Monday, June 30, 2008

Chinese Algae Blooms Choking Olympic Sailors

Professional RS:X class windsurfer and marine biologist Farrah Hall sent me this interesting link about a horrendous macroalgal bloom in the Chinese Olympic sailing venue.


These types of macroalgal blooms are often a sign of "anthropogenic eutrophication". That means they are caused by excessive nutrients from sewage, farms, and other human activities on land. It's not suprising that uber-polluted China would be having these problems. Maybe this international embarassment will be the kick in the pants they need to start cleaning up their coastal oceans.


Even more disgusting pictures here.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Intro to Windsurfing Report

Today was the Windsurfing Enthusiast's of Tidewater's second "Intro to Windsurfing" event for 2008. It was held at Fort Monroe in Hampton. Students paid $25, which was a pretty darn good deal for windsurfing lessons, especially since it included a "Start Windsurfing Right" book. We did most of the teaching on Mistral Prodigy boards and beginner rigs lent by Beach Sports.

I taught a group of several women of varying ages and abilities. Everyone had success except one poor girl who was only 80 lbs. To her, the 3.5 m2 sail was like a 7.0 m2 sail would be to a typical weight beginner; impossibly huge. Oh well.

(Picture by Chris Coyne. Many more pics on his account of the event.)

The most encouraging thing about today was that several of the newbies from last year had returned with gear of their own and good, independent windsurfing skills. Proof that the system is working.

As the instruction was winding down I took the opportunity to do some joyriding of my own. I had a chance to compare my Kona ONE longboard to Chad Perkins' Kona 11'5", which is a very similar board but lighter and without a daggerboard. Chad's board planed about the same as mine, but had a lighter and peppier feel and favored more of a small-board riding style.

I also did some wheelin' and dealin', buying a 430 cm "skinny" mast from Chris Coyne and buying a skinny extension from Beach Sports to go with it. Now I don't have any excuses for not charging in the waves and trying to loop (skinny masts are more resistant to breaking). I put my standard diameter 430 mast on consignment at beach sports (it's a good, cheap deal for a high quality mast if anyone is in the market), and also put a 50 cm powerbox weed fin and 46 cm trim box freeride fin on consignment.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Freestyle is Cool

The professional windsurfing association (PWA) is running a freestyle windsurfing contest now in Lanzarote, one of Spain's Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa. They have a lot of high quality pictures and detailed event coverage on their site.


It looks super cool, with all the competitors (like Ricardo Campbello above) pulling off moves that are incredibly stylish as well as technically brilliant. Check out how intense Daida Moreno looks sliding through the trick below.


When I follow windsurfing events like this, I'm not rooting so much for any one competitor as I am for the visibility and viability of the sport itself. I think we're winning.

PS- If you want to see what modern freestyle tricks look like in motion, check out Andre Paskowski's YouTube Page or the WWJD tv section of the windsurf journal website.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

American Mythology?

I remember having mixed feelings about this Ford commercial when it aired in 2004. It really presses the emotional and patriotic buttons, even mine. But what for? To sell a war and a car?

It's interesting to look back on four years later when maybe we don't feel quite the same about things.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Skunkinator


The last time my windsurfing buddy Chris came out to the beach he was just in time to see me fleeing a looming thunderstorm at the end of a good run. That made it the second and a half time in row his sailing attempts had been skunked. Poor guy. Ironically, the skunking streak precisely coincided with Chris' launching of a windsurfing-themed blog. If you visit the blog, you can see some cool pictures of thunderstorms and me windsurfing. :P And I guess you'll be able to see if Chris ever breaks the curse.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Yo Tengo Una Dissertation

After four hours sleep Sunday night and zero Monday night, at 7 pm on Tuesday I FINISHED my dissertation and sent it to my graduate committee. Then I picked up some fast food, rented Quentin Tarantino's "Planet Terror" and let my brain decompress for a while before dropping into a very deep sleep. I woke up at 1:15 pm on Wednesday and stepped outside for some fresh air. The sky was bluer, the trees greener, and the birdsongs sweeter than they had seemed to me for a long time.

Sure, I still have a few hoops to jump through (i.e. the dissertation seminar and defense on July 9th) and loose ends to tie up (i.e. getting the final three chapters published in peer-reviewed journals), but for right now I feel pretty damn good. Saturday I'll celebrate not being in my office by doing some windsurfing lessons for all the summer interns and new grad students at VIMS.

PS- For those interested, here is the abstract of the dissertation:

Community dynamics in submersed aquatic vegetation: intermediate consumers as mediators of environmental change


Natural ecosystems are strongly affected by changes in resource supply (bottom-up forces) and by changes in upper trophic levels (top-down forces). The extent to which these forces impact a system depends largely on the responses of organisms at middle trophic levels. In seagrass beds, a group of mid-level consumers known as mesograzers form a critical link in the chain of impact, connecting seagrass and epiphytic algae with predatory fishes and crustaceans. We observed dramatic fluctuations in mesograzer abundance and species composition in eelgrass (Zostera marina) beds of lower Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, and endeavored to explain the top-down and bottom-up causes and consequences of those changes through a combination of field studies and controlled experiments. A field cage experiment showed that the effects of grazing, predation and nutrient enrichment on the eelgrass community were similar in magnitude but different in nature (Chapter 1). A second experiment delved deeper into the predation dynamic by manipulating the diversity of both predators and mesograzers. Increasing predator diversity increased the strength of predation, but increasing mesograzer diversity conferred resistance to some types of predation (Chapter 2). To assess the influence of top-down and bottom-up forces in a more natural context, we analyzed the long-term changes in biotic and abiotic components of an eelgrass bed at the Goodwin Islands National Estuarine Research Reserve. We found that abiotic forces had strong effects on both consumer and resource abundance, and could therefore initiate either top-down or bottom-up control of eelgrass community structure (Chapter 3). To examine this top-down and bottom-up control in more detail we explicitly compared the ecological relationships seen in the field to those observed in mesocosm experiments. Mesocosm experiments tended to find a greater influence of top-down effects and a lesser influence of bottom-up effects, relative to field observations (Chapter 4). Finally, we took a snapshot of the eelgrass foodweb itself by examining the gut contents and stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic ratios of predators, mesograzers, and plants. We found that direct grazing on eelgrass does occur, but that microalgae and detritus provide the main trophic support for the epifaunal community (Chapter 5). Overall, our results suggest that both top-down and bottom-up forces control eelgrass community structure via mesograzers, but that top-down control in the field is more subtle and more intimately tied with bottom-up control than has been indicated by some manipulative experiments.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How to Teach Windsurfing

**NOTE- If you are trying to learn about windsurfing, or about a particular windsurfing problem or issue, one of these posts might be more helpful: Questions ABOUT Windsurfing, Common Windsurfing Questions**

Contrary to what you might think, knowing how to windsurf does NOT confer any ability to teach others.

This is because experienced windsurfers do everything by instinct. We make subtle moves and adjustments every moment in response to the feel of the board and rig interacting with the wind, the water, and our bodies. When it comes down to it, we can hardly even describe what we're doing, let alone convey it successfully to a beginner.

What we have to do as instructors is break down our complex actions and reactions into a set of verbal instructions that is short and simple enough to be understood, but complete enough that it will actually enable the student to go where she wants to go.

(Me teaching my sister at Club Mistral on Isla Margarita, Venezuela, Christmas '06)

The best way to learn how to teach is take an official windsurfing instructor course. I did the one through US Sailing, taught by Dietmar "Pete" Wells at Beach Sports in Hampton. It made a HUGE difference in my success rate for teaching and was well worth the money. If you're too cheap or too busy to take the course you should at least buy the handy reference manual; "Start Windsurfing Right".

In the meantime, here's my quick & dirty version of how to teach windsurfing:

1. Make sure the person you want to teach actually wants to learn. If not, don't bother. Note- If you REALLY want to teach that person, like if they're your your kid or something, you could try a sneaky approach. Get a SUP paddle for your longboard and let them dink around with that setup. Once they get some confidence on the board away from your overwhelming, instructorly presence, they may be ready to try it with the sail.

2. Make sure you have the right gear for the person you want to teach; a big board with a daggerboard AND a small, light sail with no cams. (No matter how gentle the wind is, your 6.5 sail is way too big for a beginner and your 140 liter shortboard is way too small.) This gear calculator will give you an idea of what to use: LINK. Also, make sure you put the boom at the right height. Around shoulder or neck height is good for beginners. (See the diagram for how figure out boom height.)


3. Pick a good spot (no waves, chop, current or shoreline obstacles) and a good day (5-10 knots sideshore is ideal).

4. Orient the student to the wind at the site. Make sure they can point into the wind and they know what "upwind" and "downwind" mean. Have them put their back to the wind and point their arms out to the side and explain that the directions they are pointing are the main directions that they will be sailing in, and that its not possible to sail directly upwind.

5. Start the instruction with a short lesson on land. Take the fin off, screw in a mast base, and set the board up perpendicular to the wind on the beach or the grass.

-Show the student what the different parts of the board are (front, back daggerboard, mast base) so they will know what you're talking about when you're shouting instructions later.

-Show where to stand when uphauling (feet on the centerline of the board, shoulder width apart, straddling the mast base) and when sailing (front foot next to mast base, pointing forward, back foot on centerline just behind daggerboard knob). Explain that you always need to keep your weight in the "sweet spot" of the board around the middle, even when you are walking around the front during a tack (see diagram).


-Show the right way to uphaul. Start crouched down, back straight, then slowly roll backward and stand up, going hand-over-hand on the uphaul rope until the top. Keep arms and back straight the whole time. At the end the body should be making a "V" with the mast. Butt sticking out is bad. Knees slightly bent is good. Let the student practice uphauling and getting into this position a couple times.

-Show how to turn the board when holding the uphaul by swinging the sail toward the back of the board to turn upwind or towards the front to turn downwind. If the student is light and you don't mind spinning your board on the ground you can simulate a tack while they swing the sail back and walk around the front of the board.

-Next, show how to grab the boom correctly with the front hand. Let go of the uphaul with what will be the front hand, point to the nose of the board with that hand (this helps to identify the correct hand), then cross over the hand that's holding the uphaul and grab the boom as close as possible to the mast. Then let go of the uphaul rope.

-From this one-handed position, the next move is to put the feet in the sailing position. Note that the feet go into the sailing position before the back hand goes on the boom.

-Show the student how to pull the sail up in front of them and slightly to windward BEFORE they grab the boom with their back hand. If they don't bring the sail up past vertical like this, they will have to bend their back and stick their butt out to reach the boom, and they will round upwind as soon as they sheet in on the water. This is one of those things that experienced windsurfers do without realizing but usually fail to teach.

-Once the sail is in position where they can grab the boom easily with their back hand, have them do it. Then show them how sheeting the sail in and out turns on and off the power, and let them try it until they're used to it. Tell them that they can ALWAYS turn off the power by letting go with their back hand, but that they should NEVER let go with the front hand.

-Briefly explain that steering while underway is done by leaning the whole rig toward the tail of the board to turn upwind, or leaning it towards the front to turn downwind.

6. On the water, let them uphaul and get in a good "V" position while they're holding the top of the uphaul. (Hold on to the tail of the board so they don't go anywhere.) Show them how to keep the board pointed perpendicular to the wind by swinging the sail toward the front or back of the board as needed.

7. Have them practice tacks until they can turn around in place without falling down. Don't even bother showing them how to actually sail until they are comfortable tacking. Otherwise they will immediately sail out of earshot and you will be shouting indecipherable tacking instructions while they panic.

8. Go on to the actual sailing instruction part, which they should be prepared for since their on-land lesson. You will have to do lots of reminding and correcting at first. A good goal for the first lesson is to be able to sail out, tack, and come back to the beach. If they get that down, then you can work on the steering and upwind / downwind direction control a little more, but don't try to cram too much into the first lesson. (See #8).

9. Quit while you're ahead; don't wait until your student is exhausted and frustrated. Resist the temptation to always push your student to the next level. It's especially important to keep sessions short and sweet if you're trying to teach a reluctant significant other. If that's the case, make sure you always follow up the session with some kind of rewarding activity that your sweetie likes.

10. General notes: Be patient. Be helpful but not overbearing. Don't condescend. Share stoke if the student is doing well and give self-esteem-boosting encouragement if the student is having a tough time.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hiatus + Promised Posts

I've been having "good" blog ideas lately, but I've had to put them all on hold until I get the final draft of my dissertation turned in to my graduate committee. (It's due on Monday the 16th.) Here's what can be expected once I have some free time:

*Blogs vs. Dogs
*Mast Base pressure; Your Third Leg
*How to Teach Windsurfing
*My House Pets; 10,000,000 Ants
*Windsurfing Guide for Poor People

If you care which one I do first, let me know in the comments section.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Last night I had a strange experience. I turned on my television and saw a politician addressing the nation. Nothing unusual there. But as I listened I began to realize that this man wasn't an idiot or a liar or a jaded bureaucrat. I didn't have to roll my eyes and change the channel. In fact, with each of his intelligent and well-spoken words I actually felt hope swell against the eight-year-old wall of cynicism around my heart. There are millions of loving, caring, happy, thoughtful, brave and intelligent people in this country... Looks like we'll finally have one in the office of the president. :)

**BONUS UPDATE - Here's a video where he's giving what I think is a really good speach about separation of church and state. "Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal rather than religion-specific values ... it requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason."**

Monday, June 2, 2008

Waterproof iPods

They have waterproof iPods and earphones now. Kiteboarders think it's the greatest invention since wearing your bathing suit on top of your wetsuit, and it's starting to catch on with windsurfers, too. Here's what I have to say about that:


It's just so lame and so wrong. I mean, how desperate are you to block out the sounds of nature and the rhythms of the mind that you have to be plugged into a machine even when riding the wind and waves?