Wednesday, June 17, 2015

May and June Training

After finishing the French Olympic Week in April, I needed a training block to focus on improving certain technical and tactical aspects of my sailing.  I decided not to compete in May’s Eurosaf events in order to have the maximum water time possible and give me space to focus away from hectic regatta logistics.  The past month’s training has been critical technical preparation for the Rio Olympic Test Event in August and the RS:X Worlds in Oman this October.

I completed training camps in three different venues over the past month and a half, including Cadiz, Brest, and Palermo.  Cadiz, in southern Spain, is a windy venue that allowed me to test my speed and improve technique in planing, choppy conditions with fast training partners.  In Cadiz, I also sorted out equipment in preparation for the more important events later this year.  Small details such as these must be done well ahead of time; the weeks before important events must be focused on racing and rest rather than physical and technical preparation.

In Brest (north France), I worked with a coach on board handling, technique in marginal conditions, downwinds, and strategy in a variety of the tricky and cold conditions the venue is well known for.  A number of competitive French youth girls and boys also attended the sessions.  I was very happy with how I trained at this venue, and I am in the process of developing an automatic feel for being detail-oriented on a complicated racecourse.  Brest isn’t exactly a sunny vacation destination, so it was also a good chance to get caught up on equipment repair and organization, taking care of repairs to the van and boat, and the endless budgeting.

Vacation destinations definitely include Mondello Beach, just outside the city of Palermo in Sicily, where the RS:X Europeans are being held the last week of June.  This event will serve as a test for the skills I will need to improve before the Test Event and the Worlds.  After the 15 hour drive and 20 hour ferry, I’ve had an excellent training block here already with Spanish, Polish, and Italian sailors,and there is plenty of sunshine for all.  Racing here will definitely be interesting, because there are very strong coast effects that create a very one-sided course…except when the wind gets gusty and then it’s a directional free for all.  I’m happy to report that my speed is quite good and I’m stacking up well against the others.  The fleet is going to be very strong here and the girls I’ve been training with are all very quick, smart, and prepared.  There are already 60 girls registered in the senior fleet.  Many of the international teams are using the event as their first Olympic qualifier, so the atmosphere could be a little serious!  In the next few days I’ll be trying to sort out repairs and rest up before my coach arrives for another small training block before the regatta.  I’m looking forward to this event as a stepping stone to my peak events later this year.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Brest is the Best

For the past few weeks I've been training in Brest, France.  This Atlantic coastal town is located just about as far west as you can travel in northern France, and it's one place where I spend a lot of time training.  The best thing about Brest is it's a really interesting place to race and train.  It can be extremely windy or very marginal and shifty, and there is usually a ripping current going through the bay.  There is also a great group of enthusiastic and skilled young sailors to train with.

The countryside is also really lovely - dotted with small towns, harbors, and there are many farms that grow delicious strawberries.

However, a lot of the time Brest looks like this:

Is that really France? Let's compare to south France for a moment:

I guess living in Brest builds character.  The food is great though.

Here I am working on technique and strategy in a group.  Since the conditions are so diverse, there is a good amount of thinking that needs to happen during each stage of an exercise.  All the thinking happening now is actually helping to create automatic responses to different events during a race.  It is great preparation for the RS:X Europeans coming up in Sicily.

Last month I also trained in Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain, which is one of my favorite venues.  Here I worked on technique and equipment with a fast group. Both sessions have been productive and not too bad on the budget.

 Being on a budget means your $50 wetsuit from Decathlon is also 6 years old. Anyone want to sponsor a new sailing wardrobe?
I'm looking forward to training and racing in Sicily.  The event isn't "important," as it's not a qualifier for either the team or the country, but it will be very competitive and therefore a good test of the skills I've been practicing this month.  It will also be a performance benchmark before the Worlds, and will serve to delineate the most important things to improve before entering the major events of the fall and winter.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Hyeres World Cup

I recently competed in the Hyeres Olympic Week, the first ISAF World Cup event using their new format.  This event was limited to the top 40 girls in the world, and as such it was highly competitive. There was no room for mistakes in any race, and the technical level of the fleet was similar.

I spent the lead-in time before the World Cup regatta doing some training sessions with the Polish windsurfing team, who are ranked among the top sailors in the world. It was great to see my speed in training was equal to the very best.  With world-class speed, my focus for the event was to improve tactics and strategy.

Photo: Will Ricketson

Although I knew that this preparation was good, I felt a little out of sync during the regatta.  Given the high caliber and small fleet, there was no room for mistakes in any race. Everyone was sailing fast and good results were based on making few mistakes and having solid tactics and proper strategy for the given day. As such, the racing was very tight.  Normally, I was well placed during the first half of the races, however, I made one or two small mistakes that lead to poor finishes.  Because my speed was quite good, it was easy to register these tactical or strategic errors during the regatta.  My results in this regatta do not reflect my improvement over the past year.  However, given the new racing format and my experience from this regatta, I now know that I need to improve my race day process and my mental approach. I have discuss this with my coach and we are ready to address it as well as continue to improve my speed.

Photo: Will Ricketson
My next event is the European Championships in Sicily next month, and after that, the Rio Olympic Test Event.  Prior to that, I have three training camps with two top coaches in Spain and France focusing on what we learned in Hyeres. I’m looking forward to this training and believe it will be very productive.

I am confident my hard work is paying off and will benefit the US Olympic windsurfing program for Rio and beyond. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Trofeo Princesa Sofia 2015

I recently started the European portion of the year with the Eurosaf regatta in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.  This event will be used as the second of two regattas in the US Olympic Team qualifying series, starting in Miami 2016.  Palma is an interesting event and usually one of the largest Eurosaf competitions.  Because of the recent limitations on ISAF World Cup entries to the top 30-ranked sailors and the approaching Olympic year, Palma had a fleet of 70 RS:X women, one of the largest I’ve seen. 

Conditions here are usually very tricky.  Because the island is mountainous and we sail in a C-shaped bay, wind is extremely gusty and shifty.  On our first day of racing, there was 25- 30 knots of wind on the other side of the mountains; the racing was still postponed due to 60-90 degree shifts, holes of no wind and 25 knot gusts - this isn’t an exaggeration!  With big waves and a long wait time on the water, it was a very challenging day.  However, Palma also has great sunny sea breeze days.  This week was a nice combination of both conditions.

Rounding the windward mark during race 2.  Photo by Pedro Martinez

With mostly planing conditions during the event, my focus was to raise the level of my tactics and strategy in a large fleet.  Things happen fast while sailing fast, and it’s easy to make positioning mistakes when one bad tack can cause you to lose a third of the Gold fleet.  Strategically, we had three different kinds of planing conditions.  Being able to work on executing tactics and positioning in these conditions with a coach was a huge opportunity for me, and although my racing was a little on the experimental side during this event, I made major gains to my understanding in this area.  My goal this spring is to pass this next step in my racing.  With the good speed and board handling I currently have, mastering positioning in planing conditions will give me my next jump up in the results. 

I’m also happy to say I qualified for the Olympic Test Event in Rio de Janeiro.  The Test Event will be a good preview of what the fleet at the Olympic Games will be like, and will determine the steps I need to take to achieve my best result at the Games.

Next up on my agenda is the Hyeres World Cup, starting in two weeks. This is one of my favorite events of the European season and will be the seventh time I’ve competed in this regatta.  I’m looking forward to being at this professional venue.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Winter's long gone

 It's been a long while since my last post, but I am wrestling with financing a website update and getting my social media organized.  As a very introverted introvert, social media isn't my forte, but I promise to venture into the modern world shortly.

I am currently in Rio de Janeiro, where I just finished a small regatta, the Rio de Janeiro Cup. Although the event was small, the fleet was made up of the world's best international sailors.  Summer's thermal wind in Rio is a little different each day as it comes in over the steep mountains, and combined with the strong current, makes strategy challenging and enjoyable.  It's hot here, and although the days are super sunny and sweaty, it's great to ditch the wetsuit for once!  With few distractions here, it was an opportunity to improve positioning and strategy.  In another day, my training group will travel to Buzios to work on high wind sailing. We will train in Buzios for a week and return to Rio for another five days of training with focus on racing. I am enjoying my time here and am looking forward to acquiring new knowledge.

 Rio de Janeiro Cup: Photo by Fred Hoffmann
Backing up, I spent most of February organizing logistics, fund raising, and training alone in Miami. Last week, I went to Bonaire for a freestyle clinic, which was an overwhelming experience. Bonaire, part of the Dutch Caribbean, is a small, dry island, but it's one of the world's top freestyle windsurfing destinations. Most of the best professionals hail from the island.  I've been dying to go there for many years now, and I finally got the gap in my schedule, cheap enough ticket/housing (and good-enough excuse) that I needed.  I am still improving rapidly in the discipline of freestyle and am happy to announce I just landed a team rider deal with JP boards and Neil Pryde sails. 

In January, I raced well in two smaller regattas, taking away a 3rd place in the RS:X Midwinters at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club. However, I didn't perform well at the Miami OCR. From this event I learned that I need to improve positioning and fleet strategy. I analyzed these aspects of racing during the Rio de Janeiro Cup and immediately found areas to improve upon. My racing progressively improved during the event.

 Miami OCR:  Photo by US Sailing Team
Looking forward, I will be competing in the Trofeo Princesa Sofia in Palma de Mallorca at the beginning of April. I plan on traveling to Spain immediately after the Brazil training.  This event is particularly important, as it is part of the Olympic Team qualifier in 2016; therefore, I am organizing a training camp in order to better assess the challenges of this venue. After Palma, I will immediately compete in the Hyeres World Cup, which is a familiar venue for me and will be a good test for the application of knowledge gained this winter. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hatteras Flow

The moment you think you're doing really well mentally and physically is often the moment when your expectations aren't met.  For me, the ISAF Worlds in Santander last month was a really tough event.  The fleet was extremely competent and well prepared, and conditions were challenging with light, unpredictable wind or big offshore breeze and ocean swell.  I was racing well, but not well  enough to achieve the finish I wanted to.  During the opening series, I finished consistently in the top half of the fleet but didn't pull off any top 10 finishes, one of which I would have needed to make the bottom of the Gold fleet in the final series. 

Grinding it out in Santander
 My silver fleet finish undermined my confidence a little with regard to the steps of my regatta preparation.  Before the Worlds, I didn't get enough racing because I lacked the funding to go to the Rio Test Event.  I had one great session of gear testing and a training camp of excellent quality in France.  However, there wasn't enough race focus.  It is hard to justify lacking preparation when I know what I need to do, but there is an added element of frustration when you know there isn't enough money to do it and you're not sure what income you have coming in, or if any will come in at all. 

I believe the best solution for me is complete acceptance of the financial situation and to develop a system to prepare alone or under inadequate circumstances.  I have a few ideas for the winter so far, and all involve a systematic approach to the steps of racing and how training can translate to a direct regatta situation.  The other side to this more scientific approach is mental. 

Finding creativity and freedom is difficult when many external factors cause pressure.  However, with a little mental training one can step into the "zone" or the "flow" upon command.  I found this to a certain extent during the Worlds, even though the racing and general environment was tough.  However, where I really find it is doing freestyle windsurfing, and the feeling can be directly translated to the RS:X.

The past few weeks I attended a few ABK clinics in Cape Hatteras, NC.  Working on freestyle skills is a pleasure, and basic movements can be translated into more and more tricks once muscle memory becomes automatic.  Things can happen so fast that one needs to have built in muscle memory in order to save a move without falling or incorporate blocks of basic elements into one new trick.  The memories translate into mental flow, which can be sustained throughout a session.  The very essence of this discipline is freedom and embodies the liberty of the surf culture, travel, new experiences, and human expression. 

Messing around in light wind
This winter will challenge me to find freedom, flow, and thus improvements to racing.  I am an expert in the scientific approach to sailing and the "grind."  Now it's time to integrate the two in a personal preparation for the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta.

 Small wave fun in Hatteras

Friday, August 22, 2014


Summer vacation is over, and preparations for the ISAF Worlds in Santander are underway.  I have been testing my equipment for the past week in order to select the most optimal setup for the Worlds. After this session, I am participating in a training camp with many top European sailors, including my Italian training partner and coach, in La Rochelle, France.  My goals will be perfecting the elements of racing and focus for the upcoming event.  La Rochelle is a venue with a variety of difficult conditions, so my expectation is that Santander will be well simulated.

In July, I spent time in San Francisco and the Columbia River Gorge to improve my board handling -  my summer vacation. Mostly, I worked in the discipline of freestyle, which is all about maneuvers, balance, and rig control to perform complicated tricks.  I even participated in a local AWT competition in which I definitely didn't embarrass myself.  The discipline expanded my mind as to what is possible in the overall sport of windsurfing, and how that translates to Olympic-class windsurfing.  I am happy to say that I have improved feel with the RS:X equipment and am developing a more intuitive approach to my sailing. 

ABK windsurfing clinic in Hood River, OR
I was also very happy to visit my old Cape St. Claire community sailing camp, the place I learned to sail when I was a kid.  It’s always great to get a rare week at home.  We got to talk about Olympic sailing, how to take your sailing to the next level, and what it’s like to sail full time.  We also had a fun raffle for US Sailing team gear!

Sometimes I feel that I’m living in three or four different worlds courtesy of a plane ride apart.  Europe is a different world from the west coast USA, and Maryland is a third entity.  In each place I have different resources and a different focus.  If I want to entertain myself, I pretend I’m entering another dimension each time!  I’m happy to be back on the Continent and am looking forward to my upcoming training and the Worlds.  I have the feeling that it will be a regatta like no other.

Pistol River wave sailing spot, on the Oregon coast.