4” surf SUP up to a guy who was looking to get a little more ‘rad’ on the wave face.
“I’ve got no chance with that.” He whined. “My normal board is 10’6” and 180 litres. What volume is that?” “I have no idea … but it’s the same width as yours – you’ll be fine.”
He wasn’t unconditionally fine … but to his amazement he could stand on it and get out. The volume and stability were less of an issue than the sensitive fore / aft trim; and the fact that the shorter rail made it turn so easily under both foot pressure and paddle power. Without a sail you can really feel the difference between a long and a short rail. Interestingly, the surfboard industry have never quoted volumes until relatively recently – traditionally it was just length, width and sometimes thickness. And unless you’re using a ‘foamy’ (a soft beginner’s board made from squidgy closed cell foam), size is generally more a barometer of style rather than standard (although some pros somehow get away with tiny boards). Litres are only marked on some SUPS to satisfy volume obsessed ‘windies’.
In windsurfing in the past, we followed a linear downwards progression towards ever shorter boards and higher winds. “So you can a 255 in a force 7? Wow! You’re better than me, I’m still on a 270…”
Some still like to challenge storms – but it’s an option rather than the zenith. We progress differently these days. We look for different rather than windier challenges, which may even mean moving to a bigger board. Proficiency these days is often measured in how little wind you need to perform.
The desire to move to smaller boards and into storm riding remains – but it’s no longer the zenith, just an option.
Back foot / front foot
The technique progression of most people is to learn on a big freeride board where the fin is a reliable source of power, which they resist and exploit through back foot pressure. Back foot sailing is/was a legitimate technique – but also a pejorative label, describing the defensive posture of someone who’s suffered one too many catapults and is now hunkered down over the fin. Then as you moved towards manoeuvre oriented boards with smaller fin(s), the aim is/was to stand more upright and sail and turn more off the front foot, like a surfer – although when surfing and wave riding you can also turn off the back foot. What has confused the style debate has been the introduction of the short, square, compact shape.
DESIGNED TO HELP
The aim in most equipment led activities – SUP’ing, sking, surfing – is to give people kit that gives them a taste of success as early as possible, thereby hooking them. Thereafter you can layer on the difficulty. The carve gybe thrills and frustrates in equal measure. For those who stall at the end, the eternal cry is ‘lean forward, get on the front foot etc’ which is technically difficult and demands speed, commitment and cute power control. NOT getting on the front foot is a symptom of other failings. So the compact design of board that allows you to gybe off the back foot and get away with it, is brilliant for morale, gives you a feel for the real thing and hopefully encourages you to improve and move on.
Harty gybe coaching in glorious Tobago. Gybing off the back foot works, if you have the width in the tail to support you and resist the pressure. Photo by Brett Kenny.
The compact outline encourages a back foot style – but as you improve, you learn that ‘back foot pressure’ doesn’t mean leaning back. Photo by Brett Kenny.
The (relatively) new compact board shapes are splitting the community. They originally appeared on wave boards, but a couple of years on we’re finding the same outline being used in freewave and freeride boards. If I can sum up the design concept:
– The parallel rails promote a more efficient, less ‘draggy’ water flow.
– The short length makes them more comfortable in the rough because they span fewer pieces of chop.
– The relatively narrow width makes them feel more playful and easier to move from edge to edge. And the fact that all the volume is squeezed into such a small template makes them, as mentioned above, feel and behave smaller than they are.
– And finally the volume under the straps helps support and boost them around carved turns – and permits a lot of back foot pressure.
These are the two recent experiences of two guys using the same compact 115 freewave model from a hire centre on a 20 knot day. Simon comes in beaming, declaring that despite his best efforts, he couldn’t stop planing out of carve gybes. Jeff, having walked 400m back upwind, threw the kit roughly to the sand and said he spent the whole session going sideways.
Simon was on the course to sort out his gybes. Planing exits were rare. He cited the classic habits of leaning back and sinking the tail as his main mistakes. On the new board he’d basically did what he normally does, but this time the board seemed to compensate, and even reward his failings. As he pushed on the back foot, it was like someone had lit a turbo booster under the tail and round he went.
The problem for ‘Downwind Jeff’ was that everything, mastfoot and both sets of straps, were further back than he was used to. He found himself sailing right over the fin – in this case a tri fin setup with a relatively small (26cm) centre fin. His regular board was a more traditional 120 with a 45cm fin, upon which he’d developed a classic back foot sailing style. Using a seat harness and short (26”) lines, he hooks in and sits down. The force is transmitted directly through his back foot into that big fin and without even having to bear away, off he goes. On the new board it was as if, he said, someone had unplugged his motor and he had nothing to push against.
Simon didn’t have the same problem because although he was a back foot gyber, his ’go to’ board at home was a big freewave, so he was used to sailing more off the front foot.
Tris Best – “On the recent compact designs, everything is moved right back, and that’s great if you have a style that compliments it – but if you like to drive quite hard through the back foot, there’s little margin for error. The stance setup is narrower and that makes it harder to get on the front foot.”
Reading and feeling the signs
Sometimes you’re lucky in that a new design plays to your strengths or hides your weaknesses – but in truth, if you want to experiment and exploit the new options, you have to be prepared to embrace the unfamiliar and adapt. Faced with a new board, you can tell so much just by looking. If it’s fitted with small multi fins, you know you’ll have to sail off the front foot and use the windward edge as your prime source of resistance. And you’ll need long (30” plus) lines that allow you that freedom of movement. If the tail is thick, you can guess immediately it will favour tight snappy turns and will like to be carved with back foot pressure. Engage too much of the straight edge of a compact outline and it will trip or straighten up.
The mindset to adopt when you sail a new design for the first time, is to rid yourself of preconceptions and just feel and react to forces. Shift the pressure between the feet, dip toes and heels, play with fore/aft and windward/leeward angles until you find that angle where the board tracks true and sweet. In turns, vary the shape, vary the pressures between front to back foot and experiment with carving angles – nose up, nose down – until you sense that you’re exploiting the board’s design quirks rather than fighting them. It’s something the pros do instinctively, but a skill which the amateur really has to develop – especially as he or she moves into the waves.
There are so many options now that often we’re teaching people to sail a specific piece of kit, rather than … windsurf!
There’s never been a better time to be a wave sailor. Rigs are lighter and more powerful and there are boards out there to suit every size of sailor, every wind and wave combination and every style. Multi fins have given us far more room for error in top and bottom turns and generally made life a lot easier. But the breadth of choice can be bewildering.
Tris Best – “A while back styles were a lot more defined. For example, in the early 90s you had Jason Polakow who came in with this completely original front foot, surfing style, and it was really easy to see what was going on. Now if you look at someone like Marcilio Browne, he’s an amazing sailor, but there’s so much front to back movement it’s almost impossible to see where his balance is and relate what he’s doing to board design.”
The vast range of designs encourages you to have a rack of boards – and lets face it, they are beautiful. However, choice is often stressful and can leave you with lots of those, ‘I wish I’d taken my other board’ moments; when often we’d be happier with one all-round design that does everything.
Sam Ross – “l’ll be out riding on my Nuevo board – which is a classic, front foot, riding biased design – then the wind will get up and go more onshore and I’ll think – I better go in and get my jumping board!”
In the end, time is short and most don’t have the time for endless experiments – and for them, ease of use is key. Is the compact board design the answer?
Colin ‘Whippy’ Dixon – “They are really good, especially for those who haven’t sailed wave boards much and are used to pushing on a big fin. You can be a lot lazier!”
I lend my compact 93 litre design out to people on wave courses who are considering trading in a fsw for a dedicated wave board. Without having to do too much with the rig, they can pressure the back foot, slash from edge to edge and get that first feeling of turning on a wave face using minimum pressure and without tripping. At that point, they’re hooked on the concept.
But then there’s the choice to be made. Do you want a board that yields instant results, especially in slow waves. Or do you want something that
encourages sweet, surfing technique. If you have ambitions to get on the front foot and emulate Levi Siver’s long, screeching, full rail bottom turns, go for something more curvy and traditional.
The general consensus is that the sport has become more niche. There are proper ‘Marmite’ designs out there in all categories that excel in a very specific area of performance, which are excellent, but will not be adored by everybody.
THE PLANING HURDLE.
Feet just in front of the straps, just the front foot in, board sort of planing but not quite – it’s where a lot of people get stuck. With models like the ‘long tail’, designers have strived endlessly to offer something that eases the scary transition from non-planing to fully released and flying … and do it with less power. Some believe that given the right kit, foiling could be the easiest way to get over that hump.
So nearly up and planing – a progressive foil on a wide board could be an option. PHOTO Hart Photography.
Sam Ross – “Foiling has above all encouraged the spirit of failing.” Photo John Carter.
IMPROVING THROUGH CRASHING
I did my first gybe in 1982 and have been working on them ever since. I really thought I could gybe – until I tried one on a sensitive, racy foil. One way in which foiling really helps your regular sailing is through the immediate and quite extreme feedback it gives you – especially if you get it a little wrong. They are far more sensitive to fore / aft movement. And especially during foot change time, you either get it right or explode – plus there is absolutely no time to fart around. You either change quickly and deftly … or not at all.
Harty in mid foil gybe – loving the new level of precision. Photo Dave White.
Apart from a few dedicated foiling designs (e.g. super long boom for low end power – see Ezzy’s Hydra sail), we haven’t seen the same extreme design changes in rigs. Nevertheless a steady drip drip drip of development has left some a little misinformed when it comes to tuning – especially manoeuvre oriented sails.
For many years, one piece of advice rang out like a psalm – “more downhaul!” People didn’t apply enough because floppy leeches looked wrong – and downhauling sails was hard, as they had a lot of luff curve so the downhaul had to bend the mast.
These days I’m telling just as many people to ease off the tension – primarily to those of a certain era who’ve recently updated their sails. Most of the wave ranges set with hardly any pre-twist (loose leech). They have straighter luff curves. The straighter the mast, the less it pre-bends, and the more freedom it has to flex; which means the sail breathes better, is easier to pump and gets going in less wind. That’s the new freestyle/wave philosophy – go small on the sail for greater manoeuvrability. Those drilled in the era of the loose leech don’t believe the rigging instructions. The tight leech looks wrong, and they assume the sail will break up under load. They call on a former wisdom, add a couple of cm of downhaul to bend the mast, open the leech, increase luff tension and stabilise the sail. And actually all they achieve is to pull the guts out of it and make it stiff and unresponsive.
The year of the foil
Foiling has been bubbling under the surface for a few years, but it was 2018 when the windsurfing public truly viewed it as a serious option. And by the end of the year – well its presence on the scene is bold and noisy. It has already been accepted as a PWA discipline – and when the elite get hold of it, the rate of progress is sure to be rocket-fuelled. It’s already fiercely competitive and a proper kit battleground. And there’s the issue – a glut of media coverage and wild development at the top end could be giving a skewed impression of just how popular it is. So here was a question for my peers. Is there an explosion? Is it is as popular as it seems? Will the enthusiasm last or are we riding a bit of a PR wave?
Sam Ross – “I think there is a bit of a wave, but I’m genuinely surprised how big it’s become. I was at Rutland for the National Windsurf Champs, stayed over, turned up on Monday morning for a quick foil and there were 7 other foils rigged up. A short while back I would have known them all! And the seven present were made of up of all kinds of sailor – not just high skill pros. And those not buying kit, are talking about it! And what’s really interesting is that people are getting into it by sticking a cheap foil in an old board – complaining how expensive windsurfing has got – and then immediately going out and buying something better!”
Tris Best – “There’s a lot of social media stuff out there fuelling the fire that it’s a fad. So many are sceptical – until they try it. That’s the great thing about where we are in Portland – we can just say ‘give it a go!’ And that’s usually all it takes. What’s really interesting is the philosophy of French brand, AFS, that you can get people foiling before they can properly plane. I thought it was ridiculous, but actually now I can see the merits. You can put people on a wide board without straps and with a high lift foil and use it to get them over the planing hurdle even earlier!”
Ollie Scott – “A lot of people are turning up to the centre with their own foils. But I do think we’re riding a wave. It’ll go on for a few years and then a lot will return to freeride kit.”
Monty Spindler –“An explosion? Well for me personally it is. I feel reborn when I’m foiling, I’m flying! I’ve got bad knees and slalom sailing was killing them. Foiling doesn’t stress them. For the industry, it’s a progression. But you’ve got to be dedicated to windsurfing to really get into foiling. And it’s not so easy in every place – like today in Tarifa there was a shorebreak – so it’s a real bitch getting into the sea. But I see a steady future for foiling, which is why I’m putting so much work into my foiling sails.”
FRONT FOOT, BACK FOOT
For the first time ever this September, I took 2 wave boards of the same volume (93) with me on my wave courses – my favourite curvy outlined tri fin UltraKode – and the compact Nano. I love the UltraKode. I’ve spent my life trying to get on the front foot and telling people to do the same. I like the wide stance and the freedom to move between the feet. And I especially like the feeling of long, full rail bottom and top turns. It took me a day to get used to the shorter, squarer Nano. I didn’t at first like the narrower stance, but then quickly developed a more playful ‘drive and release style’ to exploit the volume in the tail, bouncing off whitewater and turning super tightly. All the new designs work well, but to enjoy them, you have to meet them halfway adapt and play to their strengths.
Loving the wide stance and full rail turns of the traditional wave board. Photo John Michelin.
The Compact design had so much bounce and energy in small waves. Photo Barbara Close
Anything that explodes into an epidemic is driven by the enthusiasm of a highly motivated few. There are lot of opinion leaders in our industry who’ve been windsurfing a very long time, but are a bit too stiff for new tricks, and for whom foiling has signalled a glorious rebirth.
I’m with Monty. This summer I was back in the 80s, looking at the trees for the merest flicker of a leaf, deviously sneaking out down to the harbour under the pretence of walking the dog. The old fanatically devious me was back. Every session yielded a new sensation, a new goal. Asked about it, the verbal stopcock would open and out would pour a torrent of infectious passion. To a certain extent that’s what’s driving it.
My crystal ball is murky. In the 9 months that I’ve been doing it seriously, it’s already mutated and slid down multiple avenues. For me it’s a big sail, very light wind thing; for others it’s a small sail, trick-oriented thing; for gear heads it’s tweaky, teccy heaven. For sure it will ride a bit of a wave, but it wont take over – it doesn’t suit every venue and the contraption itself is bulky and annoying. After foiling exclusively for 2 months in the summer, I loved heading to the waves of Donegal again in autumn with simple kit and feeling an edge. But when it comes to learning and improving your overall game, it taps into a coaching trend that is currently purveying sport, industry and all corners of business – encouraging failure.
Failing to improve
The hardest people to coach are performers who’ve reached a respectable level, who then lose that essential quality that gave them that initial meteoric improvement – the willingness to hurl themselves into the void, get wet and learn from mistakes. Learning to wave sail forcibly reintroduces that spirit – and so does foiling. Learning to foil, you WILL fly … and then explode – and until you’ve risen and crashed, you can’t move on. This ‘playing safe’ syndrome is not just an old person’s issue.
Sam Ross – “Recently I was coaching some RS:X girls to improve their gybing. They’re all driven by the fear of failure – dropping the rig in a race is a major issue. So I got them foiling, being ambitious they immediately tried gybes. When it comes to all the classic mistakes like foot changes, levelling off downwind etc, the foil gives you some pretty radical feedback! They all improved massively.”
It’s a question I get all my charges to ask themselves – are you looking to survive this move, or nail it? If it’s the latter then it’s absolutely essential to wipe out en route to glory.
One of the problems of this new discipline is that of chronic misinformation, where keen but flawed beginners are passing on suspect advice.
Sam Ross – “I’ll overhear someone saying ‘you need to do this or that when you’re learning …’ and I’ll think … er … no you don’t! It makes me nervous.”
It’s a situation echoed by many instructors:
Ollie Scott – “We notice a lot of information overload at Club Vass. Thanks to YouTube, social media etc, people are arriving having heard a different spiel from 100 different sources. They’re pretty confused. With the advanced customers, our instructors are spending more and more time focussing on getting them the right kit. With the intermediates, it’s the power of the single tip to get them over a hurdle – they’re always the most grateful!”
The advent of foiling has certainly changed the way I coach. Going back to being a beginner reinforces the importance of experience and feedback over lots of ‘blah blah’ verbals. I say less and less, but instead focus on outcomes. Taking the gybe foot change for example, you think about where you want the feet to end up. If you get them there as quickly as possible, it doesn’t matter so much how – everyone will do it slightly differently. It’s when you focus on the minutiae of the process that heads drop and people start wading through glue.
And so to sum up…
We’re in a good place. I’d rather be in a sport that offers too many options than too few. But to end up with the right tools and techniques, more effort and extensive research is needed. Knowledge is power!
More technique gems from Harty in the next issue. If you want to know more about his legendary clinics, check out www.peter-hart.com and his Peter Hart Masterclass facebook page.