Sunday, May 29, 2016

Why we race

Despite taking 5 out of 8 bullets and carrying a 2,4 in the score sheet  I still found myself outside the podium this past weekend for the Crissy field slalom series.    It wasn't for lack of trying as I came out with all guns firing with a 10m rig and 89 cm board. That was enough to power through the light spots and lead at almost every mark rounding. The kicker was that despite full fleet racing, I'm in the open class while the rest if the fleet is in the slalom class. I choose my gear based on what I think will work best while the other 30+ racers have to stick within a predetermined set of equipment rules which limit how wide their board  (85cm) and sail can be (10m.) Ironically, however I've got 2 boards and 2 rigs in my quiver (89cm ml board & 10m rig & 70cm ml board & 7.6 m rig) while the majority of the "slalom fleet" has 3+ boards & 3-4 rigs.
After almost 26 years of windsurf racing, I wouldn't do it any other way.
I've been skunked on too small or too big of equipment before and it's no fun. I believe you should have the option to pick and choose what gear works for you and not be limited to a set of criteria that may not work best for the existing conditions. This goes for both light wind and high wind.  We dont tell people they can't race with a 5m rig when it's stupid windy so why should we limit the bottom end as well?  Let's face it, windsurfing racing like life isn't fair. Some racers will always have better equipment, find themselves with more time in the water, more money to spend on equipment,  or just be more talented. Should we penalize those racers who might be a tad heavier by saying you have to sail with the same equipment as a lighter, younger fitter pro sailor? Putting a limit on the equipment we use just sets an another artificial barrier that gets in the way of having fun.
Bring what you've got and ride it is my motto.

Everything you need in life should fit in a VW van!

Just like picking your line around the gybe mark, picking the right equipment is all part of the game. You've got to use every advantage you can on the race course to win.  The 89cm board and 10m rig allowed me to get a strong start every race and come out of the gybes powered up while the guys on smaller gear were often late to the start or came off a plane at the mark roundings. I've been racing on the SF city front for the past 16 years and know that the inside is always hit or miss so you want to be prepared. In most cases, you want to survive the gusts, but when racing on the city front, do not let your weakness become a vulnerability. While the 10m rig and 89 cm board isn't necessarily the quickest on a reach while the wind is up- it does have huge advantages in getting up planning sooner and through the light spots quicker. However, on the downside- the 10.0 does have some disadvantages- you need some room to gybe. Luckily I found myself in the lead most of the races and didn't have to deal with much traffic. Anytime you get close to someone- disaster is likely to strike. I got taken out on the start of race 1 as TUR-92 decided to make some space between the pin end of the starting line and my 10m as I went for it, The result- we both went down. I was able to rally and finish in 4th. On the 7th race- I was arriving to the start line super early and knew about 10 seconds Id be over early without hesitating and letting the fleet roll me. Stategicly, it made sense for me to draw over as many people over early  as I could with a big lead already established. I went for it accelerating and drew another 3 sailors OCS with me. The result- they use their throw out while I've got a cushion to rest upon.
Yes, the conditions were a bit variable with lighter winds on the inside of the course but given the choice, I think most racers still preferred racing than sitting in the beach waiting for ideal conditions that may or may not have come. While everyone has to race in the same wind, the one variable you have control over is the equipment you select.
For me it's a no brainier- I pick the the equipment that's going to get me around the race course fastest not the one that necessarily gets me on the podium.  While it's nice to get some recognition, the reward comes in proving you are the fastest.

A huge thanks to the Crissy Field Slalom Series sponsors, race team and volunteers that made it all happen, Without you  we'd just be going back and forth...

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Rebuilding the fleet from the bottom up

For the 2nd year in a row, the StFYC has expanded their Friday night slalom windsurf racing series to focus on less of the technical and more on the fun. The result has been better participation and an increased awareness of windsurf racing. We're getting people that have never engaged in the competitive side of the sport to enter a beer can race for the first time. The secret- make it easy and make it fun.

The slalom format is simple with a broad reach start as fast as you can go and 4 downwind gybe marks with the entire fleet in close pursuit. No special equipment is needed but like any sport you can get as geeked out on your quiver as your budget allows. Each race only last 2-3 min so if you have a bad start or fall at the mark you've got your another chance with the next race just moments away.
Slalom racing is all about good board handling, but if you can gybe- you can race.
When it gets windy, like it was for the 1st St.FYC Friday night slalom race of the season on May 20th, you may even be better off on bump and jump gear than traditional slalom gear. 14 racers braved a gusty 15-25k sea breeze and strong flood tide on the city front for 5 races starting just off Anita Rock and finishing moments later off the race deck of the St.FYC. All windsurfers are invited and just about the entire spectrum shows up. This year we have windsurf foilers, diehard slalom racers and newbies showing up on bump and jump gear. 
We kicked off the season 2 weeks ago with a shared rules seminar with the kite fleet. The incentive for attending was a 1st place on an extra race for the season. Those that missed out- got a DNC.
Needless to say- we had a lot in the crowd who had no idea of how the rules worked, but they left with a better understanding that even if you are right, collisions are slow and not the fastest way to get around the course.
3 more St.FYC Friday night races are planned for the season in addition to the Crissy Field Slalom Series run on the same course 4 Saturdays throughout the summer. More info on this seasons racing schedule can be found here.

Monday, May 2, 2016

42nd running of the St.FYC Zellerbach regatta

2016 saw the 42nd running of the Zellerbach regatta- hosted by the St.FYC with 7 different classes racing along the San Francisco city front. Dinghies, multi-hulls and kitefoilers were well represented with 100+ sailors on the course both Saturday for light air racing and Sunday when the big breeze kicked in.

First run in 1962- it made an important switch for the St.FYC who previously ran and hosted 'yacht races.' Dinghies were invited into the fold and for many years the one manned Finn class reigned supreme with the biggest fleet.  Local legend, Ed Bennett  was the first be be fed through the pipeline competing at the 1972 Olympics while representing the St.FYC. Later, it was combined into the Elvestom/Zellerbach regatta honoring Paul Elvstrom, winner of 4 Gold Olympic medals.
Fast forward 40+ years and the pipeline still flows with 4 St.FYC members competing in the summers 2016 Olympics in Finn, 49 FX skiff class, Laser radial class and in the Windsurfer class.

Saturday saw a fickle northley breeze turn westerly later in the afternoon and 3 races were run for the foiling kite class after the dinghies finished their morning races in light, shifty & puffy conditions. Most the kite fleet were on 12-15m foil kites but I was never even able to make it to the starting line with a 13.5m tube kite. The bubble on the beach made it nearly impossible to get the kite flying and get going. I made 3 attempts but finally bailed and watched the fleet from shore. Interesting enough, many of the foil kites who did make it to the course had to be rescued when their kites went down or got tangled.

The modern foil kites are an all together faster set up, proving more lift and greater range than a tube kite but come with its own set of vulnerabilities. Like any new innovations, there's a learning curve and most mistakes can be attributed to pilot error. The foil kites are especially vulnerable when they go down on the water. There is a limited relaunch time before the kite turns into a giant sea anchor. The bridle set up is way more complicated than a typical tube kite and can result in some incredible spaghetti during a self rescue.
Photo Credit: Eric Simonson- Pressure Drop

However, when its done right, a foiling kite board and foil kite are a thing of wonder in the light breeze. Heineken made it look all too easy, nailing all of this foiling tacks and gybes and getting 3 bullets for the afternoon The thought of being able to make my transitions and foil in 8k keeps me coming back for more- despite the early setbacks.

Sunday saw a dim forecast but the breeze turned on by the 2pm kite start.
I was well powered on the 8m kite  in 16-24k as I made it around the course but not before being lapped by the front of the fleet in the 2 lap windward/leeward course. Finishing just outside the time limit is a bit discouraging but Ill take the small victories when I can.
Overall- less crashes but transitions are still slowing me down.
Despite being able to make most my non foiling gybes, I only managed to make 1 or 2 the whole weekend. Trying to keep clear of the 70 other dinghies on the course also provided for quite the obstacle course. The lasers are liked parked objects when you're flying downwind at 25k+and best to be avoided at any cost.  I managed to stay out of trouble and make 2 out of the 3 starts and even beat a few other kites to the 1st windward mark but ended up with a mixed array of alphabet soup on the score sheet.

Kite foil racing sure isn't easy- especially in this fleet. It's humbling at best but I feel very lucky just to be able to compete and try to come in with a smile. Persistence is really the only key to success and that does not come without some long hard battles.
Results can be found here.

Onward and upwards...

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The biggest day yet

After having kite foiled most of the winter & got more proficient in the lighter breeze, I jumped back on the windsurfer in late March for a big day of wind and swell under the gate. I've been missing much of the big swell this winter choosing to remain in the kiddie pool along the city front where kite drama & rescues tend to be a bit easier than under the gate.

It had been a windy afternoon blowing 25k+ but started to decrease by 4pm when I set off. The swell however was just starting to peak with massive 15-20' sets coming in at Fort Point.
I rigged my mikes lab 70 cm slalom board and 7.7. avanti rig as I knew it would be less at the top.
Nonetheless for the next 30 minutes- it was pure joy. 4k of outgoing ebb with incoming stacks of overhead swell and an 18-22k breeze.  What made it very unique was just how fast the sets were running. 5-6 sets would be stacked up every few minutes charging through the gate.
I got to ride some incredible monsters- as they built and built and I finally peeled off before they broke. All this while the outgoing ebb pulls you backwards out the gate. There's nothing quite like riding at this place with a few close friends and seeing their expressions after riding down the face of incoming giants. Heading back out on port you really begin to see how big things really are.

The key to swell riding at Ft Point is not to get greedy & go too deep and on the inside. That's where the wave breaks & the wind stops. 

However, it was the one I wasn't expecting that got me next.  I approached Ft Point on starboard tack and gybed just under the bridge. What came next was a wall of white water that separated me from my gear. A sneaker wave breaking on the outside!
I swam up to catch it, trying to waterstart in the quickest I've ever done but all to no avail. I got smashed my the next wave which carried my gear further into the impact zone.
I again tried to catch up with my gear but the ebb tide was pulling me out the gate despite swimming as hard as I could.
At that point, I turned around and saw another huge set of waves right over my head.
Pummeled, I duck dove them and got even further separated from my board and rig getting tossed in the breaking wave just 100' away. The mast was broken and the sail was trashed.
There was little chance of recovering my gear and soon it looked the same for me.
I swam for the next 10 minutes as hard as I could trying to get shore but the current was not letting make any progress. I finally made it in getting tossed on the rocks climbing up onto the beach just outside the battery. Its not a very hospitable place as low tide makes this beach accessible just a few hours a day among the barnacle encrusted rocks. I sat and rested. Exhausted and full of adrenaline from the swim and just loosing my gear- I caught my breath as I watched my gear float even further and further away. It had now been ebbed out the Gate and had made the turn toward Baker beach.

As if fate was tempting me one more time, the gear started to change directions and began to come back towards me as I contemplated my next move sitting on the rocks just outside the bridge. 

Slowly it creeped back around and it was not until I thought I could not put myself in any more danger did I get back in the water and try to retrieve the gear, I took a few more on the head trying to wrangle the gear out of the surf and finally was able to get the board and what was left of the rig back up the beach.
Every batten on the sail was broken in multiple spots, the mast broken in 2 and the sail ripped from panel to panel. There was so much sand in every joint I had to use my kite knife to cut the downhaul and separate the sail from the board. I carried everything precariously piece by piece around the perimeter of the battery and got myself and what was left of my gear to the parking lot.
From there is was a 30 min walk barefoot back to crissy to get my car and back to Fort Point to collect the remaining gear.
Luckily- the surfers hadn't thrown it back in the water!
The sail will be upcycled via Mafia Bags and made into our season trophies for the calcup slalom series. The board continues to live another day.
As for myself- a new respect for the ocean and a chance to upgrade my rig.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Foiling- the 1st year

It's been 1 year since I sold the formula gear and committed to the kite foil.
The transition has been difficult- going from the front of the fleet to the back but as I look back- I wouldn't do it any different. You've got to pay your dues and there lies the fun if you've got the right mindset.

Some of the most difficult and frustrating months came in the last year while learning how to kite foil but all the meanwhile - leading me to some of the best and most rewarding sessions I've ever had in 30+ years on the water. Pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone is how you learn or at least that's how I do.
As I look back at the first year of foiling, I discovered quite a few things about myself and the sport.
Learning a new sport from scratch is never easy. There's a paradoxical shift that one must overcome once you realize there are no short cuts or easy way outs. Its only by a series of self discovery that you can begin to unlearn and relearn.

Foiling is unlike anything I've ever done before. Yes it's an extension of kiting but it's a whole new sport. You're flying above the water and for the first time ever there's no noise. Not a single splash of water against the hull.
It really is a game changer.

Some early advice- get a good wet suit and helmet. You'll spend a lot of time crashing into the water.
A loaded foil is nothing you want coming at your head at high speeds.
Write your name on your board- chances are- you might lose it the first few sessions and still want it back.

I chose to get a used Spotz 1 foil as the 2nd hand market was ripe and the price was right. As for the board- I had a custom board made from a local SF surf board sharper.
WTF am I getting into, I thought to myself handing over nearly $2000 for a platform I had no idea how to use. The money spent is insignificant to the time spent learning a new discipline.
Time on the water was the most valuable asset in climbing the steep curve of learning how to foil.

Day 1 on the foil- I make it Anita rock (located 500' off shore from crissy field) and back in just under 30 minutes. I'm not even sure how to carry the thing- nonetheless get on it and ride it.

Day 2- Big discovery by tipping the board on its side to waterstart...duh!

Day 3-4: Everything goes very quiet and OMFG- I'm foiling. This is followed by multiple beat downs being catapulted from 6' in the air. I avoid any major injury and come back alive getting a brief taste of whats to come. The major challenge is overcoming the muscle memory for 30 years of back foot pressure and now riding with front foot pressure.

Early in the season- the wind can still be a bit fluky and I have to make the walk of shame home from last chance beach getting flooded down and self rescuing. It's one thing to self rescue with a kite. its a while another story when you do it with a foilboard!

Day 5: Hooked. Multiple lifts offs with 10-20 second rides.

Day 7- starting to get a bit confident and cocky.

Day 8: the reverse walk of shame. One of the first things you discover on the foil after learning how to lift off and ride it a bit- is how easy it goes upwind. I get ahead of myself and ride upwind to the old coast guard station and cant figure out how the hell to get back downwind. It's a 5k ebb and I'm going out the gate fast. After multiple crashes through the voodoo chop and, I body drag back into the beach and make the walk back downwind to crissy field.

Baja bound for an all intensive week of foiling. I found my flow with some big dreamy turns in the warm water and 15k breeze. It's still no walk in the park with sore ribs, bruises on my thighs, butt and waist, cuts on my feet, swollen ankles, nicked brow and brim and a stiff neck. I almost lose my foil on the last day as I face plant foil up into my board.
Another big breakthrough comes with seeing how much bar pressure can control ride height. I'm still struggling downwind- especially on starboard tack but rediscover the joy, surprises, and excitement that kept me captured for the last 25 years of windsurfing.

I get back home and have Mike Z reinforce the fin box as its already starting to show signs of delamination from too much time left in the sun in baja.

Day 17: StFYC Thursday Night Race series week 1. I make it to the starting line but self destruct on the inside light wind bubble on the first tack at the beach. I motivate to get my 2nd kite on the beach ready but realize I only have 1 working bar for 2 kites- which is now in a knotted mess.  I decompress with a beer with the peanut gallery watching the rest of the fleet make it around the course.

Butter smooth. One thing you begin to realize is how smooth the foil can be, Its a whole different world floating over the water. My body is starting to appreciate a break from the big crashes I had in the first 2 months of learning. Furthermore, kiting and especially foiling seem to have less impact on your body vs the loads in windsurfing- especially with a big sail.

First case of foil fever. I'm not sure Ill ever be able to go back to a planning board, nonetheless a displacement one.

Race night 2 and 1st plateau: How the f@$! do I get downwind? Most of my time is spent crashing downwind- trying to send the kite deep and low in the window while the board accelerates beyond my control. I discover the tendencies of the Spotz 1 foil to go back and forth from side to side downwind bucks me off like a rodeo cowboy.

Race night 3:by the time it takes me to finish 1 race, the fleet has finished 3 races. I make it back to the beach and call it a success.

Race night 4: Baby steps around the course. I go for the B fleet course with a smaller upwind in order to make all 3 starts. Downwind is still a struggle to say the least. My whip outs result in catastrophic failures an most of my time is still spent recovering from crashes.

I'm getting comfortable in the kiddle pool as I can make it out and back in most conditions on the foil and try to sail up and down the city front. I'm steadily gaining the needed confidence with each session but still stuck when it comes to going downwind efficiently.

Race night 6: Sometimes you don't even make it to the starting line. I'm beginning to get better at repairs. So far this season, I've fixed broken lines, leaky bladders, bar replacement and have become all all around better kiter. You never really know the mechanics of your bar until you take it apart and put it back together again- line by line and piece by piece.

Downwind becomes a bit easier once surrender to the flow. Traditionally in kiting you depower by bringing the kite overhead to the zenith, but downwind on the foil you bring the kite low in the window and carve towards the kite to depower. There no easy way about it. This maneuver takes time and confidence. Foiling is much easier when its a bit lighter. Trying to do this maneuver when you're overpowered just seems crazy.

I get back to the basics and take a few lessons with Gebi while he's in town.
Suddenly down looping on the gybes doesn't seem so scary anymore.
I think I got a bit too far in front of myself this year as I'm still learning the finer points of kiting while trying to foil but in this case biting off more than I could chew was a good thing. It forced me beyond my comfort zone. I had to unlearn a lot of habits Id learned for windsurfing and kiting (like back foot pressure) and relearn and teach myself new muscle memory. This doesn't happen overnight despite one's trying.

Sometimes, however- it's all about just having fun. I blow off the races for a session at the bridge on the strapless board in 30k+

SF Kite Foil Gold Cup. I enter not because I think I may have a chance but rather to push my limits. Along the way, I face my demons- just trying to make it around the course and maintain a little respect. I'm still a mess downwind, especially on starboard tack. There's still something about my muscle memory with my right thigh pushing down over the front of the board which still hasn't clicked yet.  I've been statistically eliminated by the first day but I show up and pay my dues.
Somehow, I really thought Id get it by now but I'm still being lapped and downwind is taking  most of my time around the course in the big breeze. I have multiple explosions but get my 1st finish of the event.

Its all about the recovery, I remind myself.

but foil fever has got me like...

I'm still in the kiddie pool most of the time- staying comfortable doing upwind and downwind runs along the city front. In the worse case, I can still make it back to shore without much drama


Last official race of the season and finding my groove with a new 8m ozone edge. It seems to be the most efficient kite size in medium to strong breeze offering more grunt than the 7m and way more range than the 10m,  You really dont need a lot of power from the kite when foiling as the foil provides plenty- rather you're looking to depower most of the time- at least I am.

Last make up race of the season- I get a new MZ foil and it makes a huge difference in performance,stability and predictability. Its almost like a new sport, I can go downwind with much better control.


Breakthrough day as I go out beyond my comfort zone and make huge strides. I ride with Mike Z in 18-24k and he forces me to go up to the bridge. I'm forced to go back downwind and it somehow works well.

October- Im beginning to make more gybes. Mind you they aren't foiling gybes but Im touching down, making the transition and popping back up again, My footwork still isn't correct as I'm switching my feet after the kite gybes but all that matters is Im not falling. Every once in a great while (twice actually) I make it around the full gybe while staying up on the foil. Its an incredible feeling that I go back and replay in my head over and over again.

End of the season awards: 2nd of 2 in the B fleet but so worth it.

Fall sessions- don't get too greedy. I score a few late sessions getting more time on the water but season is winding down, There's a big gap in November where I barley get any sessions as the seas breeze shuts off the day lights saving is kaput. .

While it would have been nice to be up to speed by now, I realize this is a process that comes naturally.There's no rushing so you might as well enjoy the ride.  I'm stoked that after a year of riding the foil and almost 70 sessions under my belt- I can foil in most conditions.  My quiver remains a 8, 10 and 13.5- which get a out in most conditions from 10-25k.
2016 goals are to get proficient at transition so I can focus on the actual racing.
Onwards and upwards!

Monday, December 21, 2015

2015 by the numbers

2015 was an another unbelievable year on the water with 164 sessions logged in 3 different counties- averaging 1 session every 2.2 days.  This year for the first time, I kited more than I windsurfed with 104 kiting sessions and 60 windsurfing.

It was my 3rd full year of kiting and almost 30th year of windsurfing.   I spent the majority of the year learning how to ride the kite foil board with 67 sessions logged. It's the first year in almost 25 years, that I didn't buy any new windsurfing equipment; however- kiteboards, foils and  more kites were added to the quiver.  My love for both sports still runs deep but I really got the foil bug this year. 
The most sessions come when the thermals turn on. This year, they dialed up in March and kept strong till October where I averaged almost 17 sessions a month during the windy season. 
I spent an equal amount of time in 2015 racing windsurfers as I did kite boards with 26 racing days on the water in 3 different local series- The StFYC Thursday Night Kite boarding series; The St.FYC Friday Night Slalom Series and the Crissy Field Slalom Series. The best results came with the inaugural Friday Night Slalom Series with a 1st place overall and 2nd place in the Crissy Field Slalom Series. Notwithstanding, the most difficult and hard work came in the Thursday Night Kite boarding Series where I went from not even being able to foil, to learning how to get around the course, to finally ending up 2nd in the B fleet.

This season, the number of DNF's surely outweighed the bullets but I wouldn't have done it any other way. The balance at the front of the fleet worked itself out with the races at the back of the fleet.
I missed a few key like the SF Classic and the Bridge to Bridge race but got plenty of time on the water this season. 
I made the most progress in the events that I struggled most with. In the Kite Foil Gold Cup in San Francisco, I was way over my head but put myself into conditions I would have otherwise backed away from. There's something about competition, that brings out the best in oneself if you keep trying and don't give up. The progress wasn't instantaneous like I would have liked it to be but rather a slow learning curve.

I increased my kite boarding time almost 200% in 2015 going from 34 sessions in 2014 to 104 sessions in 2015.   Mastering a new discipline has been way harder than I ever imagined. After 12 months on the foil, I can now foil in most conditions and even make most of my non foiling gybes. Its a long way from the first few foiling sessions where making it back to the beach was considered a big success. Even with that said, I've got long way to go before I become competitive in the kite foil fleet. I've yet to even attempt a tack on the foil board or even make one on the directional board but those are challenges to overcome in 2016. Before I even venture into the foil kites, I want to be able to master the foiling tack and gybe. Needless to say- its going to a long road ahead...But there lies the fun!

Here's a look at the season's data put into some graphic visualizations. For the record, I kept track of my sessions via twitter logging in what gear I used and complying the data at the end of the season. This allows me to see how much I use a particular board or kite and where my time were spent. 

The biggest surprise came with how much I still used the XL slalom set up of the ML 89 and 10m avanti rig- almost 20 times over the course of the year for high wind course racing, light wind slalom racing and swell riding under the Golden Gate.  Its the most versatile of anything in my quiver with a range of 10-24k. The kite foil board was the most used board in the 6 board quiver with 67 sessions logged for the season. The most used kite was the 10m Ozone Edge nearly doubling any other kite in my quiver with 45 sessions recorded. The most fun I had all season was with a custom surfboard I picked up in July, It made kiting in the voodoo chop so much more exciting. When conditions where gnarly and blowing stink on the city front, I grabbed the small surfboard with the 7 or 8m kite  and just ripped it- sending it as hard as I could.  That same set up worked great on the coast as well on the few times I sailed Stinson Beach- getting more comfortable in a new set of conditions.
This years biggest accomplishment was pulling off 2 slalom series and introducing a ton more people into slalom racing. Its a great feeling bringing new people into the sport and I couldn't have done it without the help of Soheil Zahedi and Jean Rathle- both who were instrumental in making the Crissy Field Slalom Series happen. Another big thanks goes to the St.FYC where I did the majority of my racing this year. They are by far the best at what they do year after year. Finally- a huge thanks to Mike Zajicek for repairing a broken slalom board not once but twice this season  and getting me a more stable foil which made huge strides in my foiling development. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Adventures outside the gate

Mother nature can be a cruel mistress- almost 2 weeks without wind- and the last month with only 5 days on the water after slowly closing in on 150+ sessions this season.
The thermals which had been running strong for the last 7 months shut down without a whimper at the end of October.
I tried but the northerly November AM winds were all too brief. By 1 PM it's all ready fizzled.
Never procrastinate a clearing breeze, I constantly reminded myself this fall
But the southerly storm winds were hardly any consolidation.
I watched one day- as the winds at Crissy went from 12-25k with an approaching front and veered from the north to east and then all the the way back around to the south- leaving a handful of kiters stranded offshore when it eventually died.
All the wiser- I waited and waited.
Eventfully the swell arrived in a big way but it was still too marginal to get out.
I finally broke out the big gear again and got up to the gate for 2 days of unsurpassed winter swell riding on Thursday December 10th and Big Friday where the wind and swell combined for the biggest rides of the season.
It was the biggest swell I had seen since the winter of 2012. The conditions are rare- only happening a few times a year at most. Big stacks of raw powerful sets stacked up neatly and perfectly timed for an afternoon ebb.

I'm one of just a handful of sailors lucky enough to enjoy it. There's about 10 of us - SF locals who are wind junkies- watching the forecast everyday for a chance to get out again and score the next session.  More so, I'm  just lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time with the right gear,
You'd hardly think a 89cm board and 10.0 would make a good wave riding kit but you do what you have to to get to the wave.
Leaving from Crissy Field it was 10-12k but with the ebb- you're at the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge in one quick tack. The 10m avanti rig is very powerful and gets going in 10k and with a 60cm fin. Combined with the custom 89cm mikes lab board- it exceeds in just about any condition from light wind slalom racing to high wind course racing and most importantly- pacific sleigh rides!

The first tack out the gate is terrifying with the huge mountains of swell surging in the gate and a strong ebb pulling you out. I still wasn't sure it would even work and Id be able to get back downwind in the marginal breeze and big ebb.  I took a few practice runs downwind just to know it was still possible and got my first taste of the big swell as it lined up near the Lime Point lighthouse and carried me down to Yellow Bluff at the base of the Marin headlands. I eventually worked my way over to the south tower where the red nun was was barely visible with a river of current bending it sideways in the incoming swell. I shot the eddy to the west of the tower and eventually slipped into the standing wave where for an instant- I was stuck in a perpetual motion machine- gliding back and forth down the face of the swell to the south of the tower as the ebb pulled me backwards. It's a surreal feeling as if trying to walk against a moving sidewalk. The rug is literally being pulled out from under you as you race down the face of a 10'-15' standing wave.
Eventually you get spit out and have to head up for some speed- catching the next set and carrying it towards Fort Point.
Every few minutes a really big 20'+ set would manage to break through- clearing out the whole line of surfers tucked in to the corner as the wave wrapped around the point.
I knew because it was breaking clear outside leaving me to drop in on 10' of whitewater. I got rick-rolled once and became separated from my gear but the ebb was strong enough and get me out of dangers way but quickly before I knew it, I was 1/2 mile out the gate.
This is where the ebb really surges. If its 5k inside the gate- it's got to be 8-10k here- raging like a river.  I caught some of the biggest swell I had seen trying to just get back to where I was 2 minutes previously. Massive walls of water barreled through lifting me up 20+ feel above the troughs below. At the bottom- there was no wind at all but I was still planing down the face of the wave with my foot firmly planted in the double footstrap just to cope.
I looked at my watch and although it had only been 30 min of riding at the gate, I knew to call it quits. My strategy is not to get to greedy in the winter. It took several long calculated runs to even make it through the gate as the ebb was building and the breeze was drying below 10k. Eventually I managed to shoot through and make it back to Crissy field just as the sky opened up and the next front passed through.
Derigging in the rain didn't seem so bad with a session like that in the books.

Big Friday came with the swell peaking at 16-23' and bigger 30' swell rolling through.
The wind was even better with 12-16k. I used the same set up and quickly found myself over my head as I worked my way out past Kirby Cove up to Point Diablo on the Marin shoreline. The experience is similar to being in the backcountry with nobody else around and nature in its finest glory.  
Otherworldly comes to mind as the swell quickly doubles and triples its size building, peaking and letting you ride for what seems like miles as as it works its way into a peak, crumbling beneath itself and eventually back to nothing  It is one of the most fantastic feelings being propelled by swell the size of large buildings and using the power of the wind to put you anywhere on the face. It's constantly changing and shifting beneath your feet.

The Potato patch is actually much further out just west of the headlands and Point Bonita but the swell continue to roll in the through the channel with amazing force. Some of the more recent maps released by NOAA paint an incredible picture of the seafloor beneath:

The ground swell was even glassier than it was previously with beautiful A frames forming and running into the San Francisco Bay from building thousands of miles away as the start of some tropical depression.
I again made my way south to where the waves were visible much bigger and breaking in a frothy white mess near the south tower of the bridge. The first swell I dropped in on stacked up so high and steep that it pitch poled me right over. Luckily I was able to water start out of it before the next set came barreling in. Heading back out the gate on port tack against the incoming waves really gets your heart pounding seeing a giant wall of water move in on you as you desperately try to get over it before it breaks. You really get a  heightened sense of awareness when sailing outside the gate as things can change quickly and you need to stay on your toes.
I rode what seemed like giants in a super short track gybing between the south tower and Ft. Point every 30-45 seconds. There's a fine line- a point of no return- near the San Francisco shore where the wind stops but the wave keeps going. Get too greedy and the next set will wipe you right out as you try to shlog back out. Time it right and you get the ride of your life.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Putting it all together...

It all came together this past weekend with 2 days of slalom racing at the top of my game.
I managed to win 3 bullets in the Friday Night Series, win the night, tie the series and win the tiebreaker for 1st. Saturday's light wind slalom had more of the same as I was able to get 2 bullets, secure 2nd for the day and lock in 2nd place for the series. 

Part of any racing is being prepared- from picking the right equipment, to just getting to the starting line in time. Secondly- if you've got any advantage- you've got to use it. Another big part of racing is know your competition. I did an scoring analysis last week with different scenarios going into the last race and knew before hand where I had to finish in order to move up. 

Friday- big boards and sails were the call so I had my ML89cm wide board with a kashy 59cm fin and avanti m-2 10.0 membrane sail.  The set up is perfect as it allows a huge range in the lighter spots- staying up on a plane through the lulls and coming out of the gybes with a platform you can quickly pump up onto a plane. if needed. It's smaller than a normal formula board with better control but bigger than most slalom boards with more low end. I always have the ml 70cm board and avanti 7.7 ready to go when the wind comes up but alas. not today.

Al and I were on the biggest gear and had a huge advantage over the rest of the fleet who were trying to get around the course with medium sized slalom gear in marginal winds. The bigger gear may be a bit slower in the reaches once you've got some wind  but you've always got to have power coming out of the turns in a slalom races to get any advantage.  I finished with a 1,1,1,2,2 to take the night, tie the series and win the tiebreaker while Xavier did his mandatory RC for the series.
(Huge thanks to Yves Rathle for the artistic trophies)

Saturdays sketchy conditions continued with a variable 12-18k and mid afternoon flood tide. That may sound enough for a 100 l board and 7.7 but the course was set near shore with patchy holes,   
The 10.0 and 89cm board were still the right call as Al, CRAD and myself, all on big gear, walked away from most of the fleet. Xavier quickly realized this after not even having made the 1st start in the flood tide on medium slalom gear and made the switch to bigger gear and finally his formula board.  I was doing what I need to do and that was put a few positions between myself and Jason in order to move up in the overall series but CRAD and Al were sailing very well- keeping themselves in front of a me a few races as I got hosed off the starting line in the 20 board fleet in the  middle races of the day. 

After almost 2 hours- we only had 5 races in for the A fleet and 3 for the B fleet. I knew things were close between Al Crad and I so I had to take the next bullet to order to secure things. I nailed the start and led around the course with Xavier trailing and Jason back in 4th. Going into the last race, I  had another perfect start at the pin in the light conditions jumping out in front and leading at the 1st mark and getting a great jump at the rounding  but it was so off course that the I didn't even see the 2nd mark. I let 4 boards slip in there but knew a 5th would be my throw out for the day and it didn't really matter. 

The results were super tight from 2nd-4th with Al with 17 points, CRAD with 16 and myself with 15. I just made it as Jason was back in 5th so I had him on points for the overall- moving up into 2nd place behind Xavier for the series.  Xavier sailed a perfect series carrying a 1,1,1 as his season series scores and was awarded the M9 Memorial trophy with Bill Weirs kids presenting in to him.

A fleet podium: 1st Xavier. 2nd Steve & 3rd Jason

B fleet winners: David, Matt and John

Overall- a huge success for slalom this year with almost as many B fleet racers as the A fleet.  Now, it's just getting people to show up.  I'm still not convinced setting any equipment restrictions on the fleet will encourage new sailors. There's some complaints about how using a formula board in a slalom race isnt fair and we should all use the IFCA class rules with 85 cm wide limit on board width and registered production boards.

We saw how quickly limiting equipment worked for the kite course boards. In a matter of 2 seasons- they have become almost extinct with the foil boards and foil kites leading the charge with development and constant evolution in a separate new class.
Adapt or get left behind!

This year we had no rules on equipment. Race with what you've got. I've always felt that's the best way. Who wants to be on the wrong gear- slogging around the course when you could be planing? Windsurfing and sport in general, like life is never going to be fair.  People will have different amounts of experience and money to spend. Most often, someone will always have better gear than you and more time on the water. Equipment is only part of the equation but a tactical one that should be part of the game. Sometimes you get burned with too big of gear but sometimes, just sometimes, it works even at Crissy Field.

A huge thanks to my sponsors for helping make the season a success- Avanti Sails, and Patagonia!
Also a huge thanks to all the volunteers and sponsors of the 2 race series: St.FYC, Bluerush Boardsports, 101 Surf Sports, Boardsports California, F4 Foils, West Coast Magnetics, StepStone, Adam Darriau Building & Design, Sandy Point, Aerotech, Ultra NEcta, Soheil Zahedi IT, Streetsailing, North Sails Windsurfing, Fanatic Windsurfing, Ronstan, sb design. La Ventana Windsports, Sailing Anarchy, iwindsurf, Alamo SeaFood Grill, Sports Basement and the Crissy Field Yacht Club.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A closer look...

It's the last of the slalom series this week with both Friday night racing at the StFYC & the Crissy Field Slalom Series on Saturday. Both series have a throw-out so its the best 3 out of 4 scores but a lot can change going into the last race of the series.

A closer look at the season scores is often warranted knowing in advance what it will take to move up a position or how much cushion you have between the racer behind you. This is often the case going into the last day of a multi-day regatta or series. Risk or reward. How big are the odds? What are the payoffs?

Friday Night Slalom Series
May Slalom Results
June Slalom Results
July Slalom Results

I did RC the 1st week so Ive got everything to gain going into the last race with a 1,2.
Xavier's fate is sealed with 4 points and  the best I can do is tie on points if I win the final race while Xavier does his mandatory RC.  The tie breaker goes to the racer with the better individual throw-out. (Xavier carries a 7th from July so its so its to my advantage to make every start in addition to winning the night if I want to win the series.) Still tied? Then it comes down to who has the best individual scores (yet tbd). Still tied? Then it comes down to who won the last race. (which in this case would be me.)

Jean sits in 3rd with 7 points just in front of Soheil with 9 with both already having done their RC. CRAD who carries 10 points will do his RC and cant finish worse than 3rd in the series unless Jean finishes 3rd or better or Soheil in 1st. In order for Jean to get 2nd- he would need to beat me by 5 points. Soheil needs to put 3 positions between himself and Jean if he wants to get on the podium.

Crissy Field Slalom Series
May CFSS Results
June CFSS Results
July CFSS Results

Going into the last race- Xavier has 5 points and no chance to lose (even if he doesn't sail and uses his throw-out.) Jason carries 8 points into the final race and myself 14. However once the throw-out comes into play, I need to put 1 position between myself and Jason to move into 2nd and not finish worse than 3rd. Only a 1st or 2nd in Saturdays race will move me up. If I only beat Jason by 1 position, we remain tied and tiebreaker goes to Jason with the better throw-out. The strategy calls for bigger risk moves to reap the reward!
Jean carries 15 points into the last race and Soheil with 18. Jean has secured 4th place but needs to beat me by 2 positions if he wants to move into 3rd. Soheil has no chance to move up from 5th unless he can put 3 positions between himself and Jean.
But then again- anything can happen.
Minimize the risk and maximize the reward.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Back to the basics

After having bite off way more than I could chew- I decided it would be prudent to get back to the basics. I hired Gebi to do some coaching after the Kite Foil Gold Cup and learned more from a few hours on the beach than I have all season on my own. The opportunity was priceless in terms of making a few breakthroughs that should help my kite foiling progression in the upcoming months.

The 1st lessons were all about kite handling- or moreso how to fly the kite efficiently by using your weight on the center lines vs sheeting the bar in for power. Its amazing how much power you can get from the kite by keeping the center lines loaded.

Next up- downlooping. I'd never really put this into my quiver of tricks until it was too late. Most times on the foil board, you will need to downloop the kite to keep the speed through the gybe and not drop off a foil. Even in light wind, on a directional board you can downloop the kite to keep it moving vs falling out of the sky. I learned a great trick about reaching under the bar with your back hand and pulling the lines to start the loop vs using your bar to start the turn. You can control the pivot and power by how hard you pull the line and the weight on the center lines.  The advantage is you come out of the turn- not having to spin your bar.

After that- regular looping seemed pretty easy- even spinning the bar to get the lines untwisted- No big deal!

We worked on stalling the kite and relaunching from every position to get comfortable once the kite goes in the water. From hot launching to rocking the kite onto its back- it all begins with a fluid pumping motion using both lines or even the center line to guide the kite back up into the air.

I'd gotten unhooked once or twice before on the water and freaked out- ending my session as the kite looped and crashed. Now becoming unhooked from the kite is still alarming but I know what to do- just grab the center line at the chicken loop to control the power and hook back in. Grabbing the bar- just adds more power to the kite when you are unhooked.

Next order of business was tacking. After having grown up sailing boats from the time I was 7 or 8, tacking was one of the simplest things you could do- just push the tiller over, duck below the boom and carry on to the other side. I had begun to try some tacks on the kite course board last season but the foil came and quickly set me back in terms of learning everything over again.
We essentially broke the tack down into a few steps to get from one tack, float through the eye of the wind, and carry on to the other side. Simple enough!
This maneuver- as simple as it sounds is very tricky to learn as ducking under the lines and into the wind is not an intuitive thing to do.

Step 1 begins by sheeting out and building up some speed with the board before you carve the board into the wind. The front hand comes off the bar to unweight it and steer the kite up and across the window. But then goes back on to bar to float through the turn. You push the board with your back foot essentially pivoting it around a point under your body.
Step 2  turns your body through the eye of the wind facing forward while the board turns through the wind below. Your feet and toes essentially steer the board and guide it across the window as you try to apply minimal downward force taking your body weight up with kite and keeping the bar unsheeted up at your head level.
Step 3 keeps the new front hand pulled down on the bar to dive the kite and create power coming out of the turn so as to  resist the momentum to fall into windward by creating a balance with the kite power.  If the kite doesn't have enough power coming out of the turn, you can go right into a downloop with the kite- gaining more power and time to get things going again
Step 4 - spin the bar to untwist the lines.

Simpler said than done. This will be one of those transitions I'll need to spend 10000 times doing to master. Along with the downlooping, I've got a lot to keep me busy in terms of practicing maneuvers on the water. Ultimately the next step is to get the transitions solid enough that I will be able to foil through my tacks and gybes.
One step at a time...