Laser Technique: Wave Jumping

An oldie, but a goodie! Coach John Pearce hosts this 2009 episode of Technique Tuesday on Sailgroove, explaining proper surfing technique with highlights from that year’s Miami OCR, featuring David Wright, Brad Funk, Clay Johnson, Anna Tunnicliffe and Paige Railey.


Hi, I’m John Pearce, and I’m hosting this week’s Technique Tuesday from Miami, Florida!

[Intro footage: Miami OCR 2009.]

We saw some great footage today on the medal race of the Lasers and the Radials. It was a breezy day, offshore wind, with small chop, and it really showed how jumping over waves in a Laser downwind can be a good technique if you want to go faster than the waves and not be stuck at the same speed as the wave. So we’re going to talk about wave jumping.

It’s basically two modes you can sail the boat in, to get more power in the sail and be able to jump over waves or shoot through the low spots in the waves. We’ll talk about the low spots in a second. But, basically these two modes are either by the lee or up on a reach, and I call these the “power modes.” One is about 15º by the lee, the other is about 20º-25º up on the reach. When you hit those angles, you get a lot of flow on the sail and the tell tales are going one way or the other, and you get a ton of power, enough to get you to go up and over the wave in front of you. Because otherwise, if you’re just going straight downwind, you’re going to run into the wave in front of you and you’re going to be stuck in a very unstable and slow mode, going the same speed as the wave. We’re talking 15-25 knots of wind here.

[Footage of “Big Wave Dave” Wright]

Rather than having one knee down, while you’re going by the lee, it can be helpful to have both knees up, so you can really press on this forward foot, on the leeward side of the boat, with the sail out by the lee, and get a ton of power. Sometimes you’ll almost be healing to leeward (believe it or not) in order to press the boat across at this really hot angle. But what you’re able to do then is create a ton of power, enough to be able to hop up and over the waves rather than get stuck on them.

[Footage of sexy technique.]

The other really important thing here is you want to be able to spot where the low spots are between the waves. Obviously, if you’re trying to get up and over a wave, you don’t want to go up and over the biggest peak that you see; you want to go through the smallest valley that you see. So, looking for those low spots between wave sets will allow you to just plane off continuously through there, rather than getting stuck on the wave. So you’re trying to hit these powerful angles, but you’re also trying to blast through the low areas. A lot of times you’ll go low, by the lee, for as long as possible, and then if you hit a big series of peaks, too much to go over, you heat up onto a reach. Do a bottom turn up onto a reach, a powerful angle across. We saw Dave Wright doing that a lot today, and also Anna Tunnicliffe doing that a lot today.

[Race footage]

I guess the only other thing that’s really important is sail setup. Having the vang very loose is really helpful for these power modes, by the lee and up on the reach, because it gives it a lot of twist and a lot of bounce. So when you get going through the chop, trying to hop over these waves, you get a lot of pressure, and it pops and releases, rather than just loading up and capsizing you. So the loose vang allows the sail to flex and release, and gives you a lot more forward thrust, rather than just loading you up and making you wipe out. So, keep the vang loose.

The last thing to remember is that the boat is most stable when it’s going the fastest. That’s true of almost all sailboats—planing sailboats anyway. When it’s going the fastest the boat is unloaded, and it will be the most loose and forgiving. When you slow down, that’s when you load up and tend to capsize. So if you’re having trouble in big breeze downwind in a laser, try to hotter angles and go faster rather than going slow and teeter-tottering and capsizing.