Technique > Jibing Tips #3


I'm a world-class expert at jibes. Missing them, that is. I failed 10,392 carving jibe attempts (i.e., planing all the way from one beam reach to the next) before a friend gave me THE jibing tip that became crucial to my jibing and thus changed my life. I added another tip of my own that significantly helps my board carve and sail jibe timing. Both are in this jibe procedure that works for me in every type of carved (planing) jibe and even in many subplaning jibes. Done right, this sequence lets me exit a carved jibe going at least as fast as I entered it. It doesn't require memorizing a repertoire of handwork and footwork, because the same simple handwork and footwork works from mundane to monster winds.

1. Sail "faster than you've ever sailed", 'til your eyes bleed, you pee your pants, and your shadow is two seconds behind you. (If you don't at least feel like you're going that fast, you don't have time to bobble and recover before you coast to a halt. Recovering from bobbles to complete a jibe is a good sign that you're developing a feel for jibes, rather than just memorizing the steps.)

2. Bear off, still sheeted in, to gain even more speed and to steer from a beam reach into a very broad reach. (A jibe is a 90-degree turn; you SAIL through the first and last 45-degree segments of the total 180-degree turn.)

3. Move your back hand about a foot farther back on the boom, switch your front grip to palm-up to greatly aid the second THROW you'll see below, unhook without disturbing the sail, and set your back foot on the rail behind the front strap. You are still sheeted in, sailing in a broad reach with your sail foot near the back of your board. (Some expert jibers bear off still hooked in, letting the harness pull them forward into the correct weight-forward position. The few times I've tried it felt good and worked well, but it has obvious hazards.)

4. Now all in the space of about one or two heartbeats -- virtually simultaneously when possible -- point your knees and chest further downwind and into your turn, curtsey (you never bow; you CURTSEY, dropping your butt towards your toes until your knees are bent 90 degrees and you're looking forward from BELOW the booms), aggressively move (or let the sail pull) your weight forward towards your toes, thrust and lock your front elbow out straight as though you were stiff-arming a tackler, tip that front hand (and the mast) downwind as you bend your back elbow hard to sheet in until your sail foot hits your back leg (this is oversheeting, to switch the power off), look at the water maybe 50-100 feet out in front of you where you will exit your jibe (I look at some distant landmark downwind to gauge my progress in my turn and time my sail jibe), and lift your front heel to force its arch into its strap. Your weight is riding evenly on the ball of your front foot and your flat back foot, so you're not carving the turn yet. You're still on a broad reach, ready to jibe your board, sail, and feet to the new tack).

If you were unable to oversheet because of too much backhand sail pressure, you (a) waited too late to oversheet and/or (b) did not thrust the front hand forward and into the turn. To correct this error, straighten that front elbow and tip the mast into the turn dramatically at the same time you oversheet. This shuts off the power in the sail like a kill switch and puts you back in control. The only time you don't want to oversheet is when you're not planing and need to use the sail to push your board through the turn.

So far this is all just normal, textbook, powered-up carved jibing. But here is where my friend's tip and my own addition helped my jibing in several ways.

FREEZE FRAME: Notice your arm'n'hand position; they're cocked as though to fire a bow and arrow at a target downwind of your present path (inside your turn). Your back hand is cocked near your downwind shoulder as though it were holding the bowstring and arrow feathers, your front hand is way out there holding your bow and supporting the arrow. Both arms are cocked to fire the arrow (spin the sail), but . WHEN should we jibe the sail?

My own modification helped me time the sail jibe. I began shoving my hips sideways into the turn HARD -- as though trying to bump the car door closed while standing beside it with my arms full. This carves a very tight, smooth turn and puts my body into an excellent position to exit the turn with full power on the new broad reach, maybe even automatically hooked and sheeted in if everything falls into place well. This hip swing weights the leeward rail to initiate and maintain the carve, and times the sail jibe (flip). Your body should be arced into a pronounced C, with your hips leading the convex side of the C into the turn.

Because your front hand is as far in front of you as you can reach, yet you're thrusting your hips towards the new direction, you will feel like you're trying to surf your board in the opposite direction from where the sail is going. The sail's still heading west but your board is starting to head east, so to speak. The cure, of course, is to jibe the sail and take it along with you.

Try it, but be forewarned; before you even have time to THINK about jibing the sail, you will whip through the full 180 degrees in two heartbeats, get backwinded, and crash. That's a big improvement, because at least now you carved (jibed) the board all the way through the turn. Now all you have to do is jibe (flip) your sail and jibe (switch) your feet within that same couple of heartbeats, and you're jibin'! This is partly an issue of timing the sail jibe somewhere within the board jibe.

Piece 'o cake:

5. Back to our sequence: at the same time you shove your hips into the turn, before you're pointing downwind, the pressure will leave your sail. NOW fire the arrow [i.e., jibe (flip) the sail]. Just as the step jibe technique calls for us to step forward at the same time we release the back hand, this technique works best if we jibe the sail as we thrust the hip.

Right here is where millions of carved jibe attempts fail. The magazines once told us to release the back hand, grasp the mast, let the wind blow the sail around the mast like a barn door blowing around its hinges as you coast to a slog, and when the sail wanders around far enough you take the new side of the boom and sail away.


That has a MAJOR, fatal, flaw: If you outrun the true wind throughout your jibe, as you should, there won't BE any tailwind to push the sail around. You feel tailwind only after you drop below the true wind speed, well on your way to dropping off a plane, at which point you're standing there at zero speed holding a fully powered-up sail. In the 15th century this position was known as a loaded catapult.

The sailor, not the wind, should jibe the sail. We should SPIN that sucker around its center of gravity like a top, not wait until we slow down so much the tailwind pushes the sail around the mast like a $1,500 barn door. A jibe is a very aggressive mindset and process which WE, not the wind, should control.

This is where Monte changed my life, when he said, "THROW, THROW, GRAB, and GO!"

Only the sailor can spin the sail inside its boom length; the wind's surely not going to do it. At the hip thrust, just as you feel you and the sail are heading in opposite directions, you THROW the back of the boom away like a hot shot-putt. A millisecond later -- way before you complete that first THROW -- you THROW the front of the boom way across your face and past your downwind ear, right into the new broad reach. Your mast hand motion is much like throwing a pass to a receiver running right along your new broad reach (your jibe exit path). (This is why you inverted the front-hand grip; this second throw is much easier with your palm up.) The sail spins untouched before your heart beats again, leaving the new side of the boom floating in the air in front of you. GRAB it with both hands and GO (i.e., sheet in and sail away on a screaming broad reach, often sailing faster that you were going before you jibed). With luck and practice, you will switch your feet simultaneously within or immediately after the second in which the sail rotates, and will exit accelerating hard in the new broad reach. You should lose no perceptible speed in the whole process because a) it's all off the wind and b) you're coasting unpowered for only a second or two.

As soon as or before I shove my hip into the turn, I stare at a spot on the horizon just past downwind. If I haven't spun the sail by then, I'm late and must stop the carve and spin the sail NOW, or I'm going to be on the new beam reach before I've jibed the sail, and grabbing a sail at full power on a beam reach before getting that back foot strapped in is asking for a catapult.

Jibing quickly like this doesn't give you TIME to lose speed, hit three rows of swell, and lose your balance or crash. I don't think my sail flip, from throwing the back hand away to sheeting in on the new tack, takes a full second when I do it right. The whole Throw/Throw/Grab/Go business is just one continuous, fluid two-handed sweep of my hands and forearms, as much like a Kung Fu move as I can make it. The same process works for 3.0s and for 6.8s; the 6.8 just takes harder THROWS and takes two heartbeats rather than one.

The first one of those I tried was the greatest revelation and revolution in my windsurfing life. No more barn doors eating up precious seconds, mph, and two boom-lengths of space while I fight for balance over three row of chop! This is partly why leading ABK instructors have begun teaching this boom-to-boom approach to jibing.

Oh, yeah -- the feet. My feet are too far from my brain to access all them complicated textbook footwork options, let alone select a method in mid-jibe. The step jibe, for example, requires we pull the front foot out of its strap until its heel crosses the board centerline, maintain inside rail pressure with that front heel, and step forward with the back foot while we do several OTHER things with our hands. That footwork was too demanding for me. Besides, the step jibe's purpose is to get our weight forward to avoid sinking the tail after we slow down, and we want to accelerate, not slow down, in our jibes

6. I find it simpler to just take my weight off both feet and switch 'em simultaneously during any old half-second I'm not steering with them. That works at any speed, in any chop or swell, overpowered or underpowered, planing or slogging, Sunday or Wednesday, before or after the sail jibe, in any instant I'm not footsteering. If I'm barely planing, I slip my new front foot further forward into the step jibe position before reapplying weight to it. Unweighing my feet and jibing them simultaneously sent my jibe success rate way up. It ranges from merely sliding both feet across the deck on smoother water to hopping a foot off the deck in huge chop. I'll jibe my feet before, during or (usually) immediately after jibing the sail -- whenever it seems natural; no thinking required.

On my bad days I might still miss half my jibes. Here are my more common errors:

  • A face-plant inside the turn because I bent at the waist - bowing rather than curtseying into my turn. (I can't perceive that error until too late since losing an inner ear to surgery.)
  • Getting overpowered and pulled forward, maybe even launched, when coming out of my jibe if I jibe the sail too late and/or carved back up to the new beam reach before sheeting in. Fixing my eyes on that landmark just past downwind and spinning the sail simultaneously with the hip thrust stops that.
  • Getting bounced around and unbalanced and losing my carve in very rough water because I failed to get that front hand WAY out in front of me and tipped into the turn. Now that we have the front hand palm-up, straight-arming the rig like this is how we get our weight forward onto the front of the board to stop bouncing.
  • Getting tossed in big chop because I didn't bend my knees DRASTICALLY.
  • Being unable to oversheet because I bore off the wind too far before trying to oversheet. The save? Shove the mast WAY forward and inward as I oversheet (this shuts off the power instantly), or foot-swerve back to a beam reach, oversheet, then resume the jibe all in one quick slash.
  • Losing track of where I was in the turn because I watched my gear or the water right in front of my board rather than looking where I was going. You must look where you intend to go, rather than where you are, because our boards (and cars and mountain bikes) follow our gaze. Do you look at your dashboard or far ahead into the turn to steer your car? I get my best results looking at that spot on the horizon just past downwind.
  • Sinking the downwind rail with too much rail pressure for inadequate board speed.
  • Thinking too much. I have my best successes when I get PISSEDOFF and JUSTDOIT rather than engaging my brain. My brain apparently hasn't the capacity to think real time about the dozen or so steps required in a tight carved jibe on a small board. A bigger board and sail slow the process sufficiently that I can think it through.

Textbook footwork and all that boom-to-mast-to-boom handwork works for millions of people. But 1) I couldn't make them work; 2) they leave other millions losing their plane before completing their jibe; and 3) they are not as inherently fast and tight because they involve more steps, they swing the sail through twice the space, and they require greater coasting (unpowered) time and space. Sarah James, a leading ABK instructor, now teaches boom-to-boom jibing instead of the old, more complicated, cumbersome, slower boom-mast-boom method.

The boom-to-boom sail jibe helps cure the following aborted carved jibe that I see every five seconds at the amateur end of the Gorge's Hatchery: They enter the jibe fast, DELIBERATELY sail off the wind until the board stops planing and the sail yanks their back hand, release the back hand, let the sail take its own sweet time blowing around the mast as the board coasts to a standstill, then grab the new side of the boom and try to get planing again. While that is a jibe, it is NOT a carved, or planing, jibe, by definition. And it's tough to do in big chop.

Aggression and commitment are virtually required to carve planing jibes. The wind has already done its job in getting us up to speed; the actual jibe is OUR responsibility, AFTER which the wind comes back into play.

Try this. It sure made my decade.

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