Understanding the structure of
windsurf “traffic” – and identifying
some core windsurfer types. *)
My local windsurf spots are generally pretty sheltered beaches and waters, that are primsrily visited when the wind is blowing around 12 – 24 knots in directions from cross shore to onshore. Consequently the riders mostly sail medium and large slalom boards and fast free-ride boards with sails between 7.0 and 9.0 m2. Our sailing level’s generally not that striking, and not all of us go for speed all of the time – or so we say. **)
We are not a lot of windsurfers on the water at a time – down to a little handful in pre- and after season sailings and up to 10 – 15 people in mid season. Indeed that’s an easy-to-see number of people, and as the geography around my home spots is also pretty confined, you should think that it must be a piece of cake to observe and understand the structure of the activities.
Well no, not exactly. If an ordinary onlooker stops to watch the windsurf activities on a good, warm, windy mid season day, he’ll probably be puzzled by the large and strange contrast between the perfectly understandable and well coordinated activity on the beach - and on the other hand the chaotic and incomprehensible activity on the water. And you don’t need to be especially ignorant to be puzzled, as even some of the sailors themselves can have a hard time explaining what’s going on on the water.
On the beach the windsurfers are standing around their gear in small islands, which leaves perfect room for other windsurfers. With just a mast length of distance to the next windsurfer every man here can rig and trim his gear without interfering with other windsurfers. The placements of these small islands consisting of one man, his car/trailer and his pile of gear are also pretty easy to understand: The first windsurfers on the beach occupy the best spots (closest to the beach, within reach of the gear-loaded vehicles and at places least exposed to the wind), and as time passes by also the less favourable rigging places more distant from the water are taken into use.
To be honest from time to time there’re some mildly confusing interactions between these small islands of trimming, sweating and stressed guys and their gear, but on the other hand it’s easily understandable what the traffic’s aimed at – namely borrowing small items, seeking smart advices and zipping each other's wetsuits. So all in all pretty understandable – almost a simplified picture of everyday life in our society.
On the water it’s quite another story, and even for the trained eye it’s difficult to understand the variety of courses the windsurfers sail. I mean, although there’s plenty of space on the water, it seems most logical that the windsurfers favour the same areas as they start from the same point of origin, are exposed to the same wind strengths and directions and have to land their board on the same beach spot again. Why are they sailing so far apart? Are they hating each other, are they simply faithful to the well-known human nature of searching for new remote coasts and seeking frontier waters – or are they perhaps trying to avoid rumours of a certain sexual preference?
I think that to understand the behaviour of windsurfers when actual sailing you’ll have to identify a couple of core types of sailors. And when you understand what’s going on in their minds and why they behave as they do – suddenly the seemingly uncoordinated chaotic traffic makes (slightly) more sense …
The one extreme is the happy-go-lucky sailors, who jump on their boards and from the very start seek maximum speed. Almost intoxicated from their success (“wow, nobody can follow me at this speed”) they're thinking “more of this” – and off they go downwind, downwind and more downwind.
In fact they’re right: Nobody follow them. But that’s not necessarily because of their speed, but perhaps more likely because most sailors are much too smart to just start going downwind without giving a thought to how on earth they’ll get back again!
You know, it happens to cross the minds of most sailors that wind shifts and wind drops in fact occur from time to time. And some sailors even have the imagination to envision the humiliation (and the laughing on the beach) if they actually have to walk their equipment back upwind to the place they launched from.
That kind of thinking doesn’t seem to load the downwind people a lot – and that’s in fact a little strange. For isn’t it just the same guys who repeat the same downwind trick day after day, year after year – without being influenced by the same frustrating experiences, that (for good reasons) are strongly linked to their preferable sailing direction: The dreadful fight to get back to the origin. A fight so savage and exhausting that, when they finally come back to the spot they left an hour ago, they often fall to the ground groaning that they’re done for the day.
Strangely, that very next day at the sailing session you see those same guys start their first run in exactly the same downwind course – as if their experiences (and somewhat questionable judgement and performance) from the day before never happened!
Can we recognise these guys on the beach? Well, apart from having a pathologic ability not to be able to learn from their experiences, at least at my place you can indicatively distinguish these guys from other windsurfers from their sheer abundance of human mass. They’re simply heavy weighters. That’s not to say, that all big windsurfers at my place belong to the happy-go-lucky category – but conversely almost all the happy-go-lucky people are biiig! I’ll leave it to a behavioural researcher to tell why... ***)
Another category of sailors is the cautious, timid one who seems to think that by going deep downwind they risk too much uncontrollable speed and an ensuing painful catapult – and who, on the other hand, seem to think that gaining too much heigth can place them in a risky situation, if the wind strengthens and they’re forced to rescue themselves overpowered downwind home to the beach again.
The behaviour of these guys is dictated from efforts to avoid risk taking and from sheer fear. So in fear of ending up in either of these traps they keep sailing beam reaching out and beam reaching home, beam reaching out and beam reaching home …. all day long?
Acyually no, not all day long. ‘Cause one thing you can be pretty sure of is that the sailing sessions of the beam reaching guys generally are pretty short, simply because it’s so boooring to sail this kind of course over and over again. And because of their intrinsic fearsome nature they not only often lack the guts to challenge themselves in speed but also in the manoeuvres – challenges that COULD have added something interesting to their somewhat restricted sailing courses.
As to bahaviour, a smaller number of sailors seem to be associated with this group - the flegmatic sailors. These guys often end up sailing the same way as the timid sailors, but they aren't motivated by the same anxiety. I'll not even try to answer the interesting question: What motivates flegmatic windsurfers - or the related question: What's the drive for people with little or no ambitions?
Can we recognise this group of timid (or perhaps flegmatic) sailors on the beach? Well, it’s probably a little tricky to recognise them by stature or appearance – but as you can se below they’re kind of over-represented in the group of non-sailing windsurfers standing on the beach commenting on everything and everyone on the water.
A third category contains the predators among the windsurfers. The first thing you notice is that they typically make sure that NO ONE launch their boards at the same time as themselves. They’re so jealous of their honours that it can ruin their day if they’re being overtaken on their first run – or worse if others notice that that they’re being smoked.
The course they take is upwind, upwind and more upwind. Only when they’re absolutely sure to be well out of reach of other sailors, they relax - for a few moments. Then they start preparing for their real mission: To attack, skin and eat naive and innocent windsurfers, playing around happily in their own little world further downwind.
As a marine equivalent to the cheetah (you know the pretty explosive cat) lying on a little hillock in the savannah in safety from attacks from above or behind, and within observing distance of the weak animals, the predator sailors are always ready to attack. And when a favourable combination of angle and distance occur - and when the victim seems a little inattentive – the predator sailor just jumps on a gust to take his victim completely with surprise and with a speed that leaves no room to react.
When the victim eventually senses the well-known and ominous clattering, splashing sound from a fast approaching board it’s already much too late. As a snake strike the predator comes scream-reaching - either crossing the sailing direction of the board of the victim within a couple of meters ahead of the board nose (most risky for the victim because of the chaotic wake from the attacker/to most amusement for the attacker because of the chance of the victim’s catapult). Or alternatively the predator crosses the wake of the victims board within a couple of meters behind the tail, from where the he uses his momentum to jump through the wind shadow to finish the manoeuvre with a carve upwind ahead of the nose of the victim’s board. This is probably the most humiliating variant of overtaking because of the showdown of the overwhelming reserve of power – and because the victim ends up in the dirty wind with only little possibility to take revenge.
There is another variant of attack that is somewhat meaner. In this variant the attacker holds his upwind position all the time, and afterwards the only reminiscent of the incident is the victim going out of the plane because of the completely ruined wind. Some might question if this maneuvre fits the general windsurfing etiquette, but on the other hand - the most nasty sailor of the beach tends to widen the scope of standards for local sailing ethics, and behind this shield other predator sailors can follow their inclinations and desires in relative safety without being accused of being especially mean sailors.
Anyhow, it's the attack of mother’s darlings, as even though it produces maximal effect for the victim, it implies minimal risk for the attacker. No hero effect here …
It has to be stressed that the predator sailor needn’t actually be physically faster than his victim. But it’s vital that the predator’s got the mental overhand. In other words it’s kind of a “Blitz-Krieg” warfare, where the battle’s all about imposing the victim the perception that he hasn’t got a chance.
After the successful attack our predator – not eager to be exposed to revenge (or to other nearby sailors) for too long – quickly retires upwind again, humming and content with success. But only for a short moment. Predator sailors are restless people, who always need a new fix – and the drug is the joyful humiliation of innocent leeward sailors.
It’s the curse of the predator sailor that he’s never content with his number of victories. And consequently sailors from this category are the people who generally stay on the water for the longest time - because they’re simply insatiable. Especially IF someone has the luck to repel an attack from a predator sailor, our attacking guy will probably be sooo hungry for revenge that he doesn't retires back to the beach before long after all the other sailors have left for home.
The happy-go-lucky downwind sailors, the timid (or perhaps flegmatic) beam reaching sailors, the predator sailors lying in wait windward to the others – now haven’t we covered all legitimate activities for the windsurfers who’re not working around their pile of equipment ashore?
Well not quite. We need an explanation about the guys who stand in clings close to the water with folded arms. Who are they, what are they doing – and from which category of sailors are they recruited?
Remember we talked about the boring beam reaching sailings that almost unavoidably leads to short sailing sessions? Simply because they have to take some pauses from their enervating activity sailors from the beam reaching category are kind of over-represented in the group of sailors, who always find an excuse for standing on the beach talking shrewd about the guys on the water.
Being absolutely certain that the (still sailing) subjects of their advice and reprimands are unaware that they’re been talked about, the wise-beach-gang tend to describe their observations in not all too favourable ways.
However, in order to not be suspected of envying the ability of the guys on the water, the criticisms are often expressed in a somewhat subtle or twisted way. If for example one of the beach guys wants to express, that one of the sailing guys is late to plane (always noticed!), he can phrase it like “… apparently there’s not as much wind out there as it looks like …” And if another beach guy wants to express that a sailing guy’s moving slow (also always noticed!), he can code his statement like “… looks like he’s got weed clinging to his fin …”. *****)
And so the judgments go on - with the badly hidden purpose of (indirectly) telling the other guys around that IF the narrator had been on the water right now, he would have smoked every single sailor around him. In fact the twaddle goes on and on in almost the same enervating way as most of the same people sail their courses on the water (beam reaching out – beam reaching home, beam reaching out – beam reaching home …).
Well, that was fun. But now to the serious question: To which category of sailors do you (or I) belong? Ahem, come to think about it, aren’t the categories just a little too rigid? Perhaps they have to be softened a little – or perhaps we need to invent a new category containing guys with a little more noble motivation and flattering behaviour.
Life’s too short for political correctness. Be prepared for stigmatism and lack of nuances. Oh, and no room for special regards for the weak sex either. Here every single windsurfer is a “he”.
Note on the indifference-to-speed allegation:
Of course, there are those windsurfers among us who give don’t give a s… about being overtaken or out-performed. Or so they (we) say – often in a indirectly or subtle way. When for instance they are eager to use the term “free-ride”, they often want to indicate that they’re generally NOT opting for speed, and THAT’S the reason why they’re so often being overtaken by faster sailors. “I’m just enjoying myself and trying to have as much fun as possible” they say. “I’m not trying to sail my fastest at all …”
However, I strongly suspect that the majority of windsurfers claiming that kind of testosterone-less nonsense are not honest – at least not honest to themselves. It’s simply not a credible statement when ALL of us know that it’s DAMN FUN to overtake other sailors – and it’s a soul shattering experience to be overtaken by one of your sailing mates! OK – most of us will have to accept to be overtaken from time to time – but it’s not especially “joyful” or “fun” to be smoked out there!
So – IF the only-sailing-for fun people exist at my sailing spots at all, then they’re at least vastly outnumbered. The main picture is people either match racing each other or at least being far from indifferent from being overtaken by others!
One last funny thing in this context: Have you ever noticed that especially the people, who say they’re indifferent as to their speed performance relative to other sailors, are the first ones to bawl and blurt out their success in all points of the compass and to all who care lending them an ear, if they’ve by accident out-sailed someone. Is this a sign of indifference to speed? The answer’s not blowing in the wind.
Aren’t well-nourished people said to have a “happy” approach to life?
Not all babbling among the guys is that subtle, as in windsurfer circles you can in fact tell almost everything about your own performance without it being a clean cut lie. For instance – if I happen to sail close to one of the racing aces of my area, no doubt I'll get smoked all the time. However, in a several hours session statistically it will probably happen one time that the ace gets a plastic bag or a cluster of weeds on his fin – or hit a deep wind hole. And in fact for that very short moment I actually gain a couple of meters to him, until he gets rid of his huge handicap again and re-establish the pecking order.
Back to the beach – when standing babbling and commenting on to-days sailing – my few seconds of success gradually grows in my mind to dimensions total without hold in reality. And suddenly I hear myself telling the gaping guys that I actually out-sailed the Mr. Ace to-day.
A lie? Well not really – but the story of course only covers a tiny, tiny fraction of the sailing time of the session. In windsurfing culture it’s perfectly allowed to choose our moments of honour and glory and to boost these moments up to be representative for the whole day. You might call it a kind of economizing with the truth, that’s accepted to be legal in the world of windsurfing. A marvellous sport it is indeed.