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.