Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Performance Analysis of Surfing: Rodeo Clown Flip

Anyone who has seen a surfer or skateboarder pull off a flying aerial move is amazed that a human can do such an incredible trick. Although we are all completely dumbstruck by the performance of these maneuvers, these sports often have an unfair reputation of not being truly professional. We often consider these athletes to simply be kids who have spent too much time playing around on the beach.

Surfing and Skateboarding are no longer sports dominated by athletes with talent only. These professional athletes spend many hours training. Professional surfers now spend almost as much time out of the surf, working out (often with trainers) on balance balls, with weights, and in the gym and swimming pool. They do thorough warm up sessions before going out to compete and often also have cool down routines for after a surf.

The use of scientific analysis in surfing has been long in coming. There are a number of reasons for this and I won't give you a history of soul surfing, but the main reason is the difficulty of doing any physiological or biomechanics testing on a surfer. Because surfers do their sport in water and shifting, changing waves (size, direction, steepness...), it is very difficult to test them in the same conditions and obtain relevant scientific results.

Recently, for the first time a team of scientists joined some professional surfers in the Mentawais and recorded their paddle speed, surfing speed and heart-rate during surfing sessions. They also took blood samples to monitor lactic acid build-up and hydration data. These scientists were able to provide the surfers with some physiological and performance data which will surely help them to train better for competition.

Using video to analyze surfing is another way in which these athletes and other non-professional surfers could improve their performance. The professional surfers get lots of video of their performances from all different angles and we hope they use this information to make improvements. Of course, because of the changing waves and the 3 dimensional nature of surfing (moving up and down, forward and sideways), it is difficult to make comparisons with video.

As we looked through some of the video from the surfing trip to the Mentawais, we found one of Jordy Smith of South Africa, performing a Rodeo Clown Flip. We won't try to describe the move here. At about the same time at a competition in the Maldives, an American surfer, Patrick Gudauskus was completeing the first ever rodeo clown in competition. We have decided to look at both these videos and compare their performances. Jordy's wave is the first video and then Pat's wave is the first part of the second video.

Once you get over being completely amazed that surfers can do such things on a wave, take a closer look.

The first thing you will notice is that Jordy is on a much bigger wave than Pat and this can make comparison difficult. We can still look at the technique though and we will do this in stages.
  1. The Setup: Jordy launches into his rodeo clown with his board facing almost vertically up at the sky, while Pat's board is about 30 degrees from the vertical when he launches. This may be because of the size of the wave. However, what is obvious is how this affects the height of the flip. Jordy's vertical entry helps project him higher into the air.
  2. The Take Off: Here both Jordy and Pat transfer their weight onto their back foot. This helps them launch the board out of the water, bring the board up to their hands for the grab and creates the rotation by pushing on the back of the board.
  3. The Grab and Spin: Once again they both use a similar technique here. They both grab the board quickly once they are in the air and begin their rotation. Some of their rotation has come from the back foot pushing on the board but once they are in the air they both use their heads to complete the spin. Watch how they both turn their heads to their left (the direction of spin) . If they did not use their heads to turn they would not be able to complete the spin.
  4. The Top of the Flip: As they spin around both surfers actually travel upward to their high point. The high point of the flip is determined by the surfers maximum height above the wave. It is obvious here that Jordy is much higher than Pat throughout the flip. At the top, Jordy's body and board are well above the wave (we can see sky and clouds between him and the wave). Pat's board and body are at just about the height of the wave. Although in this case it does look like Jordy is much higher we need to clarify this by pointing out that Jordy is on a bigger wave (this is not controlled by the surfer) and the camera angle filming these two flips is not the same and therefore the camera angle used to film Jordy's flip may be making it look much higher than it was.
  5. The Landing: The landing of course is dependent on all the other factors that occurred before, including the take off, spin and height. Jordy has rotated further and is still above the wave as he prepares to land. He therefore needs to stretch out his legs to find his landing and ride out of it. Pat, on the other hand has not been able to rotate as far, because he did not get the same height above the wave. He is forced to land low down, but by landing with knees bent and hands still on the board he too is able to ride out.

So both of these flips were spectacular and although they looked different they were actually performed with similar techniques and there is a lot to learn by analyzing the videos.

Unfortunately, those of us who surf for fun and do not have sponsors, do not have too many opportunities to see ourselves in action. You can however set up a camera on a beach or get someone to film you from the beach. Try to get video looking straight out at the wave from the beach. It is difficult to analyze your performance when studying video that was filmed at an angle to the wave. It is also useful to have some sort of calibration scale that can be used to measure height (as we did in a previous post on Measuring Jump Height). Of course if you can get more than one camera setup you can really take a look at your technique from multiple views, which makes sense for a sport such as surfing.

We love to hear your comments or suggestions. Let us know what you think or what you want to see posted.

1 comment:

Jay said...

One of my favorite posts so far guys. I only wish I could translate your fantastic analysis of these moves into personal radicality on the waves. Sadly, I'm fairly certain that busting any sort of airs (massive or otherwise) is not in my surfing future.

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