Zig's Marine Blog
Racing for a Title
Jason Walmsley has skied the Australian Titles since 1992 and has his name on every age class and Marathon trophy from under 13 Boys to Open Mens. Here he shares some advice to help you ski for a win at Jindabyne.
The Australian Titles present a unique racing event for skiers to compete against the best competition from right across the country. It’s only once a year that you get the opportunity to test yourself against every skier who is at your age and level. You’re not racing the river, there’s no record to beat and the maximum speed recall on your GPS means nothing; your competition is strictly the skiers in your class and you need to know how to race to win.
Prior to the race, study the draw and the grid positions of your competition. Don’t make the mistake of stressing over the position you were given, you can’t change it and all positions have their advantages and disadvantages. You need to know where your toughest opponents are before the race starts. If your opponent is starting in the grid in front or behind you, make sure you and your crew understand what 30 seconds means on the water and how far you are traveling in this time. I have always worn a stopwatch on my front arm to gauge this, but your crew is in a much better position to record splits. Discuss some signals with your observer that he can use to let you know if your competition is gaining on you vs. you pulling away from them.
Consider your rope length carefully. Conditions on the lake can change day by day, even from morning to afternoon. You may spend your morning watching the other classes race around in smooth conditions only to have the wind come up for your race. If you know that you will be racing in choppy conditions, shorten your rope to suit. Your grid position will also play a small part in the rope length you choose to race with. If I was racing from behind, I would shorten my rope by around 20ft. If the water’s calm, the first grid will get a faster first lap than the rest of the field, the following grids will race their first lap in rougher conditions and so if you are in the first grid you may consider a slightly longer rope to take advantage of your position. Keep in mind though that as you get into the race and the water chops up, a longer rope will become your enemy in corners and will also take away some advantage of the better ride close to the boat.
Don’t be tempted to try something new at an event that is this important. If you have always started unwrapped and it’s working for you, this week is not the time to try a wrapped start. Save the testing for training and club days. The same applies to all areas of your preparation, don’t change your nutritional plan or warm up, let your experience guide you. Keep hydrated, this is the hottest time of the year and it’s critical that you consume plenty of fluids.
You’re sitting on the deck, your heart is pumping, the 30 second flag drops and you’re in the drink, your line 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, not twisted, giving you as much time as possible to steady yourself in the water waiting for the start flag to drop.
This is a critical part of the race as it determines how well you can get up to race speed and hopefully put some distance on your rivals. It is also a time where mistakes are made easily and egos can get in the way of ability, so keep it real and remember that although it is important, it’s not the end of the race if things don’t go to plan at this early stage.
So you’re up and away, first lap nearly complete. Your nerves should have subsided a little and it’s time to settle into a groove. Don’t relax though, the most dangerous part of the race is nearing as we finish lap 1 – the dreaded start washes!
This is more of a problem at the titles due to the high number of competitors racing. With multiple grids needing time to start, there is always some nasty water for the front runners as they come from the fast smooth waters of the first lap to the dirty churned up start water. It is important for both skiers and drivers to anticipate what’s approaching. This part of the race can end up a graveyard of fallen skiers, once you’re through though assess the water conditions and adjust your speed which will steady now with the water building rougher and rougher until the end.
Compared to other races throughout the year, the Aussie Tiles races are much shorter so don’t think too much about pacing yourself. Keep your eyes on the water, ski to your limit and take advantage of every opportunity. Be aware of the time and don’t just wait until you see the blue flag to make your move as you may leave it too late.
Now that your race is over be mindful of and start preparing now for your other events over the course of the titles. Your recovery is more important than you may realise and much can be done to decrease muscle soreness after each event. Some skiers use ice baths to increase blood flow to the muscles which assists in the repair of your torn muscle fibers. As a guide, ice at one minute intervals, any more and you can make yourself ill. Gentle stretching is important as is light exercise. Focus on fluid replacement!
Be sure to look after your gear as well. Check over your ski and rope and let them dry between races without leaving them in the sun. Sort your gear out early so it’s not a stress getting it done before your next race.
Have a great time everyone, good luck to all skiers and crews. If you have skied well enough to get your hands on one of the perpetual trophies take some time to look through the list of awesome names that won it before you. The Robertson’s, The Brown’s, The Dipple’s, The Stouts, The Mawer’s and The Proctor’s are all skiing legends and the Australian Titles is a great celebration of the skiers.
Each month when I look through the photos in the WSR or while I’m spectating at races I see skiers who don’t seem to be in their most comfortable skiing position. This can have a lot to do with your harness set up, particularly the position of your front bar.
Your front bar position has a great effect on how you ski, there is no right or wrong position, it is very much determined by the individual. But perhaps you purchased your ski harness with the front bar already fitted and so this is where it has stayed regardless of how it effects your stance.
Many skiers may benefit by experimenting with front bar positions. An option that a lot of the top skiers now use is two front bars and this is something that I have exercised throughout my skiing career.
In 90% of skiing conditions (smooth, fast water) I would use my front bar (the bar closest to the boat). This allows me to keep my weight over the front of the ski and assists with holding the ski out in front
In the slower, rougher water I tend to use my back bar, which gives a much more upright skiing stance. This takes the load off your back and shifts your body weight to be more central over the ski. The last thing you need in big water is to drop the nose of your ski into a wave and end up over the front.
If you feel that your skiing stance is not quite perfect, this may be corrected by altering your front bar position based on the information above. You might want to also consider the addition of a second front bar to allow you to alter your stance to suit the conditions.
The best thing to do, especially now that it is the off season, is experiment during training. If you feel that you are too upright in the faster river races, move your front bar forward an inch and see whether this makes a difference for you.
Similarly if you feel you are too far over the front of your ski while trying to tackle rough water, move your front bar back an inch and gauge whether you feel more or less comfortable.
By using two front bars, as I have always done, you can alter your stance during a race for testing purposes as it is only during a race that you are truly in a racing position.
The process to find the prime position for your front bar might take you some time, but it’s certainly worth the effort. By skiing in your optimum stance, you reduce fatigue and your risk of a fall.
Once you find the position that you are most comfortable in, be sure to record the measurements somewhere safe. It would be a shame to have to start all over again if your now ‘custom’ harness went missing or was run over by a boat after a mishap.
Remember that your harness forms part of the very important link between yourself and the boat. Be sure to keep it off the floor of the boat after a race, especially in inboards where there may be fuel and/or oil in the boat. Rinse your harness in fresh water after every race and dry it thoroughly before storing it, but never leave it in the sun.
There are many ways to train on the water to keep yourself ski fit and ready for the start of the season. Strapping on your Race Ski and heading out for a run isn’t necessarily the best way to train on the water. Race conditions can not be replicated unless you’re racing. In most cases a race boat isn’t available for a training run and so the intensity you need can not always be reached.
These are some ways you can train behind a social boat to maximise your ski fitness.
Get out their with your friends and have some fun. Don’t believe that having a social ski isn’t doing you any good. Even though your probably only traveling at 35mph a lot of your racing technique is practiced while you are social skiing.
Don’t just stand there though! Practice your jumps, wake crosses and try skiing with arms out in front for a while. Jumps and whips are great fun and also teach you how to control your ski in the air and bring it back to correct position for landing. This skill will be transferred to your race ski when you’re confronted with rough water.
Have a good crack at your tricks. Social ski crashes at slow speed generally don’t hurt but will help you in the unfortunate event that you fall from your race ski. Your subconscious reflex for falling will develop and your body will remember how to hit the water. There have been many times in my career that I have been able to avoid a crash while racing by relying on the abilities and reflexes that I acquired through social skiing. It’s not just a coincidence that all past and current Ski Racing champions have also been impressive social skiers.
This is a training drill that I have used. It requires you to travel at your normal social speed but with only one foot in your social ski.
I start on my left leg (my weakest) and do 20 wash crosses as fast and controlled as I can. By this time my left leg is burning so I’d put my right foot back in the rear kicker and do 10 wash crosses with both feet in. This is just enough time to recover ready to start the set again.
If you want to give this a go, start out by doing five sets on each leg as a session and progress from there. This drill is very specific to Ski Racing as it burns your quad muscles while improving your balance and control. I practice this drill on the river but if you are training in rough water, just ski within the wake.
Skiing on doubles
Get back to basics. While this drill doesn’t replicate your skiing stance at all it is a great way to train. You will improve your balance while giving your legs and back a great workout. It looks easy but you’ll be surprised how much your whole back and legs are punished. In the past I have used this type of training when I felt I needed an all over physical workout rather than a training session to improve technique.
Freeboard (Single ski without bindings)
For anyone who struggles in rough water, get on a freeboard. This is the perfect training tool for technique provided you are practicing in rough water. Without any bindings on the ski, you are forced to be very soft on your feet, bending your knees and back to absorb the rough conditions. You need to ride with the ski without the ski leaving the water. Your feet must remain in contact with the ski at all times or a fall is inevitable. This is another great way to train at slow speed lowering the risk of injury from a fall.
If you are lucky enough to secure a training run behind a reasonably fast boat with an experienced crew you should consider using a training ski. This is the closest thing to skiing on your race ski but at slightly slower than race pace. I would include this in my training program at least once a week and simulate race distance or time.
The above information is intended as a guide and to give you some ideas. Skier ability and experience will affect your capabilities in all of the above drills. If you would like some ideas specific to your skill level, email me at email@example.com and I will help you out.
Q. Hi Zig. My son is a junior skier and I have a hard time convincing him to warm up before a race. How important is warming up and what should he do?
A. Like any athlete in any sport your son should definitely warm and stretch his muscles before a race or training run. A simple jog and then some stretches while taping up should be enough to prepare.
Q. Hi Zig, I have heard some skiers talk about their training skis. Aren’t they just the same as a social ski?
A. Typically, a training ski is a cut down version of your race ski with double social boots. Although there is no specific length, most are 74” inches long. These skis allow you to train as if you were racing but a relatively slower pace.
If you have any questions that you’d like Zig to answer in this column, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.