Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bad Cultural and Political Vibes

It's been a while since I've made a political or cultural commentary on this blog. It's not because I haven't been thinking a lot about culture and politics. It's because I've been overwhelmed by the multitudinous aspects of America's current dysfunctional funk, including but not limited to the backlash against healthcare reform by the same people who are getting screwed by the current system, the increasing skepticism about climate change and science in general, and perhaps most disturbingly, the recent decision by 5/9 of the supreme court to remove what little defense we still have against soulless corporations running roughshod over the political process.

Making sense of it all is beyond me, but I want to share some bits from two recent opinion pieces I read, which I think do a pretty good job of dissecting the current zeitgeist.

The first, by Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle, even manages do it in an entertaining way. Here's one of my favorite bits:

"We don't like anything right now. No politician, no decision, no situation, no inhale, no exhale. We are sick to death of all of it, including ourselves."

And here's the whole article: Why are you so terribly disappointing?

The second article, from the BBC, looks more specifically at what's up with the Obama-hating, talk-radio-listening demographic, and why they keep swooning over slick, enrich-the-rich republicans like the guy who just won in Massachusetts, and hating on do-gooder do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do intellectual liberals who might actually improve things for working folks. The article quotes an exchange between Al Gore and George Bush from the 2000 presidential debate to show how the liberals, despite being correct, can lose to the right:

Gore: "Under the governor's plan, if you kept the same fee for service that you have now under Medicare, your premiums would go up by between 18% and 47%, and that is the study of the Congressional plan that he's modelled his proposal on by the Medicare actuaries."

Bush: "Look, this is a man who has great numbers. He talks about numbers. ... I'm beginning to think not only did he invent the internet, but he invented the calculator. It's fuzzy math. It's trying to scare people in the voting booth."

Of course, Bush won that debate and the next two elections. I guess people hate numbers even more than they hate bullshit. Here's the whole article.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Things I Wish I Could Forget that I Forgot

1. A small backpack full of undeveloped Euro-trip pictures at a restaurant in Paris when I was 17
2. To de-chlorinate the water before introducing Binky and Buster the goldfish to their new home in 2006
3. My lucky purple sweatshirt at the Benthic Ecology Meeting in Rhode Island in 2007
4. A $175 Mystic Warrior kiteboarding / windsurfing harness at the Stuart Causeway last year
5. The windbreaker shell that goes with my down under-jacket, somewhere sometime
6. My debit card at a wine-tasting in Paso Robles last November. (At least I got that back the next day.)
7. To turn off my still-picture camera after putting four fresh batteries in it last week
8. Innumerable downhaul cleats at innumerable beaches on innumerable occasions


9. To attach a brightly-colored float to my GoPro camera headband before wearing it while stand-up paddleboarding in the surf tonight.

I doubt anyone will a) find it, or b) call the phone number I wrote on it, so I am going to have to buy a new one. It sickens me to think of the money wasted, and the dishonor my stupidity has done to my father, who bought the expensive camera for me for Christmas. I don't think dad will get on my case too bad, though, since he also has a sordid past with regards to forgetting cameras.

Here's the last video I ever made with the camera, from Monday night. I don't do anything interesting in the video besides sail fast. The song is by the Ramones.

James is a Punk from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Famous on Sailing Scuttlebutt

The other day I found out from local windsurfing guru Clyde Giesenschlag that one of my boom-mount camera videos had been enshrined as a video of the week on Sailing Scuttlebutt. Sailing Scuttlebutt is a popular website about sailboats. I'm pretty excited and flattered that someone behind the scenes there saw windsurfing like I do- not just as an extreme sport or a silly water toy, but as a real, cool form of sailing.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Denied, Destroyed, Defeated by Big Waves

Usually when I have a bummer day windsurfing it's because there wasn't enough wind and/or the waves were puny. Today was different. There was plenty of wind but the waves were so challenging that I never managed to make it out beyond the worst part of the break. While standing on the beach looking, I could hardly even IMAGINE a way to get out, given the spacing and frequency of whopper waves. This video doesn't capture the size of the waves but it gives an idea of the trouble I was having.

Denied! NOT wavesailing in Fort Pierce from James Douglass on Vimeo.

It was easier for the kiters, who could sort-of float over the bad spots with their power from the sky. I find it annoying that after all my years of windsurfing, I still get worked by conditions that someone kiting for just a year or two can negotiate with relative ease. Sigh.

At the end of the day after I had given up and put my stuff away I saw another windsurfer. I don't know how he made it out, but I guess that shows it wasn't completely impossible.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Shlogging with Sharks

Last weekend I discovered a place at the southern end of the developed part of Fort Pierce beach that has a really nice wave break. It's a shallow sandbar about 100 yards offshore, and the beach next to it is wide with no buildings, so it's sailable in offshore or side-off winds. Also, since it's shallow, it will break even when the waves are fairly small, which they often are when the winds are offshore.

The only problem is that it seems to be some kind of Chuck e' Cheeses for spinner sharks, Charcharhinus brevipinna. I probably saw more sharks leaping out of the water there when I sailed it after work yesterday than I have seen in the whole rest of my time windsurfing in Florida. I even got two leaps on camera (see video). Other than that, though, the windsurfing wasn't very exciting, because the wind was too light to plane or catch waves on my shortboard.

Windsurfing with Spinner Sharks from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Blue People, Rise Up!

I saw the new movie Avatar for the second time today. Some people didn't like it, and one blogger I read thought it was just an elaborate sexual fantasy (and loved it), but I am firmly on the side of the majority who found the whole thing amazingly, wonderfully, supercallafragilistically, AWESOME. It is a moving drama set in a beautiful, alien world, and is an unmistakable allegory of the tragic exploitation of nature and indigenous peoples still progressing in our own world.

Image probably copyrighted by someone or another...

Well, HOPEFULLY it's an unmistakeable allegory. I know not everyone who watches it is a hippie liberal eco-freak like me, raised in the rainforest of the Pacific Northwest and educated on groovy books like Ishmael, Guns Germs and Steel, and Last Child in the Woods. City folks and videogame-generation kids who see the movie are surely moved, as well, but maybe aren't getting quite the same message. They feel a sad longing to be immersed in Avatar's fantasy world of awesomeness, but have little sense that the same natural beauty can be experienced on earth (and needs to be protected). That sucks.

I will never ride a dragon through the floating mountains of planet Pandora, but I have windsurfed among moving mountains of water, wheeling flocks of gannets, and leaping pods of dolphins, and I've tamed a powerful kite to lift me soaringly over the wave crests. I have never leaped through a jungle of bioluminescent ferns on a six-legged alien horse, but I have scuba dived at night through forests of kelp, bathed in glowing plankton, and felt the deep furrows of a 1000 year old Douglas Fir tree. I sure as hell hope I'm not one of the last to do or care about any of those real things.

PS- I can't do this post without making two geeky, "that could never happen" comments about the movie from the scientific perspective:

1. Though it's often done in scifi movies, there's no way you could actually mix alien DNA with human DNA. Real aliens wouldn't even have DNA- they would have some completely different and incompatible molecular system for storing genetic information. You might as well try to mix Legos and Linkin Logs, put a vinyl record in a CD player, or write English words using Chinese characters.

2. Floating mountains, Unobtainium, and the flux vortex. Umm, no. None of those things could be real, but at least the moviemakers consolidated the three violations of physics by relating them all to one another.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I'm a Superbeast

Even though it has warmed up significantly from last week's cold snap, there were still a lot of dead tropical fish on the beach today, like these moray eels. Poor things.

There was also a nice wind from the Southeast, and I got a good windsurfing session with a 5.5 sail and 83 liter waveboard. I had some technical difficulties setting up the boom-mount for my GoPro camera, and some more technical difficulties with my new combination waist / seat harness, but still managed to get ok video. The song I used is "Superbeast" by Rob Zombie. If you don't like heavy metal, just turn the volume down.

16 January 2010 Fort Pierce FL Windsurfing from James Douglass on Vimeo.

I know not all the fish off Fort Pierce died during the cold snap, because I saw a lot of baitfish jumping around when I was windsurfing, and there were huge flocks of Northern Gannets flying around and diving after them. There was also a pod of dolphins frolicking in the inlet, and I'll bet there were a ton of big predatory fish and sharks out there, too. I tried to climb back on my board or waterstart quickly whenever I fell down.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Formula Windsurfing Boom Mount Video

I haven't had much chance to windsurf lately, on account of work and wintry weather, but last Saturday there was a break in the cold that enticed me into a west-wind formula session. As soon as I got rigged, though, the wind fizzled. I shlogged for about an hour, disappointed and getting chilly in my shorty wetsuit. Only after I had returned to the beach to de-rig did some wind kick in, from the north. I added another layer of neoprene and went out again for a half-hour of fully-powered blasting with my 9.8 msq sail. It was totally worth it. I even got some video with the GoPro HD camera, which came out ok considering the poor light conditions.

Grey Sky Formula Boom Mount Video from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Marine Biology at Kennedy Space Center - Flashback

Today I was going through some pictures that my buddy Jonathan Craft took last summer while helping with my seagrass research up in Kennedy Space Center. Good times! Here's a slide show so y'all can partake in the exciting marine biology action. Tip: I wrote short descriptions of what's going on each picture, which you can see if you open up the slide show in a separate window by clicking here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I'm a Mac

The home computer I've been using for the last several years is an ancient Windows 2000 desktop that my former grad school roommate pieced together with parts from retired office machines. (Thanks, Russ.) Beastly as it is, the big box of bolts earned itself an extra inning of life last year when it outperformed the appallingly awful Vista-equipped laptop I bought to replace it but quickly returned. I thought about maybe trying another PC, with XP or the new Windows 7, but I really wasn't too eager to give my money to a company that had burned me before, especially after I heard that Windows 7 was just as much a polished turd as Vista.

Anyway, after a couple months of splitting the rent with a roommate and not buying any water toys, I had enough padding in my account to get myself a Macintosh Laptop. The UPS guy dropped it off this morning, so I'll get it revved up tonight to see how I like it. I'm particularly interested in how it handles High-Definition video from the awesome GoPro HD helmet camera my dad gave me for Christmas. (Thanks, dad.) Stay tuned.

UPDATE- It works pretty well for video editing. Here's the test video:

Windsurfing and Randomness - GoPro Test Video from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2009 Windsurfing Stats - Obsession Unleashed

Whoever said, "the unexamined life is not worth living" was probably not referring to my obsessive windsurfing record-keeping. Nevertheless, it gives me much joy to write down all my sessions on a wall calendar, then enter and analyze them in a spreadsheet at the end of the year. I first did it two years ago for 2007 (154 sessions), did it again for 2008 (133 sessions), and now, of course, for 2009 (157 sessions).

This year I did almost all my water recreation in Florida, with the exception of two short trips to South Carolina and one to Washington / Oregon. My low-latitude is reflected in the mostly warm weather and moderate wind conditions I experienced (below). The average sail size I used was 7.14 meters squared. The smallest I used was 4.25, which I only used one time. I didn't use my 3.5 this year except for lessons.

I launched in 24 different places (below), but most frequently in the ocean off Fort Pierce, which is a just a few blocks from where I live. Living right next to the ocean helped me get a lot of "time on the water"- 154 sessions in a year works out to approximately 3 per week.

The wind was crappy from May-October, with the exception of an unusual, hot, West-wind episode in June and my escape to the Columbia River Gorge in August. I bought a used formula board and 9.8 sail to deal with the barely 10-knot summer breezes. Because of that formula board, my entry into kiteboarding in May, and my switch to a vehicle incompatible with my old roof racks, I didn't get out on my Kona ONE longboard as much as I had in previous years.

I am beginning 2010 with a quiver of 5 boards; one longboard, one formula board, one freestyle-wave board, one high-wind wave board, and one kiteboard. The freestyle-wave board, an Exocet Cross 106 that I bought in 2008, continues to be my #1 board, but I also really like the high-wind board I got in May, a Starboard Evo 83. It replaces an F2 Style 250 that I sold.

Although I don't own any big freeride boards, I got to try a lot of cool ones during the Windsurfing Magazine board test at the Banana River Resort in Cocoa Beach this spring. (See rack of boards at the B.R.R., below.)

I had a lot of gear frustrations associated with my entry into kiteboarding and my re-entry into formula windsurfing this summer, but both efforts paid off in the end. Some of my kiting trouble could have been avoided if I'd known never to leave a kite in the car in summer, not to bother trying to kite if there are lulls below 10 knots, to make sure the pump is cleaned and lubed and the kite is firmly inflated, to stay within easy swimming distance of shore, to slide the kite to the edge of the wind window before relaunching, and to always maintain moderate bar pressure. Some of my formula windsurfing trouble could have been avoided if I'd known not to expect an aluminum boom or ancient carbon boom to work for serious formula sailing.

There are several sessions from this year that stand out as having been particularly glorious, a few that stand out for having sucked colossally, and some that had both glorious and sucky aspects.

28 February- Wavesailing in gulfstream-blue water at Stuart Beach with Jon Plaster. I was lit on a 6.6 and the Exocet Cross 106, and able to work waves all the way to the beach before whipping jibes and dashing out again.
5 April- A rising, after-work wind turned a mellow ocean cruise with an 8.7 and big freeride board into a rocking bump-and-jump session on my 6.6 and Cross 106.
25 April- Big wind for slalom races at the Stuart Causeway!
5 May- The third afternoon in a row of trying kiteboarding, and I managed to ride upwind and come back to where I started from for the first time.
22 June- Great, powered-up 8.7 formula session in hot, offshore winds that interrupted a long period of windlessness. It was awesome looking down into the clear water and seeing the reef patches whiz by.
5 July- A beautiful, blue-water beach day with friends, and enough wind for a confidence-building kiteboarding session. I got my first (ugly) kite jumps. Only slightly marred by a leaky wingtip strut.
24 July- A powered-up 9.8 formula windsurf session with my friend Scott also sailing and my friend Marc trying to kite. This was also the first time I made a half-decent GoPro camera movie.
20 August- Windsurfing in front of my childhood home in Washington State, possibly for the last time ever. There was a blasting SW wind and I sailed so hard on my dad's old Bic shortboard that the fin started to break loose from the box.
25 August- 5.0 in the Gorge! Sailed Hood River Waterfront Park in the morning and drove east into the desert to sail Maryhill Park in the afternoon. Such amazing nature in that place, and great to be with my family.
16 October- The summer doldrums were broken when I finally got to ride the Evo 83 waveboard I had bought back in May. It was just a flatwater session in the Indian River Lagoon, but it was still fantastic after such a long "drought" in Florida.
18 October- A bit gusty and offshore, but probably the longest and best wave rides of the year at Fort Pierce inlet. I set the video to a cheesy techno version of the Mortal Kombat song.
4 November- A satisfying jam-session with a 5.5 sail on the Cross 106, that looked good in the GoPro camera boom-mount video. I made duck jibes on both tacks, which is a rare occurence.
18 December- 4.7 wavesailing session in blasting onshore wind and rain, late in the day, but beautiful waves and the company of some hardcore kiteboarder dudes.
24 December- Another 4.7 wavesailing session, this one in South Carolina. Oh, 4.7, how I love thee.
30 December- A bit windier than I like for kiteboarding, but super stoked about the long, floaty jumps.

9 August- Weeds, shorebreak, leaky kite bladders, scorching sand, fire ants, and no wind.
2 December- It blew like hell all day while I was at a meeting, but when I got to the beach around 5pm it more-or-less stopped. I could barely waterstart or uphaul, and after a piddling spurt of planing I got bashed to smithereens by waves while swimming my gear to shore.

Glorious AND Sucked:
16 January- Sunny skies, 65 degrees, and an all-day blast of 25-knot wind from the Northeast. I used my 4.25 sail and 87 liter F2 Style 250. At the end I think I crashed into a baby sea turtle and killed it.
27 March- Wavesailing Juno Beach. Huge, scary waves breaking from way outside all the way to the shorebreak, and a fierce alongshore current made for an epic challenge with my 5.2 sail and Cross 106.
20 November- Ample wind and perfect wind direction for kiteboarding in smooth water at the Fort Pierce jetty. I was kicking ass and taking nice video until my kite inverted a couple hundred hards offshore, causing me to say the F-word and then become the subject of a prolonged rescue effort.

Friday, January 1, 2010

OP'd Kiting Session

My 12 msq kite is supposed to work from about 11-20 knots, but I try to switch to windsurfing around 15 knots because kiting in more than 15 scares me. Wednesday I underestimated the breeze and ended up kiting in the upper end of the 11-20 range.

To a point, excess wind is easier to handle with a kite than a windsurf sail. The crazy power is available if you swoop the kite into the power zone or sheet-in for a jump, but as long as you fly the kite conservatively you can ride slowly and in control without having to muscle it around like you would with a sail. I was ok like that until near the end of the session, when I started having to baby the kite at the edge of wind window with the bar sheeted almost all the way out (below).

Leading up to that, though, I got some good (by my standards) jumps. My dad was filming.

The song in this video is by Elastica.

Windy Kiteboarding at Edisto Island, SC from James Douglass on Vimeo.

I think I'll stick with my 15-knot switching-to-windsurfing threshold, but at least now I know that I can handle up to around 20 on the kite if I have to.