Your Ultimate Start
This post touches on one of the most important parts of the race, one that claims or has claimed all of us at some point. The Start!
You’re sitting on the deck, your heart is pumping, the 30 second flag drops and you’re in the drink with lines running out of the boat to a tight rope, flag drops and you’re away – well hopefully!
We have no problems in training but race starts are without doubt much harder due to nerves, pressure and often rougher water in the start area.
So what can we do to make things easier on ourselves?
Be organised prior to the 30 second flag going down, have your goggles on, harness ready and not twisted giving you as much time as possible to steady yourself in the water to be ready and waiting for the start flag to drop.
If you are skiing 2up, communicate with your partner and push off the deck at the same time. This will help to keep equal pressure on each side of the boat, keeping the boat straight in the water and keeping your driver happier.
When Chris Gelle (Stoppy) and I skied together, we would always count down the last three seconds before the 30 sec flag dropped to ensure we both entered the water together. Considering Stoppy is a good 15kgs heavier than me (have you seen those legs?) I would compensate for this by giving the boat an extra push away as I dropped into the water.
A good push off away from the boat also helps to keep you away from your skiing partner, helping to avoid a collision or bumping into your partner during the start. This way you will also avoid being disrupted by each other’s start water during take off. You also want to be well clear of the boat to allow your ski to swing into a forward position.
By wearing a stop watch on the wrist of your front arm, you can set the watch to count back from any preset time so that your ready for the flag and know exactly when you will be taking off.
Your buoyancy in the water can have a considerable impact on your start. The better the quality of your wetsuit and the more buoyancy it has, the higher out of the water you will float while anticipating take off.
Ensure your wetsuit is the correct fit for your body shape and fits you perfectly. If any part of your wetsuit is too loose and not fitting snug against your body, it will fill with water, act like a parachute and bog you down.
Take a deep breath just before you start. This is not just to calm nerves, by filling your lungs with air you will rise another couple of centimeters in the water, making it just a little bit easier for you to get out and get going.
The most efficient and most common way to start is wrapped up. Some skiers are comfortable with the ski outside the V of the harness (right foot forward starts with the ski to the right of the ski, left foot forward to the left). But you may prefer to start with your ski within the V. There are ski harnesses designed specifically for this with a wider front bar and longer V.
Always keep your head up and look to where you are going, use your front arm to help yourself out of the water by pulling the rope towards you.
It’s no secret that race planks are hard to balance on at slow speed. This is due to their length and narrow surface area, we have no problem on our social skis. By keeping your weight on your front arm it will assist your balance as you plane before getting up to a faster speed.
If your starts are a struggle, the best thing to do is get out on the water to practice. A good way to do this is a ‘reverse start’. Ski along at slow speed, have your driver slow down progressively until you are just planing and practice skiing at this speed. You could even try some small turns to improve your balance and ability to ski ‘slowly’.
Next, practice skiing slowly on your rail as described above and then have your driver drop the speed right down until you sink into the water and drag to a stop. Then take off and repeat again.
If you don’t go out and practice this, you only ever experience skiing at slow speed for a few seconds at a time during your starts and it is this point in the race that claims many skiers.
Often it’s not the getting out of the water that is the problem during race starts, it can be the skiing at low speed that brings many skiers unstuck. Think about riding a bicycle, it’s much easier to balance as you are pedalling along, it’s once you slow right down that balancing becomes difficult.
Social skiing on your race ski is also a great way to get to know your rail and improve your balance on it. Get out there and do a few jumps and turns. Leave your boots unclipped though. They don’t need to be super tight for playing around and at slow speed if you fall, you need to release easily from your boots to reduce the chance of injury.
So with some practice on the water and good preparation leading up to the flag dropping, hopefully this info will help take some of the nerves and pressure out of your starts and ensure a clean, fast getaway.
Good luck in the first few races of the season.
Choosing The Right Rope
Whether you’re new to the sport or a seasoned veteran your choice of rope can have an impact on your performance in racing from start to finish.
As I watched from the bank at the last round of racing I couldn’t help but notice many skiers out there struggling with a rope not suited to them. This was mainly evident younger skiers who were using rope that was far too heavy for them.
SkiFast rope is by far the most commonly used rope in Ski Racing and is the only rope that has won world titles and broken the record of every classic river race. Rope is graded according to its width in mm and your choice of rope size is determined by your weight. SkiFast rope is available in five sizes –
4.0mm (for skiers who weigh up to 40Kg)
6.0mm (over 95Kg)
Each roll holds 200m (656ft) of rope and all sizes are available in pink and lime.
Buy it here
While this guide will apply in most cases, there are some exceptions to the rule. Depending on your skill level and technique you may need to choose a thicker rope to avoid rope failure during your start. If you tend to drag through the water before you’re up and going, you should probably go one size up just to make sure you don’t snap your rope.
If your rope is too heavy for your body weight you’ll see the rope dip into the water while you’re skiing. This is also common with excess rope length. When this happens, the rope ‘sucks in’ the water, pulling you over the front of the ski. It will feel like your harness is being ripped out of your hands. This becomes dangerous as it increases your chances of skiing over your rope which will nearly always lead to a fall.
Rope length is also critical and choosing the right length rope for your ability and the conditions is a process that takes a bit of trial and error and will be determined by speed, boat configuration and race course.
As a rough guide to choosing rope length, estimate your average speed
40 mph – 130 ft
50 mph – 150 ft
60 mph – 170 ft
70 mph – 190 ft
80 mph – 215 ft
90 mph – 240 ft
100 mph – 265 ft
110 mph – 290 ft
120 mph – 315 ft
Exceptions to this guide include races like the Southern 80 where long ropes just aren’t practical due to the sharp corners. Keep in mind that a long rope is also a heavy rope which as explained above can lead to dipping.
There are two reasons you need a longer rope as your speed increases. 1) The boat wake narrows as speed rises and so being further back from the boat gives you more room in the wash and 2) The faster you are going, the less time you have to read the water in front of you as it comes out from the back of the boat, the longer rope length will give you a fraction more time to react to the conditions.
In rough water skiing eg. grand prix or while skiing at slow speed we shorten the rope to prevent it from dipping and to get closer to the boat which gives the skier a better ride.
The reason we can ski on longer ropes at high speed is due to the extra drag associated with ‘water friction’, this adds more load to the rope keeping it from dipping into the water.
Make up your rope according to the guide above for your speed in rough conditions and then carry a 10ft, 20ft and 30ft extension with you in your ski bag allowing you to customise your rope to suit the water conditions on the day.
It’s vital to give your rope a thorough safety check prior to every race. This involves going over every centimeter and checking for frays, burns or knots. If your rope is in any way damaged you need to either replace the section that is damaged by cutting, re-splicing and making a join to connect your new section. Or depending on the extent of the damage replace your whole rope. Any old ski racing rope is suitable as social rope.
As with your harness, be sure to keep your rope off the floor of the boat and away from any hot engine exhausts after the race. Rinse any salt water out the rope and allow it to dry thoroughly (but not in the sun) before storing it away for your next race.
Below are some questions regarding rope that I have been asked previously
My partner and I want to buy a roll of rope to share, I’m 60kgs and he is 87kgs? Can we share the same roll?
Unfortunately in your case it is not practical for both to be on the same weight rope. Many 2up teams are able halve a roll, but you would be best to each buy the rope that suits your body size.
I’ve just bought a new roll of rope, is it ok to race with straight away or does it need to be stretched before my first race?
You do need to stretch a new rope before you race with it, either by using it in a couple of training runs or another method is to stretch it out behind a car. Attach your rope to a tow ball and stretch it out until the rope is firm. The rope will stretch approx 5-7% of it’s length. So, if you run it out on the reel to 200ft you should be able to stretch it out to 210 – 215ft. Leave it overnight to ensure there is no additional stretching on race day.This applies to all ski classes.
Does colour matter?
Your options are pink or lime. One is no more stronger than the other and no colour will outlast the other. The only advantage that pink has over lime is its visibility in the water, slightly reducing its risk of being run over. Some crews prefer their skiers to chose a colour each, enabling everyone to quickly identify them.
If you have any questions that you’d like to see answered in a blog post, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.