Instructional: Starting wide at gates.
I was asked recently what the most common thing I told skiers while coaching. The first thing that popped into my head was about starting wider for the gates. It just seems to be an easy habit to slip into, and I have even been guilty of it. One of the clearest memories I have of the late Ray Stokes coaching me was about starting wider at the gates. I was devastated because this was normally the first thing I told my students!!! It is comfortable to start easy and narrow, however I will explain how much of an impact it has on how you get out of that most important first buoy. What I am about to explain is also very relevant to skiers skiing away from the course, as I will explain at the end.
It is a fairly simple theory that you can turn your ski further away from the boat when you have less pressure from the boat. Trying to turn your ski closer to the wake, where the boat is pulling you is difficult. The more angle you can generate on your approach to the wakes, means the more you angle you will have after the wakes and into the first buoy. More angle means not only will you get to the buoy earlier, however you will also be wider, and able to make the turn before getting to 1. However, the biggest comment I receive back from skiers when the do this correctly was how much angle they had out of 1 and how early in turn were for 2. This is because from a wide, early position, your ski has so much more time to turn and, just like at the gates, as you are turning from a wider position, it is easier to generate more angle.
Some experienced skiers may now be sitting back saying ‘I have been told to start easy at the gates’ or ‘when I turn hard of the gates I get too much slack rope at 1’. It is important at this point to understand that I have not said to ‘lean hard’, or ‘turn hard’. Angle doesn’t necessarily mean speed. It is super important not to lean too much. I often describe the feeling as keeping your inside shoulder high, so as to not lean too hard, this will mean that you will have the angle, but not too much speed. Also, if you have angle, it is easy just to turn the speed into width.
How wide is wide enough? I knew you would ask that.
When you pull out for the gates, just take a glance down the course while you are gliding before turning in and you will notice that 2, 4 and 6 will line up. I recommend around 1m wider that the line of these buoys, at shorter lines (say 14m or less) you may not quite make it a full meter wider, just make sure you are wider than the course at these lengths. From here it is super important not to let yourself drift back in towards the wake before making the turn, as this will defeat the whole purpose. Turn from this width, with as much speed on your ski as you can muster, this will also help to keep the ski riding high on the water and enable you to generate this angle more easily. Remember, don’t lean too much! Only lean the amount you need to prevent the boat from pulling you back up out of your leaning position.
This theory also taps into some things I tell people away from the course in relation to skiing wider. The main point I would like to stress for open water skiers is to start wide and with angle right from your first turn, then follow the theories above about not leaning too hard. I see too many open water skiers start their first turn from close to the wake, thinking perhaps that they are just getting warned up. From here it is a struggle to get the momentum needed to carry yourself out wide enough to make a turn and generate the angle discussed above without the boat trying to pull the handle away from you at the end of the turn.