Stay Straight But Get Looped

Reprinted from the June 2002 New England Windsurfing Journal

By Frederick Vetterlein

Looping doesn’t hurt like a lot of other things. Remember playing tackle football and getting hit hard enough to feel the ground shake? It doesn’t hurt like that. Or agro belly flops—that hurts more, too. Or hitting the pavement from a skateboard, or catching a snowboard rail, or tumbling down 100 feet of eastern skiing slope—they hurt more. Looping, when you feel it, is like a back slap. Not even like the adolescent punch you used to give your friend in the arm. No, just a back slap. A back slap goes away—it’s not there even as long as a sunburn. In fact, it could be thought of as a kind of shiatsu—the Japanese deep massage technique, when they use elbows and knuckles to get at the deep muscle—not a bad way to get a massage if you can waterstart away.

If you can jump, you can loop. It’s that simple. The back slap just lets you know how well you are doing. If you feel the slap in your shoulders, then you’re not really sheeting in. If the middle of your back stings—that’s because it’s flat—then you’re doing better. But if you feel the lower back hit or butt, you’re doing great-you’re almost completely rotated. And there’s no slap, because that part of your anatomy is not a flat surface. The Forward Loop—Getting Around When the season starts every year, we’re back to the problem that’s been on our minds since our windsurf beginnings, to throw, to chuck, to launch, and my favorite, to huck, ourselves, our gear, our minds into one complete rotation. I loop therefore I am. This is as far, in windsurfing, as we need to go in school. At this point, the board hats are given out, and the alumni can stride away, knowing, in this small way, they have found Truth. How many times have you read those articles, stared bleary eyed at the photos, readying for the next perfect day when you would launch that one, the perfect one, the never-to-be-questioned true one, into air, sky, and mind. Well it happened to me. Late last spring, before the big winds disappeared till fall, knowledge happened. I looped. Well, really, I went around. That is, I sheeted in mid-flight and prayed. When I opened my eyes from my watery landing place to survey the damages—I had gone around! The board wasn’t on my feet, and I had to swim from under the sail, but I was all right. I wasn’t trashed. My equipment was fine. Really I was no worse for wear than in the hundreds of beginning efforts at jibing.

Then in the Fall as the winds picked up, I was definitely going all the way around, and sometimes landing in waterstart position. I began to think about what had happened, and thought, this isn’t how the mags or videos described it. And I went back to my own ignorant beginnings and saw some advantages to my dumb method.

Almost everyone who jumps goes for max show by throwing the body back and the board up, but for looping you should begin to practice almost nose first landings. That is-keep your body centered over the board and pull up the back foot and tail close to your body. The jump is more like a pop. You push down with the fin as you launch and then, quickly-pull up the tail. Get comfortable with this because the most important focus of the loop is sheeting in with the backhand—hard. If you have to think too much about getting the air, then you won’t concentrate on the sheeting in. It’s natural instinct. Remember, jibing or even downhill skiing took the learning of many steps. And unhook. Many sailors jump hooked-in because it gives them maximum power. But you’re going to have to get used to finding your ramp and unhooking quickly unless you have arms of steel and can sail unhooked fully powered. With a good ramp you can time the unhooking. With the sailors I know, we needed a ramp at the beginning stage so we didn’t spend all our focus energy on the jump. You want the best ramp you can find. The more side shore, the better. Remember, you want to get in the air and then focus on sheeting in-nothing more. The point is to get around at the beginning, so you know you won’t be hurt. Don’t worry about staying in the footstraps, that’s easy-after you know you can ride around. Contrary to what many articles say, your first loops won’t happen on flat water and going off the wind. The problem with flat water looping is coordinating so many things and then missing emphasis on the most important—sheeting in. It’s true that you need very little height to rotate; the fin just needs to clear the water, but all that concentration on getting out of flat water distracts from the critical effort of sheeting in. So do yourself a favor and sail into a ramp, even if it’s a bit upwind, you’ll sooner be floating high and ready for the next step.

You’ll hear all about rolling into the loop, as if you’re forward somersaulting over one shoulder, and that this is important to sailing away. But don’t even think about this concept until you’ve learned the sheeting in, because somersaulting will do just that—somersault you into your rig. The power of the loop is initiated in the sheeting in, and the roll comes after, with the movement of keeping the body compact and looking back. That’s about it. Oh, and forget about intuitive, this won’t be intuitive because the human intuition is to be on the ground. What you’ll be doing will feel all wrong. Think of your movement as pelican-like, and the effort a flail. You weren’t born to fly. But after a few times around, you’ll begin to get the idea. Use a 5.8 sail or smaller. My suggestion, once you’ve jumped unharnessed and felt this centered jumping motion, of being more over your board in your jump, is to aim for a spot just around the mast, downwind of where you can see, a spot on the water just 10 feet from your airborne location, and pull in the backhand as if you were steering to that spot. If I’ve really psyched you up and you pull with all your God-given might, you may pull off a sail-away forward. But more than likely, you’ll pull like an uncertain believer, and go around flailing, and land confused, but dumb with the satisfaction that you have done the before impossible. You’ll be speechless, but proud, with the words, "I loop, therefore I am," forming on your lips.

And try to sail with people who loop, it gives you confidence to see others trying, it’s such a strange ride. I give credit to Jer, Neil, and Angry for locally goading me, and Dana Miller for spreading the KazeDo word, Trip Forman for his always rad impulse; and Josh Stone for living the ride and teaching it.

Frederick Vetterlein sails on Worldsails and the Star Carve 99.

Reprinted from the June 2002 New England Windsurfing Journal, PO Box 371,

Milford, CT 06460, 203-876-2001,