Simon Bornhoft looks at how our body position has a massive impact on our strength and control over a rig.
e’ve covered lighter winds, strong winds and how to look, lean and lever. This month we illustrate how to improve strength, control and reduce the amount of times we fall in.
It is often stated that strength and good balance are needed for windsurfing. At times this can be an advantage, but in my experience as a coach, it is very possible to improve strength and our ability to stay on a board using simple body mechanics. To do this we need to look at a couple of very achievable points and accentuate them on the water. So if you’ve ever wondered just why does the rig feel heavy and why do we fall in when we should be staying on, this feature will really help.
I often get asked if it’s more important to sort the rig or body out first. Without question the body position takes priority over the rig. You only have to look at modern freestyle to see that board and rig can be turned and tumbled into many positions, yet if the body is out of place doing even a simple uphaul, you can fall in. So get that body secure! It makes sorting out the rig and board far more achievable.
My plan is to help you become more stable and powerful. This is not rocket science: the points, as always, are very basic. The most important part is giving them a decent go.
Q: Why do we fall in or have trouble controlling the rig?
A: This invariably comes down to two key reasons, which are both linked to opposing the forces, position or movement of the rig.
We generally fall in if we…
…pull the rig excessively towards us, or…
… go the same way as the rig. Although there can be exceptions in specific situations (we’ll explain those later), the simple remedy to these common problems is to try and distance ourselves from the rig, and always seek to create a counterbalance by moving in the opposite way to the rig. To achieve this, we need to understand how to flex and position our bodies.
Increasing Strength and Rig Recovery
Try to keep your shoulders behind your hips.
Q: How can I improve my strength and control over a rig when blasting?
A: Avoid breaking excessively at the waist.
We have explained in great detail the body mechanics of blasting stance in the June and July 2009 issues, but here’s a simple reminder.
Try to keep shoulders behind the hips (even if they don’t always end up fully behind the hips, the action of doing so commits you to the harness and gives you maximum control over the rig). This could be blasting along in the harness, getting going out of the harness, or, as in this case, when having to use bodyweight rather than strength to resist the pull from the rig setting up for a gybe. Give or take a few degrees, the body forms a shape similar to a 7.
Q: How can I improve my balance and control over a rig during transitions?
A: Note how the principles of body mechanics remain the same during the middle of transitions.
Soft ankles, flexed knees, shoulders back and head up.
There is a huge tendency to excessively hinge at the waist, over-straighten the legs and lock the knees and ankles. While stances vary to suit various moves, the principles remain. To increase our ability to counterbalance the rig and use our bodyweight rather than arm or back strength, we need to…
Flex ankles, flex knees, at least try to keep the shoulders back, and get the head up to look where we want to go. So whenever you’re in difficult, overpowered, excessive rig pulling situations, think Harley Davidson Easy Rider stance, rather than sportsbike racing stance.
Breaking at the waist
We’ll explain when it’s possible to flex at the waist without dire consequences, but for now let’s avoid breaking at the waist. Here’s why…
01: Rigs often feel heavy when the body adopts a stance in which the legs, knees and ankles are relatively straight and the body ends up excessively hinged at the waist. This is all compounded when you look at your rig, hands or feet. To resolve the situation, get the shoulders back and look where you want to go. But, as we all know, this can often feel impossible, especially when the rig is really pulling against you. So to recover, regain control, reduce the chances of falling in and limit the loading on the arms and lower back, focus on the following key points.
02: Don’t just try to force the shoulders back, flex the knees and push the hips forward first.
03: Then it is far easier to lean back, look forwards and oppose the forces and movement of the rig. Note how the head and shoulders end up behind the hips.
Harley not Sportsbike
Broken and powerless ‘leaning forward’ into a turn (or many other situations):
Looking ahead and excessively flexed at the waist. Leads to unbalanced, ill-placed foot change, loss of clew control and being pulled off balance on exit:
Flexing at the knees and ankles (particularly on inside rail) helps drop the hips down and over the rail and allows you to keep those shoulders from being pulled excessively forwards:
Hips down and forward, plus a flexed back leg and ankle enables the head and shoulders to stay back after the rig change and prior to releasing the boom:
Q: Why do you see people leaning forwards and bending at the waist without any problems?
A: As with many situations in windsurfing, specific dynamics can be very deceiving.
There are times (as in the 360 in the opening shot of this feature) when you can lean excessively forward and get away with it. This is always down to one simple fact: the rig is weightless at this point. So it is all very well saying to someone: “Hey man, lean forwards into that step gybe”. That’s only really possible if the rig’s fully sheeted in, hard, low and back! Equally, if you’re planing at full speed out of a gybe and release the rig with the timing of a Swiss watchmaker, yes you can lean forward because the rig is weightless. But if the board has slowed down or you’re hanging on to the rig to momentarily sail clew-first, you need a very strong secure stance.
So yes, rev that sportsbike if the rig is weightless or you’re in total control. But the moment a board slows down, the rig feels heavy or you want maximum counterbalance, like when changing the feet mid gybe, get back on that Fat Tail Harley as quickly as you can! By the way, leaning back won’t sink the tail, kill speed or spin you into wind. That only happens if you pull the rig back with you.
This is why windsurfing can be so confusing! You’ll hear expressions like “lean forward into a turn”, but when you’re learning something or if the dynamics are different, you often need to do the reverse. In most cases, decent board speed and opposing the rig’s forces, position and movement with the body is key.
Q: How can I understand it and practice it?
A: Stand up straight and then flex the knees – BUT keep your ankles straight so your calves are at right angles to the floor. You’ll find that as you flex the knees you’ll break at the waist and stick your backside out, just like a beginner. If you push the hips forward, flex the knees and ankles, you’ll find it far easier to get those shoulders back. Technique over strength.