A duck gybe looks impressive and feels good. The board on the plane, a sudden flick of the sail, a neat semi-circle wake; testimony to a perfectly executed duck gybe.
To the novice on the beach watching experienced sailers miraculously flick the sail then duck under the boom, the duck gybe looks like a feat of superhuman proportions. Especially if that novice has trouble sailing a straight line. The hard part is mastering the technique.
Set Up For The Duck Gybe
Conditions required are heaps of wind and a fast short board. Sail type doesn’t matter, some say it’s harder to duck gybe a camber induced sail. Once the technique is mastered, the camber induced sail is better in that power is applied quicker when roaring out of the gybe. Sail size makes no difference; the duck gybe can be mastered with a seven metre camber induced sail.
Start going flat out on a fast reach. Ease the board onto a broad reach to build up speed, take the back foot out and place it forward on the leeward rail. Dig this rail in to bring the board around in a tight arc, still on the plane. The windward rail may need to be lifted with the front foot in the strap to keep the rail dug in.
Duck Gybe Step by Step
At the point in the arc when the wind is coming directly behind, let go with the front hand, cross it over the back hand and take hold of the boom.
Release the back hand and push the mast forward and down towards the water.
Duck under the back of the sail.
Pull the hand on the boom back and up and reach as far down the opposite side of the boom with the free hand.
Release the other hand and bring it around to take hold of the boom in the new position.
Shuffle the hands quickly down the boom to get into the right position and power out of the turn.
Fine Tuning The Duck Gybe
It is important to stay on the plane through the manoeuvre. This is done by leaving the feet in the same position throughout the entire gybe; the front foot in the strap and the back foot on the leeward rail; forcing the board to stay on the plane and in the turn. Shuffling feet during the turn causes weight unbalance that can force the sailboard off the plane.
The flip of the sail and duck under the back must be done when running directly downwind; in the moment of the turn when the wind is directly behind. When the sail is flipped the entire surface area should be perpendicular to the wind. If this was done standing on the beach, the wind would pull the rig out of the hands. Because the board and sail are moving as fast, if not faster, than the wind this has no affect.
The movement of the sail towards the water and the duck has to be done fast and aggressively. This is not a manoeuvre for the tentative; it must be fast and bold.
A sailor shouldn’t be discouraged if falling off the first ten or twenty or thirty times trying a duck gybe. It is a windsurfing technique where the right movements must be done at the right time. But it is one technique that looks and feels like it’s being done by a sailor who knows what they are doing; one who can mix it with the best.