THE FORWARD LOOP
The forward loop is a benchmark move in windsurfing and considered the Holy Grail by many. In my opinion, it is the loop that you should master first, although it’s probably psychologically the harder one to go for; however, when you do go for it you will be rewarded! You’ll also notch up some hardcore points in my book by going for the forward as, let’s be honest, it definitely looks gnarlier! The forward is more exhilarating and I think it gives a better feeling when you land one; you’ll feel like king (or queen!) of the beach! If you actually want to go for a loop and land one well, go for the forward.
You need to be comfortable fully planing, i.e. in control and powered up. Being able to chophop is a bonus, but you don’t need to be able to gybe or anything like that. I learnt forwards at the same time as learning to gybe – on holiday in Margarita, where I hijacked an 8-year-old Ricardo Campello’s forward loop lesson! After a few attempts of hurling myself at chop and pulling in, I went around and landed on my back; the forward learning process went a lot quicker than the carve gybe one, at least for me. You’ve just got to have the confidence and willingness to throw yourself into something.
You probably want to be sailing on around 4.7 to 5.3; once you get smaller than that it will probably be pretty windy and choppy, which makes things harder to control. With this size the sail is still small enough, with a short enough boom, to whip around but you should feel a bit safer. You can learn on a 5.7, but it’s so much more effort to pull it around.
This depends a lot on where you usually sail; if you’re a lake sailor then you’re looking for a day with some decent chop coming through, but don’t wait for big chop and massive winds, being overpowered will just make it scarier. If you’re heading to the coast, you’ll want some knee-to-waist high waves, ideally with the wind cross-shore to cross-onshore. In cross-on it is easier to line up your jumps as you get better flat sections between the waves.
The perceived danger for the forward is definitely higher; if you don’t learn it correctly then you’ll be looking forward and going over your board when you jump. It may seem like quite a real fear, but it is only real if you don’t learn correctly! If you learn properly, i.e. on land, then in light winds, progress from there and then go for it with enough explosive power you’re a lot less likely to hurt yourself, as you will just roll around onto your back.
For the forward, as we already mentioned, the hardest part is the mental block about ‘catapulting’ over the front. This can take people a lifetime to overcome, or a few minutes, but if you can get your head around it, then technique-wise you could be looking at landing a forward on your back after around a dozen committed attempts. The time taken to get to the point when you are trying real committed attempts is a little harder to predict though, it’s as long as a piece of string really.
The backloop is definitely easier to initiate although, if I’m honest, realistically the chances of landing one are pretty slim. If you want to do a half effort of learning a loop then I would say go for the backie, but it’s really a bit of a cop out!
You can be a similar level to learn to backloop, but you do need to be more confident in waves, as you need proper ramp to pull off a backloop. You don’t need more skills than to learn to forward, just a bit more wave experience to make you safe and confident in the environment you’ll need.
Again you will want to be on around a 5.0. You want to have a light-feeling sail; anything too big and heavy will just make it harder. Being slightly underpowered makes it a little easier to initiate the backloop, so take a sail that allows for this. You want to be settled and in control on your equipment, if you rush it then all kinds of crazy things could start to happen!
Again, cross-on winds are what we’re looking for. Strong winds are ok as you’ll get a lot of speed, but not too strong because if you’re overpowered it’s more difficult to hit the vertical part of the wave, which is what you want for the backloop. For the backie you need a bigger, chunkier type of wave than for the forward and you need to hit the shoulder, right next to the breaking section, as you’re looking for something that will shoot you straight up into the air.
The backloop seems fairly safe as you are always under your equipment, not hurling yourself over the front. And for small ‘beginner’ backloops there really isn’t a lot of danger, real or perceived. Once you start boosting them a bit bigger and you come round for nose-dig landings, you can over-rotate, which means you can have some quite hard landings. The backloop is ultimately safer, unless you go higher than you perhaps intended!
You can almost attempt the backloop by accident, if you luff up into wind and off a ramp, but I wouldn’t really call that a proper attempt! Whilst they may be easier to initiate, they are, however, a lot harder to master. You might start landing your first ones within a year or two; but to be honest to get backloops consistent and really get a feel for them you are probably looking at a few years of regularly attempting them. Obviously, the more you sail and the better the conditions are that you sail in, the more likely you are to get them faster. The thing with the backloop that makes it hard to land consistently is that everything is always changing; you have to fine tune everything throughout the whole jump in order to land it properly. I know a fair few people who have gone through years of over-rated backloops, then rethought and started going for pushloops instead