Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hands On: PowerPads from Zhik

Hey hey! After a short summer hiatus, we're back.

After 170 posts, we've earned a little time on the beach with a cold one, right?



Well, anyways -- a couple of weeks ago, we had a special Sunday installment of the APS Civil War in Lasers. It was special for two reasons: there was a good bit of wind and, mercifully, it was the last installment. And while the results of the day aren't all that important (read: I did poorly), I left the day thinking that it might be time to invest in a little hiking assistance (read: I hurt).

The next morning, I limped down to our storefront here at the shop and started looking into my options (having just throwing down a handful of Aleve that was big enough for even Michael Jackson's doctors to show concern). While the hikers that we carry get good reviews from staff and customers alike, the first thought that entered my mind was "Sakes alive, I bet those things are a might toasty in the summer". Yes, I'm from the 1870's.

Personally, there's little appeal to wearing a 3mm Neoprene suit that covers from my knees up to my mid chest on a typical August day here in Annapolis, where it's 90+ degrees and the humidity is pushing 3,412%. Sure, that neoprene helps out when it gets cold -- but I'm a pansy that won't be setting foot near a Laser when it gets colder, so it doesn't help.

Full Hikers = Hot as H-E-Double Hockey Sticks?

So, while I was taking a closer look over Zhik's options, I started to wonder if I could just use their PowerPads by themselves, below a pair of shorts. That would be a great, low bulk solution that would be infinitely more desirable. It could also prove to be a great solution for days with mixed forecasts -- you could go out without them on and quickly pull them on between races if the conditions warranted.

For those who aren't familiar with Zhik's PowerPads, here's a quick rundown. Zhik moved away from sewing/building pads into their hikers, opting to make the pads a separate item to allow the wearer to customize where the padding is placed. To pull this off, they created a 2.5mm neoprene sleeve that slides over your leg with an integral pocket for the hiking pads to be inserted.

The pads are made with two pieces of 6mm neoprene sandwiched together with high grade/high strength fiberglass battens running down the length of the pad for support with a separate EVA foam facing pad that goes between the battened pad and the deck for protection. The pads have two swatches of Velcro on them, which sticks to the inside of the sleeve to help hold them in place. The sleeve, with the pads in place, stretches to fit snuggly on your leg. After all is said and done, you have a compact hiking solution that works great with Zhik Wetwear.

But, one thing that Zhik does not address in its literature is using the PowerPads by themselves. All references regarding their use revolves around a combination of their numerous Wetwear options and the PowerPads. Was that because they wanted to encourage the sale of both PowerPads and a piece of wetwear or because they needed to be used together to work properly? If it was the former of the two options, it would kind of make sense -- between the stretch of the PowerPad sleeve and the form fitting nature of the wetwear over the top of the PowerPad, it would certainly hold the pads firmly in place. So... will the PowerPad stay in place by itself? Let's find out.

When I started to think of the ways that I needed to test the PowerPads, I had to first figure out the ways in which they could move. It's pretty clear that if they were going to move, it would be on one of two planes -- up and down or twisting on your leg. In order to test their "sticking ability", I simply put on a pair underneath a pair of shorts and tried to get the PowerPads to move.

I started out by wearing them around the shop for awhile while I worked. I figured that if the PowerPads would move while I was just walking around or sitting, there was little point in going any further.

From there, I did the best that I could to simulate sailing while, you know, not actually sailing. I'm not 100% on this one, but something tells me that the boss might have gotten a might touchy had I peaced out at Noon for a few hours of Laser sailing, even if it was in the name of research. Mercifully, nobody was around when I sat at the top of the stairs and used the top step/landing to simulate a Laser deck, sliding back and forth, to and fro, to see if I could get the pads to move. No, there's no pictures or video of me moving across the carpet like a dog with worms...

Results after all of the movement were relatively positive. There's almost zero "twisting" of the PowerPad on your thigh -- the elasticity of the sleeve creates a firm grip on your leg that prevents any side to side movement. Now, it's important to make sure that the PowerPad sleeve itself is properly sized. If it's too small, you won't be able to get it high enough on your leg and it will cut off circulation, causing your leg asleep before you reach the race course. If it's too large, it WILL twist -- I tried on the next size up and got it to roll. Zhik has one of the more exact/innovative sizing charts of any clothing manufacturer and the PowerPads are sized to work with that sizing chart (clicky).

When it came to getting the PowerPads to move up/down my leg, I found that due to the elasticity of the sleeve, it's really quite impossible to get it move up your leg. However, over the course of my little experiment I was able to get the PowerPad to move down a couple of centimeters. This was enough movement on my leg to get the battened hiking pad close enough to the back of my knee to impede my mobility.

Personally, I think that some of this has to do with the sleeve "settling in" once you've got it on and worn it a bit. Getting the sleeve on can involve a some effort and various techniques to get it high on your thigh -- I'm pretty sure that as I used the PowerPads, all of the techniques ironed themselves out as each time I was able to get it to move down my leg a little, it seemed to stop moving and hold in about the same place. To offset this settling, I set the pad just a little higher in the sleeve and it seemed work great.

As for putting the pads on when you're on the water -- no. They're tricky to get on and the only way that I could get them to sit properly was to drop my shorts and do a little dance to get them on. Now, if you're not the shy type who appreciates the challenges that a pitching Laser or other dinghy might provide, have at it... but I wouldn't recommend it. You'd most definitely want to hit the course with them already on.

So, in conclusion, you can certainly use PowerPads by themselves under a pair of shorts if you're so inclined to do so. It's probably going to take a small adjustment period so you can figure out the best placement for the pads, so don't pick these up from your favorite neighborhood APS walk-in store or APS website and immediately head out for a regatta.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hands On: Advanced Laser Boathandling DVD

With the third and final installment of APS' Civil War (in Lasers) set to take place this Sunday, it was a natural time for us to take a look at a new Laser DVD that we're carrying here at the shop: Advanced Laser Boat Handling.

Normally, this would be James' deal, reviewing a dinghy DVD. He tends to sail the smaller boats a bit more than Rob or I, but since he's comfortably kicking my @$% in the overall standings I thought I'd take a crack at this one and maybe catch a couple of pointers in the process. Gee, I really hope "Stop sailing against James, a 6'1" skinny freak, in less than 5 knots of breeze and go to the bar instead" is one of the pointers. Let's find out. Oh, and in advance, I apologize for the craptastic nature of the screen captures...

Filmed by the folks at the Laser Training Center in Cabarete, Dominican Republic, this DVD is 100% about boathandling -- setup and rigging aren't really addressed. The DVD itself is broken into four sections:
- Tacks
- Gybes
- Around the Marks
- Penalty Turns

Both "Tacks" and "Gybes" are discussed in relation to wind conditions: light wind (0-8 knots), medium wind (8-16 knots) and heavy wind (16+ knots). The "Around the Marks" section is broken down into Windward Mark and Leeward Mark roundings, where you may happen to notice the LTC's very intelligent use of APS' Race Marks. "Penalty Turns" is its own section, but let me sum it up for you: don't foul people. I kid, but seriously... stop hitting other boats. If I got anything from watching these relatively good sailors do penalty turns, other than motion sickness, it's that even really good sailors lose a ton of time going in circles.

The Good
This DVD does a really strong job of talking through concepts and showing a number of different camera angles in support. The creators of the DVD used four different cameras during production:

The first camera was mounted in a coach boat, following sailors. And, unlike some footage I've seen filmed in coach boats, the camera work is very steady and there's almost no "jumpiness".
The second camera was mounted to the front of a Laser, looking back into the cockpit. This angle was cool, but the mast and sail tended to be in the way of some of the footwork in the cockpit. Was helpful for views of body positioning and rudder movement.
The third camera was mounted on the back of the Laser, looking forward, with a good angle into the cockpit. This was my favorite angle because it was mounted a couple of feet off the stern and about 24" - 30" high. This allows you to see into the cockpit clearly, observing the footwork of the sailors while also seeing the entire boat. A very, very cool angle.

The last camera angle that was sparingly used was from a helicopter. In truth, there's maybe 25 seconds of helicopter footage, total. But it counts... I guess.

The producers also showed a number of the maneuvers a few times in a row, running them back and playing them again. Each time they do this, they break down a different part of the tack/gybe, going into detail about the necessary mechanics of footwork, weight placement, rudder movement, etc. and the gains to be made. They didn't try to squeeze all of the information into one run of the maneuver, chucking a ton of information at you quickly. Descriptions were deliberate and complete.

The Bad
Each section has this 30-ish second intro by the Laser Training Center's coach, Rulo Borojovich, that's completely unnecessary. He stands in front of a Laser on the beach and basically says: "Hi, this is important. Let's find out what to do". Thanks Rulo.

My $0.02 is that there probably wasn't enough emphasis put on choppy/wavy conditions. They address these conditions briefly in a number of places, but I kind of think those conditions should be larger focus areas. Hitting tacks and coming out with speed in flatter water is a lot easier than it is in chop -- and the consequences of screwing maneuvers up in chop are way higher. Coming to a complete stop tends to hurt your performance.

These guys know what they're talking about; a number of really good sailors go to them for training. Overall, this DVD is laid out well with some really excellent camera work and footage.

Shot in the dark, but the majority of us are, in all likelyhood, going to get a lot out of this DVD. Books are great, and you can read a description and see a still image of a good tack, and it certainly helps. But there's just something about watching it done live, being able to rewind and review it whenever you want, while getting that same level of description that really is invaluable. When I was coaching junior sailors in the Laser (most of whom didn't completely bail on sailing after the experience; there are two that still suffer from PTSD though...), I always found that getting into a boat and having the kids watch what I was describing worked 1,000 times better than just talking at them and showing them diagrams.

At ~$50.00 for the DVD, you get a one hour lesson (cheap for a good coach) that you can continue to use and review before/after racing or practice. In the end, despite some shortfalls in the description levels for certain conditions, I'd highly recommend it.

Free Preview
There are two previews online for Advanced Laser Boathandling.
1) DVD Trailer
2) Light Wind Gybing

They didn't work all that well for me, but maybe you'll have better luck. We won't vouch for someone else's video work because, if you've ever watched one of our Stern Scoop videos, we have a hard enough time with it on our own.