Monday, December 21, 2015

2015 by the numbers

2015 was an another unbelievable year on the water with 164 sessions logged in 3 different counties- averaging 1 session every 2.2 days.  This year for the first time, I kited more than I windsurfed with 104 kiting sessions and 60 windsurfing.

It was my 3rd full year of kiting and almost 30th year of windsurfing.   I spent the majority of the year learning how to ride the kite foil board with 67 sessions logged. It's the first year in almost 25 years, that I didn't buy any new windsurfing equipment; however- kiteboards, foils and  more kites were added to the quiver.  My love for both sports still runs deep but I really got the foil bug this year. 
The most sessions come when the thermals turn on. This year, they dialed up in March and kept strong till October where I averaged almost 17 sessions a month during the windy season. 
I spent an equal amount of time in 2015 racing windsurfers as I did kite boards with 26 racing days on the water in 3 different local series- The StFYC Thursday Night Kite boarding series; The St.FYC Friday Night Slalom Series and the Crissy Field Slalom Series. The best results came with the inaugural Friday Night Slalom Series with a 1st place overall and 2nd place in the Crissy Field Slalom Series. Notwithstanding, the most difficult and hard work came in the Thursday Night Kite boarding Series where I went from not even being able to foil, to learning how to get around the course, to finally ending up 2nd in the B fleet.

This season, the number of DNF's surely outweighed the bullets but I wouldn't have done it any other way. The balance at the front of the fleet worked itself out with the races at the back of the fleet.
I missed a few key like the SF Classic and the Bridge to Bridge race but got plenty of time on the water this season. 
I made the most progress in the events that I struggled most with. In the Kite Foil Gold Cup in San Francisco, I was way over my head but put myself into conditions I would have otherwise backed away from. There's something about competition, that brings out the best in oneself if you keep trying and don't give up. The progress wasn't instantaneous like I would have liked it to be but rather a slow learning curve.

I increased my kite boarding time almost 200% in 2015 going from 34 sessions in 2014 to 104 sessions in 2015.   Mastering a new discipline has been way harder than I ever imagined. After 12 months on the foil, I can now foil in most conditions and even make most of my non foiling gybes. Its a long way from the first few foiling sessions where making it back to the beach was considered a big success. Even with that said, I've got long way to go before I become competitive in the kite foil fleet. I've yet to even attempt a tack on the foil board or even make one on the directional board but those are challenges to overcome in 2016. Before I even venture into the foil kites, I want to be able to master the foiling tack and gybe. Needless to say- its going to a long road ahead...But there lies the fun!

Here's a look at the season's data put into some graphic visualizations. For the record, I kept track of my sessions via twitter logging in what gear I used and complying the data at the end of the season. This allows me to see how much I use a particular board or kite and where my time were spent. 

The biggest surprise came with how much I still used the XL slalom set up of the ML 89 and 10m avanti rig- almost 20 times over the course of the year for high wind course racing, light wind slalom racing and swell riding under the Golden Gate.  Its the most versatile of anything in my quiver with a range of 10-24k. The kite foil board was the most used board in the 6 board quiver with 67 sessions logged for the season. The most used kite was the 10m Ozone Edge nearly doubling any other kite in my quiver with 45 sessions recorded. The most fun I had all season was with a custom surfboard I picked up in July, It made kiting in the voodoo chop so much more exciting. When conditions where gnarly and blowing stink on the city front, I grabbed the small surfboard with the 7 or 8m kite  and just ripped it- sending it as hard as I could.  That same set up worked great on the coast as well on the few times I sailed Stinson Beach- getting more comfortable in a new set of conditions.
This years biggest accomplishment was pulling off 2 slalom series and introducing a ton more people into slalom racing. Its a great feeling bringing new people into the sport and I couldn't have done it without the help of Soheil Zahedi and Jean Rathle- both who were instrumental in making the Crissy Field Slalom Series happen. Another big thanks goes to the St.FYC where I did the majority of my racing this year. They are by far the best at what they do year after year. Finally- a huge thanks to Mike Zajicek for repairing a broken slalom board not once but twice this season  and getting me a more stable foil which made huge strides in my foiling development. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Adventures outside the gate

Mother nature can be a cruel mistress- almost 2 weeks without wind- and the last month with only 5 days on the water after slowly closing in on 150+ sessions this season.
The thermals which had been running strong for the last 7 months shut down without a whimper at the end of October.
I tried but the northerly November AM winds were all too brief. By 1 PM it's all ready fizzled.
Never procrastinate a clearing breeze, I constantly reminded myself this fall
But the southerly storm winds were hardly any consolidation.
I watched one day- as the winds at Crissy went from 12-25k with an approaching front and veered from the north to east and then all the the way back around to the south- leaving a handful of kiters stranded offshore when it eventually died.
All the wiser- I waited and waited.
Eventfully the swell arrived in a big way but it was still too marginal to get out.
I finally broke out the big gear again and got up to the gate for 2 days of unsurpassed winter swell riding on Thursday December 10th and Big Friday where the wind and swell combined for the biggest rides of the season.
It was the biggest swell I had seen since the winter of 2012. The conditions are rare- only happening a few times a year at most. Big stacks of raw powerful sets stacked up neatly and perfectly timed for an afternoon ebb.

I'm one of just a handful of sailors lucky enough to enjoy it. There's about 10 of us - SF locals who are wind junkies- watching the forecast everyday for a chance to get out again and score the next session.  More so, I'm  just lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time with the right gear,
You'd hardly think a 89cm board and 10.0 would make a good wave riding kit but you do what you have to to get to the wave.
Leaving from Crissy Field it was 10-12k but with the ebb- you're at the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge in one quick tack. The 10m avanti rig is very powerful and gets going in 10k and with a 60cm fin. Combined with the custom 89cm mikes lab board- it exceeds in just about any condition from light wind slalom racing to high wind course racing and most importantly- pacific sleigh rides!

The first tack out the gate is terrifying with the huge mountains of swell surging in the gate and a strong ebb pulling you out. I still wasn't sure it would even work and Id be able to get back downwind in the marginal breeze and big ebb.  I took a few practice runs downwind just to know it was still possible and got my first taste of the big swell as it lined up near the Lime Point lighthouse and carried me down to Yellow Bluff at the base of the Marin headlands. I eventually worked my way over to the south tower where the red nun was was barely visible with a river of current bending it sideways in the incoming swell. I shot the eddy to the west of the tower and eventually slipped into the standing wave where for an instant- I was stuck in a perpetual motion machine- gliding back and forth down the face of the swell to the south of the tower as the ebb pulled me backwards. It's a surreal feeling as if trying to walk against a moving sidewalk. The rug is literally being pulled out from under you as you race down the face of a 10'-15' standing wave.
Eventually you get spit out and have to head up for some speed- catching the next set and carrying it towards Fort Point.
Every few minutes a really big 20'+ set would manage to break through- clearing out the whole line of surfers tucked in to the corner as the wave wrapped around the point.
I knew because it was breaking clear outside leaving me to drop in on 10' of whitewater. I got rick-rolled once and became separated from my gear but the ebb was strong enough and get me out of dangers way but quickly before I knew it, I was 1/2 mile out the gate.
This is where the ebb really surges. If its 5k inside the gate- it's got to be 8-10k here- raging like a river.  I caught some of the biggest swell I had seen trying to just get back to where I was 2 minutes previously. Massive walls of water barreled through lifting me up 20+ feel above the troughs below. At the bottom- there was no wind at all but I was still planing down the face of the wave with my foot firmly planted in the double footstrap just to cope.
I looked at my watch and although it had only been 30 min of riding at the gate, I knew to call it quits. My strategy is not to get to greedy in the winter. It took several long calculated runs to even make it through the gate as the ebb was building and the breeze was drying below 10k. Eventually I managed to shoot through and make it back to Crissy field just as the sky opened up and the next front passed through.
Derigging in the rain didn't seem so bad with a session like that in the books.

Big Friday came with the swell peaking at 16-23' and bigger 30' swell rolling through.
The wind was even better with 12-16k. I used the same set up and quickly found myself over my head as I worked my way out past Kirby Cove up to Point Diablo on the Marin shoreline. The experience is similar to being in the backcountry with nobody else around and nature in its finest glory.  
Otherworldly comes to mind as the swell quickly doubles and triples its size building, peaking and letting you ride for what seems like miles as as it works its way into a peak, crumbling beneath itself and eventually back to nothing  It is one of the most fantastic feelings being propelled by swell the size of large buildings and using the power of the wind to put you anywhere on the face. It's constantly changing and shifting beneath your feet.

The Potato patch is actually much further out just west of the headlands and Point Bonita but the swell continue to roll in the through the channel with amazing force. Some of the more recent maps released by NOAA paint an incredible picture of the seafloor beneath:

The ground swell was even glassier than it was previously with beautiful A frames forming and running into the San Francisco Bay from building thousands of miles away as the start of some tropical depression.
I again made my way south to where the waves were visible much bigger and breaking in a frothy white mess near the south tower of the bridge. The first swell I dropped in on stacked up so high and steep that it pitch poled me right over. Luckily I was able to water start out of it before the next set came barreling in. Heading back out the gate on port tack against the incoming waves really gets your heart pounding seeing a giant wall of water move in on you as you desperately try to get over it before it breaks. You really get a  heightened sense of awareness when sailing outside the gate as things can change quickly and you need to stay on your toes.
I rode what seemed like giants in a super short track gybing between the south tower and Ft. Point every 30-45 seconds. There's a fine line- a point of no return- near the San Francisco shore where the wind stops but the wave keeps going. Get too greedy and the next set will wipe you right out as you try to shlog back out. Time it right and you get the ride of your life.