Sunday, March 29, 2015

Baja take 3: rediscovered, reinvented and redefined


This was our 3rd trip to Baja peninsula over the past 4 years but this years packing list included a few new things. It was all or nothing so the whole family came along for the trip + the new foil board & quiver of kites.

The entourage included 1 oversized stroller & toddler car seat (which apparently airlines have no problem taking both for free!), 48 diapers, an energetic toddler, assorted beach and swim toys, wife & 4 kites and foil & board (which airlines have no problem still charging for.)
Still it was easier than traveling with windsurfing gear.

I came to La Ventana for the 1st time in 2012 competing on my slalom windsurfer.
In 2013- I took the slalom gear for the races but stayed and learned to kite.
Finally in 2015 after 2 years of kiting under my belt, I went down with only the kite foil board-determined to get out of my comfort zone and into a new stage of discovery.

We were lucky for wind as it's almost the end of the season in baja. Out 9 days, I got 6 days on the water- uping my total to 15 days on the foil board so far.  The 1 day without wind was a blessing in disguise as without it, any recovery would have been impossible. Getting to La Ventana from SFO couldnt be easier. A 2-1/2 hour direct flight with Virgin Atlantic and a set $50 fee for the 'surfboard.' 
Our days with a 20 month old began early. 6am to be precise. Wide awake and ready to go. I tried to take the morning duty with SUP, kayak,yoga and sand castle building excursions on the beach with a very enthusiastic water baby. I can't say enough about La Ventana Windsports resort right on the beach. It's a family and kite friendly venue that had everything we could ask for- 3 meals a day of great food, a beautiful setting of 12 different units perched right on the beach and in a vegetated interior yard, sup and kayaks, perfectly maintained mountain bikes and beach cruisers, and a hot tub at the end if the day to soak them sore bones and muscles.
Needless to say, the late morning nap was a must for baby and me.

By 11-12 the wind was nearly always in.
The 1st 2 days here were basically an extension of the steep learning curve with many falls, tumbles launches and crashes. I had sore ribs, bruises on my thighs, butt and waist, cuts on my feet, swollen ankles, nicked brow and brim and a stiff neck from the whiplash of hitting the water at full speed with a helmet on. I'm still considering the impact vest. The kook helmet is mandatory. Even in warm water a wetsuit softens the blow.

Something began to happen by the 3rd day- I got more comfortable and began to know what to expect.  Bar pressure plays a big part. I rode both the 11m & 7m kites in 14-22k.
My rides were getting longer and I could easily lift off and begin to foil at will and touchdown when needed. By the last 2 days I began to get into the rhythm of keeping the foil up and steadily riding without getting launched every 10 seconds but sometimes I still got randomly launched over the front of the board.
By the end if the week I was able to get going upwind on both tacks more efficiently. The foil really wants to track and is almost effortless once you find the sweet spot.
Downwind. It's a different story.
Somehow the mental block or muscle memory has not triggered yet on starboard tack. Perhaps it's the side shore conditions or the steep northerly chop but for the life of me- I can't go deep at all on starboard tack just yet.
In all good time, I remind myself as I didn't get to this point by making it easy for myself.

Foiling is attune to an epic powder day in the mountains.  Oh my, that floating feeling of riding 2-3' above the water is like flying. There's no sound except for the occasional touchdown and splash of the hull against the water- reminding oneself of that other reality. Then with a slight pull if the bar, the board jumps up again. It's absolutely the most efficient and fun kind if sailing I've ever done.  I'm having a blast putting myself through the paces and paying my dues.

The best day I had was Thursday in flat water and 12-14k with the ASV 13.5m2 race kite. The foil is in its prime in flat water and light to medium wind. I found it was all about keeping the proper line tension as I glided up and downwind with relative ease.
Granted, I'm still a kook when it comes to making any type of transitions from tacks or gybes but I tried a few - all ending in disaster.  Things can go wrong quickly if you're not careful. My last gybe of the trip ended up with the foil upside down between my lines and finally becoming separated from the board while I got dragged downwind to relaunch the kite. A kite-mare narrowly averted with only the board washing up on the rocks and a few scratches on the front foil.
What I can say after 6 more days of riding here is that I've rediscovered the joy, surprises and excitement that captured me for the past 25 years on the windsurfer.


Kiting and windsurfing are unique in the sense that they never stop evolving and reinventing themselves. Now even more so with kiting than windsurfing but compared to any static one design class- there's always something that come along new each season with the latest developments that makes last years setup almost obsolete. It's the reason we aren't racing the original windsurfer with teak booms and a dagger board any longer. There's no stopping progress. Besides the development of the foils, there been a huge push to foil kites. The high aspect ratio platform is just more efficient than a standard tube kite- almost like the how the camber inducer changed how we raced windsurfing sails. As with life,constant development and reinvention are necessary to stay relevant.

Sometimes you can throw money at a problem to find a solution but this was not one of those times. All that matters now is time on the water for me.  The temptation to get the latest gear will have to wait as last years foil and kites will have to hold out till I can outgrow their performance and even get around the racecourse.


As a foreshadow to what's coming next in my kite foiling progression - the 1st stop of the Kite Foil Gold Cup was going on just down the beach at Playa Central- the 2nd best little secret in La Ventana behind La Ventana Windsports. The Withington family had built a kite pro shop with lessons, restaurant and bar and is place to be in La Ventana- especially if you are a racer. They imported the best kite race director- Robbie Dean and Jessica Barhydt  from San Francisco along with 45 of the best kite foilers in the world. I took part as part of the jury as there's no way I was ready to even get around a course just yet.

The kite rules are a work in progress- something that still needs to be redefined - especially with the foil class as a boards are now moving 12m a second and that makes keeping clear a rather challenging proposition- especially in close quarters like the start or mark roundings. There were several request for redress as kites got tangled but for the most part, the jury found racers failed to keep clear even if they had the right if way. Note to self- always look for an exit strategy.  As they are written, the rules want you to avoid collisions and tangles at all cost and protest later. Not the opposite- as usually happens in most racing classes.
Like windsurfers, the kiting race community struggles with how seriously to take the rules. It's a beach culture after all and we've come here for the most part to avoid the restrains that society already puts on us. With that said, the racing rules are a necessary part of the game and without them,the game could not be played fairly at the level it's evolved to be.

Anyway you look at it, tangling is slow and will most likely end up with 1 or 2 lost races.
Giving way may only take a few extra seconds but goes a long way at the end if the day.
Many thanks to Kaenon and patagonia for their continued support.
Huge thanks to Michael Petrikov for the photos

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Kite foiling- the first 5 days: the ups and downs

The first 5 days of learning to ride a foiling kite board have been an overwhelming experience. I've gone from wanting to give kiting up completely, to having realized that this might possible be the coolest sport ever.

Below is a video of one of my buddies learning to foil. It pretty much sums up everything I experienced the 1st 2 days.

Day 1, February 16th:I felt like a total newb. I could hardly water start the foil board, nonetheless try to ride it in a straight line.  I wiped out dozens of times just going out a few hundred feet past Anita Rock and back- which took me almost 30 minutes.  It felt like trying to ice skate with roller skates.

How is this even possible, I thought to myself.

For the most part, I tried to ride bow down so as not to foil and learn some control but the foil is super sketchy in displacement mode. The early season gusty winds didn't help much either was I was either left op'ed or left floundering with a 9.0  kite.

I face planted into the board, catapulted over the side, tumbled off the back, and crashed to both leeward and windward- all in epic fashion. The most terrifying- when the board came foiling towards me after having jumped off. At least one of us got to foil.
I made it back in without killing myself, anyone else or getting rescued!
Foil board 1: Steve 0

Day 2, February 20th: Waterlogged, exhausted but not yet defeated. I got a serious beat down today getting chucked off the board multiple times at full foiling height. I wasn't trying to foil but the board just jumps out of the water once you reach a certain speed and tends to leave the unprepared behind. I spent most of my time in the water- trying to waterstart the board flat. Little did I know, if you turn it on its side, you pop right up. By trial and mostly error, I'll eventually get it but this is really going to hurt.
Foil board 2: Steve 0

Day 2.5, February 22:  I get a little bit too ahead of myself and try to go out when there's not enough wind. My kite doesn't even stay in the sky and I never make it off the beach. My kite still ends up a sandy and wet mess washing up in the shorebreak and I spend the rest of the afternoon untangling my lines as the wind finally comes up.

Day 3, February 24:  Everything got very quiet and before I knew it, I was foiling. There was no sound as the board lifted off from the water. In all my years of sailing and windsurfing, Id never felt anything like it.  I leaned forward to control the pitch and rode what seemed liked minutes but was actually seconds before coming crashing down.  The multiple beat downs I was experiencing were taking their toll but it all seemed worth it for that brief 5 second introductory ride I managed to get.
Foil board 2: Steve 1

Day 4, February 25th: I managed multiple lift offs and foiling rides today. I'm not extually sure how it all went down but if you go fast enough, and keep the board flat, the magic happens. I close my eyes and squeeze my butt expecting for the the worst, but for a moment-its like floating on your own personal cloud. The steady 15k westerly gave me a great base to work with on my 11.0 kite.
I felt much better riding the board bow down going both upwind and downwind- giving me some added confidence.
Gybing or tacking aren't even in the picture yet. To transition, I put the kite at 12.0 and jump off and turn the board manually through the wind.
Foil board 2: Steve 2

Day 4.5, February 26th: First self rescue on the foil. To be fair, I'm not counting this one as I spend more time trying to swim the board and kite in after I realized I was not going to make it back to Crissy where I launched from in the flood tide. I barely make it to last chance beach and make the walk of shame home. The backsides of my knees are blistered from the awkard 30 minutes of swimming.

Day 5, March 1st: That moment I knew I was hooked on windsurfing some 25 years ago. Yea, it's happening again with foiling. It was a perfect day- A steady 15k breeze and a flood tide. I got multiple controlled lift offs after having learned to 'ollie' the board up and out of the water. It's something I wasn't doing in previous sessions and made the lift off much easier and predicable. The feeling of foiling is unlike anything else I've ever done before and I manage to ride the board controlled at full height for several 10-20 second rides at a time. I get going scary fast and know it wont end well as I explode into a god-awful mess.
I get up and try it again with a grin on my face.
This just might be the best thing that ever happened to me.

Total score after 5 days of foiling-
Foil board 2: Steve 3.
I think Im going to stick with this.