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.