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Sailing everyday while witnessing the Olympic dream

by Mitch Pearson / SurfSailKite 30 Mar 2020 22:21 PDT
Windfoil training on Moreton Bay in light winds © Ash Brunning

The Corona virus pandemic has caused many people around Australia to go into self-isolation. As most are aware, this means only leaving your home when necessary. Luckily for us windsurfers one of the hall-passes comes in the form of individual exercising.

Windsurfing by its own nature is an individual activity. What better way is there to exercise without exposing yourself to other people than by getting out on the water and enjoying the sport you live for (personal situations permitting)?

It's not very often that one gets to windsurf every day of the week other than when on holiday. While not making light of the terrible medical emergency that is unfolding and understanding that tougher measures are on the way, I am taking advantage of my current situation and getting out on the water every time a gust reaches over 8 knots!

As some would have read from my previous article, I ended my experience at the Australian Windfoil Nationals with the desire to improve my skills on the racecourse so that I can be more competitive in the coming years. In particular, I wanted to become proficient in all racing transitions and increase my knowledge of upwind - downwind sailing in general. This is what I can focus on before I can afford to upgrade to more expensive top of the line equipment.

There are many benefits of sailing out of a club with a defined windsurfing centre. The big one for me being that there is always someone around to sail with. The Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron, with its Windsurfing Centre of Excellence, boasts some top shelf facilities, coaches and of course sailors.

Whilst I have no ambition in windfoil racing other than to compete at National level there are a few at the club that have the desire to take their racing much further. Who better to train with than some young, driven windfoilers with the Olympics on their minds?

Sammie Costin (RSX) and Hamish Swain (Techno) are two of these young talented sailors who have caught the windfoil bug and have the ability and desire to reach the top level. Their enthusiasm for foiling is infectious. Their ability to improve at such a quick rate is inspiring. I enjoy every minute of sailing with them.

The one design windfoil equipment chosen for the Olympics in Paris 2024, the iQFoil, is not readily available and is very hard to come by even for the sailors with the most contacts. This means compromises must be made so that training can still occur at pace. Hamish has managed to obtain a 9 m2 Severne Hyperglide, the commercial version of the Olympic sail, with the Olympic foil setup (albeit with a smaller front wing). Sammie has the 6 m2 freeride version and an older version of the Starboard race foil.

Both sailors are utilising old formula windsurf boards. This class and its boards, now on its dying breaths due to surge in foiling, are the cheapest pathway into upwind-downwind foil racing. With a maximum width of one metre these formula boards provide similar performance to the iQ board (95 cm max width) at a fraction of the price on the second-hand market.

With varying winds throughout the last week there has been a nice array of conditions to sail in. In light winds your body works hard to pump the board up onto the foil. Once up, the flight is smooth with little chop to throw you off balance. This is the time to work on your upwind angle, stance and trim. After each tack your heart rate increases rapidly to get the board back flying once more.

At the top mark your back foot comes out of the foot-strap to move forward and in (stability and power control), the boom (clew tension) is eased and the stance becomes more upright. At this point it's time to focus on staying inflight as the wind is so light and the apparent wind angles so tight. Bear away in the gusts to make use of the extra pressure in the sail and turn more into wind when you start to come off the foil.

In strong winds little effort is required to take off. Maintaining your stance is much harder, with gusts and large chop throwing you off balance. Focus is key. At the top mark the technique is identical to the light stuff, but you've just started a sleigh ride which will take full concentration to control.

The chop encountered on Moreton Bay can be substantial; with only 95 cm of height in the foil mast there are times where the foil breaches the surface due to the wave period and your ride height. Your body position must change constantly in order to maintain level flight. Time on the water is imperative to lock down the required technique.

With mismatches in equipment it is harder to stick together. As Hamish points higher it's up to Sammie and me to work on pinching every degree we can. Not the best scenario for Hamish but great for us. The downwind is more even, but tight angles still elude me.

Gybing in unison brings an improvement in technique and speed. Having a race like scenario where you don't want to be left behind works wonders for your ability. You need to stretch your back foot over a metre span to the new windward rail to get downforce back onto the foil, all the while flipping the sail. It's a great feeling when you pull off a full foiling gybe.

After some races with the local 49er crews its back to the beach for the general chat about technique and equipment (from 2m apart). Then it's 'catchya tomorrow' to do it all over again while we still can.

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