Bio - Eric Mihelbergel is an intermediate level windsurfer and kiteboarder living in the Great Lakes Region of New York State who enjoys writing about windsports and fitness.
Jibing In Nukin' Choppy Conditions
(Written April 14, 2020)
Recently, we were fortunate to ride in awesome 50mph+ choppy conditions. It got me thinking that I need to write an article on how to jibe in these crazy conditions. To begin, I want to make it clear that I'm no expert in jibing in 50mph+ wind. I successfully complete about 90% of my jibes in these conditions and maybe plane through half of those with confidence, but I'm not an expert by any means. However, there are some skills I have learned that can hopefully help you in these radical conditions.
Allow me to describe the location and gear that we typically use for these type of conditions. As far as gear, I'm generally on an 85 liter Fanatic Stubby and a 2.9m Ezzy Tiger or a 2.7m Ezzy Elite. I weigh about 160lbs, so this setup works well. The big board helps me to stay planing during the huge lulls which are typical during these sessions. The 2.9m is definitely too much power in 50mph+, but I can hang on. The 2.7m is better. When we get these nukin' conditions the air temperature is usually cold due to the low pressure system, so I almost always have to wear some kind of mitten or glove. This makes it more challenging to keep the hands from fatiguing. And, because it is usually so damn cold, we ride in a harbor area for safety. The break wall is a little less than a half mile away, so the water is very choppy. In some areas the chop is spaced apart almost like waves, but these 'waves' are too close together to jibe between them. So, you end up going over (or through) several waves (big chop) while completing the jibe. In case you have never sailed in 50mph+ conditions I will briefly describe it. When you attempt to walk into the water with your gear you can barely make progress. It's everything you can do just to keep from falling down. As soon as you put your board on the water the wind will grab it and immediately throw it over your head and back onto the beach unless you apply intense mast foot pressure by pulling down hard on the boom as you try to walk deep enough to water start. Once you are up and riding you cannot sheet in while sailing even with a 2.7m sail. In fact, you are trying to sheet out as much as possible just so you don't get destroyed. The chop is like nothing you have ever seen as the water's surface is erupting everywhere. It's intense! Now we will talk about jibing in this stuff.
The beginning of the jibe starts out much like a normal over-powered jibe. PIck up good speed, unhook, get down low, head upwind a little to reduce pull in the sail, bend the knees, then put your foot across the board and start to let the sail pull you over the board in order to initiate the movement. The first major difference comes IMMEDIATELY as the sail starts to pull you over the board. At this point you must IMMEDIATELY focus hard on sheeting the sail in while simultaneously raking it back. If you don't sheet in hard and rake it back there is just too much wind in the exposed sail to maintain control. Even if you survive the initial entry with the sail upright and sheeted out, a gust will kill you at some point. So sheet in hard and rake it back. This makes a HUGE difference in success. Sheeting in is not enough by itself. Rake it back also.
Now, once you have the sail sheeted in and raked back, you will be headed down wind, and the sail will feel very light in your hands, even with 50mph behind you. But now the waves and chop become a challenge. You're riding down wind with a weightless sail, but you have big chop. At this point, think about your legs. Bend your knees a lot to absorb shock. As you start going up a big piece of chop weight the back leg a little so your board doesn't pierce right through the chop and kill your speed. Then, as you start going down a piece of chop weight the front leg a little more to regain speed. The tricky part comes at the point where you are thinking about this weight transfer on your legs but now you also have to start thinking about sheeting-out the sail to maintain speed and power. You are doing both things at the same time with the legs and arms. As I begin to sheet out with my back hand I often sheet back in slightly to control power. It is almost like 'out/in/out/in', with the sail ultimately getting sheeted out more than in.
When you are dead down wind switch your feet, and do it lightning quick. On days like this the gusts are huge, the water is very bouncy, and there is just a lot going on. So switch those feet as fast as you can. Instead of two steps, it's almost like a hop. It's so fast. Ninja quick!!! Get it done INSTANTANEOUSLY!
Now your feet are switched and you are clew first. Get that sail flipped as soon as possible. The longer you hold on to it while clew first the greater the chance that a big gust will catch the clew and mess you up. Flip that sail soon. If a big gust does catch you off guard, just let go with clew hand. You can still save the jibe. The sail might not flip great and you may not plane through the jibe, but you can usually still save it if you just let go when you get yanked.
There you have it. It's that simple. Haha! Only about a hundred things to think about within a time span of about 5 seconds while the water is bouncing ferociously and the wind is blowing 50mph+. No problem! (Please notice my intense sarcasm) Lol. It actually is a lot of fun. As far as trouble shooting, I often find myself correcting a few common things. First, it's natural to want to try to lean back and pull against the sail as you start to go downwind. This just won't work with gusts over 50mph. Instead, sheet in, rake the sail back, and lean forward. This takes the power out of the sail and gives you time to think about the next step. Second, a slow step and foot change is a killer. It just takes too damn long, and too much can go wrong taking the extra time. Switch the feet like lightning. Third, don't hold on to the sail too long once the feet are switched and you are going clew first. Again, too much can go wrong. Flip that sail once the feet are switched.
Big wind sailing is a total BLAST! Get out there and have some fun. The more you mess up, the faster you will improve. Love it!