Monday, July 30, 2007

WET's Intro to Windsurfing

Local clubs like the Windsurfing Enthusiasts of Tidewater keep windsurfing alive. WET is comprised of 100+ fanatics who windsurf together for fun and competition, and work together to keep the sport viable in the area. Unfortunately, WET is aging and losing people to attrition. But they’ve started a new program that promises to swell their ranks once more – The INTRO TO WINDSURFING.

WET now holds 2-3 “Intros” each summer. We had one in May, and one last Saturday, each with over 35 new people! At an intro, all the local windsurfers come out and teach groups of 4-5 people the basics of windsurfing. We use beginner equipment lent by Beach Sports, supplemented by our own loaner equipment. In between the Intros, we do supervised “Sunday Sailing” at a local site called Mill Creek. The idea of Sunday Sailing is to bridge the gap between the first lesson and the point where someone is seriously “hooked” and ready to buy their own equipment.

Working the kinks out of the Intro to Windsurfing system has been an iterative process, but judging by the wild success of last weekend’s event, we’re starting to get it right. One of the key ingredients for an Intro is a core group of US Sailing-certified Windsurfer Instructors, because teaching by a defined method is WAY more effective than not. We also press some untrained WET members into service for the intros, and give them a crash course on how to teach. We start the lessons on land, using boards with the fins taken out as simulators. The picture below is instructor Bruce Powers showing his group how to face into the wind and point their arms to the side, identifying the directions perpendicular to the wind in which they will be sailing.

Then here’s me coaching my group in how to uphaul and get into the basic position with the body in the shape of a 7.

After we do the basic on-land stuff, we go the water, which is where it gets interesting. Through experience, we’ve learned that we need to teach people to turn around BEFORE we teach them to sail. Otherwise they go way out in a straight line, fall down, and can’t figure out how to get back. Of course, some spectacular splashdowns are inevitable. The photographer who was there this time recorded some good ones. (The full album is at this link).

But by the end of the day, everyone was doing very well.

Even the kids did great.

So if you're a windsurfer in another part of the country or the world, talk to your club about starting an Intro to Windsurfing thing like this. It's fun! And you'll ensure that you'll have a strong group of sailing buddies in perpetuity.

Friday, July 27, 2007


This is the first of a series of blog postings about my windsurfing gear, so for you readers it might be more appropriately titled “Boredology”. I really love this stuff, though, and have put joyous loads of time, money, thought, and experimentation into assembling the perfect “quiver”. Now everything has its place and purpose and it all fits together in beautiful harmony. Hopefully I can get some of that feeling across with this writing.

Some of you may wonder, “Why do you need more than one board, anyway?” Well, the truth is, you don’t. I could sail in 90% of the conditions I encounter with only the big “Kona” board. Because it’s long and floaty and has a daggerboard, it will glide through the water efficiently in light winds. Yet when the wind comes up you can retract the daggerboard, get back in the footstraps, and zoom away with only the back part of the board skimming the water. Another cool thing about the Kona is the stepped tail (visible in the picture of the underside of the boards) which lengthens the waterline for efficiency at slow speeds, but rises up out of the water to reduce drag and increase maneuverability at high speeds.

So what use is a smaller board? Well, if there is enough wind to get planing (about 14 mph), then the lightwind features of the Kona (it’s size and daggerboard) become superfluous and slightly disadvantageous. You can get a lighter, freer, faster sensation from a shorter board with no daggerboard. With a shortboard you can do slashing turns, jumps, and aerial tricks, provided the wind is strong enough to keep you planing.

My bread-and-butter shortboard is the one in the center, the “Fanatic Skate”. It has 114 liters of volume (flotation), which is only about half as much as the Kona. Still, it’s enough to keep me afloat if the wind drops below the planing threshold. You might notice that the Skate has only 3 footstraps, versus the Kona’s 4. That’s because on the Kona you use big sails and a big fin, and you need to stand out on the edge of the wide tail to get leverage over the sail and fin. On the Skate the tail is narrower and the fin and sails you use are smaller, so the foostraps are on or near the centerline for maneuverability rather than out near the edge for leverage. The Skate is the board I’m riding in the YouTube video in my post about Edisto Island.

When it gets really windy (more than 20 mph) the Skate will start bouncing out of control, slapping across the chop like a skipping stone and tending to buck the rider. You can either tough it out, quit for the day, or switch to an even smaller, narrower board. That’s where my ProTech ATC 253 (aka the “Banana Board”) comes in. It has only 77 liters of flotation, which means it sinks completely underwater when I’m standing still on it. But that doesn’t matter when it’s windy enough that I can waterstart. The narrow width, low volume, and strongly curved rocker line (the banana scoop shape) help it carve ultra-sharp turns, absorb chop, and stay in control.

The Banana Board is my favorite because it gets me out in really special conditions, where the awesome energy of the wind creates an otherworldly terrain of blowing spray and roller coaster swells. So far this year (since January) I’ve used it 7 times out of 82 total sessions (I mark them on the calendar). Below is a picture taken by Glenn Woodell when we sailing together on the York River one windy day last October.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Autobiographical Shirtology

Just when you thought my blog posts could not become any more boringly self-absorbed, I come up with this: an autobiography based on old t-shirts. Next up I will probably thrill you all with an expose on the grout between my shower tiles. Seriously, though, I actually think this shirt thing is kinda cool. I'm a sentimental accumulator of unique articles of clothing, which I cling to long after they're worn out, on account of their reminding me of special times in my life.

What motivated me to write this blog was one shirt in particular, which is an unbelievable 14 years old and still in regular use. I'm sentimental about the shirt because I designed it in 7th grade art class for the Olympia Farmer's Market. It won first place and went into "production" which was a big deal for me. Now I've owned the shirt for more years than I was old when I designed it, so I think its time is up. But here it is, one last time.

The next sentimental item is nearly as old. It's the "Carnivorous Plants of South Carolina" shirt I received from my dear Aunt Mary Garland. The cool thing about this shirt is that it has had two lives. I liked the original so much that when it wore out, MG bought me another, identical one. There were some times between junior high and graduate school when I was embarassed about wearing nerdy, nature-themed shirts like this, but now I do it proudly.

Moving along, we have two shirts which represent my coming of age, so to speak. The first commemorates a highschool science camp I did at Western Washington University in about the 9th grade. The cool thing about that was that it busted me out of my usual rut of just hanging out with the same couple guys all the time, and actually got me socializing in mixed groups with girls. The next shirt is from a highschool interscholastic contest in nature knowledge called the "Envirothon". In 1997 and 1998 I was on a team that won the state competition and went to the national contest. There was a lot of stress, but it was super exciting, too, somewhat like a preview of college. In '98 I had my first kiss at the national envirothon in Michigan, but I don't have that shirt anymore. Now, as an adult, I still think that some of the most exciting and dynamic social times are at these "away from normal life" events like national meetings where you can redefine yourself with a new group of people.

College at Rice University was a good time in general, and a great time for shirts. I like this one from "Beer Bike"; a strange biathalon competition among the residential colleges.

The college t-shirts I'm most proud of are the ones I designed myself for the environmental club's "Smog Jog", an event we came up with to call attention to the fact that Houston had the worst air quality in the nation (thanks Dubya). I added some extra flair to one of my smog jog shirts by tye-dying it, making it doubly personalized. I wore this shirt so often during my senior-year study abroad in Costa Rica, that I was actually caricaturized wearing it in the t-shirt that was designed to commemorate the study abroad program! (I'm the guy in the middle with the binoculars.)

One of my post-college era t-shirts carries some very sad memories. A childhood friend of mine, Rachel Corrie, was crushed by an army bulldozer while standing up for peace in Palestine. Her efforts at peace are being carried on in part by the Olympia - Rafah sister city project, which Rachel was instrumental in starting.

The final two shirts celebrate happy parts of my grad school life; windsurfing and scientific meetings. I describe Windfest and the Benthic Ecology Meeting in previous posts.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Edisto Island Vacation

**UPDATE- Check out this Edisto Island Windsurfing Guide that I made**

Ah, I just got back from a vacation with my parents and Southern relatives in beautiful Edisto Island, South Carolina. The only thing that wasn't quite perfect about the trip was that my sister and brother in law couldn't make it down from Ohio. Oh, well. We stayed in a beach house that my folks own, but don't stay in often, because they need to rent it to pay the bills. The house is called the Dragonfly, and you can stay there if you want (see link).

I used to love fishing and playing in the warm waves at Edisto. I still do. But since I've gotten obsessed with windsurfing, it has become the major focus of my Edisto marine recreation. The ocean winds in South Carolina aren't usually as strong and consistent as those of the North Carolina's Outer Banks, but they can still be pretty good. This time around, Edisto really delivered the breeze; a consistent 15+ knots from the South every afternoon. After much experimentation during previous forays to Edisto, I think I've found the good spots for launching a windsurf. A lot depends on the tidal current, the wave protection afforded by a shallow sand spit off the point of the island, and of course, the wind. We were lucky enough this visit to be able to store the windsurfing gear at the home of some friends of my parents, who live just west of the point of the island, on the St. Helena sound side. (Thanks Virginia and Henry!)

Obviously, the windsurfing was fantastic, and I sailed until my feet were raw from the footstraps. I had the most fun traversing the weirdly breaking waves over the sand-spit at high tide. Woo hoo! Of course, my heroism on the sand spit was not captured on film, but my dad took this short video with his digital camera.

Walmart Does Metal

Last week I stopped by the huge Walmart in Gloucester County about 15 miles up the road from my abode. I needed to get ant poison. While I was there I saw a CD / DVD combo that I just HAD to have. It was an anthology of the halloween-flavored hard rock music of Rob Zombie, for only $9.99. I used to have two of his CD's from when he was in the band White Zombie. (White Zombie is NOT a racist band - I don't know why it has "white" in the name). I lost both of them through poor trading/lending to friends back in highschool. Anyway, I was nostaligic, so I picked up the CD. On the ride back, listening to the newly unwrapped gift to myself on the car stereo, I realized that the swear words were gone. All the good, rocking noise was still there, but there was only silence where Rob Z. used to growl something rhyming with "bucker". Darn Walmart censorship! When I got home I popped the DVD into the player. It was a bunch of music videos. I was hoping for a documentary taking an in-depth look at the man behind the spooky Rob Zombie persona, but I guess that would have been too much to ask for $9.99. The videos were alright until they got to the live-concert footage. I didn't notice what was wrong at first, but I could tell something was funny about the audience shots. Then I realized it. There were no nipples! The pectorals of numerous flashing female fans had been blurred into oblivion. What a disappointment.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A bigger, better blog

I'm moving my blog from to here.

My reasoning is that a myspace blog is tacky, and only myspace members can make comments. I don't think I will transfer my old blogs, but I'll keep my myspace page up so folks can look at it.


I try to be nice. I don't steal or kill or covet other men's wives. So I rarely feel guilty about anything, with occasional exceptions.

One exception was about a week ago. I went home for lunch and realized that I was way overdue to take the garbage out. We don't have curbside pickup in Gloucester Point, so that means you have to take your trash to the dump. I was sort of in a rush to get back to work because I had already taken a very "leisurely" lunch, watching the noon news, reading a windsurfing magazine, etc. So I decided instead of going to the dump, I would sneak into the apartment complex where I used to live and throw my stuff in their dumpster. This was something I did every once in a while. I'd say I only made it to the actual dump about 82% of the time. Well, just after I had disposed of my trash, the apartment superintendent, who knew me, came out from around the corner and asked me what I was doing. I froze for a minute, then opted for honesty. "I'm trying sneak my trash into your dumpster. You caught me." Fortunately, he was nice about it, and didn't actually seem to care to much. But it was really embarassing, and I'm definitely not going to try it again during daylight hours.

The things that I most regularly feel guilty about, however, are not naughty things that I do, but good things that I NEGLECT to do, due to laziness, carelessness, and / or absent-minded distraction. There was a good example this weekend, which I am still feeling guilty about now. I forgot to "backwash" the outdoor aquarium water system at our laboratory. You have to backwash every day or the filter gets clogged with plankton and silt, shutting off water delivery to the tanks. Fortunately, the water just slowed down this time - it didn't stop completely so I didn't ruin anyone's experiments or anything. But it COULD have been worse. So I really felt stupid and my labmates were a bit upset with me, too. I need to use some kind of fool-proof reminder system for myself when there's something VERY important that I need to remember. The calendar doesn't work because I'm not in the habit of looking at it every day. I think I will actually try a string around the finger next time I have to backwash.

On a deeper note, I may need to think about adding a little more regimentation to my current modus operandi. The effort of organizing might add a little stress, but if it saves me the stress of guilt and saves others around me the stress of dealing with a disorganized person, it could be worth it.