Wavesailing 101 - Surviving Shorepound and Whitewater!

Shorepound/whitewater is one of the most challenging aspects of wavesailing depending upon your home break conditions, as well as experience in the ocean. Here in Hatteras, these two elements of ocean windsurfing, test our abilities and challenge our skills not for riding waves, but simply making it out! Shorepound and whitewater are the first things you see when looking out into the surf zone, and the first thing you have to face. Here are some tips/tricks for challenging the froth:

1) Timing: Timing is a key aspect of launching off the beach when dealing with both shorepound and whitewater. The motion of the ocean is interval-based and a timing rhythm exists. Waves are grouped into sets and these can be visualized by watching the rhythm of the ocean for a few minutes. Often in big conditions this cycle of wave sets and lulls can be very easily distinguished, especially in side-off or offshore conditions. The key, with timing related to shorepound and whitewater, is to launch off the beach at the end of the wave set. Often sets are grouped into 4 or 5 wave increments; therefore, if you launch just after the 4th or 5th set wave breaks and its energy ends with the shorepound crash, you will likely have a clear window to the outside. There may be some minor whitewater to deal with along the way out, but if you do not fall, or spend excessive time in the surf zone, a clear path out is usually found.

2) The Line Out: This refers to the path you drive on the board to make it out. The best path seeks to avoid peak wave energy where possible, shoot for a downwind angle, and "look" where you want to go. "Peak wave energy" refers to the critical point where a breaking wave has its strongest energy. This is usually found where the initial crash occurs, or if the wave is sectioned, where two sections meet. These areas are "easy" to look at, since often they are "oh sh!@#!!" spots in big surf. However, with practice you want to avoid looking at these spots, and rather look for the smooth area where the wave has not broken. Often your best avoidance approach is to shoot for a downwind angle. If the path straight out has a breaking section ahead, turn downwind and shoot for the shoulder of the wave. Sometimes a pinch upwind is necessary, especially if the waves are breaking opposite of the "down the line" sailing tack; however, always the first choice is downwind.
Bottom line is to be aware of what is happening with the waves and whitewater around you and drive your rig with an intent to avoid "peak wave energy" where possible.

3) Balance: Balance is a key factor when dealing with shorepound and whitewater. Timing and clean lines out are important; however, regardless of these tips, you will need to confront the whitewater at some point. There is simply no way to avoid it all the time. These confrontations can work in your favor though if you know what to do and keep you balance. Balance is achieved by simply windsurfing on small equipment and putting yourself into situations where you need it. Slogging a shortboard up to your knees, even in flat water will work wonders for building balance skills. It is not fun, but will payoff when its time to hit the surf. Extended arms and bent knees equates to a low center of gravity on the board. Additionally, rig handling plays into balance as I often see sailors drop their rigs due to the forward pull when traversing whitewater. There is a definite "dance" involved when traversing out though the zone, and most of the subtle intricacies are learned from experience. Equipment does play a factor as well with regard to balance.

Modern FreeWave boards are great for stability and quick planing characteristics due to their wide surface deck area. They are the preferred choice for many of the local Hatteras wave crew given our light wind inside zones and ripping current. I however, ride a pure wave board which has really boosted my forced balance skills to provide added payoff on the wave ride itself. Whichever board you choose, your personal balance characteristics do play a key factor when dealing with whitewater.

4) Cahones!: Often a product of experience, a certain level of mental discipline is necessary to successfully make it out. There are no special techniques or skills to master, but rather a willingness to make the commit and really go for it! Many times, this is the hardest hurdle to overcome, but often is also the easiest. I plan a future post on the "Mental Barrier" highlighting its aspect related to windsurfing/wavesailing. Cahones are a product of comfort in one's own abilities and the environment in which they play. From the recent big kona action on Maui, to tropical Hatteras mayhem, cahones play a major factor in simply rigging up to hit it!

That wraps this latest installment of Wavesailing 101. Stay tuned for future installments. If you have specific questions about a wavesailing topic and possible future WS 101 posts, submit a comment. Also, if you have any followup insight from your own experiences, please reply in the comments.

Until the next wave sesh...!