Scenes From a Dream
DID HE LAND IT?
It’s a common question in skate, surf and windsurf circles. Yes, he might have bailed a kickflip down a ten stair handrail, but that doesn’t really count as a land. In surfing you can’t claim airs that aren’t landed right back onto the wave face. In windsurfing, almost everybody can throw backloops, but it’s rare to see someone land one, and even more rare to land them consistently. A miss is as good as a mile. Photos can always lie..that is, unless they’re taken in sequence. So when a good sequence comes out it’s nice to see the move from beginning to end, landed successfully. Yes, he made it! Below are a few sequences of windsurfing moves, all shot in Taiwan (Taitung, on Taiwan’s east coast specifically) mostly of aerials, and other moves, captured by intrepid photogs Yong-yi Chen, Alang Kuo and others.
1.PUSHLOOP AT JINZUN (Oct 2020)
The pushloop vs backloop dilemma
The backloop is more of an upwind horizontal 360. It’s easy to initiate, extremely difficult to land. It’s probably the first loop that most windsurfers attempt, but with very little success of landing. The backloop’s cousin, the pushloop, is a proper backwards somersault, which, although looks much harder, is actually easier to land.
However , it’s extremely hard to initiate simply because throwing yourself and your entire windsurfing kit up and over your head into a somersault is a bit of a mental nightmare. Ejecting when you are 15 feet up and upside down can be tricky. It feels like learning the forward loop all over again. Actually, worse, because unlike the forward, which can be practiced on flat water and built up to in small steps, the pushloop is pretty much all or nothing. Plus it requires some height in order for the mast to clear.
Years of failed backloop attempts
After years of failed backloop attempts, I decided to abandon trying them and focus on the pushloop instead. Something about turning 40 helps – things that previously were not important become now or never. I found that focusing on one move really helps. Previously I had been using the “decide on the rotation (push vs back) when the time comes”, ie when you are already up in the air. So for example I would hit a ramp, half heartedly initiate a pushloop, half way through chicken out and end up with an overrated backloop. Crash! On one attempt I hit my chin so hard on the sail that it left an indentation. The attempts seemed to have no results except pain. All the fails were making me despondent and I was about to give up completely.
Takara the pushloop master
Then Takara Issii showed up for the 2019 Taitung Wave Classic. On one particular day at Jinzun, the wind was howling at 25 knots, with some head high steep ramps in front of the bunker. On Takara’s first run out he blasted into a huge backwards rotation. His body directly over the sail, he pushed down with his backhand and seemed to float effortlessly down, landing softly. Epiphany!
Focus Focus Focus!
From then on it was all about the pushloop for me. My biggest fear was landing wrong, knocking myself unconscious without anybody noticing. In Japan they train in groups of twos or threes, pushing and watching each other. They have parents and friends filming from the beach – then later they go home and analyse the footage. It’s safe and produces results. Just look at the current Japanese youth fleet! In Taiwan it’s pretty much each man/woman for himself when windsurfing. The windsurfers and kiters in Taiwan are more self absorbed, meaning that if you break down it might take some time before anyone even notices you are MIA, drifting away, injured or worse case – unconscious! But then summer came around and the wind stopped. I temporarily shelved the idea.
The 2020 wind season began and I rekindled my obsession with the pushloop. Like a kid trying to figure out a kickflip or an ollie, I just had to figure it out. Fortunately there are tons of online coaching videos these days, so I immersed myself in any bit of info regarding this move. Thank you Youtube. So I kept trying. I knew that the only way was to forget the backloop completely, and focus only only one thing – over rotating straight away and pushing hard with my back hand.
I had a few semi successful attempts. I’d go up, get stuck half way, and then end up plummeting down trying to avoid my equipment. On October 20th, I met up with a good friend who kites and windsurfs. The conditions looked ideal: solid 25knots, which meant I could use my smallest sail, a 4.0 square meter. Getting through the rotation with small gear really helps. And some pretty good waves with steep ramps in the medium range.
The boxing helmet
I told him I was going to attempt a loop. He opened his trunk and pulled out a boxing helmet! That was my cue. I felt invincible with the boxing hemet on. Plus with him watching from the beach, it gave me confidence to try. He would surely rescue me from death if I was knocked unconscious. I had a few practice runs, struggling to get the right ramps. I managed a few attempts but wasn’t committing 100 percent. So I decided to take a break and catch a few waves instead.
For a moment I forgot about the pushloop completely. I just enjoyed windsurfing empty Jinzun with the sun out. I’d caught a wave and ridden it in through Leftovers (see Takara’s aerial sequence below). On the way out, fully powered, a wave reared up just on the edge of the channel. I had a lot of time to think and prepare as I neared the ramp. Everything went slow mo for a moment as I hit and projected up, over and found myself staring down at my gear. That’s when your mind is telling you to eject, and that’s exactly what you shouldn’t do.
Since I had never come this far, the experience was completely and utterly surreal. I pushed out with my back hand, the wind high fived me back. Like an invisible hand, the high five literally turned into a solid vertical upright push. Everything went from near death “I’m gonna die’ to calm as I landed on my feet and sailed away.
Alang Kuo just happened to be on the beach and captured the sequence, below. Thanks Alang!
2.FRONTSIDE AIR IN THE DULAN BOWL (Nov 2019)
During the 2019 Wave Classic I got lucky and nailed a frontside air just as the wind started to die and the waves were getting really good. I still remember backdooring this one, coming up and just going for it, not really thinking too much. It felt so good when I landed it and I was even more stoked when Yong-yi told me she had got a sequence of it from the point. I like this sequence because it’s shot from an angle which is rarely photographed. Landed? Yes.
3. CHEESEROLL AT JINZUN (Oct 2020)
The cheeseroll has a long history. It was invented by the legendary Italian windsurfer Cesare Cantagalli (hence the name ‘Cheeseroll’) in the mid 80s when windsurfing was booming and Maui in Hawaii was holding up to three wavesailing contests per year. Competition was fierce and the sport was progressing fast. Cesare knew he had to come up with something fresh if he wanted to beat the best. So he snuck away to a secret beach and began practicing a forward rotation, which later morphed into the forward loop (see sequence #6). Check out the full story of how he invented the cheeseroll here.
Since I was a kid, I idolized Cesare Cantagalli. He was all over the windsurf magazines at the time. In 1987 our local mag Boardsailor came out and Cesare was on the cover performing a sky high cheeseroll during one of the Cape Town contests. My dad knew his then girlfriend’s father and got me a signed copy of the magazine and 3 of his used contest sails (for R300!). It was the surfing equivalent of acquiring Kelly Slater’s used surfboards. Next to his signature he had scribbled “keep windsurfing” and that’s exactly what I did.
In homage to my childhood hero, and because I just think this move looks so damn good, I had to crack the cheeseroll. Turns out that the cheeseroll, in my opinion, is one of the easiest rotations to perform. You don’t need much height to learn it and the wind takes care of most of the ‘spin’ once you initiate it. Tip: as you go up the wave face pretend you are about to do a laydown gybe, pushing the sail don towards the water.
4.TAKARA’s MAGIC AERIALS AT LEFTOVERS (Nov 2019)
Takara Ishii from Japan is an aerial master. We lost count of all the aerials he was punting on this day’s sailing at Leftovers, Jinzun. However, the crazy thing about this is not actually the move, but the place itself – the inside bowl at Leftovers. Look at the photo above and you’ll notice, from a different angle, how close Takara is doing these aerials to the shore. If he was to fall here he would go straight to the windless beach via the washing machine shorebreak.
Takara landed several beautiful textbook aerials right at this spot, but he also did crash a couple times and got washed right through the infamous shorebreak onto the beach (see photo above). Instead of walking all the way back up to the safer launch area near the bunker, Takara would just time the sets, run down into the water and throw his gear and swim for it till he was in the safety of the channel.
Check out the full sequence of one of Takara‘s magic aerials below.
5.OFF THE LIP AT THE BUNKER, JINZUN (Nov 2019)
This off-the-lip, right in front of the bunker at Jinzun, should have been stomped, stamped and declared legit at customs. However it didn’t end up that way. It started well, the bottom turn put me in exactly the place I need to be to hit the lip as it cascaded towards me. I went up the face and got the kick as the lip pitched. But as I came down on the foamball, the turbulence just ate me up, spat me out and caused me a ragdoll drag almost all the way to the shore, holding onto my boom. Being violently dragged along for 50 meters, afraid to lose your gear, while your arm feels like it will be ripped out of its socket, is not that much fun. Oh the pleasure and the pain. Hero or zero? Zero.
6.FORWARD LOOP AT BOB’S REEF (circa 2013)
Howard Chang’s first trip to Taitung
I still remember this day. Bob’s Reef in about 25 knots. It was Howard Chang‘s first trip to Taitung. Nico brought him down to show us a thing or two. It was an eye opener for all of us. We had never seen anything like it. A display of pure power, style and skill. Watching Howard was like hearing heavy metal for the first time. The guy was unstoppable and so much better than any of us. It was both inspiring and devastating at the same time. I remember this forward clearly because I doubt I will ever do anything like it ever again.
And the only reason I did it was because of Howard’s unearthly presence at that moment. I had been having a pretty average session, crashing my wave rides and watching Howard do everything from grubbies to aerials to big solid hacks on every wave he rode. We were both racing out, maxed out on 4.5s, just meters apart, when this shoulder high ramp appeared and I just sent it right in front of Howard. I remember the wave whipping me skyward and I immediately started the rotation, going endo (end over end).
It was surreal because time seemed to stand still and at the same time the ‘whip’ happened so fast. But I remember that at the apex of the rotation I sheeted out slightly and managed to slow down the descent. Therefore, I landed relatively softly on my tail. Howard had slowed down behind me to watch and saw the whole thing. He he gave me a yell of approval, which I will never forget. Like a shaka from Kelly Slater. Landed? 100%.
to be continued..