Jem Hall Vulcan | Vulcan (Star Trek) | Volcano

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  At the gateway to modern freestyle sits a huge stone sentinel barring entry to those not worthy. Youcan’t get past him with your impressive carve gybes, nor will your radical wavesailing gain youaccess to the flatwater kingdom within. Even if you land a forward loop, sending a sheet of sprayto shower his stony feet, he’ll merely raise his hand and point to a range of mountains, the nearestof which is a smoking, rumbling giant of a volcano. Although there are many more much highermountains behind it, only when you have climbed the volcano will he stand aside and usher you in. The password to modern freestyle is ... the mighty vulcan. The vulcan first registered on my consciousness when the first sequences were published in themagazines nearly a decade ago. It got its name after the inventor who thought it looked so odd thathe named it after the Star Trek race with pointy ears. I loved it – it looked amazing and incrediblydifficult, not to say dangerous and I was totally secure in the knowledge that I’d never be able todo it. The board got flicked around so you could see the underside and there quite clearly werestamped the words “Supermen Only”  . Word of the move spread around the globe, sequences werecaptioned as “performed by one of the ten people on the planet who can do it...”   Then Josh Stonetook the rotation a further 180°and the spock was spawned, he still kept going so we soon had thespock 540, and then the grubby, as, very quickly, 95% of windsurfers got totally left behind and 11/04<059 www. boards A few years back we ran an article by our Test Editor Ian Leonard about how he learned to loop, at the age of 43. The article inspired hundredsof readers to go out and throw themselves over the front in similar style. Well now Test Team tea boy Gregg Dunnett has raised the stakes anddone the same with the vulcan. It has taken him a full two years of concentrated effort and he made every single mistake along the way, butget ready to challenge the freestyle generation because despite all the suffering and setbacks, he got there – and so can you... SCALING THE VOLCANO (or how to learn to vulcan) Ninja donkey kick early vulcan attemptscapturedby test photographer, Mark Mills The Vulcan (6) 13/10/04 2:11 pm Page 59  bewildered by the 5% that could do ‘modern’ freestyle. Andas the freestyle frontiers rolled forward, so theinternational superstar boys and girls started to forget allabout the humble vulcan – they had bigger and morecomplicated fish to fry. Yet it remains there as thefundamental gateway; the pivoting, pivotal move at the verystart of all the more sophisticated tricks and variationsbeing thrown down. Even the very latest moves like thegozzada start with a vulcan type manoeuvre, and for thisreason it is, and will forever remain, the bedrock of modernshort board freestyle. You used to see really good sailors – the type with stickersall over their sails who chuck massive forward loops ontheir first run out and last one in to remind everyone elsethat they are very good indeed – learning to vulcan, andboy did it look odd. They’d sail very short reachessomewhere out of the way and apparently try to combine achop hop with twisting their ankles violently every timethey should have turned around. Odd behaviour even forprofessional windsurfers. I remember a holiday to Guinchoin about 1998 where a local hotshot spent every afternoonfor a whole week doing it, getting absolutely nowhere andlooking extremely pissed off with life. I knew what he wastrying to do and was even more pleased that I’d never haveto go through that sort of pain and humiliation. My goalswere more simple. I wanted to learn to wavesail sort of respectably and was happy with my jumps and gybes andhad idealistic, wafty daydreams of being able one day toforward loop. That – as far as I was concerned – was whatwindsurfing was about. Sure I respected the freestylers,but I had the same respect for them as those types whoclimb vertical rockfaces without the aid of ropes. A coolthing to do but ultimately a different sport altogether. This perception of freestyle didn’t change overnight, but itwas gradually eroded. My own sailing improved; I learnt todo half decent helicopter tacks, began to try 360s and thinkseriously about looping, and at the same time the pros keptmoving the bar up so that these moves became more andmore mainstream. When I finally threw myself around thefront into a forward loop it was far from the exclusive clubit once was, but it was a massive milestone for me – I hadarrived. But actually I hadn’t, I was still moving forwards(sorry). Through joining the Test Team I had the fortune of meeting Mr Jem Hall who immediately informed me that mysailing was shite and offered me hundreds of thousands of top tips that I could work on to try to improve it. Although Iwas a little overwhelmed, I actually owe him a huge debt of gratitude. I’ll never tell him that of course (and I’m safewriting this as he won’t read anything that doesn’t have apicture of himself next to it). He can take no credit for mylooping (that move is all about reaching a point whereyou’re so incredibly pissed off with yourself andwindsurfing and life in general that you’re still not loopingafter YEARS of being ready, that one day you just snap anddo it, bang, just like that. It takes no skill, you can’t teach it– all an instructor can do is follow you around shouting atyou, psyching you up or out, depending on if you’re readyinside.) But Jem can take all the credit for me getting 360s. These are totally different, they’re not scary to do, but youhave to put your body, the sail and the board into positionsat the right time and flow between them smoothly andunderstand how it all works. It took me a year and over amillion pounds worth of Jem Hall coaching tips to get roundmy first and now they’re safely tucked away in my motormemory. I didn’t know it then but these two moves wouldprove vital training for my arduous assault on the vulcan.Most European sailors call the vulcan ‘the volcano’,presumably a mistranslation somewhere along the line, butit’s actually a better name – when non-windsurfers ask aboutit you don’t suffer them thinking you’re some geeky Star Trekfan (and Microsoft Word doesn’t auto-capitalise it; a smallpoint, but an important one). It’s also so appropriate becauselearning the move is exactly like climbing a mountain, notsome bump in the ground in the Lake District but a serious,snow capped, dangerous monster with fire in its belly. Theexpedition preparation, the stages you go through, the viewfrom the top – it’s all there. I can’t remember the exactmoment when I decided to try to climb it, but it must havebeen about 2 years ago that I began to think about it, actuallyseriously think about giving it a go. It was beginning to loomvery large on my personal horizon – my brother who livesabroad began sending back e-mails and text messagessaying: “Hot and windy here, did my first vulcan today”  whichgradually changed to: “Vulcans consistent now, working on spocks.”  Actually if I’m totally honest, I pretended to try themfor a while and wrote back saying: “Cold here, tried a vulcan today.”  However, this was the first step because after this Irealised that I would actually have to – and like to – be ableto at least attempt the move. That was a while ago now andI’ve done a lot of climbing since then. What I hope to do withthis article is sketch out a route up the volcano and inspireothers to follow it. It isn’t the only route for sure, it may not bethe best, the safest or the easiest, but it is a way up, and if youfollow this you’ll have your own stories along the way, butyou’ll have as good a chance of any of one day standing ontop of the volcano. 1. Getting Your Act Together Climbing the volcano is an expedition. Anyone who sets outwithout the proper preparation will either fail, or stun theworld with their genius or luck. My preparation is asalready detailed. I was a competent sailor, never the best atthe beach but confident with jumping, gybing, sailing instrong winds and waves, and could actually do the oddforward loop before I set out (but don’t imagine I mean slickplaning forwards here). I also began to study vulcansequences and technique articles and even ask Jem howto do them. However, I never actually read the articles, I just looked at the pictures and daydreamed about how niceit would be to do the move, and I certainly never listened to Jem, not at this stage anyway... 2. Base Camp Base Camp for me was a bar in Antigua. Over a rum andcoke I suddenly decided that tomorrow was the day, I wasgoing to try a vulcan. Over a second and third rum and cokeI brooded about the decision, reviewing my preparationand expedition readiness and over the fourth rum and coke,I announced my decision to the bar. There could be nobacking down now. 3. The First Assault On the beach the next day the moment of departure drewclose. I walked through the move on the sand, my mindfilled with Jem Hall tips. I was to flick the board downwindoff a small piece of chop, pulling my back leg into mybottom and then quickly extending it away to land tail firstwhile at the same time changing my hands quickly – fasthands were the key – and looking back the way I had comeand keeping my weight over the centreline of the board. Iwas to do all that in the half second or so before the boardlanded. I had no idea at this stage that such an approachwas simply impossible. My readiness to learn vulcans wasprobably about right, but my preparation – listening to Jem’s tips and walking through it a few times on the beach– were about as likely to see me succeeding as packing acouple of egg sandwiches and putting on two pairs of socks would see me reaching the summit of Mount Everest. The actual moment of the first real attempt at the vulcan 060>11/04 www. boards SCALING THE VOLCANO (or how to learn to vulcan) The Vulcan (6) 13/10/04 2:11 pm Page 60  11/04<061 www. boards is not that dissimilar to the forward loop. A significantproportion of your brain thinks you’re going to hurt yourself. You have to psyche yourself up, choose your moment andreally go for it, throwing yourself into the unknown.I sailed out to sea, and off the first proper, defined pieceof chop I leapt up, pushed the board into a wild ninjadonkey-kick and frantically threw the rig about with myhands. Instantly the board landed sideways and I wasthrown into the water, the rig crashing down on top of me.I wasn’t even close. However, thanks to that wonderfuldrug adrenalin, I was able to repeat this several times (withvarious minor adjustments happening at random dependingon the exact shape of the chop or height of jump).My first mistake was in thinking the vulcan is exactly likethe forward loop. It isn’t. In the loop you jump, sheet in, holdon – that’s all there is to do, the rest just happens. All youneed to do is decide that you really want it, and it’s yours. SoI thought that if I really wanted the vulcan it would be mine.But it doesn’t work like that – you have to climb the volcanofirst before you can enjoy the view from the top. I thought Icould sprint up it in one go. I couldn’t, I was swatted off thelower slopes by a disdainful flow of angry lava. 4. Base Camp (Again!)  The good thing about climbing this particular mountain isthat you can take it with you wherever you sail. I retreatedto Base Camp 2, in Clacton on Sea (where I was living then– there isn’t anything particular about Clacton that makes itspecial for learning vulcans) the following summer in orderto plan things a little better. I couldn’t climb the volcano inone go, I had neither the resilience nor the talent, the onlyway forward was to take it in stages. You have to combinethe psyched-up go-for-it of the forward loop with theanalytical step-by-step approach of the 360. 5. Assault 2, Stage 1:“Getting The Board Round”  The first stage in climbing the volcano realistically involveslearning to get the board the full 180 degrees around. It is aseriously steep and difficult start to the climb. To do this Idecided to forget totally about my hands. Either by lettinggo of the rig completely or not letting go at all. My onlyconcern was getting the board round. Over 5 or 6 sailingsessions I must have done at least 200 jumps. Mostly theyended with the board getting about 90 degrees round, andme crashing into the water with a sharp pain in my ankles.But occasionally at first, and more frequently as time wenton, I began to fluke a few jumps that spun the board rightround. It inevitably stopped the instant it hit the water and Ialways fell straight in backwards with the rig right on top of me but I still seized upon it, trying to work out what I wasdoing differently when this happened and learn to do itagain. The success rate was painfully low but there was alearning curve emerging from the mist. 6. Assault 2, Stage 2:“Learning The Hand Change” Stage 1 was not exactly in the bag but I decided thatimprovements had dried up and I was simply reinforcingbad habits, so I changed tacks. (Not literally, this was apurely starboard tack assault.) I set myself a new goal of getting the hand change sorted out. Ignoring the board thistime I would do a chop hop and grab the other side of theboom while in the air, landing in a crumpled heap everytime, but quite quickly learning the few tricks that couldhelp make a big difference to this stage of the climb. Youneed to start off with your front hand right at the front of theboom, then when you take off you let go immediately withthe back hand and pull the front hand in front of your body,where the back hand then takes over and grabs the front of the other side of the boom. You then land and crash, andrepeat at least 100 times or until it becomes relativelyautomatic. At this stage I occasionally tried to combine thetwo procedures once or twice, but quickly realised that Iwas still not ready. Rather than do one or the other, theseattempts just resulted in me actually doing neither, and areturn to my ninja donkey kicks. 7. Stage 3: “The Plateau” If you’re still with me then perk up – the end is withinsight, just. All that lies ahead is an almost sheer cliff faceto the summit with no sign of a path, and before you evenget there, a long, almost flat plateau covered in deep,impassable snow. Of course if you’re young and naturallygifted you could probably jog to the top from here. If you’re neither of those, don’t worry, I’ve found the wayforward. To get across the plateau you must refine anddevelop the techniques of the first two stages. You mustbe able to jump the board around and be aware of whereyou and it are in the air. You must learn to land so that theboard slides backwards, even if for just a fraction of asecond. You must learn to change your hands and knowwhere they and the rig are at all times. It’s a long trudgewith little reward along the way and all the time it seemsto offer no clues as to how you’re actually going to tacklethe final push when the time comes. For me this plateaustage took place over a summer’s sailing on the southcoast and a prolonged session in Pozo. The sheer cliff face never seems to be getting any closer, but one dayyou arrive there. You know when you’re at the base of thefinal stage when you can ‘land’ your vulcans with the The Vulcan (6) 13/10/04 2:11 pm Page 61  board turned around, and the sail in the right position towaterstart sailing back the other way. The finalchallenge awaits you. 8. Stage 4: “Death Or Glory”  The summit is perhaps just a few hundred metres aboveyou, but it towers like a sheer black wall. Somehow youhave to find a path that will lead you to the top. Somehowyou have to combine the two movements, switching yourhands and flicking the board right downwind whilestaying balanced, composed and over the board. It’s noteasy going and the only way to get there is an undignifiedscramble. Don’t look down and don’t give up now. Theview from the top makes it all worthwhile. I’d tell you thewhole secret, the route right up the final push, but I don’tremember the way. All you need to know is that onceyou’re standing there at the base of this final crag, it’s notas steep as it looks, there are plenty of handholds andfootholds too. It’s just a scramble up some rocks, that,when seen from the ground, looks like you’re freeclimbing up the North Face of the Matterhorn. (Apologiesto climbing enthusiasts if I’m mixing my metaphors here.)For me, I had to make a big effort to change the handsbefore I landed; I was flicking the board around, and thentrying to scramble the sail around before the boardstopped sliding. I also had to choose my take off rampearly and make a real effort to keep my weight forward,so as not to fall straight out the back. I also found makingmy straps bigger helped so that I could stay over thecentreline of the board when I sailed out switch-stance.Once you get into the final push you don’t think about howhigh up you are, you’re too busy concentrating on eachindividual handhold. 062>11/04 www. boards SCALING THE VOLCANO (or how to learn to vulcan) The Vulcan (6) 13/10/04 2:11 pm Page 62
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