Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Foiling- the 1st year

It's been 1 year since I sold the formula gear and committed to the kite foil.
The transition has been difficult- going from the front of the fleet to the back but as I look back- I wouldn't do it any different. You've got to pay your dues and there lies the fun if you've got the right mindset.

Some of the most difficult and frustrating months came in the last year while learning how to kite foil but all the meanwhile - leading me to some of the best and most rewarding sessions I've ever had in 30+ years on the water. Pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone is how you learn or at least that's how I do.
As I look back at the first year of foiling, I discovered quite a few things about myself and the sport.
Learning a new sport from scratch is never easy. There's a paradoxical shift that one must overcome once you realize there are no short cuts or easy way outs. Its only by a series of self discovery that you can begin to unlearn and relearn.

Foiling is unlike anything I've ever done before. Yes it's an extension of kiting but it's a whole new sport. You're flying above the water and for the first time ever there's no noise. Not a single splash of water against the hull.
It really is a game changer.

Some early advice- get a good wet suit and helmet. You'll spend a lot of time crashing into the water.
A loaded foil is nothing you want coming at your head at high speeds.
Write your name on your board- chances are- you might lose it the first few sessions and still want it back.

I chose to get a used Spotz 1 foil as the 2nd hand market was ripe and the price was right. As for the board- I had a custom board made from a local SF surf board sharper.
WTF am I getting into, I thought to myself handing over nearly $2000 for a platform I had no idea how to use. The money spent is insignificant to the time spent learning a new discipline.
Time on the water was the most valuable asset in climbing the steep curve of learning how to foil.

Day 1 on the foil- I make it Anita rock (located 500' off shore from crissy field) and back in just under 30 minutes. I'm not even sure how to carry the thing- nonetheless get on it and ride it.

Day 2- Big discovery by tipping the board on its side to waterstart...duh!

Day 3-4: Everything goes very quiet and OMFG- I'm foiling. This is followed by multiple beat downs being catapulted from 6' in the air. I avoid any major injury and come back alive getting a brief taste of whats to come. The major challenge is overcoming the muscle memory for 30 years of back foot pressure and now riding with front foot pressure.

Early in the season- the wind can still be a bit fluky and I have to make the walk of shame home from last chance beach getting flooded down and self rescuing. It's one thing to self rescue with a kite. its a while another story when you do it with a foilboard!

Day 5: Hooked. Multiple lifts offs with 10-20 second rides.

Day 7- starting to get a bit confident and cocky.

Day 8: the reverse walk of shame. One of the first things you discover on the foil after learning how to lift off and ride it a bit- is how easy it goes upwind. I get ahead of myself and ride upwind to the old coast guard station and cant figure out how the hell to get back downwind. It's a 5k ebb and I'm going out the gate fast. After multiple crashes through the voodoo chop and, I body drag back into the beach and make the walk back downwind to crissy field.

Baja bound for an all intensive week of foiling. I found my flow with some big dreamy turns in the warm water and 15k breeze. It's still no walk in the park with sore ribs, bruises on my thighs, butt and waist, cuts on my feet, swollen ankles, nicked brow and brim and a stiff neck. I almost lose my foil on the last day as I face plant foil up into my board.
Another big breakthrough comes with seeing how much bar pressure can control ride height. I'm still struggling downwind- especially on starboard tack but rediscover the joy, surprises, and excitement that kept me captured for the last 25 years of windsurfing.

I get back home and have Mike Z reinforce the fin box as its already starting to show signs of delamination from too much time left in the sun in baja.

Day 17: StFYC Thursday Night Race series week 1. I make it to the starting line but self destruct on the inside light wind bubble on the first tack at the beach. I motivate to get my 2nd kite on the beach ready but realize I only have 1 working bar for 2 kites- which is now in a knotted mess.  I decompress with a beer with the peanut gallery watching the rest of the fleet make it around the course.

Butter smooth. One thing you begin to realize is how smooth the foil can be, Its a whole different world floating over the water. My body is starting to appreciate a break from the big crashes I had in the first 2 months of learning. Furthermore, kiting and especially foiling seem to have less impact on your body vs the loads in windsurfing- especially with a big sail.

First case of foil fever. I'm not sure Ill ever be able to go back to a planning board, nonetheless a displacement one.

Race night 2 and 1st plateau: How the f@$! do I get downwind? Most of my time is spent crashing downwind- trying to send the kite deep and low in the window while the board accelerates beyond my control. I discover the tendencies of the Spotz 1 foil to go back and forth from side to side downwind bucks me off like a rodeo cowboy.

Race night 3:by the time it takes me to finish 1 race, the fleet has finished 3 races. I make it back to the beach and call it a success.

Race night 4: Baby steps around the course. I go for the B fleet course with a smaller upwind in order to make all 3 starts. Downwind is still a struggle to say the least. My whip outs result in catastrophic failures an most of my time is still spent recovering from crashes.

I'm getting comfortable in the kiddle pool as I can make it out and back in most conditions on the foil and try to sail up and down the city front. I'm steadily gaining the needed confidence with each session but still stuck when it comes to going downwind efficiently.

Race night 6: Sometimes you don't even make it to the starting line. I'm beginning to get better at repairs. So far this season, I've fixed broken lines, leaky bladders, bar replacement and have become all all around better kiter. You never really know the mechanics of your bar until you take it apart and put it back together again- line by line and piece by piece.

Downwind becomes a bit easier once surrender to the flow. Traditionally in kiting you depower by bringing the kite overhead to the zenith, but downwind on the foil you bring the kite low in the window and carve towards the kite to depower. There no easy way about it. This maneuver takes time and confidence. Foiling is much easier when its a bit lighter. Trying to do this maneuver when you're overpowered just seems crazy.

I get back to the basics and take a few lessons with Gebi while he's in town.
Suddenly down looping on the gybes doesn't seem so scary anymore.
I think I got a bit too far in front of myself this year as I'm still learning the finer points of kiting while trying to foil but in this case biting off more than I could chew was a good thing. It forced me beyond my comfort zone. I had to unlearn a lot of habits Id learned for windsurfing and kiting (like back foot pressure) and relearn and teach myself new muscle memory. This doesn't happen overnight despite one's trying.

Sometimes, however- it's all about just having fun. I blow off the races for a session at the bridge on the strapless board in 30k+

SF Kite Foil Gold Cup. I enter not because I think I may have a chance but rather to push my limits. Along the way, I face my demons- just trying to make it around the course and maintain a little respect. I'm still a mess downwind, especially on starboard tack. There's still something about my muscle memory with my right thigh pushing down over the front of the board which still hasn't clicked yet.  I've been statistically eliminated by the first day but I show up and pay my dues.
Somehow, I really thought Id get it by now but I'm still being lapped and downwind is taking  most of my time around the course in the big breeze. I have multiple explosions but get my 1st finish of the event.

Its all about the recovery, I remind myself.

but foil fever has got me like...

I'm still in the kiddie pool most of the time- staying comfortable doing upwind and downwind runs along the city front. In the worse case, I can still make it back to shore without much drama


Last official race of the season and finding my groove with a new 8m ozone edge. It seems to be the most efficient kite size in medium to strong breeze offering more grunt than the 7m and way more range than the 10m,  You really dont need a lot of power from the kite when foiling as the foil provides plenty- rather you're looking to depower most of the time- at least I am.

Last make up race of the season- I get a new MZ foil and it makes a huge difference in performance,stability and predictability. Its almost like a new sport, I can go downwind with much better control.


Breakthrough day as I go out beyond my comfort zone and make huge strides. I ride with Mike Z in 18-24k and he forces me to go up to the bridge. I'm forced to go back downwind and it somehow works well.

October- Im beginning to make more gybes. Mind you they aren't foiling gybes but Im touching down, making the transition and popping back up again, My footwork still isn't correct as I'm switching my feet after the kite gybes but all that matters is Im not falling. Every once in a great while (twice actually) I make it around the full gybe while staying up on the foil. Its an incredible feeling that I go back and replay in my head over and over again.

End of the season awards: 2nd of 2 in the B fleet but so worth it.

Fall sessions- don't get too greedy. I score a few late sessions getting more time on the water but season is winding down, There's a big gap in November where I barley get any sessions as the seas breeze shuts off the day lights saving is kaput. .

While it would have been nice to be up to speed by now, I realize this is a process that comes naturally.There's no rushing so you might as well enjoy the ride.  I'm stoked that after a year of riding the foil and almost 70 sessions under my belt- I can foil in most conditions.  My quiver remains a 8, 10 and 13.5- which get a out in most conditions from 10-25k.
2016 goals are to get proficient at transition so I can focus on the actual racing.
Onwards and upwards!