(Originally published January 3, 2011)
I have a few longer posts that I’m working on for the coming weeks, so I’ll keep this one short. Indeed, it deserves to be as short as possible, since it amounts to what is essentially a lot of bragging. But as far as bragging stories go, I think this one is marginally acceptable because it’s also one part “comeback kid.”
I’ve probably mentioned this on the site a few times, but my senior year of college (2008-2009), I got it into my head that I would try to win the 2009 Teagle Bench Press Competition for my weight class (whatever would be closest to 150). This was great and all, except at the beginning of senior year, my bench press max was a measly 175 lbs. I would need at least 250 to make a decent showing and not embarrass myself.
I was “all about” the gym my last couple of years of school, so it would have meant a lot to me to see my name next to something awarded for physical prowess. I feel like only nerds will understand what I’m about to say next, but if your entire life has been filled with only academic accolades, at some point you really want an accomplishment that flaunts some kind of physical beastness. In 2005 I got a varsity letter for volleyball in high school, but that doesn’t feel like it should count. What I needed was to be able to say that I had a monstrous bench-press, and witnesses to back it up. If only I could do this, I would graduate a pretty happy guy with a magna cum laude in not only Linguistics, but also Bench Press.
So from August 2008 to April 2009, I would have my eyes set on one goal: Get to 250 on the bench press. But putting on 75 lbs on anyone’s bench press max is no small feat. And so I went looking for bigger weapons—no, not anabolic steroids—and I found Max OT. I’ve written a good deal about Max OT in the past, but I always try to caveat it with a warning about joint health. More generally, I should start warning people about the nutritional and rest requirements of Max OT-style workouts, but that’s more like a recent realization, so it didn’t apply back then. Yet I thought Max OT was the bee’s knees because it legitimately worked. I was seeing new maximums nearly every week and consequently getting a lot bigger. Six months later (in February 2009), I was hitting 220 on a good day.
But around this time is when the wear and tear started taking its toll. The accident happened during a night workout following a prelim; in the one negative motion of a t-bar row where I lost my focus, I felt (and heard) something tear in my right wrist. Being the self-proclaimed “hardcore” guy that I was, I actually finished the workout—which was retarded, in retrospect, since I probably piled on some serious damage afterwards. After a few days of denial, pain, and ibuprofen, I ultimately accepted that my dreams for bench press glory were on thin ice. It wasn’t until I stupidly tried to return to the gym 3 weeks later and re-injured my wrist that I finally decided that I would have to graduate with no physical accomplishments whatsoever, laying to rest any delusions of grandeur I had been fostering.
I spent the rest of 2009 recovering slowly (Paleo note: I recovered slowly probably because of the constant inflammation induced by a gluten-filled diet). In my attempts to spare my right wrist of overuse, I actually hurt my left wrist in a similar way. To make matters worse, I had actually started to get carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms in both wrists. I was a mess, but didn’t want to admit it. When 2010 finally rolled around, despite these glaring problems, I decided it was time to march back to 220 from a regressed maximum of 185, and to top it off by hitting 225, as a matter of in-your-face, of course.
Not surprisingly, the first few months were slow and without much progress. But in May of this year, I discovered the Paleo Diet and the primal lifestyle. You can probably guess how the rest of this goes, so let me just jump to the good news: On December 31st, 2010—that’s the last day of 2010—I hit 225 lbs on the bench press, weighing in at just 148 (145 in the morning). I tried 230 afterwards and failed, so 225 is my true max. What’s more, I haven’t even thought about my wrists since about last July; they simply haven’t been a problem since I realized that gluten was messing up my health.
At least on this count, 2010 ends proudly, but in 2011, I’ll be looking to get to 255 without gaining any bodyweight. Along with the one-arm pull-up that I’m actually getting pretty close to these days (you know there will be a blogpost and YouTube video when it actually happens), I’ll literally have blown my previous notions of “genetic potential” out of the water (well, not literally). 225 sounds pretty good these days, but I’m thinking that 255 will sound even better. Happy New Year, everyone!
(Originally published January 4, 2011)
My posts have been nothing but big blocks of text recently, so I thought I’d spruce things up a bit by writing on a topic that lends itself to a couple of pictures: cooking! Granted, the past few posts could have been appropriately adorned with shirtless body shots of myself, but who wants to see those? No, what you want to see is pictures of muffin cups filled with a mysterious brown substance.
But before I jump into documenting my attempts at Paleo-style desserts, I want to issue a public service announcement about a variation to the veggie meatza that I tried today, which was to substitute ground beef with ground pork. Just as a heads up, the recipe really doesn’t work at all with ground pork, so just stick with ground beef. Plus, it’s really hard to find humane pork at most grocery stores, so you may want to stick to free-range grass-fed beef for those purposes alone. (I have a post about lamb meat as a really good Paleo option coming down the pipeline, so stay tuned for that if ethical husbandry has been on your mind recently.)
Although suppose that against your better judgment, you did just splat down 2 lbs of ground pork to turn it into a full-fledged veggie meatza—what are you going to do afterwards? It would be bad form to let your victims—er, guests—leave on the disappointment of your mangled meatza, so the only reasonable thing to do would be to provide a delicious Paleo-style dessert to help them overlook your failure of epic pork-portions. Only, whatever dessert you choose to make, it probably shouldn’t look like this:
Um, so what happened here? In order to understand this culinary consternation (oh look—I said the title!), we’ll have to go back in time about one week, to the afternoon that produced these:
These were a sorry imitation of the original Caveman Cupcakes by my friend Tracy Jones over at Caveman Eating. If you looked at her blog post, you’ll probably conclude that either (a) she’s just way better at taking food pictures than I am, or (b) my cupcake attempt was legitimately poop-like; in fact, it’s probably a lot of both. But despite the associations in your mind that swirly brown piles may conjure up, my own caveman cupcakes tasted pretty decent. Moreover, the ingredients I had purchased for my original attempt would be enough for many future batches, so at some point down the road, I would have to make them again.
Today was supposed to be that day, but the house was devoid of avocados, which would be necessary to make the chocolate frosting. Being fond of efficiency, I figured I could sidestep this little problem by just making chocolate muffins: these would be just like the original caveman cupcakes, except they would combine the cupcake and the frosting into one. I would make “Chocolate Cavemuffins,” or something like that. Great. But there was one last problem—the kitchen was downstairs, and my computer was upstairs. That’s like… really far apart, so I decided I would just wing the recipe from memory. Besides, if Tracy could invent awesome desserts, I could totally just copy the important parts and invent my own, right?
You see, I simply dumped a bunch of stuff that was reminiscent of the original recipe from Tracy’s blog into a blender/food-processor, and just pureed the mess. I didn’t really care for proportions or measurements, since I figured I would just “feel it out”; besides, cavemen didn’t have standard units of measurement anyway. And so, with some seriously brown batter, I filled a dozen muffin moulds and threw it all in the oven.
With the seductive aroma of baked foods wafting into my nose 20 minutes later, I opened the oven door expecting glory; instead, what I found was twelve collapsed brown… things. I quickly declared out loud that I had produced “conCaveman Muffins,” and that it was my intention all along, but seriously, can any of you baking pros out there help me troubleshoot these collapsed muffins? I did add quite a bit of baking soda, so I’m thinking that’s probably not it.
Nonetheless, I didn’t accept defeat quite so easily—not even when the defeat was tinged as brown as this. Indeed, I noticed the nearby jar of almond butter, and the lightbulb went off: these weren’t concaveman muffins… these were caveman chocolate almond butter cups! A spoonful of almond butter to fill the chocolatey bowl, and I had a new dessert on my hands that would be promoted as the Paleo replacement for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups! Yes!
That’s how it went in my head, anyway. In reality, people just pointed and laughed.
(Originally published May 25, 2011)
So it’s been quite a while since I posted anything, and I feel like I owe you guys a big update. As always, I have lots to talk about, but recently I’ve fallen out of the writing mood in favor of other hobbies and endeavors. I think it also helps that I have friends in Austin now, so that the things that are sitting on my mind get regular interaction with the outside world, making it less pressing for me to introspect and write lengthy blog posts about them.
Though with that said, I do want to announce that I’m commemorating my one-year anniversary since going paleo/primal by updating that particular interest with a re-written essay. I’ve posted the old one here for posterity. Keep in mind that it was written sometime last September, and it reflects some of my early thoughts and attitudes towards Paleo. I think you’ll find that my views have evolved quite a bit since then. Enjoy!
(originally published September 21, 2010)
“Veganism and the Paleo Diet are actually the same philosophy.” When I first heard these words during a meeting of the Austin Primal Living Group (the paraphrased citation goes to the group organizer, Bryan Barksdale), my initial reaction was one of immediate rejection. But as Bryan explained his claim, I was overwhelmed by its insightfulness. So overwhelmed was I, that I no longer could put off writing this essay about my transition to the Paleo lifestyle. But before I launch into the philosophical underpinnings of the Paleo Diet, let me introduce you to the generally accepted motivations for the diet itself, as well as my own, more personal reasons for having adopted it into my life.
According to Wikipedia, the seminal work on the Paleo Diet is attributed to Walter L. Voegtlin from the 1970s, but from my own experience, it seems that more people hear about it through the modern version articulated by Dr. Loren Cordain of Colorado State University. I suspect the reason for this is that a Google search for “paleo diet” returns his website as one of the first results; moreover, the website is generally well-done and easy to navigate, so people are likely to stay and hang around for a bit. If you’re interested in reading about it for yourself, I do recommend that you check out the site at http://www.thepaleodiet.com.
Although I am sure that there is an “official”-sounding way to describe the Paleo Diet, I mostly just think of it as “eating what you were meant to eat.” And this actually leads to a more overarching disclaimer, which is that this essay is mostly my own interpretation of what the Paleo Diet is and represents. As I recommend all sentient beings with higher cognitive functions do, you should go out and research the primary sources for yourself and formulate your own views and apply your own common-sense filters before forming your opinions on the matter.
With that said, the idea behind the Paleolithic Diet is this: humans (the term here is used loosely) have been around in one form or another for on the order of a million years. Over this time we have been subjected to countless evolutionary pressures; it follows then, that we are the collective sum of the adaptations acquired over this time. Incidentally, “Paleolithic man,” as he and she existed 20,000 years ago, embodies all of these genetic traits by definition, but the interesting part is that Paleo-John and Paleo-Jane, if you will, are genetically the same as their modern counterparts (iJohn and iJane?). This preserved genetic makeup is certainly a curious case of resistance to evolution, and I’ll go into some of the reasons below for why this might have happened. But if we accept this premise, then the Paleo diet makes complete sense: if we are still Paleo man, then we should eat like Paleo man.
Essentially, the entire claim rests on this premise of still being Paleo man, which seems reasonably simple on the surface, but actually has some meaningful consequences. Specifically, there are certainly people who are no longer like their Paleolithic ancestors in meaningful ways: these are people who have adapted to eating dairy and wheat, among other things. It seems that there are indeed groups of people who exhibit traits that are strongly congruent with staples of the modern diet. I am decidedly not within this lucky gene pool, however, and statistically, neither are you.
So why did we all stop eating like Paleo man if we are still, physically, Paleo man? Well, something changed around 8,000 BC. It was, of course, the agrarian revolution—the beginning of settled civilization as we know it. We’re all familiar with the major impact that grain cultivation and husbandry has had on the human race, but I would argue that there was a more subtle effect that is often overlooked in these kinds of discussions. To me, it seems that with the rise of civilization, our immunity to traditional evolutionary forces has grown proportionally; instead, the new evolutionary requirements have become predominantly cultural in nature, as food and other necessities were procured in a societal context. This is especially true today, though unfortunately for America, it seems that the general populace is selecting for strange traits such as the desire to own Hummers and willingness to put blobs of silicone in convenient places. Well, evolution isn’t perfect, I suppose.
Returning to the point, as population growth took off during this tiny, 10,000-year blip on the evolutionary time line, we have basically filled the world with swaths of Paleo man, albeit a more “cultured” version thereof. But the astute reader will have realized, by now, the incongruence of the whole situation. What is a hunter-gatherer’s body supposed to do in this modern world, devoid of any hunting or gathering? Well, let’s take a look around and see for ourselves.
Most apparently, we have unprecedented levels of not only obesity, but also general cases of being overweight; this much is obvious. But more insidiously, this particular outcome is only obvious because it’s so easily seen; the bigger threat to our collective health have been the silent killers, such as cancer, diabetes (which fortunately has gained lots of awareness in past years), autoimmune disorders (more on this later), depression, and degenerative diseases. For decades, modern medicine’s response to these problems has been to apply sledgehammers with long chemical names and harsh side-effects have become an accepted cost of doing business. Fortunately, alternative medicine is starting to make legitimate inroads in modern society (I define “alternative medicine” to loosely be any kind of medicine that does not immediately prescribe sledgehammers as treatment).
Still, I am not saying that medicine is fake or should not exist—that would be ridiculous. Scientifically speaking, there is no doubt in my mind that these sledgehammers are quite effective, but that doesn’t change the fact that modern medicine is overly reliant on treating symptoms as opposed to investigating causes. In fact, the idea that there exists a pill for every problem (or even non-problem) is a notion deeply embedded in our cultural psyche, yet it is one that we have relied on with little success.
So where does the Paleo Diet fit in with all of this? In short, the Paleo Diet is about working with our evolutionary past as opposed to trying to transcend it. Actually, the desire of leaving behind our brutish past is a theme that has largely resonated throughout civilized history. “We were meant for so much more” or “we don’t need to do that anymore” are common party lines of “high culture” trying to shed its animalistic past. But is it really in our best interests to ignore a million years of evolutionary pressure and change? Can we really decide based on the last 100 years of industrialized existence that we can safely ignore what we have been forced to internalize for a time scale that is four orders of magnitude greater?
Now, I’m not saying that we should all revert to primitive behavior and burn down the bastions of civilization (I suppose this would mean nuking the Earth from orbit—it’s the only way to be sure, after all), but I bring this up because it is a false dichotomy that common counter-arguments like to appeal to. Culture and society are not inherently incompatible with a primal approach to diet and exercise. In fact, much of the modern Paleo Diet is about working within the constraints of modern society. It’s about mimicking the diet that our bodies evolved to eat within the realities of our world, not going off to sea and auditioning for Castaway.
So what does all of this mean for me? Well, I originally discovered the Paleo Diet in the context of gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease. I think it is wonderful that gluten’s evil ways are being exposed and that Celiac Disease is entering the collective conscience, but if you haven’t heard of these surprisingly common, yet oft-overlooked ailments, do yourself a favor and read up on it. There’s a good chance (statistically speaking) that you or someone you know may benefit. Technically, since you are reading this, it probably means that you know me personally, and so there you go!
Although I haven’t gotten tested for official Celiac Disease, I’m pretty confident that I am gluten intolerant. If you have ever wondered how messed up skin can get and still (kind of) recover, look no further than my own, which is the result of years of unknowing abuse by gluten, the substance that seems to trigger a pretty devastating auto-immune response against my skin. (By the way, if you are an enemy reading this, please have mercy on me during your future attempts at my destruction and do not use gluten as a means of termination—it is too slow and painful). My response to gluten intolerance was simply to go on the Paleo Diet. So far, it has been incredibly successful.
Along these lines, the Paleo Diet boasts countless testimonials ranging from weight management to athletic performance to chronic conditions. Yet I hate saying it like that because, again, it evokes the image of the magic pill. But really, when you think about it, there is no pill or magic at all. If you can visualize in your mind how you might feel after a month of eating nothing but McDonald’s (watch Supersize Me if you can’t), then you are already accepting the notion that your diet can have real effects on not just your weight, but also your mental facilities. Furthermore, if you can accept that eating certain things can make you sick very quickly (food poisoning, for instance), then is it really any harder to accept that eating certain things can make you sick very slowly? Worse, what if you don’t even know that you’re eating that thing?
It follows then, that if you ate the “right” things, your body and mind would work the way they’re supposed to work; or at the very least, they wouldn’t be or feel broken. Interestingly, this brings up a caveat about the Paleo Diet that I personally believe very strongly: if there’s nothing wrong with you, save yourself the trouble and just keep living the way you do. The more fortunate of you out there are actually perfectly fine eating traditional diets (perhaps because you happen to have favorable agrarian genes). You may have no problems, be healthy, fit, and have amazing skin despite eating all the things I cannot eat. You’re probably tall and good-looking too. In fact, I hate you. But seriously, although I believe everyone will benefit from a Paleo-like diet, there’s no doubt that its requirements are not sustainable across the entire planet (although one could argue whether our current behavior is sustainable, either). Living primally also tends to be more expensive in our current economy since grains and legumes are the cheapest calories and protein you can find, respectively, and replacing these with various meats can add up quickly, especially if you care a lot about the source of the meat.
But an equally valid caveat goes in the other direction: the Paleo Diet is not a panacea. If you already have cancer for instance, the Paleo Diet will not stop cancer (if it did, someone would be very, very rich by now). It will also not save kittens or baby seals from being clubbed to death when people say horrible things. But it will, however, have a good chance of working on things that are chronic and auto-immune in nature. The important thing is to realize that, barring truly exceptional circumstances, you were not born to be sick. If you have nagging inflammation, tend to put on weight quickly, have autoimmune reactions, have low energy, or other things of a similar nature, then there is a good chance you may benefit from eating a more natural diet; in other words, there may be something in your current diet that is making you sick, albeit very slowly. My rationale for going all out on the Paleo diet was this: it’s the least expensive and most reversible thing I can try; I literally had nothing to lose except the problems I was trying to solve.
Hopefully you have a better understanding now what the Paleo Diet is about; I realize I haven’t gone into the specifics of what foods the diet actually consists of, but that’s intentional. There are many resources online dedicated solely to determining what’s “paleo” and what’s not. Initially, I had to consult many of these sites because so much of my cooking depended on grains or legumes that I didn’t know what to eat, but now I just have an intuition about what’s paleo and what’s not, and that’s really how I know that I “got it.” Essentially, it comes down to a very wide assortment of meats, eggs, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, but again, I’ll leave the details to other resources. Instead, I want to return to the original claim I made at the beginning of this essay about Veganism and the Paleo Diet.
So I’ve implicitly spent the last few minutes of your life telling you that you should eat meat because this is what we’ve evolved to eat. So what kind of rhetorical device am I about to pull out of my bag of tricks to convince you that Veganism and the Paleo Diet are actually very similar philosophically? Nothing too fancy is required, I hope.
If I understand Veganism correctly, the majority of practitioners do not do it for health reasons per se (although they may strongly believe that they are indeed healthier this way); rather, they do it out of protest against the animal industry. And this is fair enough: no one in their right mind would say that feedlots, mechanized butchering, systematized animal suffering, and the many other horrendous things that go on in industrialized husbandry are acceptable. Oftentimes, I feel like I cope by tuning out these facts, especially when I am staring down some delicious bacon at the grocery store. If I had to ask myself how it got here, then it would no longer taste very good, so I’ve simply stopped asking myself the hard questions. I imagine the vast majority of consumers are the same. Vegans certainly have the legitimate moral high ground here, and I respect their enduring adherence to their ideals.
Yet amazingly enough, this disdain for animal cruelty is also an underlying tenet of the Paleo Diet, or more generally, of all primal lifestyles. The people in the primal community come from all walks of life, but they have one thing in common: a true reverence of nature. This is why you’ll find many of us barefoot, on rocks or trees, or in the water during our day-to-day lives. This love of nature is what allows us to see our dietary predilections not as a curse, but simply as a necessity. In the same way that no one in their right mind would advocate a large-scale roundup of lions for the genocide of gazelles, or attempt to get alligators to develop a taste for delicious cake instead of small animals, we simply see our dietary heritage for what it is: natural. Indeed, none of us believe that the animal industry as it exists today is good or natural in any way; this is why we try our best to source our meats and vegetables locally as much as we can. The idea here is to be a part of nature, not transcend it. Our failing, in Veganism’s eyes, is that we do not always practice idealistically what we preach; others may simply see this as effecting change from within the system’s constraints. A path of lesser resistance, if you will.
And so it follows that if veganism is the idealistic application of these ideas, then the modern primal lifestyle (try that for an oxymoron) is really the pragmaticespousal thereof. Our underlying motivations are actually very similar, but our manifestations happened to go in completely different directions. To me, this is interesting because for these two superficially diametric groups, at the end of the day, there’s not much to disagree on at an ideological level. And out of respect for my vegan friends, there’s really nothing that I think we should disagree on. We may have different thoughts on what is most practical, moral, and so forth, but our intentions are certainly equally worthy. When it comes down to it, if one feels that Veganism is enabling oneself to live to his or her full potential, in the way that the Paleo Diet enables me to do the same, then isn’t that really all that matters? But again, as sentient beings with higher cognitive functions, we owe it to ourselves to occasionally think critically of our choices and ask whether we are truly as healthy as we could be, but also in as responsible a way as we can conceive. As such, I expect all my vegan, vegetarian, Standard-American-Dietarian, ramenarian, pizzanarian, and cannibal friends to hold each other accountable on this journey (well, alright, I don’t actually know any cannibals). We should welcome and look forward to each other’s enlightened debate and commentary.
With that, I wrap up my very long treatise on the Paleo Diet. Hopefully, I’ve done a good job helping you understand my own interpretation of it, as well as provided some of the reasons why it has appealed to me. I brought in the comparison to Veganism because the original realization felt profound to me, but also to provide some perspective in hopes of offsetting a potentially biased reading of my exposition. I’ve done my best to communicate my opinions and thoughts without resorting to party lines or dogma, and I hope you will return the favor. As an increasingly significant part of my life, I want you to understand that I do not wish to use the Paleo Diet to set myself apart; quite oppositely, it has been the one thing that has brought me closer to our heritage as humans, as animals, and more generally, as a few small instruments in Mother Nature’s never-ending symphony.
(Originally published June 19, 2011)
(…or “What Windsurfing Has Taught Me about Life”)
This weekend was supposed to be epic. I just got my new kit a couple of weeks ago (the 2011 Fanatic Skate 100, and a 5.4 Maui Sails Global, with a 75 carbon RDM and aluminum boom), and the forecast for Lake Travis was fantastic. This would be it. This would be the weekend that I nailed a vulcan in front of the massive Father’s Day weekend crowds at Windy Point. This would be the weekend that I became a part of that elusive “only 1% of windsurfers can do a vulcan” statistic.
BUT I FAILED.
Oh God did I fail. After what must be close to a hundred attempts, I still cannot Vulcan. As of today, I am able to consistently rotate the board about 90 degrees while flipping the rig (I crash with my old sail hand as the new mast hand), but I am not sticking the nose in the water so that it completes the rotation. I have a pretty good idea of what I’m doing wrong (not pushing down with old mast hand, and not lifting back leg enough), but as you will soon read, windsurfing is a sport of feelings, and I currently do not know how the Vulcan feels.
So to counteract this failure, I sat down and updated my essay about windsurfing in the interests section. I’ve posted the old one here for posterity. It’s from September 2010.
I feel like I’ve written or told this story so many times that I don’t want to tell it anymore, but I figured that I should really do a good job on my own website, so you can really appreciate why I like windsurfing so much.
My first experience with windsurfing was back in the summer of 2006, when I was on an exchange program in France. The family I stayed with was from Paris, but they usually vacation down in the south of France. We were in this small summer town called Bormes-Les-Mimosas. I had never interacted with a French family before (only des familles québecoises), so I didn’t know what to expect. Simply put, their generosity and awesomeness blew me away. Much like the wind did to me when they paid for three days of windsurfing lessons!
To say the wind blew me away would be unfairly characterizing what actually happened. It was more like I didn’t understand how windsurfing worked, so the wind would either tear the sail right out of my hands, leaving my sorry back to uphaul again (I didn’t even use my legs at that point), or I’d get dunked or catapulted some other way. After three days of modest fun (and watching my friend’s 10 year old sister dominate me on a rig half the size), I was pretty sure that, while kind of fun, windsurfing was not for me. In fact, on the last day, I had the option of renting gear to go practice on my own, but was denied by the instructor because the wind was off-shore and he said there was no way I would be able to make it upwind. So I was like, “pshhh I don’t WANT to windsurf anyway.” Besides, I’d never have a chance to do it again, right?
Two years later, I’m an intern at NVIDIA and I’m at the yearly family-fun event. Interns and their mentors are invited for some laser tag (which I got the high score on, by the way), and so all the interns are there. Right when the day is about to end, I meet a guy named Jason who is a full-timer on one of the interns’ teams (or maybe the more appropriate way to put that is “the intern is on Jason’s team”–anyway). We sit down and chat for a little bit, and eventually he mentions that he just got to this event after having spent a day windsurfing out on Lake Travis (that’s the main lake here in Austin). So I’m thinking to myself, “hey, windsurfing–I know about that!” And I promptly attempt to make it seem like I know what I’m talking about. Soon enough, I get invited to go out to Lake Travis to reattempt this sport I once deemed not-for-me.
The day we went out to the lake happened to be the day that the Austin Windsurfing Club had a beginners clinic. I won’t get into the details of the logistics, but I eventually end up on a 250L board with a 4.3 sail, borrowed from the club. What ensued was the first of many embarrassing moments. My instructor from France, Jean-Pierre, who once said that I didn’t know how to go upwind, turned out to be right. Two years later, he was still right. And he was so right, that the offshore wind on Lake Travis blew me into this place I now call “The Cove of Doom” (although it doesn’t scare me much anymore, a few years later). After spending a pathetic two hours struggling to get out of there, Jason is eventually able to take a rope and tow me back to shore. I returned the equipment to the Austin Windsurfing Club in shame.
The good news, however, was that I wasn’t deterred from further adventure. I used to have a couple of links here to blog posts I wrote about my early windsurfing adventures, but since I decided to purge all those old posts, I’ll just quickly summarize what they were about: the first one talked about how I (still) hold the record for the longest “walk of shame” at Worldwinds–a solid 1.5 hours of wading in the water to get back to shore. The second one is about me feeling like I could finally be getting it; it’s the beginning of the addiction. But now, to wrap up the story…
Ultimately, this summer revival of windsurfing sends me into senior year at Cornell eager to pursue the sport. As my luck would have it (or was I destined to windsurf?), Cayuga Lake is home to the Cayuga Windsurfing Club (CWC). I recently sent an email out to the club’s listserv after finally windsurfing again this year. That email was epically long, but here’s the part that tells the rest of my story, since finding CWC:
I volunteered to staff the club fest stand for CWC, even though I had never met or talked to anyone in the club. I just wanted every opportunity to get me closer to windsurfing. I had gone three weeks without it and was really desperate to get out on the water. At the club fest event, I got to meet Suan, Sam, and Alex. From there, I knew I had my chance. In fact, later that day I was down at ES, signing my waiver and paying my dues.
For the next month and a half, I ditched a lot of responsibilities in order to get out on the water (this probably sounds familiar to every windsurfer ever). Giving a detailed recounting of all the times I saw our shack at ES go in and out of view would be quite pointless, as I pretty much was out there two or three times a week until the water got too cold. During this time, I got to meet all the great members of CWC, beginner and advanced alike. I had my share of good days as well as some bad days. I remember finally understanding how the sail worked; hitting my first [pivot] jibe (thanks Pete!); getting planing; beachstarting. But I also remember thinking I was going to die and being washed out to Stewart Park in the remnants of some hurricane (look up that email if you’ve been on the list since September of 08 :)
The last time I sailed was in late October, when finally the water got too cold, even for my newly bought 5mm wetsuit. At that point, I was still only a late beginner. As I witnessed this weekend, some people can do all the stuff I just listed on their first weekend of windsurfing. It took me about 15 times out on the water to get that far.
I never got back out on Cayuga for various [personal] reasons, but I’m now graduated and back in Austin, TX where I work full-time. This past weekend was my first time back on the water, and where else would this rebirth take place than Worldwinds? But something amazing happened at Worldwinds. After not having sailed for 10 months, I magically acquired some amazing skill. This past weekend, I sailed a 145 board with a 6.0 sail in about 13 mph gusty winds. I was able to do everything I got last fall without effort, but I also got planing in the harness, a couple of clew-first beachstarts, faster [pivot] jibes, semi-regular waterstarts (never attempted before this weekend), and a clew-first water start. I even almost hit a duck jibe by accident (I dropped the sail by accident on a jibe and caught the clew and went under it, but panicked and fell :p). This entire time I was wondering what in the world had happened–I didn’t even think much about windsurfing in the time that had passed (self-defense mechanism, I suppose–didn’t want to miss it too badly).
But then it hit me. It was because of CWC. Think about it: it’s universally true that if you train in hard conditions, you will have a much easier time in easier ones. That’s what Cayuga and CWC (inadvertently) affords us. When you’ve gotten pretty good at controlling that damned Fanatic CAT (or its evil cousin BAT–oh how I hate thee, [sliding] mast base), when you’re staying afloat and adjusting in weird gusty winds, when you’re punished by icy cold water for every mistake you make–well, that makes you pretty resilient. And when you come to a place like Worldwinds where a 13 mph slightly gusty wind is considered crap, where the water is hyper-saline so your board is hyper buoyant, where the water is warm and only ever neck-deep, then yeah, it’s not going to be so bad and you might just do a move you never even considered before.
So let that be a little motivation for any beginner out there who’s reading this. I know what it was like to be frustrated on Cayuga and not progress very quickly. And I know how bad it sucked to be a beginner. And it’s also tough when you’re seeing all the experienced sailors out there just doing stuff so easily. Keep in mind that being a beginner on Cayuga really means you’re reasonably good given better conditions. And if you hate the Fanatic CAT and BAT as much as I do, then take comfort in the fact that modern boards are way better.
Well, that’s it for my story. I hope that at least someone got something out of it. If you didn’t, then it’s probably because you already knew how awesome this club is, in which case you didn’t need this testimonial in the first place :)
The 145L board I mentioned in that email is actually now entirely mine. I also ended up buying the rest of the rig on a subsequent visit to Worldwinds. So as of now, the gear I own is the Fanatic Shark 145 HRS and a MauiSails 6.5m Pursuit. I also love my harness, the Dakine T4, which was well worth the extra money. It fits so well that I forget I’m hooked in sometimes. It’s been about a year since I got my gear, and I finally feel like I’m at a point where I “know” it well.
These days, I try to make regular trips out to Lake Travis regardless of the wind, just to get some time on the water. It keeps me balanced and sane. I could probably write an entire essay about the mental health benefits that windsurfing has afforded me, but I’ll save that for another time.