Friday, May 25, 2012


5-24-12 will henceforth be known as BIG THURSDAY.

Mike Godsey's 7am  forecast was spot on with the pressure gradients reading off the charts @ .24!
I usually start to pay attention when they reach .07 to .09.
The "skirt alert" was quickly turned into "hang onto your car" warning!

The wind and the swell in the upper half of the San Francisco Bay went off like Ive never seen in my 12+ years of windsurfing here. The Bay was turned into a frothy mess. By 5pm the wind spiked up to a solid 30k and gusting up to 40k+.
City front gust are spastic gusts like a back hand slap to a raw cheek!
They turn whitecaps into liquid spray.
They separate the boys from the men.

The port tack ramps lined up with such precision they practically launched you into orbit.
The starboard tack swell, not to be outdone, was of epic proportions- similar to that at the hatchery on a good day in the gorge.
Did I mention sunshine.
The golden gate was at it's finest with a warm orange twilight glow coming across the Marin headlands and through the iconic golden gate bridge.

Without a doubt- it was one of the finest sessions I've ever had on the San Francisco Bay.

I hesitated on what to rig when I got to the beach as it was already gusting into the low 30's in the early afternoon but we were in a 4:30 lull that calmed things down when I arrived.
I rigged up the bread and butter of my slalom quiver- 7.0 and 39 cm fin on my 105l light weight ml slalom board.
10 min later after a few runs to the middle of the bay and I already knew I was in trouble.
I'm not ashamed to admit defeat when I'm there.

Windsurfing is no fun when you're not dialed into your equipment.
1-2m2 can make the difference between being powered and stupidly over powered.

I came in and switched down to my 85l ml free ride slalom board with 32cm fin and 6.3 north warp.
I was still super wound but beginning to enjoy the flow rather than being at the mercy of it.
Finally I moved my booms all the way down in the boom cut out on my sail and had way better control as I carved down the 5-6' breaking swell and flew across the San Francisco Bay.

There was just a handful of us windsurfers as the kites were off racing to leeward and only came upwind a few times to round their windward mark set near the Presidio shoal. I saw some kite mares unfolding before my eyes as the race crew tried to make their way around the course on their 70cm race boards and 9m kites in 30-40k winds.

The consensus from the windsurfing side of the beach - "the best day this season."
The consensus from kite beach,"OMFG- I cant believe I survived. WTF was I thinking kite racing in that breeze."

Oh to be a windsurfer!
Everyone one of stayed out as long as we could, not to be outdone by the lucky few who were ripping it up. Every time I came back to the beach to catch my breath and let my pulse drop below 150, I looked out and saw 10 locals having the time of their lives.
I headed back out for 'just one more run,' which turned into 5 or 6.

The stoke level was at it highest its been and the grins on our faces couldn't be wiped off.
BIG THURSDAY will go down in the record books as a day to remember!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Calcup 2- report form the Berkeley circle

Another busy weekend of formula training and racing on the SF Bay.
Saturday was the 2nd Calcup race of the year in Berkeley with 19 formula boards on the line for racing.

Stellar job on the RC boat by Lyrah, Anders and Nick!

Race director, Mike Percey mixed it up a bit and set a 2 gybe mark slalom course at the top of the course just after rounding the windward mark. This provided for a bit of a parade but made board handling skills like gybing extra important.
Winds were 15-20k so most of the fleet were on their 10.0's, some on the 11.0's and even some on their 9.0s-proving that it doesnt matter what gear you are using but how efficiently you are using it.

Efficiency was the name of the game for Xavier who took another string of bullets. Hes got some amazing speed that allows his to get back into the game when behind and extend his lead when he's in front. Looking at his set up more carefully, he's using the 167w with a 61-63cm kashy fin and np rs 9.0.
I wouldn't think that would be the most efficient rig in medium wind conditions but he makes it work.

 Xavier- on top of his game!

I was only able to pull ahead once as it got lighter downwind and I got out of the harness and pumped my way down to the leeward mark while the rest of the leaders had to double gybe and go to the opposite end of the gate. Little did I know there would be more pressure on the other side of the course and my quick lead vaporized in the wind...

All in all- 5 races in 15-20k was pretty good.

Our local fleet is still really competitive with Soheil and Eric showing some good results at the top while Al and Chris were trying to dial in their new NP evo4's on the water for the first time.
Tom also had a good showing getting his new 11.0 north  & ZF1 up to speed on the course.
The L12 update form Soheil is that it's better than the L10 in transitions with a bit of an extra umff to stay powered. He was also using the new ZF0 fin.  Ironically, the guys in the east bay on the L12 are all now going back up in fin sizes to account for the bigger board while Xavier on the biggest board is finding success with smaller fins

I was running on my 167 & NP 9.5 evo3 and Z F1 s- fin with good results
As it got lighter in the day I bumped my booms up to max and was holding my uphaul upwind for better angle.  I feel pretty confident with the 9.5 as a good medium to high wind sail but could use some extra power when it gets lighter. The powerful ZF1 makes up for that and gives great drive even as it gets lighter.

2nd row starts look pretty painful with all the chop and bad air

I was pretty consistent around the course grabbing a 2,2,6,2,3.
The 3rd race I got rolled at the start and should have tacked over but tried to dive through the fleet to get clear air and was never able to find a lane to come back. I almost scored big getting back into the hunt by tacking early for the windward mark with 3 boards on my windward hip but got denied at the last minute with a big knock and forcing me to double tack. Sometimes when you're behind you've got to take more risks to get back into the game
Other times, however, you've got to minimize your risk when you're in front with a close group behind you. That was the case in the last race as it got lighter and I kept my strategy to keep going to the left side. I almost blew it as it the rest of the fleet went right to the pressure but somehow managed to claw my way back one by one and grabbing a 3rd for the last race.
The lesson- keep your head on a swivel to keep track of the fleet!

Sunday saw more training with Xavier on the SF city front.
I though maybe Id get some light air training on 10.7 with an early 1:30 session but got blown off the water as the ebb tide and 10-15k breeze quickly built to 18-24k gusty sw gale and bay full of voodoo chop.
I switched down to the 9.5 and we had some good sparing upwind to Baker beach and some really lit up downwind runs. The 68 Z F s- feels better in those conditions but I think I need something even smaller to handle what the SF Bay is capable to delivering.
Upwind it's usually easy to cope with the wind and chop- especially in an ebb where you can pinch to depower but downwind is where things start tot get hairy...
Im getting more used to the double chicken on the 167 with the chicken straps set more parallel. 

Another round of Friday night races this week at the St. Francis YC to look forward to.
See you on the water!
Results and more photos at calcup site

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

2012 Elvstrom Zellerbach regatta report

 This past weekend's Elevstrom-Zellerbach regatta at The St. Francis Yacht Club will be remembered  by some as the supermoon regatta. For the formula boards and kites who started later in the day during max ebb, racers got the full brunt of the San Francisco voodoo chop & 15-25k sea breeze; For the foiling moths- a smooth flood tide and low teen breeze made for equally impressive racing.

Sharing the same course as the lasers, radials & kites made for some close encounters around the race track and our formula fleet had some of the tightest racing we've had in years. We we're overlapped at almost every mark and finish and despite Xavier taking 7/8 bullets- the local SF fleet pushed pretty hard both days. Soheil showed the most consistent taking 2nd just in front of me & proved you dont need new equipment but rather to have your equipment dialed in.

The ML 10 is still a very competitive board
The Prydes rigs are still proving to be the benchmark as Xavier, Soheil and myself grabbed the top 3 spots while Al, Chris, Tom and Lyn were sailing their north rigs a bit behind.
Percey is still forging his own path on his Hansen designs.

I got some valuable feedback from sailing the 167 in the breeze.
The first day I was on the new Z F 71 S- fin but it proved to be a bit to much in the chop.
I depowered by lowering my booms but that left me in vulnerable position upwind giving up any angle I had.  Downwind the board is flying although not the most comfortable in the double chicken strap and heel cut outs on the 167.
Meanwhile Xavier on the 167w depowered a bit differently by immediately choosing to go down to a 9.0 after the 1st race and using a 61-63cm fin.
The lesson than became clear the second day was the booms had to stay high on the 167 for upwind performance. During the last race I bumped my booms back up to 90% in the boom opening vs the 60-75% I was running earlier in the day on my 9.5 and held my lane upwind quite well finishing the series with a 2nd just behind Xavier.
I never really got the chance to rail the board to look for more power as I was just trying to keep things moving in the big chop upwind. On Sunday after the 2nd race I switched down the the 67 kashy with more control. 

Both days saw conditions build from 15k up to 25k and 4 races were run back to back to back to back making for a very exhausting series. Its important to stay hydrated while on the water and the camel pack with some goo or cliff bars would have made a welcome addition. Instead the cramps set in both days 1/2 way down the downwind leg. There's nothing quite like your calf freezing up while flying downwind across the chop in the chicken strap.
Camelpack and energy bars go on the regatta check list next time!

After overstanding in the ebb in 7/8 races, I finally was the 1st to tack in the group of port tackers when we neared the layline on the last race of the series. Sure enough it looked disastrous but I got ebbed up right to the mark. 

Another golden opportunity came just when I thought I was out of the game completely reminding me again never ever give up. I blew my tack at the layline at the top mark while still in the hunt but immediate was DFL as I struggled to uphaul and clear the sail in the chop. For the next 3 legs I split tacks with the fleet ahead, took some chances and managed to just miss 3rd by a board length.

There was a lot of pleasure boats on the course all weekend with the ferries, commercial fishermen, freighters and kites to deal with. All you need to do was keep looking around and be aware of what was going to be in your path the next min or 2.  For one brief moment, I lapsed and forgot to look downwind 2 min before the start. It wasn't until about 30 sec that I realized I need to high tail it down the line to avoid being run over by a red and white ferry making his way right through our starting line and cutting the fleet in 1/2.
"Keep your eyes out of the boat" as they say!

A great warm up to an exciting season ahead.

Loscocco posted some great photos of the kites & boards available here.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Thoughts on 2016 Olympics- windsurfing & kiting

Lots of mixed opinions flying around these past few days regarding the decision to include kite boarding in the 2016 Olympics at the expense of windsurfing
Obviously - a very happy crowd here in San Francisco with the kite racers ready to take the Olympic spotlight.

I for one couldn't be more happy for them (and Ive been racing windsurfers competitively since the early 90's- getting on the bus late but nonetheless enjoying the ride.)
It's their time to shine so why not embrace it vs fighting it.
28 years of Windsurfing as an Olympic sport 1984-2012 is not a bad run.
Other classes have come and gone from the Olympics with the sailors having made large investments in their skill sets for that class. They had to move on.
The skills in windsurfing will translate to other classes (including kiteboarding) when it comes to course racing.

Windsurfing's been dying a slow death since it's peak in mid 90's.
Sure some racing classes have succeeded- t293, rsx, pwa, raceboard, formula but you see whats happening. The sports become diluted with so many choices, including kiting which has taken a big piece of the pie from windsurfing in the past 5-10 years. While not entirely agreeing that the RS-X is the best format for the Olympics- I have tremendous respect for the guys sailing that class- they are the most fit athletes in the sailing discipline and probably the entire Olympics.
The fact remain- the Olympics can only be so big- while it would be great to see both classes in 2016- there remains room for only 1.
The kiteboard, on the other hand has had a tremendous evolution with windsurfing paving the way for it's success. The 1st  World Championships in kite boarding course racing were held in San Francisco in 2007 and since then the sport has blossomed. It has evolved and continues to change more than any other form of sailing. I just hope that what's make it so successful isnt ruined by the forces at ISAF. Learn from the RS-X's mistakes and success's and blaze on!

The way I look at the decision is that its actually good for windsurfing- at least in the US.
The Olympics has been a hard call for us in the US- getting funding to support an international campaign from an organization that does not believe in us (rightly so as they're job is to win medals and we have a very bleak chance at that.) At the last trials we had 2 men and 1 women vying for the US Olympic windsurfing spot. At the 96 trials we had 40+. 
We've got several of the top 10 in the world in kite boarding and even the top 2 so for the US the decision was right. We'll get more funding with more medals. A win/win for US Sailing Team.

Now with RSX out, the windsurfing world of racing wont be as compromised as before with so many classes for sailors to choose from.
I see it as a win win for the formula class as the rsx'ers have a choice to either continue racing in a high performance windsurfing class or join the kiting fleet.
The formula class is bound to absorb some of those sailors.
The kiting class will benefit from the all the top racers coming in from the RS-X class.

As I understand, the exact discipline for kiting has not yet been selected. That decision will potentially be made in November or after next years Olympics. Most likely it will be racing as that's the format they loved so much at last months kite evaluation trials in Spain.
There's also a chance ISAF could reverse their decision in November with a 2/3 majority voting for windsurfing if that decision gets to the table. There's a petition by the rsx sailors to do this already.
The technical report from the evaluation trials can be found here.

In fact kite racing takes the same format as formula windsurfing in terms of an open one design class. They have a box rule for their boards (registered by isaf 50 board min production) and kites are limited to 3 per event.
We debated and tried having a formula windsurfing one design in the 2012 Games and came to the conclusion that once you're there- they're are many other interest controlling your fate, politics included and the class takes on a world of its own not necessarily in the sailors best interest. A double edged sword that's tempting but often better left alone.

Im still stoked on windsurfing and we had one of the most competitive regattas this past weekend on the San Francisco city front with 8 formula boards racing and overlaps at every mark and finish. But then I look over at the kiters with 20 kites (and averaging at least that in their weekly series where we can get 8-10 formula boards on our weekly series) and I ask myself what am I doing still racing windsurfers when the kiters have a bigger local fleet, more talent, more potential and now the Olympics. I'm excited to learn the sport and hopefully race with them if it all works out.

If you can't beat em- join em!

Steve USA-4

5-11-12 update
Seems the drama unfolding around the decision is just beginning to come to light.

The Spanish delegate apologized after realizing they voted wrong- link

"The delegates were probably confused or didn't understand the motion fully because of language difficulties, or some may have been napping at the presentations and then cast their votes without realising the implications," Yehuda Maayan told Reuters."

Boards magazine did a detailed interview with Rory Ramsden explaining the decision process and the resulting confusion- link

“The Australians and Americans were consistently voting against windsurfing. They were joined by the Irish, who are not known to have a strong windsurf racing team."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Spring training

2012 has kicked off to be a great year so far for wind in the SF Bay. With just a few powder boarding days in the late winter storms- the afternoon westerly thermals have kicked in earlier than previous years.

To date Ive got almost 40 sessions this season & sailed for the first time in Tomalas Bay- what a treat to sail the big swell that comes in off the pacific in a cold march morning.

 Despite no mavericks competition this season, the swell has been pumping through the gate all winter and spring. Ive had some unbelievable rides in head high to double overhead sessions just outside the golden gate and at fort point this spring. I took it it a bit too far and had to be rescued for only the 3rd time in 12 years of sailing here. My mast broke just at the south tower in a big 4k ebb. By the time I managed to self rescue and get things situated on the deck of my board, I was already 1/2 mile out the gate. Sup'ing my formula board with a broken mast section was not cutting it so I gladly accepted a ride in from a commercial fishing boat returning from their ocean run.

The fog returned in vengeance this spring with a few full white out sessions navigating by the sound of the 2 fog horns at the mid span and south tower of the golden gate bridge. 2 horns every 20 seconds for the mid span horn and 1 horn every 40 seconds at the south tower puts horns at every 20 seconds.
If there's more than that- watch out.
5 long blast means you're in the way of a freighter and he cant change his course!
Without even knowing at the time, the biggest freighter ever to enter under the golden gate bridge came in while I was sailing in the city front. It appeared out fog with an escort of 5 tugs and several coasties.

The spring, Ive gotten the chance to dial in my new mikes lab slalom board in a variety of conditions from fully lit in 25-30k+ &; square voodoo chop to flying across a perfectly flat flood tide with a 48cm fin at 2x the wind speed. Its amazing what that one board does. Ive since gotten rid of my previous 2 slalom boards as its taken the place of both of them. Like any mikes lab board, it feels so comfortable to gybe once you find the right placement of your weight in the turns. Ive found a sweet spot around 7.0-7.8 and a 39-48cm fin range.

Ive taken some of my older formula fins  and given them a new life by repotting hem as slalom fins. Above 40 cm, carbon fins make for a more stable foil and don't breakdown as fast as the g-10 fins. The F4 CRAD fins I also tried were super powerful ideal for light to medium winds and adding the power of an extra  meter of sail.

Also new this spring is the introduction of the starboard 167 into my program.
Here's my thinking- tons of r&d can't be wrong.
Starboard has one of the biggest teams with the top riders on. Their job is to test and develop boards. My goal is to sail it this season against the rest of the SF Bay fleet - who will be sailing the ML12 board and choose the best board for the 2013 season.
We've got the chance to host the 2013 Formula World Championships and I want to have the best equipment possible for the venue.

Ive done some minor adjustments and tweaking but the board is really sailing well out of the box.
It's been a bit of a learning curve to sail that board as its got much more vee in the mid section of the board than what Ive ridden before. As a result you need to really sail the board railed up to take advantage of it's longer rails but once there- its got its own 5th gear. This is harder to do as it becomes windier and choppier but with some more time on the water, Im hoping to find a sweet spot in the rough conditions the SF Bay can deliver.
The other big difference is the rear deck layout at the chicken straps. The deck is recessed so you can apply more fin pressure when you're in the chicken straps off the breeze.

After a few times out, I noticed I wasnt getting any fin pressure off the wind in the chicken strap despite the inverted foot ramps. I mounted the straps as skewed as I could to get the position I was looking for but it turned out the spacing between the rear 2 inserts was way shorter than what I was used to. A quick measurement of the L10 gave me 8-9" between the back inserts. The 167 had 5"
I had Zajicek add 2 new inserts a few inches outboard to get some additional leverage. I also had Mike chamfer the fin bold holes at the deck of the board so to let the fin screws sit flush with the top of the board- much easier on the soles of your feet when getting in the chicken strap!

I'm not entirely convinced the heel cut outs are beneficial as I'm not getting that DDW feeling when I go from the outside strap to the chicken strap. My plan is to fill the void with a temporary hard foam inlay and see if it makes any difference and at what cost.
You never know if you don't try...

For fins this season, Ive got the same approach.
Test as many as I can and go with the best.
So far, not much has been able to beat the consistency of a good kashy fin until recently.

In the lighter and flatter conditions, the Z fins form Estonia seem to have better top end speed and angle. Ive been using both a 71 and 68 F models with a S- stiffness. The 71 performs really well but I havnt been able to find the conditions for the 68 to shine just yet. Ive had limited success with smaller fins but recently tried a 64 and was amazed how easy it was to control in the big breeze and chop.

After 2 seasons of running just 2 sails in my formula quiver, Im beginning to question my own logic. I choose the 9.5/10.7 combo because I wanted to simplify things- 1 sail for high wind, one sail for (SF) light wind. (I say SF light wind as we dont really begin racing till 12k here as opposed to Socal, Florida or Europe light conditions where you'll need a 12.0 to stay alive.)
What this leaves me with is situations where Im over or under powered more often than if I had a 10.0 in my quiver. Almost 50% of out racing is done in 10.0 conditions and Im lacking a rig that shines in those conditions.
Ideally a 3 rig formula quiver in SF would consist of

9.0-9.4 for high wind, OP'ed conditions. Match up with a 54-66 cm fin for more control

10.0- the bread and butter of any SF Formula quiver. Can use either high wind or light winds fins as conditions dictate to power up or depower.

10.7-11.0 Light wind to medium wind rig with more powerful fin to drive board. Must be lightweight and easy to pump!

Ive only had the chance to line up once for racing this season (missing the 1st calcup and 1st friday night race for RC) and was caught jumping the gun quite a bit in last weeks friday night race with 3 OCS's out of 5 races, Either I need to practice my starts more or the RC needs better corrective vision!

Tom Purcell USA-13 showing how to take the bullet in the 1st friday night race of the year.
Photo Credit: Chris Ray
Friday April 13th city front racing from the @StFYC race deck

The goal this season is to get as much time on the water as possible to get comfortable with the best equipment I have access to. 
Up next is this weekends Elvestrom Zellerbach regatta at the St. Francis YC with kites, moths and other high performance dinghies. I cant wait to line up with the moths to see who's faster.
May and June get into the groove with a few Calcups, friday night races and the Bay Challenge.
For the first time this year we will run a CISA clinic for junior windsurfers to be held on June 18-20.
For more info- contact the race office at
July brings the SF Classic, the Formula North American Champs and also the US Windsurfing champs later in the month in the gorge with a big focus on slalom as its the IFCA North American slalom champs.

Im hoping my body will allow me to get through July as August has the Formula World Champs in Latvia. It's on my wish list but so are alot of other things this summer (kiting included.)
Stay tuned, Ill post results, reports and evaluations of the equipment I am using.

And yes- for those doubters (myself included) Ive made it almost 1/2 through the ARE exams and hopefully by the end of next summer Ill be a registered architect!