Monday, May 15, 2017

San Francisco Slalom Season opener in 2 acts

Act 1
When it rains, it pours and when it blows, it blows the dogs off their chains in San Francisco.

Things started off pretty heady for the first St. Francis Yacht Club Friday night slalom race of the season on May 12th as the puffs hit 30 knots & 4-6' breaking swell buried the 2nd downwind slalom mark, set a few hundred feet of Crissy Field.  A dedicated group of wind junkies, half of which were on extra small bump and jump or wave gear, braved the conditions to carry on a tradition that has been going strong since the early days of windsurfing in California.
Downwind slalom racing, especially in a big breeze is one of the most spectacular to watch & one of the most exciting disciplines to compete in. 
At 1 min before the start, its a chaotic symphony of windsurfers jockeying for position as they scream towards the starting line set just off Anita Rock on the San Francisco city front. Like clockwork, the fleet blast across the starting line in an all out sprint towards the 1st gybe mark, hitting speeds of 25 knots and flying across the chop all within a few feet of each. The first to arrive quickly lay down their sails to de-power while carving around the mark. In an instant, they are back on the new gybe going deep across the troughs of breaking swell. A few get knocked down, while the rest hold it together. 
Its an all out obstacle course as several fleets of inbound ocean racers cross at the exact time the fleet gets ready to round mark 2. Chaos erupts as the yachts broach in a hellish 30 knot+ westerly puff and the mark is buried in the breaking rollers coming in the San Francisco Bay.  A few boards go down, just to save themselves from what would otherwise be an impending death sandwich between the fiberglass hulls. Those that emerge, do so by the skins of their teeth, threading the fine needle of control and all out balls to the wall, hold it together for your life windsurfing.

2 more gybes to go and its all over.
The fleet rips back towards the east end of Crissy Field where there's a slight relief from the 4k flood tide ripping across the course. Even the racers on 4.5 m wave sails effortlessly carve around the mark in stiff 25 knot breeze and quickly make their way towards the last gybe mark set in an all out furry of wind and waves. Positions change as rapidly as the wind but the top racers are able to maintain control and consistency in their maneuvers around the course. 
1 more 'OMFG reach' and the 2-1/2 minute race will be over. 
If you can avoid stuffing the nose of your board in the breaking swell and round the StFYC B buoy- set just in front of the club, the race is over. If not, you'll have to watch the rest of the fleet fly by as you try to muster the energy water start to make it across the finish line in dead fucking last (DFL.)
When its all over, everyone heads back upwind for another shot at redemption. 
You're only as good as your last race and for the rest of the fleet who didn't score a bullet, there's victory to be had or lost once again. 
4 more races are run as the breeze settles down to a reasonable 20k and the flood builds and flattens out the course.

I have the duty of race committee this evening with 2 other racers as the only way this series works is by volunteering 1 of the 4 race nights towards race management. You get to see how and why the series works by actually taking part and running it. The marks don't set themselves, nor does the start or finish go off without the help of 4-5 person team. A huge thanks to the kite racers who showed up and maned the race deck for finishes. 

By the time its over, the fleet looks like its returned from a naval battle with broken sails & twisted carbon but there's a slight twinkle in the eyes of these wind junkies- ready to do it all over again tomorrow.

Act 2
18 hours pass and the fleet is back where they stood the day before.  This time, the Crissy Field Slalom Series breaks ground for their 3rd season.Its a grass roots effort to get out the fleet and encourage new racers to join in the party  It's 2 pm and already blowing their dogs off their chains for the 3rd day straight day in a row.  The San Francisco Bay is a sea of white caps, frothing in a wind blown seascape. The marks get set & 18 racers get consolidated into 1 fleet for a winner take all 10 race series. 
photo credit: @lyrahcolvin

I'm not sure if I was just stubborn or stupid but it took me the better half of the day to get my shit together. I was a hot mess trying to keep down a 7.6 rig and 105l slalom board with a 42cm fin in the 25k+ of breeze. 
It's definitely doable but not advisable.

I'm smart enough to know that if you hold out long enough you can pick a few racers off at each rounding but being overpowered- I was not doing myself any favors in pushing the top of the fleet. I go down hard the 4th race breaking a foot strap and retire before swallowing my pride and switching down to my smaller gear. I haven't sailed the 85l board & 6.3 m rig in what seems like years but its rigged and ready on the beach. It takes me a few runs between races to adjust the harness lines and get things settled but before I know it, race 5 has started and Im in the lead at mark 1 just in front of Xavier who is breathing down my neck. I put everything I have into the next reach, closing the gap on the 6.3 m rig and sending it faster than I ever have before. The 59cm board just flies right over the top of the water until it doesn't & I charge right into the backside of the breaking swell and get catapulted over the handlebars spinning like a rag dog in the spin cycle of a washing machine. I emerge and try to water start as the fleet goes wizzing by but realize my boom head has disintegrated in the chaos. A few more rollers wash over me for good measure sending my gear tumbling and me swimming after it. I finally manage to jury rig the boom back together with some spare line and drift back to shore in a water start position.
photo credit: @lyrahcolvin
As luck would have it, we have a 30 min break after 5 races and I regroup on the beach derigging the 7.6 and switching the boom to the 6.3. I fine tune the mast position back 1/2" and go out for practice run. The board & rig feel dialed and Im off like a race horse leading the entire 6th race and taking the bullet! 
It's all about the come back I remind myself.
I stay in the top 3 for the rest of the races except when I get taken out at the 1st mark in race 8 as Jean is squeezed out of a tight rounding and drops his rig in front of me. 
In years past, I would have been furious, yelling, screaring & protesting but now, just let that shit go. 
You've got to take the good with the bad.
No reason to get upset, just move on.
Going into the last race I know its tight for points between 3rd and 6th and need to finish strong as I've already used my share of throw outs and then some for the day. Its already starting to lighten up to 18-24 knots but have no choice but to stick with the small gear. I send it and get a flying start near the pin end neck  neck with Xavier. We go into the 1st mark overlapped but he squeaks out with just a bit more speed and finesse and gets a jump on the next reach. I follow suit and am able to hold off the rest of the fleet for a strong 2nd place finish on the last race. This puts me tied for 3rd with Vincent who's been sailing very consistent all day in the top 5. I lose the tie breaker as windsurfers go by who ever has the better throughout to determine the tie. 
Back at the beach, every racer recaps his day with postmortems and 'what should have beens' but its always the racer who sails the most consistent  and makes the fewest mistakes that ends up on top.
As with most races here, it's Xavier Ferlet who takes 6 bullets for the day and walks away with a nearly flawless afternoon of racing. In 2nd, local board head, Soheil Zahedi shines with his best performance to date; however, the awards work a bit differently in this series than most. 

We gather our prizes and in kind gifts from sponsors and first let the volunteers come up and choose the best items because without them, none of this would be possible. Next up is the B fleet who aren't even expecting to be recognized, nonetheless get a prize. From the back of the fleet up, we call off the racers names to come pick a prize. The racers in the back and middle of the fleet are stoked. They never get prizes but will sure to be back again for the next race.
This is how you build and maintain a fleet- from the bottom up. 
Beer and pizza slowly bring back the fleet to life and if they could, these wind junkies would be back tomorrow for another race.

Luckily for my recovery time, the next race is a month away on June 9th & 10th with the Friday Night Slalom & Crissy Field slalom Series. Until then, I've got plenty of kite racing to keep me occupied and humble again in the back of the fleet. 

A huge thanks to the Crissy Field Slalom Series sponsors for making it possible. Without you guys, we'd just be sailing back & forth!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

winter sessions

 It took a major commitment to get there and even more just to get suited up everyday at 10,000' but snow kiting in Utah has got to be one of the great winter trips for wind & snow lovers. Like anything worth while, just getting there was an adventure in itself.

It began as a caravan from San Francisco with half the crew flying and the other half driving 20+ kites, snowboards and skies to Skyline, Utah. Somewhere east of Winnemucca, Nevada at 3 in the morning, Johnny's car broke down so we packed everything into 1 SUV with 5 sets of wind and snow gear, dog and riders for the remaining voyage east. Sometimes you need to scuttle half the fleet just to get to your destination.

After 15 hours in the car, we arrived to beautiful wide open Utah. The setting at Fairview Canyon at mile marker 14 on HWY 31 aka- the Big Drift- is awe inspiring. The 180 degree Utah sky at 10,000' is just sublime. We rigged and had our first afternoon session in the rolling hills, meadows and steep bowls surrounding the launch site. Besides us, there was a handful of snow mobiles that might buzz by then disappear but nothing else but back country for miles around.

Snow kiting is just as it sounds. You choose either skies or snowboard and get pulled around on your kite- up, down, around and over what ever terrain you choose. It's an absolute beautiful and pleasant
way to explore the back country and get to experience the similarities of paragliding when coming down the mountain on an updraft..

I rigged my 13m foil kite, launching with ease and immediately got pulled across the meadow on my snowboard
Holy bejesus this is fun!
It took me the rest of the day to get comfortable going back and forth and finding the subtitles of the site but I was hooked. My goal  was to get more time with the new foil kite and that's what I got- from relaunching in gullies to down looping up the mountain.

Snow kiting has all the benefits of kiting on the water without the consequences of water itself.  I dropped and tangled my kite quite a few times in the 8-12k breeze and easily unhooked and walked up the line and bridle to unsort it all out. Granted- even walking the length of 15m line and untangled your kite in powder is an exercise itself. Transitions are almost effortless without the footwork required on a normal foil or directional board.

I got a bit greedy towards the end of the day and kited myself right into a gully and wind shadow dropped my kite in the process.  All the waiting & pulling on my lines would not launch this kite. Then came the pack up and 1/4 mile hike back to the launch in the knee deep powder. One step at at time, I thought to myself as a huge grin spread across my face from my 1st day of snow kiting

Day 2 began just where day 1 finished except my legs already felt like rubber chickens from working muscles I never knew I had. We arrived early at the skyline launch as a major weather system was moving through that afternoon.
I went for the 13m foil kite again but this time explored an adjacent hill with the wind direction slightly more south than the previous day. Everything was starting to click and I was starting edge on port tack instead of just being dragged on the snowboard, I could now navigate half way up the hillside on the updrafts but crashed on the transition as you needed to turn your board uphill to transition to the new tack. With enough practice and lift from the foil kite, I managed to nail a few uphill turns and even unintentionally get a few downhill glides.
OMFG- what a trip.
Jumping while kiting is fun but jumping while snow kiting with an updraft takes it to a whole other level.
To see what expert level kiters like Johnny, Chip and local rider Patrick could do was simply awe inspiring. They made snow kiting look more like paragliding getting giant soaring glides down the face of the mountain while down looping their way back up for an endless cycle.

downlooping up the mountain...

carving and gliding down the mountain...
We took a short break refueling like ski bums in the parking lot and had an epic afternoon session of white out conditions on small kites. Its an entirely different sport when you're powered up on a kite than in light conditions when you're searching for power.  The 8m ozone edge tube kite was more enough to keep me powered in 15-20k up, down and around the mountain turning quickly and accelerating me on every uphill. Chip was even kiting with an 8m while towing his 11 year old behind on skies. Share the stoke when you can!

Day 3 & 4 we switched venues to a location called Electric Lake along the Huntington Canyon Scenic Drive as the Skyline Peak was in white out conditions. It was more rolling hills and room to explore as the newbies including myself were still mastering the basics. I had the chance to really explore some terrain and get into carving the board downhill as you would usually do without a kite. The kite just allowed you to turn around and do it over and over again and then some!

No lift tickets, waiting in lines or even crowds at this spot.
I'm not sure I can ever go back to regular snowboarding at a resort again.

The exploratory aspect was very cool. You could go practically anywhere- sometimes where you least expected- down the rabbits hole into trenches and gullies where our other buddy Eric found himself waist deep in a hidden stream and no wind to get out  A cold wet hike out and he was quickly warmed with some whisky back at the base with a good story to tell.

Day 5 was supposed to be just a travel day back to SF but we woke up to another perfect bluebird day with fresh powder and a gentle breeze. We arrived at skyline early find a fresh blanket of snow as far as they eye could see and proceeded to get one the best day so far! The 13m chrono2 foil kite wasn't quite enough to get me up to the top where the stronger winds were but made for a perfect session as I finally mastered some big carving turns on the snow kite in the gentle hills and meadows.

I really cant emphasize how fun & accessible snow kiting is whether you're a newbie or a pro. The hardest step was committing and just getting there, after that the fun was nonstop.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 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...
By all means, 2016 was another great year on the water with 140 total sessions from January to December.  I'm down 24 sessions form the 2015 season but my days kiting went up from 104 to 113. For the 2nd year in a row, I've kited more than windsurfed. While last year it was a 3:1 ratio, this year, I kited 5x for every windsurfing session logged. I don't plan on ever giving up windsurfing but as I get older, kiting- especially foiling is a lot easier on my body. I don't have nearly as many lower back issues as when I was racing formula boards with 10-11m rigs or pumping the RSX in light winds. 
It's my 4th year kiting and 31st year windsurfing. So much has changed over the years with the equipment getting better and better each season. It's a constant development and evolution of the sports that keeps me coming back for more. I upgraded my medium slalom board this season after having gone a bit to far last season and breaking the previous one in half. A new Ml slalom board never disappoints. I upgraded the foil board as well getting a custom 2nd hand Mikes Lab which makes a world of difference with the ML foil, Finally- I delved into the world of foil kites upgrading to a 13m chrono2 which will start the learning curve all over again. If there's one thing Ive learned over the years it's that you always need to constant adjust to stay current,  Never get too comfortable and always be pushing you limits. 
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. 
Kiting has taken from over windsurfing just like windsurfing did for sailing nearly 25-30 years ago. Before it used to be every day kiting meant a day not windsurfing. Now in 2016 its changed so that every day windsurfing is 1 less day kiting. While kiting can still be a bit intimidating, Im able to kite in most all conditions from nuking 30-35k on a 7m and surfboard to a low wind limit of 10k on a 13m and foil board.  65% of my kiting sessions came on the foil board while the other 35% were on a surfboard. If its over 20k, I usually opt for the surfboard and have as much fun as I can as I'm still a relative noob in the kite world. I must admit, even for back and forth sessions mowing the lawn and playing in the voodoo chop, that the SF city front delivers on a regular basis, is way more fun on a kite than a windsurfer. 

The 10m and 8m ozone edges are the backbone of my quiver providing nearly 71% of the total sessions for the season. These 2 kites works double duty on both the foil and surfboard in the middle range of the wind zone. On the light wind days, the 13m ASV and now 13m Chrono2 foil kite provide enough power to make it out in as little as 10k of breeze. While I only used the 7m 4 times, it's  a necessary part of the quiver if you want to kite comfortably in winds above 25k. 
My windsurfing sessions were down form 60 in 2015 to 27 this year season. While this may be case for alarm, it all balances out with time on the water- whether it be on a kite or on a windsurfer- it's all good. Looking closer at the data, I found I used the Avanti 7.7 and medium ML slalom board as much as I used the Avanti 10m and 89cm ML slalom board- 13 times each. Both are an essential part of racing on the city front with the medium set up being used most of time when the wind is over 16k and the XL set up when racing is a bit sketcher and holes are present at the inside gybe marks. The 10m and XL 89cm ML board are also key to getting out in the fall and winter months where I can sail up to the Golden Gate bridge and enjoy the swell. There's nothing quite like riding XL swell outside the gate in the winter months being the only one out. The solitude never felt so good. Finally - the XL set up made for a couple of good long distances races this year around the Bay. 
Viva la windsurfer!
Over 140 sessions this season, I used my 2 foils boards the most- almost 45% of all my sessions logged. In July, I upgraded to a smaller foil board- buying a 2nd hand  ML board. It took quite while to get used to the reduced deck area but combined with the ML foil, it is way more predicable, steady and comfortable than what I was riding before. The custom surf board was the next most used board with 39 sessions or 29% of all sessions. Its my go to for having fun in 20k+ or when sailing on the coast in waves. The windsurfing board quiver has been reduced to just 2 boards- a 105l, 70cm wide ML slalom board and the 89cm ML sled. 
All in all, the majority of my boards are made by Mike Zajicek of Mikes Lab in El Sobrante, Ca.  Ive trusted him to make by boards since 2003 and he's never disappointed. 
"In Mike, we trust!"

This season, I spent all of my race days at one venue- the SF city front racing under the burgee of the St.FYC or the Crissy Field Slalom Series.  The St.FYC is unparalleled for running board racing whether it be on a foiling kite board or slalom windsurfer. For this- I am eternally grateful.  We are spoiled with their superb race management, and after racing socials at the club. 
This year was the 3rd season for me on the St.FYC Thursday Night Bluerush Kite Series with just over 24 races for me over 8 evenings of racing in the summer months. While I finally made some progress getting around the course, the bar is constantly being raised and I missed out on quite a few finishes by not making the 10m time limit. It's all good though because racing is not really against other people but against yourself.  The same applied for the Hydrofoil Pro tour which came to town again in 2016. Just showing up to race can go a long way. I put myself way out of my league finishing almost DFL in most of the races but came away being a stronger and wiser kiter. 
In all good time, I remind myself.
I race because I enjoy the process and am always looking for ways to of improve.
Racing puts you out of your normal comfort zone and forces you to keep up with those around you.
Never give up is my motto. 
This was my 1st year in 16 seasons not racing the Friday Night Course racing series. Last year, we split the series so that 4 of the Friday nights became a separate slalom series. While I only was able to make 2 of the 4 race nights + a night for RC. I managed 1st and 2nd's taking 4th overall in the series. For the 2nd year, Ive helped run and organize the Crissy Field Slalom Series. Its a grass roots effort to get more people racing on the city front. This year, we introduced more racers and had 4 great events. With a busier schedule than normal, I was only able to make 2 of the events but  managed to win the 1st race day proving this old dog has still got some game left in him. 
My kite board race days went up from 13 to 16 in 2016 while the windsurfing race days went from 13 to 7. Any day racing on the city front is a good day to say the least. Even if you are DFL, getting around the course can be victory enough if you've got the right mindset.  
This season, I spend the majority of my time kiting and windsurfing at one beach- Crissy Field 
90% of my session logged where from Crissy. Its like my back yard with nearly 1 of 3 days of the year spent there. I cant imagine a better place to enjoy the SF Bay from. Its one of the few urban beaches in the US that you can get easily over 100 sessions a year at without trying too hard. This place delivers the goods from a constant supply of sea breeze, to voodoo chop to swell and racing. Even after 18 years of sailing on the SF Bay, sailing under the golden gate bridge is still one of the most spectacular things I've ever done. It gets me every time.
I made it up to Sherman island this year after a few years of not going at all. Its about an 1-/12 trip up there but very well worth it to kite in warm, fresh water. My goal is to kite here more next season as making progress comes more rapidly here when the wind and water are not intense as Crissy. 
Another milestone was kiting in Hood River for the 1st time in many visits there. I'd always windsurfed and this year I had a blast exploring the river on kite. I even got a nuclear morning with 25-35k of breeze &  5-8' swell on the 7m and surfboard. 
Finally, Stinson beach and the gulf coast of Florda rounded out the list of venues sailed this season

I still can't believe how fortunate I am to get 140 sessions this season. Having a passion like kiting and windsurfing certainly leads to a more balanced and happier life. Looking back, I wouldn't have it any other way. 
As always- enjoy the ride.
Happy new year.

Monday, September 12, 2016


For the second year in a row, our local windsurfing fleet is growing and we’re seeing more slalom racing on the San Francisco city front! It’s an easy to grasp format: if you can gybe, you can race! Come for the race and stay for the party. Or come for the party and stay for the race. Either way, all are welcome!

The social on the beach after racing is just as key as the racing itself. It’s a chance to bbq and invite the non-racers (read: potential new racers!) to see what’s happening even though they are not part of the race. I believe awarding the middle and the back of the fleet is just as important as the top guys in order to grow the fleet. It’s a concept we’ve tried to employ this summer at the Crissy Field Slalom Series and St. Francis windsurfing regattas. ‘Most improved,’ ‘Biggest catapult’… give it an award! Most people like the recognition and it keeps them coming back.

There’s a lot of behind-the-scene work that goes into planning, running, funding and keeping the Crissy Field Slalom Series alive. I’m going to share what we’ve learned to hopefully inspire others and grow racing from the ground up.

The team: It’s important! We rely on three individuals and countless volunteers to make it happen. Jean Rathle is the go-to guy, getting things done, like trophies, sponsors, pizza, bbq, shopping, prep work, etc. You need one of these guys on your team otherwise shit doesn’t get done! Soheil Zahedi is our technical guru: crunching the numbers after racing to provide immediate results and awards, acting as treasurer, posting and maintaining a website and weekly email reminders, and most importantly, conflict mediator. All essential duties! Finally, myself, Steve Bodner. I do most of the behind-the-scene work from crowdfunding and sponsorship, SIs, NOR, permits, insurance, securing a race committee boat and hiring a race officer. Finally there’s all the volunteers, from a scorer at the finish line for 2+ hours, to an extra hand on the boat the set the marks, a beach master to communicate between race committee and racers, and a grill master for after-racing bbq! Thank them and reward them any way you can. Without any one of these team members, the series suffers. It really takes a a very big group effort to pull off a successful event!

Crowdfunding: For the 2nd year in a row, we used Fundrazr to pre-fund the cost of the series. By offering racers a discount for pre-registration, we raised most of our season expenses before the first race. It’s a platform that worked very well to monitor the progress and attract sponsors. We upped the ante this year and created a sponsorship level aimed at the windsurfing industry, as well as locals in the fleet who had a small business and wanted to support us. A $250 sponsorship not only got you a spot on the line for racing, but you are now part of the team with branding opportunities.

The future: You always need to be evolving and tuning the event to stay relevant. Next year, we plan to reach out to kiters and foilers to break new ground on the slalom course. We also want to introduce a freeride fleet for newcomers, or those who don’t have access to race gear. The operative word is: inclusiveness! I’m sure there will be additional challenges, but it’s an opportunity to grow the fleet and expand the sport in a big way!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

On progress...

Progress- it doesn't come easy or fast but when you least expect it. Sometimes it doesn't seem to come at all despite everything you'd hoped for.  The important thing- is to keep moving forward

I've been on the kite foil now for just over a 18 months- jump starting into the new discipline just after having learned how to kite a year or so before that. The transition to foiling wasn't swift but now that I've got some time on the water, things are becoming easier. It's an amazing feeling- a total game changer from the previous 30 years of sailing and windsurfing. I've gone form barley kiting to getting most of my sessions on the foil.  It took me most of last year to learn how to foil and most of this year learning to go downwind comfortably. The sport remains awesome yet humbling in so many ways.  I can foil in most conditions from 10-24k. However, all that changes when you line up on the race course- especially in San Francisco.

This past August, the Hydrofoil Pro Tour came back to San Francisco for the 2nd time. Last year I entered knowing that it would be a huge learning curve just trying to get around the course. I barley made it. I found my weakness and made huge strides going off the breeze over the previous year. This year the middle of the fleet is now where the top of the fleet was last year (making most of their transitions) & the top guys are now going around the course 20-30% with the improved gear. It's a fast moving disciple and an even faster moving fleet. I was just 1 of 2 guys still using tube kites. Its no excuse for still  not being able to tack but this is a sport where you need to devote time to improve your skills & keep up with the equipment  just to make it around the course- a difficult proposition for anyone coming up through the fleet.

Transitions are still the death of me.  For the love of God, I still can't make a tack. My gybes while getting better still end up like some story of road runner cartoon running off a cliff and falling into the abyss.  All that recover time puts me back in the fleet and outside the time limit for an official score. I know it's just a matter of time till it comes but all the meanwhile, getting DNF's in the score sheet is getting pretty depressing. I keep reminding myself it's all about the journey. As I look back at my windsurf racing career, there was a lot of time spent in the back of the fleet at international regattas getting up to speed and gaining experience. I was never the fastest or the most talented but I stuck with it the longest and the persistence eventually paid off. Now that I'm in a similar position, it's hard to see the progress when you've tasted success.

I've made a plan for the fall, winter and spring to work on my transitions so that next year I'll be able to play the game. It looks so damn easy watching the top guys foil through their tacks and gybes but it all good time I remind myself. Now for every session forward I'm going to force myself to make practicing tacks and gybes part of the game. So far I've just relied on coasting by but real change comes when you go beyond your comfort level. Failure becomes more important than success in the long road of learning a new technique. There's no easy way around it. I'm also jumping ahead and getting a light wind foil kite for the off season when the wind is a bit lighter. It should help me with the transitions as the foil kite proves a bit more lift than the tube kites. However it does come with several more strings attached both literally and figuratively. The bridles on the foil kites are a bit more complicated to provide all that additional lift but come with their own set of hazards. Load them up unnervingly  and they break. Drop the kite in the water and it becomes a whole lot more complicated to wrap up. However, if you don't keep up, you get left behind. I'm sure it will come with its own set of challenges but there's only one way to move forward- and that's to never give up.

Onward and upward.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Riding dirty & days between...

Its been several season since Ive been riding dirty with both feet in the foot straps but in different fleets.  It used to be that everyday spent kiting meant loosing a day of windsurfing.
Now it seems most of my time is spent kiting with just a few days left for slalom racing as I continue get my kite skills up to par and rely upon my past windsurfing experience to keep me at the top of the fleet.  Nonetheless- there's a lot of overlap between the 2 disciplines from mastering new skills, maintaining a quiver and just getting to the starting line on time. 
I look back at the last months racing, training and lessons learned:

May 19th- Thursday Night Kite Series: Its blowing stink on the city front gusting from 15-30k. I take out the 8m & foil and try to make it around the course without too much damage. Im getting more comfortable in the breeze on the foil and manage to beat a few people people to the top mark. Downwind they all pass me as I take a few big catapults pushing too hard. My starts are still 10-20 seconds behind the fleet as to avoid any tangles. I try to avoid the big bummers and get get around the course as fast as I can. I just miss the time limit in the first race as the 2 kiters in front of me tangle at the finish line but manage to squeeze a 21st in for the first official result of the season. Take the small victories when you can!

June 2- Thursday Night Kite Series: Its one of the sketchier evenings I've spent the the Bay-lit on the 8m kite and foil in 15-25k in an absolute white out. Foiling is a real trip in the fog. There's no sight lines and almost no sound with the foil and board above the water. The fog becomes so thick in the 2nd race, I get lost on the way to the windward mark, not seeing anyone for a few minutes. I bail and come in for my own safety.

June 3- Friday Night Slalom Series:  I finally get to race on my new windsurfing kit. The ml 70cm slalom board & avanti 7.6 prove to be the perfect set up in 15-24k.  The board comes out of the gybes strong and the rig handles the big puffs very well. If you're going to have 1 slalom kit- this is it. 
The key to slalom racing is getting a good start and coming out of the 1st mark strong. After that it's sailing conservatively and picking up any spots where you can.  I take it for granted that I can nail most of my gybes but it does take its toll. Races are only 2-3 min long with 4 quick gybes and quick reaching legs at full power. CAN-9 on an 8.6 rig  and I battle it out in front but he edges me out on the inside when it gets light. I settle for 2nd for the evening. 

June 12- Crissy Field Slalom Series: Perfect conditions with breeze in the mid 20's. Im well lit on the avanti 7.6, ml 70cm board and 42cm Z fin but am edged out by Jason and Xavier who are really pushing hard and take the top 2 spots. I try to compensate by pushing the line more but end up over early twice and make a foul and withdraw from another race. While it pays to be aggressive, it sometimes can cost you dearly. I fail to take full advantage of the 30 min break and postponement and get caught under powered on the course as the breeze dies and flood increases. When its light- always have your big guns ready!  
Another big lesson learned this weekend was that you are never above the rules. I found myself withdrawing from a race after a new racer politely asked me why I shut the door on him at the mark rounding. "Are you allowed to do that? " he asked.  Well, no I was wrong. Even without a protest, when you know you have fouled someone and dont do your penalty turn, the best thing to do is retire. Ironically, I have the same conversation with Xavier after the days racing as he fouled me in an earlier race. Respectfully, he withdraw form the race and ultimately loses the day to Jason but good sportsmanship goes along way. Congrats on setting a good example for us to follow!

June 16- Thursday Night Kite Racing: It looks light and I rig the 13.5m kite but end up well powered as the breeze cranks up to 18-20k. At the leeward mark- its barley 10k and a graveyard in the back of the fleet. I start 10 seconds behind the fleet and am in the pack rounding the top mark only because I've overstood in the flood tide and stayed on the outside with the breeze. Its the small things like this that put me within striking distance but my transitions that keep me back. I make most of my non foiling gybes- especially in the lighter breeze but get knocked down a few times as the 13.5 kite provides to be a handful in the puffs. I make the top 20 for the 1st time but get taken out in race 2 as I get caught in a tangle on the start line. Luckily it does not end in disaster but keeps me from just making the time limit in race 2. 

Days Between: I spent most of my time practicing on the foilboard in under 20k and on the surfboard when its gets windy. In 20-30k, The 7 and 8m kites are just delightful with the surfboard making quick snappy turns in the voodoo chop.  The foil is still challenging in that I can ride without much trouble but transitions are still the death of me. I cant wait to be able to nail some foiling tacks and gybes and play the game fully but it all good time, With every session, I'm learning more control, pushing the envelope and starting to get comfortable in most conditions. More importantly- no matter what- just having fun with the process and not taking things too seriously keeps me coming back for more. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Bring what you've got and ride it.

I was able to come out with all guns firing on day 1 of the Crissy Field Slalom Series grabbing 6 out of 9 bullets to win the A fleet. 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 mikes lab board and 10m avanti membrane 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.

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

However, 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. Strategically, 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 whether its a 89cm board on the slalom course or a kite foil on the windward leeward course.

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...
Results- here

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.