Slalom Training 2.0
Updated: Nov 25, 2018
Competition in the PWA slalom fleet has never been closer. In the race for the podium, pros are using their off season time more intensively with the use of professional winter training camps. 2016 Vice World Champion Lena Erdil discusses the shift in attitude and brings us behind the scenes of a new Lanzarote based training program.
Recent years have witnessed a big shift in professionalism in windsurfing, as a pro and therefore insider, I can see this amongst all disciplines but most evidently within the way a lot of the slalom sailors prepare for the season. Personally I always try to pick out the best possible training opportunities, and of course I am not the only one. In fact, I believe we have hit a new era where there is a global quest among professional windsurfers to train harder, better and more professionally each year while at the same time more kids are trying to start training more seriously at a younger age. In an industry where money, especially for the riders, is scarce, it has become obvious that keeping up with the competition is demanding ever greater professionalism and sailors are looking at all the smallest details that could give them even the slightest advantage over their fellow competitors. The days of cigarette sponsorships and riders that cared mainly about who can party the hardest (even during events!) are long gone and in its place is a new generation of hardworking athletes who want to reach the top or their potential by any means. Of course by now everyone knows that what you put in, is what you get out and similar to surfing, windsurfing has therefore undergone a big shift in the attitude of riders. It is perhaps a shift that can also be seen as a reflection of a more global trend to more individualised, technically specialised and complete training programs. After the initiation of the Tenerife and Tarifa training camps, (you might have read my article on the Tenerife training last year) there is now one more new training ground for pros and those who would like to be - Lanzarote. I’m actually in Lanzarote at the time of writing this and I’m quite excited to be here as I feel that the training here has stepped it up a notch. If you want to know just how this has been done, get to know the new training grounds in Lanzarote as well as the people behind the scenes a bit better then read on.
The pre-season slalom training in the style of ‘race simulation’is still quite a recent development in the windsurfing world. As a brainchild of Mark Hosegood and the result of a 2-year developmental phase - “Pro X Training”was launched in 2013 in Tenerife. Talking to Mark about this he said that because of his background as a PWA judge he felt like he had a lot of insights into what was missing and how he could help to improve training methods. With a passion for sports science and of course windsurfing and an inspiration stemming from other professional sports and comparing this to what he was seeing as the top of the game of professional windsurfing training, he decided to become a qualified personal physical trainer before being able to offer a more complete training program to professional sailors. With the support and co-operation of Andrea Cucchi (founder and general manager of Point7) and a mutual vision of team training, the program was launched and immediately showed great results; Alberto Menegati and Matteo Iachino are perhaps the most shining examples of those results.
Mark Hosegood: “Looking back I can see that what started as a project to push some of the younger guys to their highest potential has effectively ended up revolutionising training within professional slalom windsurfing as a whole and perhaps also the general attitude amongst sailors within the sport. But whatever the case, I’m happy to be part of these developments and I will keep pushing at the forefront of what I see as training ‘technology’in windsurfing.”
On top of what is perhaps the most crucial part, the race simulation, the training in Lanzarote incorporates physical training on land as well as important psychological aspects. Besides Mark Hosegood, who has assumed the role as head windsurfing coach, the athletes in Lanzarote are working with Giuseppe Pugliese, a physical education specialist with a background as a trainer in the Italian army and of course he is also a keen windsurfer with racing experience and a big passion to push the sport and especially the athletes. Talking to Andrea Cucchi, who was the driving force behind bringing in Giuseppe, he said: “I wanted Giuseppe to be here in particular so that he can teach the younger members of the team ‘how’to train, what is involved in a good training program and in especially what I see as one of the most crucial parts of land training: using it as a tool to speed up recovery after a long training day on the water. Back in the day when I first started racing on the world tour none of these tools were available to me, at this stage in my career as a pro windsurfer I personally thoroughly enjoy finally being able to train with a professional setup like we have here.”
With Giuseppe as our physical trainer this is indeed what has been happening in Lanzarote, we have been getting presentations on training science and have been pushed to always warm up before racing, even if this involves looking completely ridiculous jumping up and down the beach in our wetsuits doing strange movements for at least 10 minutes! I feel that whilst warming up is of course important, it is one of the aspects most often skipped when you are in a rush to get on the water, but with our Italian army coach on the beach watching us there was no way of skipping warm ups, so what has been done effectively and without really noticing it is that habits have been installed, whether or not people take them away with them is another question. Personally though I have actually started enjoying the weird and bewildered looks I get from people when I do my warm up routine, so besides injury prevention, these looks and a little private giggle definitely make it worthwhile!
For training on the water, I asked Mark Hosegood to share some of his coaching secrets with us.
Mark: “The biggest thing is: it is not race practice it is race training - training means being able to get direct feedback on the course and whilst training. It also means practicing with specifically designed technical drills. That is drills which cater exactly to what is needed within the different aspects of racing.”
Exactly what these drills are I am not allowed to share, these will remain our top-secret methods for now, but another aspect of the coaching was video analysis. Whilst filming our starts and jibes, Mark would usually give feedback right into the camera and each evening we could then each pick up the footage and analyse it. The level of slalom is so high that it is more about technical and tactical feedback. Another thing that is great about being able to watch all the video analysis with feedback is that we are learning not only to improve from our own mistakes, but also those of others! Furthermore, Mark made it clear that of course whilst coaching at such a high level he is not there to teach us jibing anymore but that he saw a big part of his role as being able to teach the riders to be more self aware about their strengths and weaknesses. This he believes would ultimately give the athletes the right tools to be able to become better at tactical racing. He added, “My goal as a coach is to give the riders the tools to be able to be self analytical and gain in awareness tactically and technically - this should allow them to dynamically develop. As a coach my role is to challenge convention - plant seeds with individual feedback and hopefully watch my athletes achieve and grow.”
On the theoretical side of things, Mark as been adamant at installing a ‘never give up attitude’and we have been going through potential problems and effective solutions, all so come ‘race day’we will be more relaxed no matter what life and the ever unexpected conditions of our sport throw at us.
Giuseppe’s and Mark’s work has been really efficient as their successful co-operation meant that both training programs were perfectly feeding into each other. Whilst Giuseppe was trying to get a good overview of overall fitness levels, his main goal here was to help speed up recovery, so that sailors would be able to keep physically and very importantly, mentally sharp. So besides warm ups, cardio training and bizarre sprint tests, we actually ended up doing quite a lot of active recovery in the shape of a mix between yoga and stretching. I really enjoyed seeing the benefits of an hour of proper stretching; the day after 2 hard training days all of a sudden was much more productive. However, after a maximum of 3 full days we would of course still have rest days. During my years on tour and especially during pre season training times I have come to see the importance of rest days. When you do what you love as a job and that is windsurfing, it is easy to forget how physically demanding it actually is and you end up pushing well beyond beneficial training. So having someone to tell you today is your day off, you should rest, can be as important as having someone there to push you during your training when you are not quite feeling it. Having a personal trainer or personal coach for now is still out of budget for most pros as salaries remain low and of course, depend heavily on results. But doing team training like this makes it feasible and in the end is viewed by most as a necessary investment.
What is of equal importance for training in our heavily conditions dependent sport is of course the location. Lanzarote has proven to offer a great variety of sailing and is a new spot for most of us on the slalom circuit. My good friend and fellow team rider Kurosh Kiani has actually chosen Lanzarote as his home base and is the person mainly responsible for bringing the training here. I asked Kurosh to tell us more about ‘his’island –“While most people have been on Tenerife, training during the off-season, I’ve slowly set up camp on the beautiful island of Lanzarote. Mainly because it has been the island in the Canaries where I’ve felt most “at home”, even though for the first year I had the local spots pretty much to myself! However what’s most important for me personally is that since I have moved to Lanzarote, I have seen a spike in my windsurfing performance. I see the main reason for that to be the fact that I was able to sail pretty much every day and in a greater variety of conditions then ever before.
Besides windsurfing, Lanzarote is actually already famous for hosting big scale sporting events such as the yearly Ironman. Thus, when I eventually introduced the idea of the training camp to the local community, there was only thumbs-up and great support, which for me meant that we were on the right path! Eventually I was approached by Andrea and Mark to investigate the opportunities. I was glad that we were able to establish the camp in a way that allowed us to be able to move around to different spots depending on which conditions we liked to sail in and combine this with facilities for physical training. I feel that we managed to set something unprecedented up and looking back at it now, I am proud of what we achieved. We set a new standard for training, talent development and mental approach.”
On the last week of the training we actually lost Andrea Cucchi as a fellow competitor because he was coaching a 1 week pro kids camp! They say you got to start them young and with Andrea as coach and the kids eager to learn, it was incredible to see just how much they progressed in just one week. Today in pro surfing we are humbled each time we see kids that can barely walk do the most incredible cutbacks, and kids surfing competitions have started up all over the world. In windsurfing I feel the opportunities for kids need to be brought up to higher standards. With the right equipment, training and competitive opportunities, I believe ‘starting them early’is definitely another big ingredient on windsurfing’s road to greater professionalism. I believe a better platform for youth slalom racing needs to be established and with that, the need for kid’s pro training will come, which in turn should lead to better results at an earlier age. Many skills feature into being successful as slalom sailor, but experience above all other aspects seems to me to be the most important key to success. But of course for kids there is at present very little opportunity to gain professional racing experience (national competitions in most countries lack professionalism), hence the rate of successful younger sailors is low. So on windsurfing’s road to greater professionalism, the pro kids camp is actually one of the most important aspects I have witnessed here. I hope the body of professional windsurfing will be able to establish a successful youth racing platform in the very near future. Personally after witnessing the success of the Point7 Pro kids camp with Andrea I have decided to also step up and get involved with teaching at future camps.
Before concluding, I would like to leave you guys with some more reflections on the future of professional windsurfing training. Speaking with Andrea, Mark and Kurosh I have no doubt that next year the Lanzarote Pro training will advance even further. Each one of the organisers has a goal of progress for the sport. Hence plans for the future include making parts of the training more exclusive, that is helping the elite to step it up even more by beginning a individualised physical training plan as early as the end of the last race, as well as incorporating a nutritionist and sports psychologist to help athletes reach and stay at the top performance level all throughout the racing season. Of course, the more individualised, comprehensive and year round the training becomes the greater the price of this will be. In Lanzarote one possible solution to the cost problem includes finding sponsors for the training camps. So far it is looking promising and I am excited to see what the future holds. I am by no means saying that individual athletes are not already training as professional as possible, but I can see a trend of it becoming more widespread and hope that in the long run a more professional elite training platform will also lead to a greater advancement in the amateur arena of our sport, as well as the youth side. Windsurfing is not dead and an ever-younger more professional elite is the best proof of developments in this area.
The Lanzarote Pro training besides of course being an intense training program has been a highly enjoyable experience for me and I am thankful to Andrea for being one of the visionaries in our sport today, especially when it comes to team training and pushing each other. I am thankful to Mark Hosegood for being such a passionate coach, as an athlete it is a pleasure to work with him and I am thankful to Kurosh for inviting us to discover his island and making this training possible. Lanzarote has proven to be a great training ground with a variety of conditions and consistent winds; even in what is considered to be the off season we have been on the water almost every day. For the training to become a reality, we have had great support from Calero Marinas who organised our boat and equipment. Furthermore the Aloha Spirit Surf House and Las Cucharras Windsurfing club have been really supportive and I am already looking forward to coming back next year. To stay updated with what I get up to and see if all the pro training pays off on race day you can follow me on my social media pages - ‘Lena Erdil’.For now, it’s back to training for me; the 2 month countdown for our first event in South Korea is on!