“ PETER HART – OPERATION ROTATION! ”
Words Peter Hart // Photos Hart Photography except where noted.
Originally published within the March ’17 edition.
If you’ve spent a lifetime talking about the forward loop, make 2017 the year that you do it! Peter Hart strips bare the move and tells you what it really takes and assesses the pros and cons of the various training methods. Next month he’ll show you how to make a good thing better.
The forward loop is a wonderfully meaty theme for a journo. It brims with controversy, mystery and bloody anecdotes. And yet to date I have assiduously avoided it because, like trying to explain the meaning of life in two hundred words, it’s a gargantuan theme with many personal opinions and few absolutes. The technical description: “pop, throw, look, pull …” tells little of the real story, which is not ‘how to do it’ but how to make yourself do it. The moment I put pen to paper I’d immediately want to contradict myself. “Anyone who can jump can loop …” Actually, no they can’t. “Looping is easier than gybing …” Well sort of …but, no …not really. “Just go high and pull and you’ll get round.” Maybe … but usually not. “It’s really not as dangerous as it looks.” Yes but … that depends on … oh sod it …lets do another piece about gybing. However, after 30 years of being involved with this darn move from many angles, I’m finally ready.
The Mystique … the threat.
No move provokes such extremes of emotion. If, for years, you’ve failed to tack your small board, it’s annoying but life goes on and windsurfing is still fun. But reluctance to loop leads to borderline psychotic frustration that eternally pollutes a once enjoyable pastime. “Wasn’t it a great day out there?” “No – it was just another day I didn’t go for a loop.”
Why should this be? First of all, despite the evolution of tricks, which are technically far harder, the forward loop, to the uninformed bystander, still looks the absolute business. “I don’t know what that first bloke did … span round or something … but did you see this last one? He did a bloody forward somersault with his machine! Now that is sick and I want his/her babies!” Secondly, and this is mostly, although not entirely, a male thing, the forward loop can be a threat to your status within the pack. It’s an unjust proficiency barometer. At your local patch everyone thinks Burt is the best sailor. But Burt can barely windsurf. He needs a gale to plane and gybes once a century. But when it’s breezy, he loops. Cedric, meanwhile, can do all the delicate, ‘turny-roundy’ stuff but because he can’t/won’t pull the trigger, he sits below Burt in the pecking order.
And what’s even worse is that Burt’s loops aren’t even that good. That’s the other injustice. If you do a crap gybe, it looks like just that – a crap gybe. But if you do a crap loop, it’s still a loop. In fact even if you’re just seen going for a loop and crashing horribly, you explode to rapturous applause and shoot up the rankings. It’s all wrong – but life has never been fair. So to preserve your sanity, you’d better either forget about it altogether or man up and get this thing done… just don’t hang around in no man’s land. But you need a plan … and an honest self-assessment.
THREE STEPS to ENLIGHTENMENT
The following 3 exercises are a long way from a proper crowd-pleasing loop, but they do train key elements and help you understand what it is that gets the board spinning. It’s rig power – not momentum. They also give you an idea where you should be looking (back), where your hand should be (right back) and where your body is relative to the sail (under it). They may go some way to easing general anxiety.
The deliberate catapult teaches you that it’s OK to hang on and that if you keep looking back and pulling, you land on your back, well away from the board, under the sail. Note the extended front arm – the key limb in looping.
Do the same as above but this time off the plane with both feet in the straps. You get the same spinning feeling but this time you take the board with you.
The next level. This has the look of a loop and gives you the first feeling of aerial rotation. Approach a wave gently with both feet in the straps. Imagine you were slam gybing onto it but leave it a bit late so that you scoop the rig to windward and sheet in when the fin has just cleared the lip. I was hardly planing but still waterstarted out of this one.
“ The typical symptoms of early looping errors are bruised backs and buttocks – not so much injuries as stinging reminders to do it properly ” ”
What are you afraid of?
Lets not beat about this prickly bush. If someone with ultimate power said to a band of aspiring loopers: “go forth and rotate and I guarantee you will come to no harm,” they would all, within a few goes, get round – assuming they had a certain level (I will address that crucial point shortly). What inhibits the performing of a sequence of movements technically no more complex than a slam gybe, is fear.
Fear of what? Well everyone is different, but in most cases it’s a simple fear of injury from cannoning into kit from a great height. And of course looping taps into windsurfing’s most fundamental dread – that of catapulting. Everyone who has learned to plane, has catapulted – probably hooked in. It’s unnerving, violent and often bruising. Having finally developed the power control skills to avoid them, you suddenly are asked to do them deliberately, go with the flow and embrace the sensation – even though every fibre in your body tells you to do the opposite. Yes, a loop is a controlled catapult. It’s character building stuff – but how risky is it?
Of course people do hurt themselves looping – but like jumping off a 500 foot bridge with a rubber band tied to your ankles, the perceived danger is far worse than the reality. I don’t want to dwell on the subject because it doesn’t help. However be consoled by the following.
Looping is as dangerous as the people who do them. If you dip into rotations 30 foot up in 3.2 weather then accept what’s coming to you. The worst injuries happen to established loopers looking to go bigger who over-rotate. To over-rotate, you have to do a lot right; combine big cohones with expert technique, or do them in wild winds and seas. The vast majority of beginners under-rotate, for which the punishment is bruised backs and buttocks. More serious is the instinctive but injurious habit of bailing out half way and landing on the kit. If you hang on and keep sheeting in, in almost every situation, you’ll be flung clear – hence a key training exercise is learning to catapult without letting go.
The way to deal with fear is to turn it from an inhibitor to a motivator. You have to get the butterflies flying in formation. Someone motivated by fear has analysed and rehearsed the process, has confidence in their level and ability to succeed and are tingling with adrenalized excitement. Someone crippled by fear has no idea what will happen, is focusing on disastrous outcomes to the point where every action will be defensive.
Understand that doing a loop is far less painful than doing half a one. So only focus on the elements that will lead to a complete rotation – NOT on the ‘what happens if …’ factors.
So the first question to ask yourself is: “do I have the tools to get round?” or more simply: “am I good enough?”
GOOD ENOUGH? Be a control freak.
The fear you experience as you attempt a new and potentially hazardous challenge is proportional to how in control you feel at the split second before execution. Imagine you’re a skier with a bunch of gung-ho mates at the top of a steep slope staring at a ‘kicker’ (a steep ramp). The challenge is to do a back flip. No problem – you’ve done them off trampolines and springboards. Actually … it’s a BIG problem because you’re not a great skier. Forget the back flip, the steep slope alone is freaking you out. As you tilt the skis downhill, you quickly reach a speed that is way outside your comfort zone. All thoughts turn to slowing down. You arrive at the lip of the jump with the brakes on, leaning back, straight legged, out of balance and fretting about the landing and whether you’ll be able to stop before the trees – so are in absolutely no shape, technically nor emotionally, to even consider a back flip.
Back to the water and to give yourself a chance of going meaningfully for a loop, you have to be happy as you survey the conditions, happy as you launch, happy as you get planing, happy as you accelerate over inside waves, happy as you take off a well chosen ramp. And if you’re still happy (as in ‘in control’) as you project into the air, then you have a good chance of pulling the trigger. But if you’re already terrified as you launch into the shorebreak, there is no chance of you doing something 20 times more terrifying at speed, inverted and in the air. These are the basic skills that are key to a successful outcome.
“ Having the right technical level is essential for reducing fear and making sure
you have the power control skills to steer the board in the air ”
The key to improving jumps and loops is to nail a running beachstart, where you land on the board hooked in, powered up in the straps and planing and are ready for aerial action within 5 seconds of launching. The likelihood of a ‘go for it’ moment decreases rapidly with every metre you sail away from the shore. Many don’t get planing until they’re beyond the break.
The second point is being to get planing on kit suitable for the looping job – namely the smaller the better. If you’re relying on a big sail, big board and big fin to get going, then generally that kit feels too unwieldy and dangerous for wind-powered flight and rotation.
In my recent looping group off the shallow shelving shores of Jeri in Brazil, the most successful were those happy on small multi-fin boards, simply because they could launch and get going in calf deep water about 30 metres earlier than those using deeper single fins. They were successful because the earlier planing afforded them a heap more opportunities.
This whole piece should be dedicated to jumps. They are the pastry without which you have no pie. A good jump is an extension of your sailing where you have control of nose, tail, can steer, control power and see where you’re going.
As you evaluate your jump and wonder ‘if you’re ready …’ the symptoms that raise the amber warning light are:
• Always heading up after take off.
• Always flying tail down.
• Always flying windward edge down.
• Crouched and looking at the world from under your armpit.
• Always landing on the back foot, into wind and slowing down.
They all shriek ‘defensive jumping technique.’ When anxious, you instinctively head up to soften the power and take a catapult out of the equation. But by heading up, you lose mastfoot pressure and with it control of the nose. From an upwind take off you can’t scissor the board off the wind and generate enough power to start the rotation.
The platform from which to loop is a jump where you:
• Take off between your feet (not leaning back).
• Release the nose as you climb the wave by sheeting out.
• Take off toes-down to feed air under the windward edge.
• Project forward so you can pull the tail up to nose height, level off and
• Sail the board through the air, maintain your outboard stance looking over your front shoulder.
• Get compact and not make like a starfish.
• Land between the feet powered up and accelerating.
And this is even more important. Thanks to an accelerated development, where they bypassed light wind trickery straight into planing, many never learned to steer the board with the rig. In technique terms, what the loop resembles most is a flare/slam gybe, where you tilt the rig to windward, sheet in and where mastfoot pressure drives the nose downwind. Without this basic skill the loop is dangerous and elusive.
IT’S ALL IN THE TAKE-OFF
If you start a loop badly, it rarely gets any better. You can gauge from the moment someone hits the wave, how it will turn out. If the nose is pointing even a few degrees upwind and the pilot is on his heels – no chance. By the time the tail leaves the wave, the nose must be pointing almost dead downwind. From a good looping take off it will be almost impossible to land a normal jump – too much power.
Rig forward and to windward, toes down and the windward edge up. From here it’s hard not to rotate …
… all you have to do is pull the back hand and turn back.
If you take off upwind with the rig back you have few choices other than to …
… dive over the rig. It’s the original ‘cheese roll.’ Charles Pidgeon has made it something of a
speciality … but not altogether on purpose.
It’s not the cover of a 1970s psychedelic rock album, but the second after a crashed loop – and reveals the number one health tip – don’t let go!
CHOOSING THE MOMENT – kit and conditions.
Don’t get too picky or you’ll always find an excuse to procrastinate. But certain weather elements can help or severely hinder.
Wind. Like the waterstart, the windier it gets, the less you have to do. It’s easier to get airborne and the slightest tweak of the back hand is enough to get you rotating. But by the same token, really strong winds can increase the fear factor and exacerbate defensive habits – and the ‘slammings’ are more violent.
For the average 70-80 kg adult 5.2-5.7 weather with a 90 (ish) ltr board is a good learning compromise – windy but not crazy. The smaller the board the more it sinks and yields on landing. Voluminous boards can snap back if they land on chop – ow!
Direction. Sideshore seems ideal but often the wind is flukey inshore where you want to loop, due to protective headlands. A hint of ‘on’ is often preferable because it’s cleaner and stronger all the way to the beach. But the more ‘on’ it swings, the harder it is to meet the ramp at 90°. Being forced to take off into wind makes the bear away and rotation phases trickier.
Offshore winds aren’t ideal as you approach on a scary broad reach – and the wind accelerates, lifts and swirls around the lip of the wave. The waves can also be a bit steep…
Waves. Steep ones send you into a vertical take-off, from where you have to level out before rotating. You can also gain worrying altitude – that’s the next level. Small 1-2 foot ‘slopey’ waves with a little kick at the top that have reformed on a shallow shelving beach and that project you into a long level flight are perfect.
More important is that they’re well spaced to give you time to get planing, accelerate, get settled and line one up. And look beyond the ramp for a clean landing strip – in waves that are stacking up behind each other, there’s the risk of landing on top of the one behind – and that can hurt.
Big rolling chop is also an option.
In Jeri last week, Alex completed his first one in the chop beyond the waves:
“In the proper waves, the prospect of going too high made me get defensive and pull in the front arm. But off chop I was happy to really go for it.”
I should mention Alex is a pretty good freestyler who’s done a lot of ‘popping’ off flat water in his time. A lot of people learn to loop in chop.
“ Pulling the trigger (sheeting in when in the air) is surely a good sign – but not if the gun is pointing the wrong way ”
The forward loop directory – here are your options:
The Cheese Roll named after its inventor Italian wave sailor Cesare Cantigalli was the first. It’s not so much a somersault as a corkscrew where you drop the sail down and back, throw your feet over your head and roll over the rig with the board and mast parallel to the water. The main difference between this and the more current loop is that you pull the clew through the wind so the wind passes from one side of the sail to the other and flips you over. You don’t see it so much today. One of the downsides is busted eardrums from under-rotating and being slammed on the side of your head.
The Forward Loop. The modern version is a diagonal roll where the wind stays on the same side of the sail all the way round. On take off you bear away, throw the rig forward and to windward into a position where it starts to catapult you, but you then turn that catapult into a rotation by turning back and sheeting in hard. You rotate around the rig not over it. This is the one we’ll be concentrating on.
The Killer Loop aka the ‘endo’ (end over end) is a vertical version of the above where after take-off you throw the rig forward, as if bearing away in light winds, and cartwheel over the tip of the mast. It’s very ballsy but a bit old school. The problems are that you obviously have to be a long way up to clear the mast tip and it’s hard to control the rotation because you can’t spot the landing.
The stalled forward is also very ballsy but offers a lot more control and does look the business. If it’s windy and the waves are big, you have the potential to get a lot of height and to over-rotate, which can be messy (unless you take it the whole way and turn it into a double.) As you take off, sheet out, get super compact and level the board off as if doing a big floaty jump. Then at the top of the jump, just as you start to drop, you dip the rig to windward and sheet in to rotate into a diagonal roll.
The Spin Loop aka ‘speed loop’ is the flat water version. It’s mentally the easiest but technically the hardest because you have to generate both height and rotation in a very short space of time. To stop the mast tip smacking the water, the rotation has to be more lateral.
PREMATURE ATTEMPTS – too many balls.
With his mates cheering onshore, Ballsy Burt charges at a ramp. At the top of the jump (a bit old school, nose up tail down), there’s a pause, a moment of indecision – but fired by the intensity of the moment he suddenly hurls himself forward and dives into the gap between the nose of the board and the mast. He holds on. Bits of kit follow him as he piles into the water to delirious cheers.
Back on the beach, they ask him how it felt. He can’t remember a thing. Yes he pulled the trigger – but he had the gun pointing the wrong way and blew his own head off.
Is he any the wiser and has that attempt made it any easier to go for another? Not really.
You only have one chance to make a first impression. Never was that saying more apt than when going for a loop. The first attempt will shape your relationship with it for a long time.
Burt in his mind had committed to a loop. But for him ‘commitment’ now means throwing his heels over his head and hoping his momentum will carry him round. That’s not it. Commitment in looping means flying downwind into the power zone and then using rig power, not momentum to whirl you round. What he did was like committing to a carve gybe by carving upwind.
Burt was all balls and no technique. He charged with no idea of the mechanics of the loop and what it really involved. He has to take it back a step before he gets hard wired into following a path of terminal destruction.
WHEN THE HAND WON’T PULL
Alex Murray was one of my likely loopers this past month in Jeri. He was easy to coach because he’s a good freestyler who had landed a loop on port on the flat waters of Vass – but never on Starboard and never off waves. Interestingly his technique was far better off the smaller waves. “As soon as I saw a decent ramp, I’d get defensive and bend the front arm to kill the power or just bail out. But off the little ones, there was no fear. I actively wanted to rotate to avoid a back slap so really went for it.” A loop does not have to involve a lot of height … but it looks good if it does!
It’s a decent ramp and Alex’s hand is refusing to obey the ‘pull’ command.
But off a one foot inside stunt ramp – no problem.
“ The loop does appeal to natural risk
takers – but the better prepared you are, the less of a risk taker you have to be ”
Whirling and whipping – not somersaulting.
This may be painful but try and recall the sensation of a catapult. Until the impact, it was like being in a liquidiser – or, more happily, on a kid’s roundabout – whirling, spinning, whipping. It didn’t feel like a somersault. A somersault is a slower, disorientating head over heels sensation. At a low level, you need to drill the movements that provoke a catapult and begin to enjoy the sensation. Here, with very little risk to kit or soft tissue, is a 3-step program.
Prep part 1 – the catapult.
In force 3-4 off the plane, out of the straps with a very wide grip (back hand right back) bear away, push the rig forward and to windward on a straight front arm, pull in the back hand at the same time twist the upper body back and look at the clew. Go with it, keep pulling and you’ll land downwind of the board, on your back under the sail. It teaches you primarily that if you hang on and keep pulling, a catapult doesn’t hurt – and as a by-product it means you will no longer smash the nose of your boards. (And if the wind is light, you have something meaningful to do.)
Warning! One or two goes is fine, but then stop! One of the commonest looping plateaus is where people sheet in too soon with the board still stuck to the water and get hurled out of the footstraps. Often it’s because they did too much catapult practice and got into the habit of doing board-less loops. On my courses now, I often by-pass this exercise and go straight onto step 2.
Prep part 2 – in straps – half a slam gybe.
The real Eureka moment in looping occurs when after take off, you first see and feel the nose shoot off downwind. For that to have happened, you must have pushed the rig to windward on take off and have resisted the temptation to drop it downwind and roll over the boom.
The mechanics are the same as when you’re lining the board up in the beach or waterstart – angling the mast to windward so when you push down on the boom, mastfoot pressure bears the nose away.
This is an off-the-plane exercise but you need enough wind just to get both feet in the straps – so it’s got be a floaty, manoeuvre oriented board with wide open inboard straps so both feet are across the centre-line. Then make like you did for the catapult, dropping the rig to windward, looking back and sheeting in – but this time take the power into the back foot, stay in the straps, pivot on the tail and feel the nose shoot downwind. Some cheeky freestylers can actually get the board to 360 – but what will happen is that you’ll get backwinded and stop. No matter – you’ve felt the whirl – and unlike the catapult exercise, you’ve taken the board with you.
Prep part 3 – the late gybe on a wave.
The next step is to introduce a little speed and a little air. Head out semi planing with both feet in the straps towards a small wave or a steep chop with the aim of slam gybing (same as above) onto it – except that you do it deliberately a little too late just as the wave has passed under and the fin has broken clear. With both nose and tail even a few inches in the air, the board has more freedom to spin. With each run, try it a little faster, a bit more air and add elements like tucking the back foot up.
This is a really good exercise! On my courses, at barely planing speeds, people find themselves getting three-quarters round and admit it is very quickly not scary. Doing these exercises is a really good way of obliterating bad habits before they take hold. And here’s what you learn about the loop. Technique trumps fear. By focussing on the technique process you divert the mind away from survival concerns.
Rotating under the sail. Most reassuring, you discover that you rotate under the sail and don’t dive over the top of it.
The right trigger. Repetition in unthreatening conditions teaches you what initiates the move, which is punching the rig forward to windward on a straight front arm. The more you repeat it in a stress-free situation, the greater the chance of doing it for real in the heat of battle. But it’s still totally counter-intuitive.
Windward/leeward rig. It’s the leeward to windward rig movement that steers the board in the air – not fore and aft.
Twisting Back. Psychologists reveal it’s very hard to turn your head and gaze away from a perceived threat, which is why so many stare at the mast and over the nose at the crash site. But when you twist the upper body and look back, two essential things happen – you automatically sheet in and you bare your back to the water. Landing on your back under the sail, even at speed from height, isn’t so bad.
THE EDITOR SPEAKS
Our editor Finn Mullen has been looping since the earliest days. Being young (then), rather good and blessed with a natural ‘monkey see monkey do’ style of learning, nailing the move didn’t take long. But take serious note of his approach and attitude.
“As a spotty kid, from the moment I saw someone forward looping on an old video from Maui, I wanted to do one, I mean really wanted to! Step one is that desire. Whatever it takes to be the most legally goal orientated, obsessive and fixated sailor on the beach that is going to forward loop, you need to be that person. Next step is visualise, break the move down in your head so there is no point at which you are not confident about the body and kit movements you are going to make. To assist I watched over and over that old video from Maui, first I’d watch their arms, then their legs, their feet and how the sail and board moved. At its most basic form, I realised that if I just oversheeted like a gorilla, tucked my legs up, twisted my head to look over my back shoulder and held on for grim death I would at the very least flop around. My first attempt off a 2 inch ripple wasn’t pretty but I landed on my back, feet half in, half out in a very awkward looking waterstart but so what, I had the move completed in my mind. The next time I tried was in the waves and with a decent ramp to launch off, I nailed it clean first time by hitting the launch ramp at full speed and rotating as fast as I could, why? – because I wanted to loop! The main mistakes I see people make (and worst crashes!) are from a lack of commitment. Finesse comes later. In the early stages be aggressive, don’t faff, don’t think about it to a point of over analysis, just get on with it. Sheet in, tuck, smile, repeat!”
STILL A LONG WAY TO GO
We must not kid ourselves. There is a world of difference between flopping around off a small wave, 6 inches off the ground and going for one properly powered off a ramp some way in the air. Think of a move as a timeline. One end is not being able to windsurf, the other is successful completion. In between there are key steps and stages.
In the carve gybe, those steps – light wind gybes, using harness, planing, getting in straps, sailing broad at speed, foot steering through the wind and finally gybing – are all pretty evenly spaced.
In the loop, all those exercises we did – better jumps, catapults, spin gybes, gybes off waves – they take you up to about 20% of the way there. After that is a massive gap. That next 80% is the psychological challenge of committing fully – because that is the only way.
No more nibbling.
You can nibble away at the loop – but you can only nibble away so far. In the end trying to get there in baby steps, is like trying to do the first 10 metres of a sky dive. At some stage you have to put your body on the line and take a big bold step into the void and see what happens.
You’re going to find out a lot about yourself. But it’s all about creating the moment – trying it with good, encouraging mates, at the right spot on the day your fiancé said ‘yes’ and you just got a pay rise.
Just get round!
Practised loopers may have noted the lack of many details in this piece. But to start with details are the enemy. Every virgin looper bar none experiences brain freeze and amnesia on the first take offs. Why I’m already looking forward to next month’s instalment, improving loops, is that it’s SO much easier to coach a loop when someone has got round, even partially.
With the merest hint of success, eyes begin to open, new neural pathways form, defence turns to attack and you have the presence of mind to make adjustments.
To begin with, therefore, just strip it down to its barest basics.
Think how many mistakes you can make and still fudge your way round a gybe. It’s the same with the loop. Just get a few of the elements a little bit right and things will start to happen. When the board is in the air, it doesn’t take much force to turn it.
Take off a little downwind, push the rig forward and windward a little, tuck up a little and just PULL and even if you don’t look back and do lots of other things, you’ll be on your way.
And I leave you with this highly technical tip – to learn to loop, you have to really really really want to learn to loop!
For more looping reflections turn to Affairs of the Hart on the back page.
More technique joy from Harty in the next issue. Check his website and PH Masterclass Facebook page for award winning DVDs and news of his sell-out clinics. Details of the 2017 calendar now showing. Check out his ever popular clinic schedule on www.peter-hart.com