Intervals vs 10,000 hours? A look at windsurf training

by Graham

Obviously there are no set rules to training. There is an unproven though generally accepted rule that it takes 10,000 hours to reach a level of mastery in any endeavor, be it sport or art. 10,000 hours (a number garnered from rigorous statistical study of masters) is about 3 hours of practice a day for 10 years– a lot of time! The logic is simple enough; the body and mind must reach a critical point of practice time before they can truly do something spontaneously and in the moment. It is at this point that improvisation is as good as or even better than practiced routine.

This all seems true; however, the 4 years I spent away from Maui were the best years for my windsurfing ever– and they were also the years that I sailed the least. I would spend about a week on the water in the fall, a couple weeks in the winter, another week in the spring, and a solid 2-3 months in the summer. I think anyone would agree that a total of around 4 months training (1/3 of the year) is not nearly enough for one aspiring to athletic greatness in any sport (or career of any kind). Yet in those 4 years, I improved at a much quicker rate than ever before.

Backdooring the lip at jaws

I have a few guesses at the explanation behind these rapid improvements:

1) Without windsurfing every day for extended periods of time, I had no bad habits because there wasn’t any time for habits to form. Therefore, everything was always fresh.

2) With very limited time to be on the water. Every second had to count and I had to have as many seconds as possible, meaning that when I was on the water I would stay on the water and go all out. There was no time not to charge.

3) In my time at school, I trained my body and mind really hard so that when I was windsurfing, I was physically and mentally incredibly fit. Windsurfing every day would have detracted from both.

Looking back over Peahi

These short intense bursts highly resemble interval training. And it is no coincidence that recent sport science seems to say that interval training may be more effective for progress. But they say nothing of mastery…

What then of the 10,000 hours? I don’t know. All I do know is that out of the last 12 years, the last 4 had the least windsurfing, and yet they were the most productive. I became incredibly consistent on my takes (possibly the most consistent in the world for starboard tack waves) and even managed to win the Expression Session at the 2009 Cabo Verde World Cup with one of these takas. I had a few off-the-lips at Jaws– one of them even turning into a back loop off the lip (a first in the world, I think).

Going for the back loop at Jaws

The coming four years will be full of windsurfing for me, but I will not be afraid– in fact I will relish– breaks for something different, be it writing, painting, or just traveling.

A hookipa taka done my own way. Captured by Jimmie Hepp

Video with some highlights from last fall and this spring (only a total of 3 weeks for filming!):

Maui Son: Graham Ezzy from umi pictures on Vimeo.