Sunday, November 17, 2019

Finding the way- a pilgrimage to Jeri

Like any seasoned sailor worth his own salt, I'd been to the most of the wind meccas of the world. Maui, Garda, Hood River, Baja, Tarifa and beyond. 
I'd raced in world championships, Olympic trials, stood on podiums and agonized in defeat.
But nothing quite could prepare me for the paradigm shift ahead. 
The road to Jericoacoara is not an easy one. It's about as far removed from the modern world as possible. San Francisco to Miami, then to Fortaleza and finally a 5 hour drive north along the barren coast.  It sits south of the equator on a remote stretch of the NE coastline of Brazil facing out to the Atlantic.  But once you're here, the magic happens.

Countless pilgrims come here every year, pirouetting themselves down the coastline riding liquid roller coasters, propelled by the gale force breeze and abundant sunshine. I was no different. Walking down the sandy streets of Jericoacoara after the first days' down-winder, I recognized myself in every perma-grined, sun-drenched, board short wearing wind warrior- tired and salty after a full day on the water. 

 We were all here to find a connection with the wind, waves and water.  

The big draw in Jeri is the down-winders. 
The coast extends as far as the eye can see and so do the waves.  

I'd come from a racing background where the goal was to get around the course the fastest, making the fewest mistakes.
You'd follow a set of rules within a limited playing field. The objective "was to become a 'master-player'- who is perfectly skilled at the game and who can play it as if they already know the outcome," according to James Carse of Finite & Infinite Games.

Now, the game, if you can call it that, was just to enjoy the ride & find the flow in the present moment.
There was no winning or losing.
This was the 'anti-race' where the most turns, cutbacks & gybes comes out with the biggest smile.

This was a fundamental shift in thinking.

Day 1- Finding the Flow.
After getting a few hours on the foil & 6m kite, I was ready for my first down-winder to Jericoacoara. We set off from Prea ducking in and out of anchored fishing boats in the shore break with the wind at our backs and the sun blazing overhead.  The crowds thinned and pretty soon it was just the four of us making our way down the coastline.  Fisherman's huts dot the sandy landscape every few miles- reminiscent of a simpler way of life.

I was still in the mentality that it was a race and I had to consciously slow down to take advantage of everything that was offered.
Rounding the point at Jericoacoara, the breaking waves turn to ocean swell pumping like some liquid uproar. The swell slowly sneaks up behind you until finally you're on the crest and soon enough, barreling down the face like an out of control freight train. 

I feel like I'm one with the ocean, tapping into the waves' energy.

A quick down loop and a carve of the board for port to starboard, sends you flying in the other direction jettisoning you deeper and faster down the line until you cut back and ride it all over again on the opposite tack. 

Again and again and again.    

The sun was getting low on the horizon, melting into the sea. Gradients turned from yellow to red to pink and finally purple.  Each passing moment and wave was like an eternity, totally absorbed in the here and now of the present moment.

We land just past sunset dunes where flocks of people line up to take in the twilight. I hardly notice their silhouettes atop the rolling hills of sand.  15 minutes later with the kites and boards packed up, we all had caipirinhas in our hands walking down what looked like shakedown street from some 1980 Grateful Dead show. 

Life is good.

Day 2- The Ocean is Love.
I awake at daybreak with the sounds of tropical birds and swaying coconut trees.
I greet the day with sun salutations and a few moments of meditation suspended on a swing, staring out at the sea.
My mantra of 'the ocean is love' melts me into a morning bliss.

Breakfast is a spread of fresh fruit- mangos, papayas, water mellows, passion fruits & kiwis.  
My hungry body takes it all in.

The late morning foiling session quickly turns into a frothy tizzy of white caps and blowing sand. I’m quickly over powered on my 6m ozone alpha single strut kite and moses foil.

Time for the next down-winder. 

If I did 1000 turns on yesterday's down-winder, I must have done 2000 today. I found the flow right away and got more in tune the shore break. Each wave was an opportunity to cut back, carving the board and throwing spray over my shoulder.  I took a wider surfboard & 8m kite which let me really send it. It was all coming together. I was learning to put a few maneuvers together to make some decent turns up and down an incoming set of waves. I see my 3 companions frolicking in the waves, spread out like some marching ants feasting on a surprise pick nick in the middle of the woods.

At the end of the line, waits our 4x4 buggy with a cooler of beer and fresh fruit. The mangos hit my parched salty, sun drenched lips like butter in a hot frying pan.

I could get used to this lifestyle.

Day 3 Rinse and Repeat

Day 3 is a repeat of the previous 2 days. Late morning foiling followed by a down-winder as the sun liquefies into the horizon. 
I'm humbled by the beauty of this place. 
It oozes with colors and smells.
I'm totally absorbed in the moment of it all. 
Waves seem to stand still, building up in slow motion and come crashing down in a flurry of white water spray. 
My confidence builds as I spend more time in the shore break riding endless sets.
Heel side. Toe side. Rinse and Repeat

Day 4- The Tatajuba Express

The wind is slow to build but get a quick session on the foil board with bigger front wing. It adds some lower end grunt like walking on water instead of flying over it. The real breakthrough today comes in the down-winder. We add a coach to our program and all of a sudden, I'm being fed instructions into my ear about proper board technique and kite trim.

I can't believe I haven't done this sooner.
Receiving good coaching is a game changer.
It's quickly becoming apparent kiting is all about one fluid motion and being in harmony with your board and kite. 
It's not three separate items but one fluid dance.

The 25 mile downwind run to Tatajuba seems to last forever as I'm riding like a completely different kiter with the help of Andreas of Uncharted Kite Sessions. I begin to carve the board from rail to rail with my knees bend and leading with the shoulders and following through with my hips. All of a sudden, my turns and transitions are fluid. I'm holding the bar with just my finger tips and trimming the kite with center line pressure & coming out of turns with pressure. The death grip I once had on my bar from years of windsurfing seems to soften with every turn.  I become one with kite and board as I dance gracefully between incoming sets.

We head back upwind in the 4x4 with the boards strapped to the roof and the kites packed away until we reach the river mouth of the Guriu river. It's inaccessible but crossable with the help of the most primitive barge I've ever seen. 2 wood planks are laid out and we drive up onto the barge for the crossing. 2 minutes later, we're on the other side and blazing up the hard packed sand just as twilight permeates the sky. 


 Day 5 Best Day ever on repeat

My mantra changes to 'best day ever' and it's on repeat.
Yesterday's down-winder to Tatajuba is replaying in my mind. I can recall every turn and cutback even though it all dissolves together into one dreamy hallucination. 

We line up to do it all over again.
Tatajuba bound from Prea on downwind express

If I did 2000 cutbacks yesterday, I do double that today. 
I began to enter the flow state. It's a feeling of full immersion and complete absorption of the process. Time and space seem to standstill.  I'm feeling at one with everything rather than a set of components.   Every wave is an opportunity. Every gusts is a blessing.
Crossing the Guriu river mouth on the downwind run is like some amusement park. Waves start breaking 1/2 mile from shore and I dance gracefully between every incoming set. I'm hardly doing anything at all but floating around like a butterfly. 
It's pure bliss.

I can tell I’m getting tired after almost 3-1/2 hours on the water when I start to revert back into my old habits. I'm quickly spat out and dumped on my head in the shore break. Life has a way of keeping you humble.

We stop for a late afternoon lunch in Tatajuba. It's nothing more than a simple fishing village with a few huts at the river mouth set above the high tide mark. Wind junkies sit on the shoreline waiting for their next session. We nod to each other as if nothing more needs to be said. 30 minutes later, we are feasting like kings on the local seafood, rice, beans & vegetables. The Bohemia pilsner goes down like water. 

I melt into my bed that night; still salty & crusty but completely satisfied. 

Day 6- The breakthrough.
I finally set my focus on tacking the kite board. It's something I've wanted to do for years but set up a mental block in my head. It's as if I've been standing on the edge of a diving board and not jumping it. I was paralyzed with fear. Something in my ego was not letting me overcome this.
With the help of Andreas, we broke down the tack into several understandable and easy steps. I watched him tack with ease.
Ok I said me self, just do it. I ran through the steps in my head. I was overthinking it. I stumbled. I fell. I picked myself back up.
I tried again and again until finally it began to click. I made it.

I was overwhelmed with joy, accomplishment & pride.
I was ecstatic, beaming and radiating with such a personal happiness.

Everything shifted when I changed my mindset from what could go wrong, to what will go right.

The kite floated overhead and to the other side in one fluid motion.
The board rotated under my feet.
I came out on the other tack with line tension.

OMFG, I got this, I thought to myself.

We set off on our afternoon down-winder and I was ecstatic. 
Still beaming, I began tacking on the down winder just to prove to myself I could do it.
It felt great knowing that you can set your mind to something and achieve it.

Don't let fear guide you. 

Day 7 Dreamy Bliss
By 10 am the wind was already a solid 20-25. I opted for the 4m ozone alpha kite on the foil board. It took me a few moments to get comfortable but oh, my, this was fun. The small kite pivots so easy in the big breeze and just whips you around. Some of the lessons on the surfboard translate easily to the foil board. Bent knees, foot switches. If you can do on one. You can do it on the other.

The down wind session on the surfboard & 8m kite to Guriu was dreamy- in and out of the shore break, gybing every 5 seconds to stay in tune with the waves. I switched my stance to put my back foot over the kick pad and really was able to snap the board around.  The flow really started to happen when I stopped thinking about everything and become the action itself.  I could have kept going forever except the sun was melting into the ocean.

Day 8- All tacks. All Day.
I put my focus on the tack and having had a lesson the previous day. I told myself I wouldn't stop till I got to 50 tacks. It took me 93 attempts but I made it. I'm simply amazed at the power of the mind when you put your attention to something. 

It's pretty simply actually- sheet out, bring the kite overhead, hold the bar with the back hand while opening up the body with the front hand, bend knees, rotate the kite to the new side, turn your back to the wind while turning the board through the wind and voila, you're on the new tack.

I had a huge sense of accomplishment after having hidden from this for so long. It's like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. 

I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to unravel the duck tack. It's a bit different than the regular tack in that you keep your body facing into the wind vs turning your back to it. It took me several dozen attempts just trying to get the kite through the window and over to the other side without being totally disorientated. I'm a hot mess but on the path. With enough practice, I become the path. I keep trying. This one's not going to be as easy but I know it's achievable.

Day 9 Harmony
I get some practice tacking before the big down winder to Tatajuba. My confidence starts high after making a few tacks. 
Off we go, loosing ourselves in the down wind flow. I'm feeling more alive then ever. The 8m kite turns on a dime like an extension of my body and I seem to nail every transition. The board carves from rail to rail. My focus is intense with my mind and body completely absorbed in the process. Everything is in harmony.  The shoreline goes by like some blurry mess with all my attention on the waves in front of me and puffs above. 

Day 10-11 Lift off to the Mothership.
The days blend into each other. I’m pretty sure I achieved lift off to the mothership. Bliss, Kharma, Divinity I'm not sure what you call it but I got there. Everything I need is right here, right now. I sleep like a baby and do it all over again the next day. 

'Best Day Ever' is becoming a repeating mantra. 

Day 12- Ciao Baby. Obrigado.

It's the final day here but we manage to squeeze one final session in. We take off early and foil & upwind several miles where the wind builds quickly to 20-25 knots. The swell in unrelenting. I’m getting over powered with the 6m kite but then turn down wind where it all comes together again. I'm floating on a cloud. Everything that I learned the previous 11 days seems to all make sense. 

Something tells me this was more than your average surf trip. I’m humbled at the opportunity to have learned so much in such a short time. My mindset has shifted to all the possibilities of what could go right vs what could go wrong. It’s a simple switch but makes all the difference in overcoming obstacles we set for ourselves.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The path to foiling enlightenment...

photo credit- C Ray

Just when you think you've finally reinvented yourself & got the foiling thing- the whole world comes crashing down. The trick is to the surrender to the flow and just trust the process.

I'm a few years into this foiling endeavor, starting with kiting and now windsurfing and the more I do it, the more I'm hooked. It's almost as if you get a brand new start to enjoy your most favorite thing in the whole world. For me, the process of learning to foil has been unlearning all the other things, which doesn't come easy after decades of muscle memory but then again if you trust the process, the fun will come.

For most, kiting is the light wind option, but for me, it's all about exploring the what the foiling windsurfer can do in the light breeze. When the breeze is under 15k, I opt for the foiling windsurfer as that's the best tool for the job. You can shlog to the wind line and not worry about the repercussions of dropping your kite and self rescuing a foil kite & board. Once up, it doesn't take much to keep going. All the power is generated from the foil and with a few pumps of a 8-9m rig you can get going in 10k and stay foiling in 7k, In anything over 15k, You don't need anything over a 5-6m rig to keep the power going, I  never though a year ago when I first got a foiling windsurfer that a foiling gybe would be possible but now I'm oh so close.

This year I up'ed my game and got a high aspect foil specific rig, It's a game changer with a long luff and short boom. The Severne hyperglide 2 8.0m rig locks in the ride both upwind and downwind and is very powerful around the race course.

Im running a mikes lab foil with an 83cm fuselage and 90cm front wing. Its a bit smaller than the standard 100-120 cm F4 and starboard fuselages but once lit, its f' fast. Most of the time it's me and not the foil that's holding my speed back. However, the longer fuselage is quickly becoming apparent to balancing out the weight of the rig so far forward.  There's not one magic bullet that gets you 100% up to speed but a combination of a bunch of stuff. The foiling board, believe it or not still makes a big difference. The rocker line makes it easy to pop back up once you come down off a foil. The starboard 177 foil board seems to be setting the standard. Lighter booms help as well making the swing weight less when you need to gybe.

At the end of the day, however, it's time on the water that's crucial to making all your foiling gybes light wind take offs and heeling the board to windward.
After 1 Friday night foil windsurf race race and a few Thursday night kite races , I remain humble and realize there's still much to learn for this grasshopper.

Racing is not the end all, be all of sailing. Sometimes you've just got to kick back and enjoy the ride.
After years of competition, I'm realizing its not necessarily about how you finish but how much fun you have.

When its 10-15k, I start thinking about the foiling kiteboard, Its so much fun, generating so much lift from for the foil with the upward lift of the kite. Straight line kite foiling is still like nothing else in the world, as if you were riding a powder board on a bog pow day in the mountains. The upward vector of the kite pulling lend itself well to foiling, Transitions on the other hand are still the death of me. On one tack I can make a foiling gybe, coming from starboard onto port. Switching my feet on the other tack feels like my legs are jello, my knees are wobbly and I'm a hot mess.

I'm still no closer to tacking the foiling kite board than I was 4 years ago when I began this journey. The process of turning the front of body into the wind vs turning your back does not come easy. Years of muscle memory tell me otherwise despite trying to do doing a foiling kite tack in the shower, in the grocery store line and even in my sleep. I look back the beginning of my windsurfing  journey 30+ years ago and and think about how long it took me to learn how to do a proper planning gybe- probably years until I really got it.

I've switched to the lower aspect and more forgiving Ozone hyperlink kites. Even now, 2+ years in, the simpler foil kites are the way to go. I'm actually leaning towards more of a free ride set up for next year as you simply dont need to go that fast all the time, especially as the SF breeze comes up. I see the recreational kite foilers ripping it up with the small kites, small boards  and bigger front foil wings and wonder if there's more than one way to get to this foiling dharma state of bliss.

As for now, I just try to enjoy the moment no matter what I'm' doing. When its 25k+, that means grabbing a small tube kite and surf board and really getting into the puffs. Power kiting with a 7m kite in the big breeze can be so exhilarating. I've gotten several days this spring in 30-40k  breeze playing in the tide lines as force 8 gales blow through the golden gate.

Nothing lasts forever, so enjoy the ride.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Waist deep in the promised land

Imagine your favorite pillow.
White and fluffy and as soft as a baby lamb's coat. Rolling contours envelope the surface creating a personal palace for your head to sink into.

Now imagine the same landscape but instead of a pillow, it's a wide open winter wonderland of snow covered meadows, subtle valleys and endless terrain. You are just a spec on it's surface.

Instead of your head sinking in, you're able to effortless glide across the terrain, riding in and out of valleys, across ridges and floating over streams below.

This is snow kiting.
No waiting in lift lines.
No over priced lift tickets.

Just you, the kite and a pair of skis or snowboard.

Happiness can be found at the end of a kite

This years mid winter adventure took me to the Big Horn mountains of Wyoming- east of Yellowstone National Park for the 2019 Snowkite Masters. It was a gathering of like minded kiters from the Rocky Mountains & East and West coasts at North America's premiere snow kite lodge- Wyoming High Country lodge.

Snow kiting combines the best of snowboarding, sking and kiting. It allows you to ride practically anywhere- up and down the mountain, across powder filled meadows, rolling terrain, gullies and ridges. You can glide down the face of the mountain as the updraft provides continuous lift for the kite. You can ride for miles in any direction exploring endless powder.

However, it ain't as easy as it sounds.

Just getting there and setting up in the cold weather can be a feat

Huffing around to set up kites and snowgear with 5 layers of clothes on and an harness at 9500' elevation takes it toll. So does postholing through the powder to get set up.

I'm not gonna lie. It was cold. -20 wind chill.
2 base layers, wool sweater, 2 downs & a shell + 2 kite mares on my first afternoon out left me wondering what the hell I was doing.

Just like there's no easy way in, there's no easy was out.

The lodge has a snow cat that pulls a trailer out to the best spot for that day's riding. About 15 kiters pack their gear in and ride out the either Terminal A or Terminal B, depending on the wind. It might take an hour or so but once you're there, it acts as base camp for the day. You ride till sunset when they come back and pick you up, towing the trailer back to the High Country Lodge, where the toastiest of toasty meals is waiting for you. The lodge has set the bar high with a full breakfast and dinner served in the great room and warm soup and sandwiches on the mountain.

For 4 days, we repeated the scenario. Each day got progressively better till the last day I was ripping around on my 9m Ozone hyperlink just as comfortable as I was on the water. I can't say enough about snow kiting to improve your kiting skills. I got some great lessons on kite handling, especially with the 12m foil kite in lighter winds. I switched line lengths from 15m lines to 25m lines and oh my, it's like a whole new performance level on your kite. While the shorter lines work well bringing the kite forward while racing, it doesn't allow you to get the full pendulum swing as longer lines in the lighter breeze.

I was able to downloop the kite right up the mountain and get to even better winds. Coming back down the slope on a snowboard and kite is simply bliss. You can park the kite above you while you carve untouched powder. Skies seem undoubtedly more suited for snowkiting than a snowboard but alas, this dog can only learn one new trick at a time.

The organizer set up activities everyday from a snowkite race to poker runs. It really encouraged you to push yourself and have some fun. The camaraderie was outstanding. I got to know many new kiters- even legends of the sport. Noah Portiz- aka Captain Party- out of Bozman Montana was one of the instrumental pioneers of snow kiting in the Rockies. He's got stories to tell about every spot they've kited in a 1000 mile radius as well as a shot of whisky to share.

Besides the races and poker runs there were Ozone kite demos to try. The single skin foil snow kites have a huge advantage of simplicity. While they are not as performance orientated as the foil race kites, they do get you up, down and launched and landed all very easily.

I really can't emphasize how fun and accessible snow kiting is whether you're a  novice or a pro. The hardest step was committing and just getting there, after that the fun was non stop.