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.