Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Just enjoy the ride

Friday, August 31- It may be the end of summer but the San Francisco Bay is lit up like a Christmas tree with white caps & voodoo chop. The NW breeze has returned with gusts of over 25 knots & I'm as giddy as a small kid on Christmas morning.

14 other slalom racers jockey for position at the favored pin end of the start line.
With 10 seconds to go, the fleet sends it, pushing speeds of 30 knots on the first beat set 1/4 mile north of the St. Francis Yacht Club for the final race in the 2018 Friday Night Slalom Series.
It's anyone's race as the top 2 are tied on points going into the series final.
Most racers have 2-3 rigs & 1-2 boards available at their disposal but I'm running tight this season with only 1 board and 1 rig used for the entire series. It works for 90% of the time. The other 10%, I hang on like hell and just enjoy the ride.
We round the first mark set deep in mounds of chop and a blistering breeze. I come in hot just behind the leaders and wait for a moment to pounce. Dr. Nick Mast is in full control just behind the series leaders, Soheil Zahedi & Jean Rathle. I wait for any opportunity but the leaders don't let up one bit.
2 more gybes, 3 more reaches and all I can do is hang onto 3rd for the 1st race
My approach is to sail as conservative as possible in the front of the fleet and not make any mistakes.
Race 2 starts and it's full mayhem on the 1st leg. I nail the start, getting a good jump on the fleet at the pin end but the steep chop and deep heading to the 1st mark make it almost impossible to control the 70 cm slalom board. My back foot goes into the leeward strap just to maintain some sense of control. We round in a tight pinwheel formation carving through the gybe and getting shot out to the next leg. Those that don't commit fully, go down hard and are left swimming at the mark. When you're out in front all you have to worry about is not screwing up too much. There's no head games except for your own.
I make it through the remaining 2 gybes, hang on like hell and get the bullet for the 2nd race of the night.
Race 3 goes by like some type of white flash. Wind, water, spray- it's everywhere. I find myself in 4th behind the series leaders going into the last leg. Local hot shot & chef extraordinaire, Andre Larzule demonstrates that you don't need race gear to get around the course fast, just fast gybe and the dude can gybe. I never get an opportunity to pass except to send it in the last 100m of the course. I put the petal to the metal and pass to windward with just seconds to spare and squeeze into 3rd again.

Race 4 is where it's anyone's game. The leaders both take themselves out in spectacular wipe outs. Soheil does a super man going into the 1st mark and is left swimming as the fleet scurries by him. Local wizard, David Bernsten has full control on his xs slalom board and small slalom rig. These are his conditions for the past 25 years and he's killing it tonight. 1 more gybe to go with David in the lead and Jean just a few board lengths ahead of me. We both go into the gybe like a pair of synchronized swimmers. I opt for the inside lane as Jean stumbles through his gybe and goes down. He's left a small room of opportunity for me to take. The lane is only a few feet wide. With my butt checks fully clenched, I send it. All I see are the whites of his eyes as I fly past his head bobbing in the water. I make it through by the skin of my teeth or maybe Jean's. I somehow keep it together the last leg to secure 2nd while Dave gets the bullet. Jean is slow to get going to amongst  the chaos of the rounding and takes his throw out for the evening in 7th.

Race 5. A quick tally of the scores in my head puts Jean and I tied going into the race and Soheil just 2 points ahead. Again, it's anyone's game to win or lose. Both Jean and Soheil have eaten their throw out so there's no room for any mistakes.  There's some fierce head battles between the 2 as whomever wins this last race, takes the series. The duo never let each other out their sights in the pre-race battle. Soheil is on his xs mike's lab 90l slalom board and 7.1 rig while Jean opts for his 100l bump and jump board and 6.3m rig. What ever gets you around the course faster.

I'm just about beat down. Holding onto the 7.6m rig and big board has me feeling the pain. My arms are stretched to their limit. My hands- barley able to hold on. Maybe I should have opted for my time on the water this season in liue of kiting but I try not to think about it and just enjoy the ride for the last race of the season.
I get absolutely buried at the start, failing to pull the trigger early enough as the top 3 boards fly off to an early lead. Soheil is in absolute control on his small rig and flies to an early lead. However, you can never count Dave out. He flies past Jean on the last leg and gets 2nd for the night while Jean and I fill in from behind.  That leaves us tied for the evening and the tiebreaker for windsurfers goes to whomever has the better throw-out. I have a 4th while Jean is sitting on a 7th. As I'm reminded for the umpteenth time, you're only as good as your worst race, even if it's a throw out.
A big congrats to Soheil for taking his first season series. He's been the man all season, always with the right gear and sailing solidly every race when it counts.
Ive been racing in the St.FYC Friday night series for almost 20 years now and it's never been as much fun as it is now. I don't take things as seriously as I used to but realize the reward comes in the process, not the results. No matter how you finish, just enjoy the ride.
Many thanks to the St.FYC, PRO Ian Mcclelland, Race office and many volunteers to make this possible.

2018 StFYC Friday Night Slalom Series Results
Photos: Tia Westeberg, Maxim Pantchenko

Monday, June 4, 2018

Friday Night Slalom Series- It's all in the start

Friday night- June 1st.  Wind's up
We blaze into the 2nd night of our summer slalom series with 14 boards on the line.
I'm well lit on the ml slalom 70cm board, 7.6 avanti machine and 42cm Z fin as the building ebb & sea breeze pump through the golden gate and down the city front.

photos by Chris Ray
It's a civilized series series, where you can stand at the waters' edge till 1 minute before the start and still make the pin end of the start line. 2-1/2 minutes later, its all over and we line up to do it again.
I take a few practice runs before the start and realize its going to be a pretty heady 1st reach with the 3-4' voodoo chop, breaking swell and 18-22 knots of breeze.
I nail the 1st start at the pin, breaking out from the pack and immediately enjoy clear air down the first leg. The first gybe is hairy with the pack just behind me. I keep it together and lead the fleet to the A buoy. 'Wide and tight' is the rule for mark roundings as I approach mark 2 and close the door on the guys trying to sneak into whats left of "NO ROOM!"
The usual suspects go down as Jean and Soheil are left swimming.
I make it around 2 more blazing reaches and get the first bullet of the night.

Race 2- Wind's up even more with puffs closing in at 25k,  There's some confusion at the start with a late horn but I send it with my back foot in the leeward strap for control down the first reach. David Bernsten puts in into overdrive making the most of his narrower board and flying right over the top of me. He keeps up the pressure the whole race, not letting up and bit and grabs his first bullet of the night while I stay in 2nd. Later, on the beach, we all agree to abandon the race as the RC timing was off.

Race 3- Soheil and Jean are on a mission- getting a clean start and leading the pack. Im in a close 3rd, looking for any opportunity to take advantage of their mistakes but their smaller boards give them a real advantage on speed. My gybes are clean but not enough to make up for the difference. Jean puts the pressure on the last leg and reduces the distance till he and Soheil are overlapped at the finish with Soheil just edging him out. I settle for 3rd

video by Chris Ray

3 races- 3 different winners. This is going to be tight!

I line up for race 4, nailing the pin start again with speed and am immediate out in front. It's amazing what a difference a good start will get you. You've got clear air and able to make your own decisions. I play it pretty conservative and make all my gybes. In a 2 min. race, you really want to avoid any mistakes or else your shot out the back door. I sail to my 2nd bullet of the night.

video by Chris Ray
Race 5- Wind is letting up a bit to 16-20k as I jockey for position in the pre-start. I'm with a group at the pin end. At 10 seconds, I send it, almost sure Id be over early but come across the line clean and out in front. I nearly lose it at the A buoy with Marty Rosse sailing the best race of his life and playing bumper boats at the rounding. I come out unscathed but the fleet is right on my tail.
Soheil keeps up the pressure till the finish but I'm able to hold him off for another bullet.

We make up race 2 and sail the final race of the series in what looks like a dying breeze. I nail the start again getting a good jump on the fleet and nearly make it around the course planing until the final 20 feet to the finish. Soheil, on his larger board, comes in strong and stops in the same spot as me as we drift across the line overlapped. I edge him out for the 3rd time and take the evening with 4 out of 6 bullets. The rest of the fleet isn't so lucky and barely makes it around the course in the dying inside breeze.
video by Chris Ray

All in all, another great night of racing on the city front. The big lessons from this evening are the importance of a clean start. Without that, its all catch up and sailing in dirty air.
Huge thanks to the volunteers and rcers for coming out strong and supporting the series.

Results here

Chris Ray photos here

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Friday Night racing- blowing the dogs off their chains

To say it was windy would be an understatement: It blew the dogs off their chains on the evening of Friday, May 18, for the first St. Francis Yacht Club Friday Slalom Race Series. Twelve windsurfers braved the conditions, rigging up anywhere between a 5.8 and 8.6 sail for the building ebb and 20-35 knots of breeze.  

An annual series started by StFYC’s Bill Weir and Staff Commodore Jim Kiriakis, it’s been drawing Bay Area windsurfers to the challenges of brisk summer onshores since the 1990s. This year, organizers are trying out a new course with just one mark set halfway between Crissy Field and the StFYC. The fleet starts on port tack just off the beach and immediately heads out to a mark set by the shipping channel. A quick gybe takes them back to the A buoy off StFYC, then back to Mark 1 and finally a screaming reach to the finish by B buoy and the Club. The whole thing takes less than 3 minutes if you can keep your board pointed in the right direction and stay out of trouble.

Race 1 caught a few of the fleet off guard with only 4 finishers. 
I remind myself of the most basic rules- make it to the start and finish line. The rest is arbitrary. 

Race 2. The breeze was filled in solidly to the beach and Soheil Zahedi, Jean Rathle and Nick Mast  quickly charged to a 1-2-3- finish making it look easy. 

Race 3 was an all-out fight to the finish. I was stupidly overpowered and in the leeward back strap to ease the fin pressure on the reach. I made a few conservative gybes and racers fell down around me like dominoes. The last mark saw a pinwheel of four racers stacked up and I came out in the lead going into the finish. I couldn’t turn my head to see where the fleet was, but I knew they were charging below me. One nasty piece of chop sent the nose of my board flying and I eased up: In that split second, I went from first to third with Mast and Zahedi passing me to leeward and grabbing the first two finishes. Lesson learned: Never give up, even an inch

Race 4 I was finally back in the game. Rounding the first mark in the pack, I pushed a bit too hard on the second mark rounding and went for a swim. Water-starting a 7.6 in breaking waves and 30 knots was not as easy as I remember. Vincent Fallourd showed a solid performance with a taking behind Zahedi and Rathle.

Race 5 was the final race of the night with conditions gusting over 30 knots and the building ebb making sedan size voodoo chop around the course. IN addition, the big boat fleet was using the A buoy as their starting mark to cross the Bay

Stay out of trouble, I reminded myself, then pushed as hard as I could, but Rathle and Zahedi walked away with smaller gear and were able to get to throttle up and really send it. We approached Buoy A in a cluster of monstruous ebb, big boats and too-little time for decisions. I sent it below one of the big boats while Jean head above, putting me just in front of him as we ground back up to Mark 1. The big boats were keeping the same line as us, but just another obstacle to get around. We all made it around Buoy A, but Rathle was really able to send it on his tiny bump-and-jump gear and got the final bullet of the night

Stay out of trouble, I remind myself. I push as hard as I can but Jean and Soheil walk away with smaller gear and are able to get to 5th gear and really send it. We approach mark A in all all out clusterfu%* of big ebb, big boats and little time for decisions. I send it below one of the big boats while Jean heads above. I come out just in front of him as we grind back up to mark 1. The big boats are keeping the same line as us but are just another obstacle to get around. We all make it around a buoy but Jean is really able to send it on his tiny bump and jump gear and get the final bullet of the night. 

All in all, more fun than I remember but a lot of work just to stay upright and moving fast. Thanks to all those who joined and thanks to the volunteers who helped make it happen. 

If you're interested in racing, our next Friday night race is Friday June 1st. 
New racers are always welcome and volunteers appreciated. 

Big thanks to Maxim Panchenko for the photos. 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Follow the lines going south

It had been 2 years since I made my last trip south to Baja for a winter get away. I was due. The brownie points were earned and credit was being cashed in.

I pushed back my work deadlines, arranged for preschool pick ups and drop offs. Life's responsibilities were postponed, at least for the next 9 days. My next kiting adventure was about to begin.

With direct flights to Cabo from San Francisco, you can be out kiting the same day in board shorts on a windy Sea of Cortez. Everything I needed for a week of kite boarding fit into an over sized 'golf bag' - 2 boards, 3 kites, a harness and a foil.

It's always a pleasure to roll into a place like La Ventana where you're not the only one seeking this hedonistic windy lifestyle. Thousands of like minded kiters and windsurfers have been flocking here for decades turning this small fishing village in a wind junkies dream. Every year, it changes with more development and more people, but you can always find your happy spot a few hundred feet offshore once you catch that first piece of  rolling Cortez swell.

The goal for week was to become one with the new kite foil but then again Ive said never said no to just having fun on the surfboard when it gets windy. Rules are meant to be broken. Fun is meant to be had. I'm not as strict on myself as I used to be. I may be getting softer as I get older but at least I'm enjoying the ride.

The first session of the trip was a relaxing sunset session on the Ozone 9m hyperlink foil kite and surfboard in a 18-22 knots.  I'm having so much fun on this kite on both the surfboard and foil board. Its got all the benefits of a foil kite without as much hassle as dealing with a full on race kite. At this point in the game, its usually still rider error holding me back, not the equipment.

That evening, Loscocco and I end up having margaritas at Palblos which in typical baja fashion- turns into dinner 90 minutes later. Everyone here is on baja time which means dont expect much.
By 9pm, it's baja midnight, time to go to bed and get ready for another windy day in paradise.

Day 2- the wind is up to 18 knots by 1pm and building throughout the afternoon. I arrange all the borrowed hardware for my new foil and finally hit the water. OMFG, I can not believe what Ive been missing. Despite riding an early generation (#6) ML goose neck foil, the latest mikes lab foil is an incredibly stable foling machine. Dozens of prototypes and years of development led to this and it shows. I'm blazing downwind across the tops of swell at 35 knots without as much as flinching a muscle. I get a bit greedy and go flying out of the backside of some breaking swell and eat it- sending myself super-manning across the water, laughing the entire way.

In true baja style, I come in for a lunch break and mid afternoon siesta and am back out on the water on the 8m kite in big dreamy swell. The 44cm wide mikes lab board is incredibly efficient for foiling gybes but as I touch down, to make the foot transition, I bury the nose and eat it again.
A few minutes later, I finally built up the confidence to try a few tacks near shore. This has been my achilles tendon of kiting. I've never been able to make this transition nor have given it much effort.

There's something about breaking the muscle memory of 30 years of windsurfing while turning my back into the wind for a tack that I just havn't been able to overcome yet. With the kite, you do the opposite and turn your body into the wind crossing from one tack to the other. I must have tried a dozen times, failing miserably each time. Failing is really not as bad as I thought. The kite may drop, but you just relaunch it. No big deal. I shrug it off and go for a long downwinder- finding my zen in the rolling seas of Cortez swell.

Day 3-4 Loscocco and I head up to the hot springs a few miles north of El Sargento up the coast from La Ventana. It's relatively quiet up here with the majority of kiters at the south end of La Ventana Bay. I practice a few more roll tacks on the surf board & 9m foil kite near shore but get tangled up and bow tied. I spent the next 20 minutes untangling, untwisting and decompressing on the beach.  It must look pretty funny as I practice my roll tacks on the beach, in line at the super market and even in the shower. I am trying to wrap my head around this transition to no avail. I looks so easy from the outset. After a full afternoon of kiting at the hot springs,we come back to the campground, where I get schooled by a bunch of so cal teenagers all making their foiling tacks. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry as I sip by pacifico ballena with my feet in the sand.

Day 5. Double session on the 8m kite with early session on the foil and late afternoon session on the surfboard.  I make some real progress with foiling transitions going from toe side and foiling in and out of gybes.  Nailing a foiling gybe is one of the more rewarding experiences so far. I put a string of 5-6 foiling gybes together before the shit hits the fan and I eat it, burying the nose, sending me catapulting forward.

In the 2nd session of the day, Loscocco and I find the sweet spot at the bottom of the bay near the catchers mit. It's inevitably where all the beginners who cant keep upwind end up, but its got a nice break from all the swell working its way down La Ventana Bay. We work our way down to Bufadorao beach riding the endless swell down the shoreline. The long haul back upwind on the surfboard takes it toll but alas- endless ballenas when we get back to the RV.

Day 6- another day on the 9m ozone hyperlink and foilboard. I practice my tacks and down looping gybes on the inside where the consequences are a little less dire. Despite under rotating, I almost make it through a tack but realize I've lost my board in the transition. One step at a time, I remind myself. I spend the rest of the afternoon making some long upwinds to the mid channel between the main land and isla ceralvo. The ML foil is just as stable upwind as it is downwind. Even as I slow down to make my transitions, the board stays foiling. I just wish I just I could say the same.

The real treat for me so far has been the dreamy downwind runs on the foil in the swell. It seems like the foil wouldn't be as fun in the swell as a normal surfboard where you're in contact with the water and swell energy but oh my- the foil delivers another whole dimension to riding the swell. You can speed up or slow down and practically put yourself anywhere on the swell. Often times, you can just put your kite slightly over head and be pulled by foil and swell alone. Once you get to the bottom of the bay, you just sail back upwind for 10 min and do it all over again.

Day 7- Another trip to the hot springs with Loscocco for a foiling adventure. We do a long upwinder just past  Punto el Jalito just far enough to where we can see Isla de Espirito Santo off the coast of La Paz. We are ready to do a crossing to isla ceralvo but alas- the wind starts getting sketchy with the 8m kites and we bear off for a long down winder in the dreamy cortez swell. I find my happy spot on starboard tack foiling right into the setting sun with dolphins, whales and flying fish all around me. I look over to see Loscoccos grinning ear to ear carving downwind in the swell on his foil.
The famed La Ventana Classic starts today but for the 1st time in my life, I'm not really interested in a competition but rather just enjoying the ride- figuring this out on my own. At the end of the day, with ballenas in hand, we watch the 100 or so competitors compete in the big air, freestyle and course racing. The most exciting race by far is the slow bicycle race on the hard packed beach. Each competitor, riding in costume tries to be the slowest bike across the 100m course. Its anti-climatic at its best but very entertaining.
The organizing committee does a great job at raising funds for the local schools and brings out the entire community in the process. Kudos to them!

That evening we find the famed Israeli falalel bus. We're treated the the best hummus Ive ever had by several jewish hippes living in their bus on the side of the road. It's the kind of experience that makes baja so unique. We overtip and leave them some beer in hopes they'll be there the next day. 

Day 8- we wake up early for a sunrise hike at the hot springs as it looks like we may get skunked for breeze today. The pre dawn colors do not disappoint. We are treated to an amazing sunrise as we hike a few miles up the coast to a perfect vantage point overlooking isla ceralvo and the rising sun. I try to keep up with Loscocco but hes scrambling up some boulders and around a point and out of site in no time. I'm not sure how he even functions without coffee but he's charging full on by the break of dawn.

That afternoon the racing has been cancelled but the whole crew is back a the campground foiling on their 15-18m kites. I rig up but the 13m foil kite just doesn't have enough punch to get me off the beach. Alas- the first day of getting skunked but it's all good.

The next day, we pack up and before I know it, we're on a plane back to SFO with my foil tacks a distant memory. The experience has been great, gaining more time on the water with the foil, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. This vacation may be over but it's time to start getting collecting those brownie points to cash in for the next trip.