How do you sail an Olympic windsurfer? Team GB guru's Nick Dempsey & Bryony Shaw share their thoughts.
After so much drama it's been a repeat of Weymouth/London 2012 for the men's RSX Medals. So firstly, well done to Dorian van Rijsselbergeon his second Olympic Gold. Then of course, I'm sure the whole UK windsurfing community is delighted for Nick Dempsey to win his second silver medal. It's a truly fabulous well deserved achievement after so many years of incredible dedication! On the flip side, RIO has shown how brutal top level racing can be. Bryony Shaw who's such a truly talented sailor and has dominated so many women's RSX events, didn't show her full potential. We wish her the best and we can all take inspiration from her incredible determination. Go Team GB!
Q. Ever wondered how Bryony Shaw & Nick Dempsey sail those massive RSX boards & rigs?
A. It's incredibly hard work and very technical and here's what they say about it..
HOW TO SAIL AN OLYMPIC RSX
With the RIO Games now in full swing, here's a brief outline of what both Nick Dempsey & Bryony Shaw are working on to get the best out of their RSX's in the hugely varying conditions out in RIO!
If you hopped onto a RSX the technique to blast along in the straps with the daggerboard retracted it's pretty much the same as sailing a large Freeride board. In a Force 5 some top PWA racers would quite possibly win a straight beam reach drag race. But RSX Olympic racing isn't all about blasting back and forth: the race format, course and variety of conditions require a far greater range of skill. A big difference is in marginal winds when power to weight ratio comes into play. But the real game changer is when the 'pumping' begins and peak physical conditioning pays. Pumping is ferociously hard work on the body, but it can create twice, three or even four times more board speed than if you just hooked in and waited for the wind to do the work. It's a monotonous, backbreaking grind, scraping out the last ounce of value from each gust, puff, roll of swell and flick of the rig. Pumping sends them into a deep, dark, rhythmic routine that fills their world and affects every muscle fibre at the edge of its aerobic capacity. It's as close to coal mining that windsurfing can get - you only do it if you really have to! But if you're not meaningful with it, you'll blow out like an exhausted cyclist watching the Peloton blast off into the distance.
As Nick Dempsey says,
"It's the oxygen debt that's the problem. If your forearms go, then you've not been sailing enough. If your back goes, you're not strong enough. Even when you're fit lactate acid builds up everywhere. The end of a 9 Knot downwinder, on the cusp of planing is the worst."
In planing conditions, the rig is pulled back in the sliding track and the daggerboard is retracted requiring them to drive upwind off the fin. (They also tighten the adjustable outhaul and downhaul for a slightly narrower sail profile) Whilst they won't point as high into the wind, as using a daggerboard, they go faster. So just like a Freeride, slalom or Formula racer heading upwind, the rig is raked right back, the body leans forward to oppose the rig, straightening the body, curling the toes to drive that board flat and upwind. In full-on planing conditions, there's no need to pump, you just have to hang onto a 9.5m (8.5m for women); so plenty of relaxing...not.
UPWIND MARGINAL WINDS "Railing and pumping upwind"
When the wind is more marginal and definitely when not planing, it becomes more beneficial to move the mast track forward and put the daggerboard fully down and set the sail slightly fuller. The deployed daggerboard encourages the board to 'tilt' onto its leeward rail and increases the waterline length, adding extra resistance and drive. So whilst keeping the rig as upright as possible, they perform a short sharp pump on the whole rig. There is very little fore and aft movement or fanning of the clew, it's a quick snap, with the rig kept virtually parallel to the board. These sharp powerful movements bring the sails mass from a leeward position towards the centerline of the board. This generates a surge of power that's transferred through the upper body and pushed down through the legs. This specific technique is only possible with such a long waterline and the extra resistance of the daggerboard. Try this on a smaller board with a smaller fin and you'd go sideways. Off an Olympic start line, it's really noisy with a mass of rigs firing at once, you hear pop, pop, pop as the rigs are viciously pumped to gain that explosive burst of non-planing speed. You want to be travelling as fast as possible crossing the line a millisecond after the gun goes. It's a tight jostle, looking for gaps, puffing the peacock feathers to get on the front row. Mess up with a poor pump, drop a metre or two behind and it's virtually impossible to work through a witches vortex of turbulence coming off the back of everyone else's rigs.
As Bryony says,
"I'm like a coiled spring, battling for position to hit the trigger. You need to generate explosive power you have to be ahead after the start to get clear wind."
The best get settled into a rhythm quickly, with strong powerful pumps that surge and almost lurch the board forward on the severity of each pump, like a rowing skiff on each stroke. To the untrained eye it looks like they are shaking the rig, like trying to pull a large branch off a tree. It's 12-15mins of blood pumping, calorie consuming, backbreaking effort, whilst trying to spotting wind shifts, covering your closet competitors (putting yourself upwind of them) and making race defining decisions, like when to tack to reach the windward mark the shortest distance possible.
After the upwind 'beat', there's the lung busting downwind leg. As they round the windward mark the daggerboard is fully retracted and the adjustable outhaul and downhaul are let off creating a fuller more powerful sail profile. In planing conditions they lock out and use every gust, swell and once of effort to blast fast and cover the shortest distance possible between the upwind mark and leeward mark. Great gains can be made gybing on shifts in the wind direction, but the big opportunities arise when the wind becomes marginal and the whole fleet is coming on and off the plane during the race. This is when desire and sinew sapping strength enables them to come out of the harness and pump to promote planing or sail just go a few extra degrees downwind. The rig is heaved powerfully from a forward position and then rearwards, whipping the clew in towards the board to direct extra drive through the body and mast base to scoot the board forward. At the end of each pump the rig is guided forward again ready for the next one. Recreationally, good pumping technique requires keeping the body and board relatively still and fanning the clew with the backhand. When most people try to pump through the legs they decrease rather than increase their early planing potential. On an RS:X it's a 'whole body' movement.
As Bryony says,
"My whole body is involved, from the tips of my toes gripping in the straps to my fingers tips".
The action starts with the legs and works through the torso, with the arms being the last in line with the effort to drag the clew towards the tail. This is why the training focuses on a leaner physic and incredible lower back and core fitness rather than just developing massive 'guns' and upper body. This is when the heart rate bursts at 90% + of max and lactic acid accumulates at a voluminous and discomforting rate. The body is under severe duress for a significant duration. Try pumping your 5.0m to get planing for 10-15 seconds. Now imagine doing this with a cambered dinosaur of a rig on a downwind leg lasting 12-15 minutes with your fitness being tested, matched or potentially trounced upon by your competitors.
DOWNWIND PUMPING OFF THE PLANE
Even when there's no chance of planing, the exertion doesn't recede, there is never any let off. If it's a standard Windward-Leeward 'sausage shaped' course, the downwind leg becomes a dead run in order to take the shortest distance to the leeward mark. There are effectively two pumping modes that they switch between depending on the variations in the wind.
ROWING "Rock and Rowing"
When it's zephyr light going dead downwind (say 3-5knots) they use the rig in a side-to-side rowing action, with a little fore and aft movement on each pump. It looks like a kayak's paddle rocking from side to side, with the hands shuffling along the boom to counterbalance and raked rig. The feet and hips face forward up the board, the body rhythmically rocks from foot to foot to synchronize with the rigs rowing action. When whipping the rig from side to side it's not easy to be smooth, consistent and keep the board tracking in a straight line. Also if the wind puffs up a fraction, 'rowing' can become slightly less efficient than 'scooping'.
If the wind strength raises to 5,6,7+ knots, or the wind shifts to make it more of a broad reach rather than run, there can be a big performance advantage by switching the pumping method from the side to side 'rowing' movement to a more drawn out 'scooping' action. The rig is kept on one side of the board, with long fore to aft repetitions, whipping the clew in towards the centerline at the end of each scoop. To stop the board deviating off course, the body faces slightly more across the board to counter the scooping action. It's the ability to switch seamlessly between 'rowing' and 'scooping' styles, as the wind fluctuates, that separates the fleet.
Coaching is good for your windsurfing!
Nick and Bryony are two of the very best windsurfers in the world and they are constantly being coached.
It's a prime example that having support, encouragement and expert advice in the right environment is vital to bring the best out of yourself.
At Windwise, we seek to offer the most effective coaching on the water with our Skills Training System - and also provide our technical advice to solve any other windsurfing issue.
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