The better we get at windsurfing, the more we find ourselves looking for extreme conditions to challenge us. The challenge of windsurfing is ultimately what keeps us hooked and certainly on its day the spectacular British coastline can deliver incredible windsurfing.
Freestyle is a largely overlooked, but fantastic way to step it up even in the most average of conditions. With a new challenge comes the possibility of achievement and this tends to be what gives us the most enjoyment in any aspect of life.
Whatever your age, level or windsurfing orientation freestyle can offer you a fun way to rapidly progress your skills and it can make even a gentle breeze a lot more interesting! We’ll come to the specifics later, but first Colin Dixon joins BOARDS to dismiss some of the awful freestyle rumours that may be putting you off, scroll through below for more.
“Freestyle’s just for kids, I am over 25 and definitely too old for this nonsense!"
NO WAY! Everyone can get involved in freestyle! Most of my clients are well into their thirties (at least!) and they love to try the upwind 360, vulcan or even a forward. The beauty of windsurfing is that we can wipe out as many times as we want, then get up and try again; crashing is half the fun!
“If I try freestyle I’ll definitely injure myself, some of those moves look like ankle breakers!"
DEFINITELY NOT! Many sailors worry about getting injured, but let’s be honest, even the most cringe worthy of wipeouts when blasting don’t hurt and freestyle is the same. Watching people crash doing freestyle looks an awful lot more painful than it really is. Watch the motor cross boys stacking it and that kind of puts into perspective how safe windsurfing freestyle really is. Windsurfing as a sport has a lot less injuries than any other, and that includes freestyle.
A key way of minimising the risk of injury is big footstraps. These may feel odd and less secure at first, but remember if your foot goes in with ease, it will fall out with ease. Half the time injuries come about because of too small footstraps, with big straps you land on the ball of your foot, when they are too small you are forced to land on your tip toes; not good!
“Freestyle’s all about complex moves I can’t even say, let alone understand. I mean, what the heck is a culo, a chachoo or an air funnell puneta?"
WRONG! So yes, the names and moves that the top guys are working on are ridiculous. But freestyle for all but a select few isn’t about this, it can be anything, from sailing one handed, duck gybes, chop hops and upwind 360’s through to vulcans, flakas and maybe even shakas. The list may keep growing, but the key thing to remember is that no matter what your level or age freestyle offers something new for everyone, a continual challenge and feeling of achievement.
“I’m a wavesailor, I won’t learn much from popping around on flat water."
YEAH RIGHT! The top of the UK and PWA wave scene has been infiltrated with freestylers. From Bubble and Brawzinho, to Kauli and Campello, all were top finishers in freestyle before taking it to the waves.
These sailors and many others have developed a new style of waveriding that has pushed them to the top, moves like the taka crossed over into freestyle and is a valued move in any wavesailors repertoire.
“I would need a freestyle board and maybe another sail or two, I don’t have the funds or space for any more gear."
AS IF! I taught myself to Vulcan on a 67 litre wave board; anything is possible! There’s no need for a freestyle board, a freestyle wave or freeride board with a couple of adjustments will definitely do the job.
First of all get rid of the big fin and replace with something around 20cm. Then take those blasting strap positions inboard, and make them nice and big so your toes can reach virtually to the middle of the board. Big straps will allow your feet to twist, which also helps avoid injuries as previously mentioned.
What To Learn And How
The first rule of freestyle is to never turn up for a session and say ‘No wind, I’m going home.’ When you turn up and wind has not materialised, do not rig up an 8m and get frustrated as you drift on and off the plane. Instead stick a little wave sail on and start to practice your helitacks, upwind 360s and have a go at back winded sailing too. These relatively simple moves are the building blocks for all of the high wind aerial freestyle moves, such as the flaka, shaka and funnell. For most of these moves the exit phase is the same as for the upwind 360, and they all contain an element of back winded sailing so once you master this you are half way there. Take it step by step and do not think about the aerial moves at first, instead focus on the basics and you will progress quicker than you think.
Moves like the vulcan, are next on the agenda as it opens the door for all the new school sliding moves. The key with the vulcan is centring your weight over the mast foot. This may take a little more time to master than the forward but it is definitely worth it.
The grubby may sound tricky, but it is actually relatively simple and a great one to go for. It is very similar to the forward, but with the grubby you need to carve down wind, pop like vulcan, stick the nose into the water and then spin 360 on it. As the nose goes in you need to sheet out, but most forget this, which will actually take you into a flat water forward. So you get two moves for the price of one.
The flaka is the must do move for many freestylers, and indeed is still a favourite of many a pro. It is basically an aerial upwind 360, it can prove harder than the other moves mentioned as you have to jump into wind. Again you can see that the basic upwind 360 is the move which will set you up for this. The flat water flaka gets ramped up in the waves, turning into a taka (off the lip of a wave) and a shaka (on the way out, off a ramp, where the sail goes horizontal with the water). Without mastering the flaka you will struggle to pull of these moves in the waves and while it’s possible most from a freestyle background tend to pull these off with a bit more finesse.
The downwind 360 maybe considered a bit old school, but the similarities between this and a sweeping bottom turn are massive. When the waves don’t come through going for this move will get you carving tighter and maintaining speed, which means when the waves do build you’ll be able to rip them to shreds. There are loads of ways to learn and improve your freestyle, my top tips are:
Practice on the beach –
Take off your fin, set you kit up on a board bag and play around. If you can understand and master sail control on the land it will help a lot when you hit the water.
There are loads of ways you can learn the ins and outs of all the moves, on the web, from a coach and from friends. The more you watch, read and understand a move the more you will know about what to actually do.
You may look a bit crazy, but again on the beach, but this time without your gear, think about the move, see in your mind what you want to do then remember how it feels. Muscle memory is a phrase that’s been banded around a lot over the years but it does really work.
The bottom line is whatever your age and ability, freestyle will not only improve you as a windsurfer, it will bring a new purpose to your days on the water. Whether it’s the odd upwind or downwind 360, or an all out flaka/shaka/taka session nobody is too old for freestyle!
Get more from Colin at windsurfcoaching.com and check out further technique features on boards.co.uk