COULD YOU SELF-RESCUE?

James Burrow is a kiter turned wingsurfer who has had to self-rescue twice this season: once when the wind completely dropped and he found himself out back behind some relatively big waves; and secondly when his wing failed and deflated when he was about a kilometre offshore.

After experiencing a 'rising fear' on both occasions James has recently started paddle training on no wind days off his home beach at Shoreham on England's south coast. Jim Gaunt caught up with him to see how effective he was finding the training


I first heard of James' paddle training through a post and personal discussion he put up on our local winging Facebook group:

HOW TO SELF-RESCUE, AND COULD ONE WINGER RESCUE ANOTHER, ESPECIALLY IF ONE WAS INJURED? WITH A KITE IT'S EASY...

OBSERVATION: When I had to self-rescue, despite folding and trying to tie my wing in a small bundle to paddle back to shore, the moving water around me unrolled it, filling with water. I found it difficult to make progress back to beach.

LEARNING POINT: You really need to get the wing tied up tight. Lying on the board and wing is okay, but not easy. If I had a Velcro strap it would have really helped. Maybe I should wear one around my waist to aid deep water pack down?


OBSERVATION: Paddling with the wing attached to your wrist is hard, especially in waves when the wing is getting pulled in all directions.

LEARNING POINT: I moved the wrist leash to my waist leash to swim in and that helped.


OBSERVATION: Swimming in sucks and is scary when it feels you are making no progress.

LEARNING POINT: I need to practise swimming with my wing board as I found from my experience that it was not fun or easy. I think I will try going to the yellow buoys and back on some calmer days.


OBSERVATION: My upwind tacks have got quite long, especially when wave riding to get back to where I started. I need to be mindful of how far out I am going. My wing failed at the furthest point out that I go!

LEARNING POINT: The waves really pick you up and push you to the beach, BUT laying on the wing board is tricky as it wants to foil... and that is another class of problem!


OBSERVATION: I got rescued on one of my swims by a kiter. They detached their kite leash (which I held) and they body dragged me in (easily). We separated when big waves came so I didn't hurt them with my foil.

LEARNING POINT: Winging with other people is good!

FOLLOW-UP


"I need to practise swimming with my wing board as I found from my experience that it was not fun or easy."

James Burrow has been enjoying and feeling the benefits of a month of paddle training!

WSW: Some really useful observations and thoughtful tips there James, so how has the paddle training been going since then? JB: Originally I was just planning to do some swim training, but as pools are closed at the moment due to Covid, and also because it's more practically relevant, I decided to train paddling on my wing board. I have done over five paddle sessions now and will try to keep doing one per week. The difference I've felt in just over a month has been huge; I've gone from being really tired after ten minutes, to now being able to paddle for around an hour, covering two kilometres.

Is it just your stamina that has improved? I've learned to consciously relax my back and just focus on smooth, long, slow arm strokes because initially I was getting a stiff neck and tight lower back soon after starting to paddle. I'm now a lot more comfortable and am actually finding paddling on the wing board with a hydrofoil a nice experience. It's efficient and quite relaxing. I even saw a seal the other day, however I realise that I've been training when the conditions are quite 'nice'. I need to try when conditions might be more like a typical self-rescue situation. I should also practice paddling with my wing packed up underneath me. I think a good scenario would be if someone else can take your wing in for you if it's damaged. Perhaps a skilled winger or kiter could manage that, particularly if its a wavey day.

I had one experience where the wave picked the wing up and threw it onto my back... the wave then picked me and my gear up and pushed us all to the beach. The wing was partially inflated and acted as a 'water sail', pinning me onto my board and my board into the water.

I basically got pushed a hundred metres at wave speed into the beach in the white water (which I was very grateful for, but it was a random accident and could have ended worse). You need the board flat in the water to paddle efficiently, but that also means it will catch any waves... and when you catch a wave the board will come up on the foil and buck you off (I've mot yet learnt to foil lying down!). So you need to also be able to drag your legs off the back of the board to reduce the chance of the board coming up on the foil.

Paddle training is probably an ideal early season / spring activity, but do you think you'll be able to keep it up through winter? Great question – I don't know. I would hope I can do it at least fortnightly in mid-winter as I think it's the responsible thing to do if I want to continue winging and kiting in stronger / bigger conditions (I'm a dad to two kids, so I feel that I've got to do my homework if I want to play safely). If I don't learn from my own experience, then I'm a fool.

WSW: Some really useful observations and thoughtful tips there James, so how has the paddle training been going since then?

JB: Originally I was just planning to do some swim training, but as pools are closed at the moment due to Covid, and also because it's more practically relevant, I decided to train paddling on my wing board. I have done over five paddle sessions now and will try to keep doing one per week. The difference I've felt in just over a month has been huge; I've gone from being really tired after ten minutes, to now being able to paddle for around an hour, covering two kilometres.

Is it just your stamina that has improved? I've learned to consciously relax my back and just focus on smooth, long, slow arm strokes because initially I was getting a stiff neck and tight lower back soon after starting to paddle. I'm now a lot more comfortable and am actually finding paddling on the wing board with a hydrofoil a nice experience. It's efficient and quite relaxing. I even saw a seal the other day, however I realise that I've been training when the conditions are quite 'nice'. I need to try when conditions might be more like a typical self-rescue situation. I should also practice paddling with my wing packed up underneath me.

I think a good scenario would be if someone else can take your wing in for you if it's damaged. Perhaps a skilled winger or kiter could manage that, particularly if its a wavey day. I had one experience where the wave picked the wing up and threw it onto my back... the wave then picked me and my gear up and pushed us all to the beach. The wing was partially inflated and acted as a 'water sail', pinning me onto my board and my board into the water. I basically got pushed a hundred metres at wave speed into the beach in the white water (which I was very grateful for, but it was a random accident and could have ended worse). You need the board flat in the water to paddle efficiently, but that also means it will catch any waves... and when you catch a wave the board will come up on the foil and buck you off (I've mot yet learnt to foil lying down!). So you need to also be able to drag your legs off the back of the board to reduce the chance of the board coming up on the foil.

Paddle training is probably an ideal early season / spring activity, but do you think you'll be able to keep it up through winter? Great question – I don't know. I would hope I can do it at least fortnightly in mid-winter as I think it's the responsible thing to do if I want to continue winging and kiting in stronger / bigger conditions (I'm a dad to two kids, so I feel that I've got to do my homework if I want to play safely). If I don't learn from my own experience, then I'm a fool.

Sensations are best when you're pushing your skills in challenging conditions that you know you can deal with should things go wrong. Big smiles at Shoreham! / Photo: Rob Claisse - Progression

Do you carry a phone with you, or any communication device when you're on the water? I now use an Aquapac for my phone (originally I was using it for Strava). When I'm paddling I rest the case on my back and have music playing to spur me on!

You mentioned that you transferred your wrist leash to your waist belt which you use to attach your board leash to. Would you recommend one of those? I'm using the Gong coiled waist leash and have no complaints. I've turned the only drawback into a positive; the coiled leash can sometimes sit on top of the board, so I treat this as an exercise to learn to lift my feet to untangle them from the leash. I can now lift both feet while foiling (one at a time, obviously!), which will help if I start using foot straps.

I think there's another benefit of using a coil waist leash which doesn't leave a long leash trailing behind your board in the water; and that's when you're trying to pump in marginal conditions as also less drag.

Have you managed to catch any small waves while paddle training? One day some small waves started to appear, so I thought I might as well try and surf them. Low and behold, all the winging has translated into me being able to prone surf on my 95 litre Fanatic board! I had tried to prone on a 45 litre board a year ago, but basically decided prone foiling was not for me. It just shows how, after this year on the wing, my foil riding skills could now translate to prone surfing!

FURTHER TAKE-AWAY TIPS


1 > If you're being rescued by a kiter, try not to hold close to the clip at the end of their kite leash, as we have seen occasions that those clips can dig into people's hands if there's a sudden jolt of force. It would be better to use one of your leashes if possible, or if their kite leash is long enough, both clips could be attached to the back of the kiter's harness, leaving you with a soft, fabric handle to grab.

2 > Any extra fitness training you can do can only help in self-rescue situations.

3 > Never ride out beyond the distance that you are comfortable paddling back in for.

4 > Always have a good understanding of conditions and tides at your local spot. Of course you should also study the full day's wind and weather forecast, so you can expect any predicted changes in conditions.

5 > If in doubt, don't go out.

Paddle training after-glow

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