Thursday, February 14, 2019

Waist deep in the promised land

Imagine your favorite pillow.
White and fluffy and as soft as a baby lamb's coat. Rolling contours envelope the surface creating a personal palace for your head to sink into.

Now imagine the same landscape but instead of a pillow, it's a wide open winter wonderland of snow covered meadows, subtle valleys and endless terrain. You are just a spec on it's surface.

Instead of your head sinking in, you're able to effortless glide across the terrain, riding in and out of valleys, across ridges and floating over streams below.

This is snow kiting.
No waiting in lift lines.
No over priced lift tickets.

Just you, the kite and a pair of skis or snowboard.


Happiness can be found at the end of a kite



This years mid winter adventure took me to the Big Horn mountains of Wyoming- east of Yellowstone National Park for the 2019 Snowkite Masters. It was a gathering of like minded kiters from the Rocky Mountains & East and West coasts at North America's premiere snow kite lodge- Wyoming High Country lodge.

Snow kiting combines the best of snowboarding, sking and kiting. It allows you to ride practically anywhere- up and down the mountain, across powder filled meadows, rolling terrain, gullies and ridges. You can glide down the face of the mountain as the updraft provides continuous lift for the kite. You can ride for miles in any direction exploring endless powder.

However, it ain't as easy as it sounds.

Just getting there and setting up in the cold weather can be a feat

Huffing around to set up kites and snowgear with 5 layers of clothes on and an harness at 9500' elevation takes it toll. So does postholing through the powder to get set up.

I'm not gonna lie. It was cold. -20 wind chill.
2 base layers, wool sweater, 2 downs & a shell + 2 kite mares on my first afternoon out left me wondering what the hell I was doing.

Just like there's no easy way in, there's no easy was out.




The lodge has a snow cat that pulls a trailer out to the best spot for that day's riding. About 15 kiters pack their gear in and ride out the either Terminal A or Terminal B, depending on the wind. It might take an hour or so but once you're there, it acts as base camp for the day. You ride till sunset when they come back and pick you up, towing the trailer back to the High Country Lodge, where the toastiest of toasty meals is waiting for you. The lodge has set the bar high with a full breakfast and dinner served in the great room and warm soup and sandwiches on the mountain.







For 4 days, we repeated the scenario. Each day got progressively better till the last day I was ripping around on my 9m Ozone hyperlink just as comfortable as I was on the water. I can't say enough about snow kiting to improve your kiting skills. I got some great lessons on kite handling, especially with the 12m foil kite in lighter winds. I switched line lengths from 15m lines to 25m lines and oh my, it's like a whole new performance level on your kite. While the shorter lines work well bringing the kite forward while racing, it doesn't allow you to get the full pendulum swing as longer lines in the lighter breeze.

I was able to downloop the kite right up the mountain and get to even better winds. Coming back down the slope on a snowboard and kite is simply bliss. You can park the kite above you while you carve untouched powder. Skies seem undoubtedly more suited for snowkiting than a snowboard but alas, this dog can only learn one new trick at a time.





The organizer set up activities everyday from a snowkite race to poker runs. It really encouraged you to push yourself and have some fun. The camaraderie was outstanding. I got to know many new kiters- even legends of the sport. Noah Portiz- aka Captain Party- out of Bozman Montana was one of the instrumental pioneers of snow kiting in the Rockies. He's got stories to tell about every spot they've kited in a 1000 mile radius as well as a shot of whisky to share.





Besides the races and poker runs there were Ozone kite demos to try. The single skin foil snow kites have a huge advantage of simplicity. While they are not as performance orientated as the foil race kites, they do get you up, down and launched and landed all very easily.





I really can't emphasize how fun and accessible snow kiting is whether you're a  novice or a pro. The hardest step was committing and just getting there, after that the fun was non stop.









Thursday, December 27, 2018

2018- THE YEAR OF THE FOIL



By all means 2018 was another hugely successful year on the water with 150 sessions on the kite and windsurf boards spread out over 3 countries. This year, I was finally able to dial in the foiling windsurf board, adding another set of tricks for this old dog to learn after nearly 34 years with a board under my feet.
By far, kiting still takes up the majority of my time on the water with 111 out of 150 sessions. As I get older, kiting is just easier on my body vs windsurfing; foiling even more so.  Out of 111 kite sessions, 79 were on a foil.


Kiting and windsurfing still  remain incredibly equipment intensive despite trying to scale down the gear I use. In 2018, I used 6 boards, 3 sails, 5 kites and 4 foils. My most used board was the kite foil board taking up 79 total sessions or 52% of all my sessions. The Camet race board has proven more than reliable.



As for windsurf foiling, it’s strictly a light wind affair. When the wind is less reliable and under 14k, getting out and back to the wind line is hugely important. I’m not interested in swimming with the kite so shlogging is the downside I’ll take to get a good session in.

While I’d probably be better off devoting myself to one discipline, I’m still having too much fun being the jack of all trades vs the master of one. Foiling has reinvigorated my passion for both sports. It's like learning the game all over again but this time, knowing all the rules. If you can wrap your head around being a beginner again, the fun is there for you to enjoy.

While I do love me a good high wind slalom race, it really takes a lot out of me but the reward of getting a few bullets still keeps me coming back for more. This year we had 4 Friday night slalom races and I was dialed in for 3 to end up on the podium at the end of the season. It’s probably more a testament to my past time on the water but if you’re good at something, you might as well exploit it for everything it’s worth.

Kite racing is still a mixed bag as my transitions are still the weakest link in my program, but that hadn’t stopped me from having the most fun I possibly can. I never focused enough attention to master the foiling tack or gybe yet but I all good time, I remind myself.


As I look back at all my sessions in 2018, I can honestly say that no 2 days were the same. Every day is a different set of conditions from breeze to tide to equipment ridden.

I know my quiver pretty well by now but there’s always something more to learn. I love the fact that I’m still in love with both sports after all these years. I wouldn’t do it any different. With that said, here’s a look back at the 150 sessions from winter, to spring to fall and back to winter again. The season never seems to end anymore but just blends right into the next session.


January: 12 sessions- 11 kite sessions and 1 windsurf session

The 1st session of the year ended in disaster as my favorite 89cm Mike’s lab board for the last few seasons ended up delaminating under the golden gate bridge on a big ebb. I was able to limp in and at least salvage the rig. It’s the end of an era is over as 15 years of sailing a formula style board is over just like that. I could probably replace it but time to move on...



It's always easier to move on with warm waters and a good breeze as I was baja bound for 8 days of kiting in mid January. The goal was to work on my foiling transitions but alas too much fun exploring on the foil- riding bumps on the Sea of Cotez, siestas and parties at night.
February: 9 session- 8 kite sessions and 1 windsurf session

Back to reality and chasing the clearing breeze after winter storms. There was still decent swell pumping through the gate and the slalom windsurf board was the best tool in the quiver for the job. I got a few good days of riding winter swell from Kirby cove all the way out to pt. Diablo.
Great data from @iwindsurf with an early spring like north pacific high.
March: 8 sessions- 7 kite sessions and 1 windsurfing sessions

Clearing breeze arrives- if it's blowing at 11 am on Tuesday morning you better go. More often than none, the winter breeze arrives earlier than the summer afternoon thermal breeze. I find my groove in the early spring with a few days on the kite foil and a few days on the surfboard in strong clearing breeze.
April: 15 sessions- 14 kite sessions and 1 windsurf session.
The North Pacific High and sea breeze arrive with regular occurrence again- predictable and reliable and a session almost every other day. I did an old school regatta at the Foster City lagoon racing up and down the canals with fleet 18 on an original windsurfer. It was lots of fun reconnecting with the original spirit that captured me almost 34 years ago but the real fun was getting out on the kite foil in the lighter breeze. The 13m chrono 2 is a great light wind tool but increasingly burdensome while trying to do a self rescue on the water.
May: 21 sessions- 20 sessions on the kite and 1 session on the windsurfer.






The breeze really turns on. The official start of the St.FYC Thursday and Friday Night Series. We had some really windy days with 10 sessions in 25k+ breeze and 11 sessions on the surfboard. This is where I have the most fun. After years of dedicating myself to racing, I realized I never really had the chance for back and forth sailing- or mowig the lawn. Chasing the ebb on a big day can be as rewarding as winning a race. I've dialed in my equipment on the big days that a raging voodoo chop is now really fun to kite in with a small kite and surfboard.


June: 15 sessions- 12 on the kite and 3 on the windsurfer.




I've still got it in slalom as I win the 2nd Friday Night Series race in the big breeze. The key is to win the start and don't look back.




July- 6 sessions- 5 on the kite and 1 on the windsurfer.
July is always a travel month with the family as we head abroad but this time we made arrangements to head to one of the most popular wind destinations in Europe- Traifa at the edge of the continent. It's amazing to see how the rest of the world does it as several hundred other kiters flocked the the beach at Tarifa as the summer sea breeze flourished.  I got 2 days on the water in great foiling conditions and got to try out some new gear. I try out the alpine kite foil. Super easy and fun but like having a governor on your car. #notfastenough







Back in SF, I catch the summer delight as the full sea breeze delivers the goods.


August- 17 sessions- 14 kite sessions and 3 windsurfing sessions.

The new 12m Ozone hyperlink arrived after great success on the smaller 9m hyperlink. It's not to much of a performance race foil kite but an easier to use foil kite. The bridle system is less complex and has all the advantages of a full on race kite with out the hassles. I like to compare the foil kites to a sharp knife vs that of a butter knife when sailing a tube kite. If you can keep it out of the water, it's one of the best kites Ive sailed.


On the foiling windsurfer, it all comes together as I finally dial in the settings and things become easier.




I get the whole family out sailing for the first time. It wont be the last.



Summer breeze continues through the golden gate as I find my sweet spot on the surfboard and small kite.



I line up for the annual bridge to bridge race on the foiling windsurfer but Im still not even in the game. Half way down the bay, I see the fleet in front all go down as the breeze diminished near the finish line. I bail early and make it back to the beach on my own. Sometimes I'm amazed at myself and the wisdom that comes with age.




It's never a dull day on the water as I continue to eat humble pie on the kite foil in the breeze.




September: 18 sessions- 6 on the kite and 12 on the windsurfer.

It's all about the foil as 16 of 18 session were on on a foil.




It's the first month in almost 4 years I put more time on the windsurfer than the kite.




I finally dial in the foiling windsurfer after trying endlessly different settings.

I humbly get around the race course on the windsurf foil but think Im still going about it the wrong way as the rest of the fleet has much longer fuselage and steadier rides. I’m running my windsurf foil setup with the same foil as I’m using on the kite but shiming the front wing to get more lift. Im slowly learning it’s possible but not the most efficient.

Last race of the season and disaster strikes again- I round Anita rock on the Friday night race and hit a seal. The foil is almost lost but luckily is embedded in the the bottom of the board. I limp in again and save face.











October: 18 sessions- 12 on the kite and 5 on the windsurfer.



16 of 18 session on the foil but now this month the kite gets all the attention. We get a few days of diablo breeze from the NE and I get the out on the 12m hyperlink finding good range from 12-16k. Above that, the 9m hyperlink works great up to around 20-22K. I dial in a new ml foil with better range that works well on both the kite and windsurf boards. The tilo windsurf foil board is finally starting to find its place in the quiver and I get comfortable going in 8-16k on both the 7.6 & 9.2 rigs.






Disaster strikes again on the foil. This time it's my own damn fault as I forget the most basic thing ever- fin bolts. Somehow my foil falls out just off Crissy Field. I search endlessly for 2 weeks, scouring the underwater contours off the beach to find the lost foil.  It's a lost cause as the current seems to have carried it away. I search in a grid pattern, use a fish finder, even get an underwater drone but alas- no luck. Im devastated but realize that it can be replaced, just not so easy. 







November: 9 sessions-8 on the windsurf foil, 1 on the windsurfer.






I’m officially a non kite foiler again and spend all my time except for 1 breezy afternoon on the windsurf foil. I manage to borrow a dedicated F4 windsurf foil and it’s a godsend as I find a new grove with the 100cm fuselage and 90cm front wings. I’m slowly beginning to appreciate the bigger setup but just when I thought I was done with all this big equipment, I find myself back on a 100cm wide board. The 9.2 rig is great at getting going in next to nothing and shloggimg to and from the wind line. The 7.6 rig is much easier to make the transitions with and my gybing radius is slowly getting bigger and I’m staying foiling through most of the turn. The bigger wings have 2 advantages- slower foiling speed and earlier liftoffs.




December: 2 sessions- both on the windsurf foil
Full on Diablo winds and if it’s windy on a Tuesday morning, you better go as it may not be windy again for a week. I can’t believe how little wind you need to stay foiling as I able to get my range down to 8k with the help of a big flood tide.






Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Just enjoy the ride

Friday, August 31- It may be the end of summer but the San Francisco Bay is lit up like a Christmas tree with white caps & voodoo chop. The NW breeze has returned with gusts of over 25 knots & I'm as giddy as a small kid on Christmas morning.

14 other slalom racers jockey for position at the favored pin end of the start line.
With 10 seconds to go, the fleet sends it, pushing speeds of 30 knots on the first beat set 1/4 mile north of the St. Francis Yacht Club for the final race in the 2018 Friday Night Slalom Series.
It's anyone's race as the top 2 are tied on points going into the series final.
Most racers have 2-3 rigs & 1-2 boards available at their disposal but I'm running tight this season with only 1 board and 1 rig used for the entire series. It works for 90% of the time. The other 10%, I hang on like hell and just enjoy the ride.
We round the first mark set deep in mounds of chop and a blistering breeze. I come in hot just behind the leaders and wait for a moment to pounce. Dr. Nick Mast is in full control just behind the series leaders, Soheil Zahedi & Jean Rathle. I wait for any opportunity but the leaders don't let up one bit.
2 more gybes, 3 more reaches and all I can do is hang onto 3rd for the 1st race
My approach is to sail as conservative as possible in the front of the fleet and not make any mistakes.
Race 2 starts and it's full mayhem on the 1st leg. I nail the start, getting a good jump on the fleet at the pin end but the steep chop and deep heading to the 1st mark make it almost impossible to control the 70 cm slalom board. My back foot goes into the leeward strap just to maintain some sense of control. We round in a tight pinwheel formation carving through the gybe and getting shot out to the next leg. Those that don't commit fully, go down hard and are left swimming at the mark. When you're out in front all you have to worry about is not screwing up too much. There's no head games except for your own.
I make it through the remaining 2 gybes, hang on like hell and get the bullet for the 2nd race of the night.
Race 3 goes by like some type of white flash. Wind, water, spray- it's everywhere. I find myself in 4th behind the series leaders going into the last leg. Local hot shot & chef extraordinaire, Andre Larzule demonstrates that you don't need race gear to get around the course fast, just fast gybe and the dude can gybe. I never get an opportunity to pass except to send it in the last 100m of the course. I put the petal to the metal and pass to windward with just seconds to spare and squeeze into 3rd again.



Race 4 is where it's anyone's game. The leaders both take themselves out in spectacular wipe outs. Soheil does a super man going into the 1st mark and is left swimming as the fleet scurries by him. Local wizard, David Bernsten has full control on his xs slalom board and small slalom rig. These are his conditions for the past 25 years and he's killing it tonight. 1 more gybe to go with David in the lead and Jean just a few board lengths ahead of me. We both go into the gybe like a pair of synchronized swimmers. I opt for the inside lane as Jean stumbles through his gybe and goes down. He's left a small room of opportunity for me to take. The lane is only a few feet wide. With my butt checks fully clenched, I send it. All I see are the whites of his eyes as I fly past his head bobbing in the water. I make it through by the skin of my teeth or maybe Jean's. I somehow keep it together the last leg to secure 2nd while Dave gets the bullet. Jean is slow to get going to amongst  the chaos of the rounding and takes his throw out for the evening in 7th.


Race 5. A quick tally of the scores in my head puts Jean and I tied going into the race and Soheil just 2 points ahead. Again, it's anyone's game to win or lose. Both Jean and Soheil have eaten their throw out so there's no room for any mistakes.  There's some fierce head battles between the 2 as whomever wins this last race, takes the series. The duo never let each other out their sights in the pre-race battle. Soheil is on his xs mike's lab 90l slalom board and 7.1 rig while Jean opts for his 100l bump and jump board and 6.3m rig. What ever gets you around the course faster.

I'm just about beat down. Holding onto the 7.6m rig and big board has me feeling the pain. My arms are stretched to their limit. My hands- barley able to hold on. Maybe I should have opted for my time on the water this season in liue of kiting but I try not to think about it and just enjoy the ride for the last race of the season.
I get absolutely buried at the start, failing to pull the trigger early enough as the top 3 boards fly off to an early lead. Soheil is in absolute control on his small rig and flies to an early lead. However, you can never count Dave out. He flies past Jean on the last leg and gets 2nd for the night while Jean and I fill in from behind.  That leaves us tied for the evening and the tiebreaker for windsurfers goes to whomever has the better throw-out. I have a 4th while Jean is sitting on a 7th. As I'm reminded for the umpteenth time, you're only as good as your worst race, even if it's a throw out.
A big congrats to Soheil for taking his first season series. He's been the man all season, always with the right gear and sailing solidly every race when it counts.
Ive been racing in the St.FYC Friday night series for almost 20 years now and it's never been as much fun as it is now. I don't take things as seriously as I used to but realize the reward comes in the process, not the results. No matter how you finish, just enjoy the ride.
Many thanks to the St.FYC, PRO Ian Mcclelland, Race office and many volunteers to make this possible.

2018 StFYC Friday Night Slalom Series Results
Photos: Tia Westeberg, Maxim Pantchenko





Monday, June 4, 2018

Friday Night Slalom Series- It's all in the start

Friday night- June 1st.  Wind's up
We blaze into the 2nd night of our summer slalom series with 14 boards on the line.
I'm well lit on the ml slalom 70cm board, 7.6 avanti machine and 42cm Z fin as the building ebb & sea breeze pump through the golden gate and down the city front.

photos by Chris Ray
It's a civilized series series, where you can stand at the waters' edge till 1 minute before the start and still make the pin end of the start line. 2-1/2 minutes later, its all over and we line up to do it again.
I take a few practice runs before the start and realize its going to be a pretty heady 1st reach with the 3-4' voodoo chop, breaking swell and 18-22 knots of breeze.
I nail the 1st start at the pin, breaking out from the pack and immediately enjoy clear air down the first leg. The first gybe is hairy with the pack just behind me. I keep it together and lead the fleet to the A buoy. 'Wide and tight' is the rule for mark roundings as I approach mark 2 and close the door on the guys trying to sneak into whats left of "NO ROOM!"
The usual suspects go down as Jean and Soheil are left swimming.
I make it around 2 more blazing reaches and get the first bullet of the night.

Race 2- Wind's up even more with puffs closing in at 25k,  There's some confusion at the start with a late horn but I send it with my back foot in the leeward strap for control down the first reach. David Bernsten puts in into overdrive making the most of his narrower board and flying right over the top of me. He keeps up the pressure the whole race, not letting up and bit and grabs his first bullet of the night while I stay in 2nd. Later, on the beach, we all agree to abandon the race as the RC timing was off.

Race 3- Soheil and Jean are on a mission- getting a clean start and leading the pack. Im in a close 3rd, looking for any opportunity to take advantage of their mistakes but their smaller boards give them a real advantage on speed. My gybes are clean but not enough to make up for the difference. Jean puts the pressure on the last leg and reduces the distance till he and Soheil are overlapped at the finish with Soheil just edging him out. I settle for 3rd

video by Chris Ray

3 races- 3 different winners. This is going to be tight!

I line up for race 4, nailing the pin start again with speed and am immediate out in front. It's amazing what a difference a good start will get you. You've got clear air and able to make your own decisions. I play it pretty conservative and make all my gybes. In a 2 min. race, you really want to avoid any mistakes or else your shot out the back door. I sail to my 2nd bullet of the night.

video by Chris Ray
Race 5- Wind is letting up a bit to 16-20k as I jockey for position in the pre-start. I'm with a group at the pin end. At 10 seconds, I send it, almost sure Id be over early but come across the line clean and out in front. I nearly lose it at the A buoy with Marty Rosse sailing the best race of his life and playing bumper boats at the rounding. I come out unscathed but the fleet is right on my tail.
Soheil keeps up the pressure till the finish but I'm able to hold him off for another bullet.


We make up race 2 and sail the final race of the series in what looks like a dying breeze. I nail the start again getting a good jump on the fleet and nearly make it around the course planing until the final 20 feet to the finish. Soheil, on his larger board, comes in strong and stops in the same spot as me as we drift across the line overlapped. I edge him out for the 3rd time and take the evening with 4 out of 6 bullets. The rest of the fleet isn't so lucky and barely makes it around the course in the dying inside breeze.
video by Chris Ray

All in all, another great night of racing on the city front. The big lessons from this evening are the importance of a clean start. Without that, its all catch up and sailing in dirty air.
Huge thanks to the volunteers and rcers for coming out strong and supporting the series.

Results here

Chris Ray photos here


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Friday Night racing- blowing the dogs off their chains

To say it was windy would be an understatement: It blew the dogs off their chains on the evening of Friday, May 18, for the first St. Francis Yacht Club Friday Slalom Race Series. Twelve windsurfers braved the conditions, rigging up anywhere between a 5.8 and 8.6 sail for the building ebb and 20-35 knots of breeze.  


An annual series started by StFYC’s Bill Weir and Staff Commodore Jim Kiriakis, it’s been drawing Bay Area windsurfers to the challenges of brisk summer onshores since the 1990s. This year, organizers are trying out a new course with just one mark set halfway between Crissy Field and the StFYC. The fleet starts on port tack just off the beach and immediately heads out to a mark set by the shipping channel. A quick gybe takes them back to the A buoy off StFYC, then back to Mark 1 and finally a screaming reach to the finish by B buoy and the Club. The whole thing takes less than 3 minutes if you can keep your board pointed in the right direction and stay out of trouble.



Race 1 caught a few of the fleet off guard with only 4 finishers. 
I remind myself of the most basic rules- make it to the start and finish line. The rest is arbitrary. 

Race 2. The breeze was filled in solidly to the beach and Soheil Zahedi, Jean Rathle and Nick Mast  quickly charged to a 1-2-3- finish making it look easy. 

Race 3 was an all-out fight to the finish. I was stupidly overpowered and in the leeward back strap to ease the fin pressure on the reach. I made a few conservative gybes and racers fell down around me like dominoes. The last mark saw a pinwheel of four racers stacked up and I came out in the lead going into the finish. I couldn’t turn my head to see where the fleet was, but I knew they were charging below me. One nasty piece of chop sent the nose of my board flying and I eased up: In that split second, I went from first to third with Mast and Zahedi passing me to leeward and grabbing the first two finishes. Lesson learned: Never give up, even an inch


Race 4 I was finally back in the game. Rounding the first mark in the pack, I pushed a bit too hard on the second mark rounding and went for a swim. Water-starting a 7.6 in breaking waves and 30 knots was not as easy as I remember. Vincent Fallourd showed a solid performance with a taking behind Zahedi and Rathle.


Race 5 was the final race of the night with conditions gusting over 30 knots and the building ebb making sedan size voodoo chop around the course. IN addition, the big boat fleet was using the A buoy as their starting mark to cross the Bay

Stay out of trouble, I reminded myself, then pushed as hard as I could, but Rathle and Zahedi walked away with smaller gear and were able to get to throttle up and really send it. We approached Buoy A in a cluster of monstruous ebb, big boats and too-little time for decisions. I sent it below one of the big boats while Jean head above, putting me just in front of him as we ground back up to Mark 1. The big boats were keeping the same line as us, but just another obstacle to get around. We all made it around Buoy A, but Rathle was really able to send it on his tiny bump-and-jump gear and got the final bullet of the night

Stay out of trouble, I remind myself. I push as hard as I can but Jean and Soheil walk away with smaller gear and are able to get to 5th gear and really send it. We approach mark A in all all out clusterfu%* of big ebb, big boats and little time for decisions. I send it below one of the big boats while Jean heads above. I come out just in front of him as we grind back up to mark 1. The big boats are keeping the same line as us but are just another obstacle to get around. We all make it around a buoy but Jean is really able to send it on his tiny bump and jump gear and get the final bullet of the night. 

All in all, more fun than I remember but a lot of work just to stay upright and moving fast. Thanks to all those who joined and thanks to the volunteers who helped make it happen. 

If you're interested in racing, our next Friday night race is Friday June 1st. 
New racers are always welcome and volunteers appreciated. 

Big thanks to Maxim Panchenko for the photos. 





Saturday, January 27, 2018

Follow the lines going south

It had been 2 years since I made my last trip south to Baja for a winter get away. I was due. The brownie points were earned and credit was being cashed in.

I pushed back my work deadlines, arranged for preschool pick ups and drop offs. Life's responsibilities were postponed, at least for the next 9 days. My next kiting adventure was about to begin.


With direct flights to Cabo from San Francisco, you can be out kiting the same day in board shorts on a windy Sea of Cortez. Everything I needed for a week of kite boarding fit into an over sized 'golf bag' - 2 boards, 3 kites, a harness and a foil.

It's always a pleasure to roll into a place like La Ventana where you're not the only one seeking this hedonistic windy lifestyle. Thousands of like minded kiters and windsurfers have been flocking here for decades turning this small fishing village in a wind junkies dream. Every year, it changes with more development and more people, but you can always find your happy spot a few hundred feet offshore once you catch that first piece of  rolling Cortez swell.


The goal for week was to become one with the new kite foil but then again Ive said never said no to just having fun on the surfboard when it gets windy. Rules are meant to be broken. Fun is meant to be had. I'm not as strict on myself as I used to be. I may be getting softer as I get older but at least I'm enjoying the ride.

The first session of the trip was a relaxing sunset session on the Ozone 9m hyperlink foil kite and surfboard in a 18-22 knots.  I'm having so much fun on this kite on both the surfboard and foil board. Its got all the benefits of a foil kite without as much hassle as dealing with a full on race kite. At this point in the game, its usually still rider error holding me back, not the equipment.

That evening, Loscocco and I end up having margaritas at Palblos which in typical baja fashion- turns into dinner 90 minutes later. Everyone here is on baja time which means dont expect much.
By 9pm, it's baja midnight, time to go to bed and get ready for another windy day in paradise.

Day 2- the wind is up to 18 knots by 1pm and building throughout the afternoon. I arrange all the borrowed hardware for my new foil and finally hit the water. OMFG, I can not believe what Ive been missing. Despite riding an early generation (#6) ML goose neck foil, the latest mikes lab foil is an incredibly stable foling machine. Dozens of prototypes and years of development led to this and it shows. I'm blazing downwind across the tops of swell at 35 knots without as much as flinching a muscle. I get a bit greedy and go flying out of the backside of some breaking swell and eat it- sending myself super-manning across the water, laughing the entire way.





In true baja style, I come in for a lunch break and mid afternoon siesta and am back out on the water on the 8m kite in big dreamy swell. The 44cm wide mikes lab board is incredibly efficient for foiling gybes but as I touch down, to make the foot transition, I bury the nose and eat it again.
A few minutes later, I finally built up the confidence to try a few tacks near shore. This has been my achilles tendon of kiting. I've never been able to make this transition nor have given it much effort.

There's something about breaking the muscle memory of 30 years of windsurfing while turning my back into the wind for a tack that I just havn't been able to overcome yet. With the kite, you do the opposite and turn your body into the wind crossing from one tack to the other. I must have tried a dozen times, failing miserably each time. Failing is really not as bad as I thought. The kite may drop, but you just relaunch it. No big deal. I shrug it off and go for a long downwinder- finding my zen in the rolling seas of Cortez swell.




Day 3-4 Loscocco and I head up to the hot springs a few miles north of El Sargento up the coast from La Ventana. It's relatively quiet up here with the majority of kiters at the south end of La Ventana Bay. I practice a few more roll tacks on the surf board & 9m foil kite near shore but get tangled up and bow tied. I spent the next 20 minutes untangling, untwisting and decompressing on the beach.  It must look pretty funny as I practice my roll tacks on the beach, in line at the super market and even in the shower. I am trying to wrap my head around this transition to no avail. I looks so easy from the outset. After a full afternoon of kiting at the hot springs,we come back to the campground, where I get schooled by a bunch of so cal teenagers all making their foiling tacks. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry as I sip by pacifico ballena with my feet in the sand.



Day 5. Double session on the 8m kite with early session on the foil and late afternoon session on the surfboard.  I make some real progress with foiling transitions going from toe side and foiling in and out of gybes.  Nailing a foiling gybe is one of the more rewarding experiences so far. I put a string of 5-6 foiling gybes together before the shit hits the fan and I eat it, burying the nose, sending me catapulting forward.

In the 2nd session of the day, Loscocco and I find the sweet spot at the bottom of the bay near the catchers mit. It's inevitably where all the beginners who cant keep upwind end up, but its got a nice break from all the swell working its way down La Ventana Bay. We work our way down to Bufadorao beach riding the endless swell down the shoreline. The long haul back upwind on the surfboard takes it toll but alas- endless ballenas when we get back to the RV.

Day 6- another day on the 9m ozone hyperlink and foilboard. I practice my tacks and down looping gybes on the inside where the consequences are a little less dire. Despite under rotating, I almost make it through a tack but realize I've lost my board in the transition. One step at a time, I remind myself. I spend the rest of the afternoon making some long upwinds to the mid channel between the main land and isla ceralvo. The ML foil is just as stable upwind as it is downwind. Even as I slow down to make my transitions, the board stays foiling. I just wish I just I could say the same.




The real treat for me so far has been the dreamy downwind runs on the foil in the swell. It seems like the foil wouldn't be as fun in the swell as a normal surfboard where you're in contact with the water and swell energy but oh my- the foil delivers another whole dimension to riding the swell. You can speed up or slow down and practically put yourself anywhere on the swell. Often times, you can just put your kite slightly over head and be pulled by foil and swell alone. Once you get to the bottom of the bay, you just sail back upwind for 10 min and do it all over again.

Day 7- Another trip to the hot springs with Loscocco for a foiling adventure. We do a long upwinder just past  Punto el Jalito just far enough to where we can see Isla de Espirito Santo off the coast of La Paz. We are ready to do a crossing to isla ceralvo but alas- the wind starts getting sketchy with the 8m kites and we bear off for a long down winder in the dreamy cortez swell. I find my happy spot on starboard tack foiling right into the setting sun with dolphins, whales and flying fish all around me. I look over to see Loscoccos grinning ear to ear carving downwind in the swell on his foil.
The famed La Ventana Classic starts today but for the 1st time in my life, I'm not really interested in a competition but rather just enjoying the ride- figuring this out on my own. At the end of the day, with ballenas in hand, we watch the 100 or so competitors compete in the big air, freestyle and course racing. The most exciting race by far is the slow bicycle race on the hard packed beach. Each competitor, riding in costume tries to be the slowest bike across the 100m course. Its anti-climatic at its best but very entertaining.
The organizing committee does a great job at raising funds for the local schools and brings out the entire community in the process. Kudos to them!


That evening we find the famed Israeli falalel bus. We're treated the the best hummus Ive ever had by several jewish hippes living in their bus on the side of the road. It's the kind of experience that makes baja so unique. We overtip and leave them some beer in hopes they'll be there the next day. 



Day 8- we wake up early for a sunrise hike at the hot springs as it looks like we may get skunked for breeze today. The pre dawn colors do not disappoint. We are treated to an amazing sunrise as we hike a few miles up the coast to a perfect vantage point overlooking isla ceralvo and the rising sun. I try to keep up with Loscocco but hes scrambling up some boulders and around a point and out of site in no time. I'm not sure how he even functions without coffee but he's charging full on by the break of dawn.



That afternoon the racing has been cancelled but the whole crew is back a the campground foiling on their 15-18m kites. I rig up but the 13m foil kite just doesn't have enough punch to get me off the beach. Alas- the first day of getting skunked but it's all good.


The next day, we pack up and before I know it, we're on a plane back to SFO with my foil tacks a distant memory. The experience has been great, gaining more time on the water with the foil, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. This vacation may be over but it's time to start getting collecting those brownie points to cash in for the next trip.  

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

2017 BY THE NUMBERS

I love statistics- keeping track of things and analyzing the data to see what I can learn. For many years, I've used twitter to keep track of my sessions on the water, then at the end of the year I can look back and graph everything to see the trends for the year: how many sessions, how many times on any particular kite, how many times in each month I've sailed, even how many days I've spend racing. All this data may seem like useless information but when properly presented, it gives a better idea of how I've spent my time. After all a self examined like is a life worth living...


2017 continued the trend of getting over 100+ days on the water for windsurfing and kiteboarding since I moved to San Francisco 17 years ago. This year I increased my number of sessions by 14 sessions over the 2016 stats. That averages out a session every 2.3 days- just enough to keep this wind junkie satisfied. 
I kited in 62% of all my sessions- getting more proficient and comfortable in all conditions. My kiting sessions are on stat from last season with 112 sessions- the majority on the foil where Im finally graduating from a seasoned kook to a salty grommet. For the 1st year, I expanded my kiting to hard water when I got to snow kite in Utah for 8 winter sessions.

My windsurfing numbers actually increased from 2016 when I only managed 27 sessions to this year with 42 sessions. I still get tons of joy from windsurfing- whether its exploring outside the golden gate bridge in big winter  swells of or racing around the short track slalom course on the city front. 

The season never really stops but only slows down a bit in the winter months when the wind is not as constant like the spring, summer and fall but with foiling, its becoming less and less of an issue. In the sketchiest of days when the wind is up and down, I'm more likely to get a session in on the windsurfer as it still a safer option for getting back to shore unassisted. While the foil has opened up more light wind days, it can end in disaster when you need to self rescue on the water after dropping the kite and failing to relaunch. I end up taking more risk when I know I've got the support of a rescue boat- especially during the St.FYC events.  
The best advice over the years- don't get too greedy.
I always sail with a VHF radio as I know the Coast Guard is only a short call away for the last resort rescue. 

Its been 32 years since I started this journey- hoping on a windsurfing board on Clark Lake at Camp Store in Jackson, Michigan. I really got hooked a few years later as my dinghy experience led me to racing windsurfers. Its been a wild ride- taking me to over 20 countries and 5 continents. 
While I'm still a relative noob in the kiting world, it has engrossed me just like the days of early windsurfing. The kiting experience continues to evolve. It seems like just yesterday, I learned on the twin tip board, the switched over to the directional board, followed by the race board and now- 3 years later on the foil board. One step forward, 2 steps back.  

With 112 sessions this year on the kite, I spent the 66% of my kiting session on the foil board. Its really changed the sport completely. My foiling transitions are still a work in progress but the foil kites really allow more float time when trying to pass the eye of the wind. When conditions are lumpy or nuking, I often opt for the surf board making the most of the ebb.

This year I introduced another foil kite into the quiver with the 9m hyperlink to replace the 10m edge.  It's been a love hate relationship with the foil kites as I'm finally getting comfortable managing the bridles and keeping the kite relatively dry and untangled. Sometimes, all you want to do it kite, not untangle bridle lines and swim in a wet foil kite. The hyperlink has been a great success in terms of getting the benefits of a foil kite with out all the hassles if a full on race kite. At this point, its still the rider who's holding back the program- not the kite!
All in all I still used the 8m edge the most on both the surfboard and the foilboard. Its the workhorse of the quiver with almost 50% of all kiting sessions. The 13m chrono 2 finds it sweet spot in 10-16k while the 7, is reserved for the big days of 25k+.

I still love to windsurf. Its hard not love after all these years- even with kiting taking most of my time on the water. My most used windsurfing board (still after 4 years) is still the mikes lab 89cm xl slalom board. Matched with the avanti 9.2 and a 59cm kashy fin, this combination is unstoppable when racing in under 15k. Its also the go to board for getting out the gate and exploring the winter swell. The 100l mikes lab slalom board is to go to after the wind is above 16k. On the course, it floats out of the gybes like nothing else. Finally, for those big days on the slalom course, its my 85l mikes lab slalom board- pulling in at least one bullet on the course this year!

I upgraded my 10m avanti sail this season to the smaller 9.2  as its just as powerful and easier to handle.  It's one of the best sails Ive ever had in my quiver and it show with almost 70% of all my windsurfing sessions on this sail. The 7.6 hits the sweet spot with the smaller board and last but not least- you always must have that one sail in your quiver that you only use 1-2x a year but its so worth it when you do. The 6.3 was the ticket for high wind slalom and the xs slalom board. 

I spent less time racing this year than previous years with 19 race days and 78 races- all on the San Francisco Bay. For the 1st year, I did a long distance race on the kite foil. The Bay Challenge was run as part of the Hyrdofoil Pro Tour, so I ran the course with the kites. OMGF, coming back upwind from Berkeley with the 9m hyperlink in gust up to 25k was exhausting but I finished.
I was way out of my league entering the Hydrofoil Pro Tour but when it comes to your own backyard, you cant say no. Despite alot of DNFs, I learned a ton and feel more comfortable in big fleets on the kite.
I entered the Thursday Night Kite series for the 4th year and am slowly climbing my way from the back of the fleet. Ive yet to master the foiling tack so this really sets me back. However- pushing yourself is the fastest way to learn. Its honestly more a mental thing that I havnt been able to get over but Im not giving up anytime soon.
The other local series are the St.FYC Friday night slalom and Crissy Field Slalom Series run on the city front. Both are incredibly fun and taking bullets in multiple races always makes it sweeter. It came down to the wire for the CFSS as I won the last 2 races of the regatta bumping myself up to 2nd overall for the season. No matter how many times, I remind myself, its always worth saying again- Never ever give up!


This year again, I spend the vast majority of my kitting and windsurfing at Crissy Field with 100+ session. This place has been my backyard for the last 17 years- sneaking out of work early to get a session, running the local kite and windsurfing series from here and most importantly- the community. Its like walking in to 'Cheers' where everyone knows your name. Even getting skunked at crissy is ok because its so damn beautiful.
I made it up to Sherman 2x this season, after both wondering why I dont come back more.
The kite lauch is a bit sketch especially on holiday weekends but once you're on the river, you can always find some space.
Finally- I made it to Skyline Utah for some snow kiting this year. It was a first and probably not the last trip there with a whole new world of kiting to explore, even without a proper beach.

All in all, another great year on the water with no complaints. Im still giddy getting 150+ days a year on the water doing what I love.