Saturday, April 21, 2018

What am I resisting?

After work Thursday I came home and walked the dog. Then I loaded my formula windsurf board into the van and drove to the beach with the windows down. It’s a good life here in SW Florida in April. On the way to the beach a man in a black SUV burst my bubble by pulling up alongside me and asking in a confrontational tone, “What are you RESISTING?”

I gathered that he was referring to my “RESIST” bumper sticker. The sticker was designed by the progressive liberal organization to be an inspirational message to those discouraged by Trump and the GOP’s wins in 2016. To me, it’s a reminder to do whatever I can to resist attempts by those in power to weaken or degrade the things I value- Things like environmental protection, public education, race and gender equality, social services and infrastructure, etc. It would have been hard to explain all that by shouting through the window of a car to someone who didn’t want to listen. All I managed was, “The president- Trump!”

I’m sure my answer was no surprise to the man in the black SUV, but it gave him permission to shout his pro-Trump views. I listened and nodded and periodically gave a sarcastic “thumbs up” sign, but kept my eyes forward on the road and didn’t say anything else. I had no illusions that I might change the man, and I didn’t want to drive unsafely or escalate things into a road-rage situation. I don’t remember all of what he said, but I do remember that one of the first things was, “Trump is the greatest thing ever to happen to America!” And one of the last things he said was the ridiculous non-sequitur, “GET A JOB!” Eventually our paths diverged.

Although I am fairly good at keeping calm on the surface in an emotionally-charged conflict, such situations stir me up a lot on the inside. My thoughts race and my “fight or flight” hormones pump. I felt I’d handled this particular situation well by only minimally engaging, but afterwards I was stuck with some bad vibes that I’m working out of my mind now by writing this blog post. I hope to express to the universe some of the thoughts I was unable to articulate to the man on the road.

First, I would like to contest the man’s assertion that Trump is the greatest thing ever to happen to America. Below are some examples from American history of things I think I think were much greater than Trump’s election in 2016. In no particular order:

1. The 1st Amendment of 1791, which guarantees freedom of speech, freedom to protest, freedom of (and from) religion, etc. My RESIST bumper sticker is covered under the 1st Amendment.
2. The near-elimination of illiteracy by the investment in public schooling, starting around the time of the nation’s founding. "The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." — John Adams, U.S. President, 1785
3. The abolition of slavery in 1865, ending centuries of torture and inhumanity.
4. The development of public utilities including safe drinking water and indoor plumbing.
5. The anti-trust laws of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which protected public interests from some of the worst abuses of power by big-business monopolies.
6. The spread of rapid travel and communication systems, connecting our country coast to coast and with the rest of the world.
7. The 19th Amendment in 1920, which finally gave women the right to vote.
8. The elimination of many diseases by the spreading science of vaccination and antibiotics in the early 20th century.
9. Various hard-won gains in workers’ rights, such as the fair labor standards act of 1938/1940, which limited the work week to 40 hours.
10. The sacrifices of hundreds of thousands who fought to free the world from fascist tyranny and genocide in World War II.
11. The development of effective and dependable police, fire-fighting, and medical first-response systems.
12. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1961, which greatly reduced the power of the Mafia and other criminal groups.
13. The triumphs of a non-violent civil rights movement over racial segregation in the mid 20th century.
14. The Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972, which protected Americans from the worst ills of rampant pollution.

Secondly, I would like to establish that I DO have a job. I worked hard to get my PhD and I continue to work hard seven days a week as a scientist and university professor, notwithstanding the occasional breaks for watersports and surfing the web. My primary motivation to work hard is not the avariciousness glorified by Trump. Rather, it’s a combination of scientific curiosity and a sense of duty to protect the ocean environment and educate the next generation.

PS- The formula windsurfing was great. The wind was a healthy 11-15 knots and I was well powered with my 9.5 Ezzy Cheetah sail. I had a good time buzzing around my buddies Cindy and Carlos who were doing a grueling paddleboard workout. For the first time I got some jibes on the formula board where I maintained the carve nicely and stayed fully-planing through the exit.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Downwind Paddling, and Windsurfing a Downwind Paddleboard

Lately the CGT Tribe of standup paddleboarders, kayakers, and outrigger canoeists has been getting into a specialized paddling discipline called "downwinding." I've jumped on the bandwagon, too. This post is a brief introduction to downwinding, with a couple videos of our downwindwind sessions.

As one might imagine, paddling with the wind at your back is easier and faster than paddling into or perpendicular to the wind. This is especially true in standup paddleboarding, where your upright body catches a lot of wind. Thus, when it's windy, the idea of a downwind-only paddle outing, a "downwinder," is appealing.

The logistics for a downwinder are complicated, requiring either a non-paddling chauffeur, or multiple vehicles and carpooling exchanges.

You also need wind, and the wind must either be parallel to the shoreline, or the shoreline must be a curve subtended by a line from the upwind start to the downwind finish. The closer the path is to straight downwind, the better, but 10 or 20 degrees off is still OK. There is no strict wind minimum for a downwinder, but most people won't go unless it's windy enough to be whitecapping. 10 knots will do, 15 is good, and 20+ is excellent. Of course, those wind strengths are also great for windsurfing, which brings up the important question of, "Why paddle if you could sail?" My answer to this question is complicated, and still evolving.

Indeed, my first assessment of downwind paddling was that it was a third-rate alternative for people too stupid to windsurf or kiteboard. Why work much harder than a windsurfer, only to go to 1/3 the speed and be unable to return to where you started from?

I might have continued to dismiss downwind paddling if not for my back-door entry into the discipline via paddleboard racing. Since races were sometimes held in rough, windy waters, I started doing paddle workouts in the ocean on breezy days. I practiced paddling at all angles to the wind and chop, but of course enjoyed the downwind bits the most. I realized how engaging and rewarding it was to try to sync up with small, wind-driven waves, feeling the speed-boosting energy of each one. "Riding bumps," as they call it, offers some of the same challenge and gratifying feelings as the traditional mode of surfing waves breaking in shallow water. In windy conditions on open water, downwind paddling essentially becomes surfing, with the same dynamic of paddling hard to catch a ride, then gliding along effortlessly at thrilling speed. In a way, riding bumps downwind is better than surfing, because instead of having to turn around and paddle out again after each ride, you can keep your momentum going and link that first ride into another and another. On flat water, my fastest paddleboard speed for a mid-distance race is around 9 kph, but on a decent downwinder I can average over 11 kph, with peak speeds of 16-18 kph on the good bumps.

Another fun discovery with downwinding is that my "old beater" race paddleboard, a 2014 model Fanatic Falcon 14'x27.25", happens to be a rocketship for downwinding. Its bulbous nose combined with a narrow tail and rounded rails let it catch waves of all shapes, sizes, and angles with aplomb. The teardrop shape of the board also minimizes the amount of footwork you have to do keep the board trimmed properly in the waves- On other boards you're constantly stepping towards the nose to help catch the waves, then scooting back to the tail to keep the nose from plunging under as you surf down the waves. For example, my Riviera RP 14'x23" is a lot faster than the Fanatic in flat water, but is much trickier to use, and therefore slower, for downwinding. I haven't managed to take any "epic" GoPro videos of downwinders yet. The one time I wore my helmet camera for one was a grey day, and the wind sort of died in the middle of the run, but it was enough to get the idea.

Some better downwinder cinematography has been done by my avid downwind partners Greg from Belarus and Matt from Sarasota. Greg does most of his downwinders on a SIC Bullet (a specialized downwind board) or a Starboard AllStar (an all-around raceboard). For some of this video he was also trying out my Fanatic, which he said made everything incredibly easy.

DW-2-4-2018-NAPLES from New Ground Photography on Vimeo.

At the end of the run in Greg's video he let me try out a special contraption that I'd built to mount a windsurfing sail to his SIC Bullet. I'd been eager to do it since noting that the rocker and rail shape on the SIC Bullet was very much like an oversized windsurf board, and I suspected it would be fast and efficient under sail power. Indeed it was. This demonstration was also my not-so-sneaky way of trying to persuade Greg that windsurfing can be a lot of fun. For the next step, I'll loan him the adaptor plate and a small sail so he can mess around with it.

Windsurfing SIC Bullet from New Ground Photography on Vimeo.

My big challenge with downwinding now is keeping up with Matt from Sarasota, who has been doing the downwinders on his 20'8" Puakea outrigger canoe. With Matt's increasingly skilled piloting he has gotten average downwind speeds of 12.0 kph, which beats my best 11.8 kph on the same run with the Fanatic SUP. (This is our most common downwind run. It works in NW winds but requires a strenuous side-wind "traverse" to get offshore to the starting point.)

Is the need for downwind speed enough to tempt me into a sit-down paddlecraft myself? Stay tuned.