Monday, December 23, 2019

2019-the year of fun

An examined life is a life worth living.
If you don't know where you've been, you can't get to where you want to be.

2019 was a year of growth and development. I got back to what's really important- having fun. Racing took a back seat while enjoying every moment on the water was the real goal.

And boy, did I ever...

I got in 153 days on the water with 166 different sessions.

I kited on the Pacific, the Atlantic, tributary rivers and even the frozen tundra of the great north.

I discovered a whole new world of recreational kite foiling that led me to have even more fun than I ever thought possible and even made some breakthroughs like nailing the kite board than that has eluded me for so long.

I jumped back on the surfboard with the kite and found the joy of endless bottom turns in waist high shore break in bath warm water on the Brazilian coast.

The majority of my time on the water is still spent kiting but windsurfing still has a special place in my heart. I haven't quite been able to give it up- especially in the winter months when the wind isn't as consistent and swimming your gear in isn't part of the program.

With 166 total sessions, 131 were devoted to kiting while 35 were spent windsurfing.

More to the point, foiling has pretty much taken over my time on the water with 82% of all my sessions devoted to foiling. The novelty still hasn't worn off. It's almost as if I get the chance to rediscover the sports I love for a second time.

There's a certain zen like feeling associated with foiling- especially on the kite.

There's no sound of the hull against the water as you blaze 3' above the surface. Everything comes into balance with an effortless flow. The carves are dreamy with the kite pirouetting from one tack to the next.

In 2019, I got past one of the biggest challenges I've been struggling with- the kite board tack. It absolutely paralyzed me for years. I avoided it like the plague- getting to the edge of the diving board and not jumping in. It was bigger than just relearning muscle memory & movement to turn one's body into the wind vs tuning your back to the wind. I had to come to terms that windsurfing no longer defined who I was. Once I let go of that, a paradigm shift happened.

I went from thinking what could go wrong to what will go right.

All of a sudden a door opened and the kite board tack become possible.

For the first time in almost 30 years, I didn't focus my season on racing but having fun. Something changed. I no longer needed to affirmation of winning and recognition of my peers but rather pushed myself in learning new things. Getting on the recreational kite gear was the exact thing I needed after focusing on racing for so long. It brought back the joy of getting on the water and having fun with every session.

2019 was one of the windiest seasons I can recall in my past 20 years living in San Francisco.  In just 6 months I used the 6m ozone alpha single strut kite 66 times+ almost double any other kite. It was the most used kite in my quiver along with the Moses T38 board and foil. The 2 are matched up like bread and butter especially when the wind is 15-25k in the San Francisco Bay. I've just started to use the 4m but think it will be better matched with a bigger surf style front wing in the upcoming year.

For windsurfing, all but 3 sessions were spent on the windsurf foil, the other 3 were devoted to slalom racing. The most used sail was my 8.0m severn glide 2- strictly for foiling. If it's less than 13k, Ill take the foiling windsurfer- just because it's the most reliable set of gear in the quiver for getting back to the beach without swimming.

If I examine the yearly calendar, most of my sessions came in April through November, with the exception of July when I was visiting family abroad. Now that I've got the small foiling kite gear, traveling with equipment just became a lot easier.

By far, some of the best sessions of the year came in November on the Brazilian coast. Jericoacoara is one of the windiest places I've visited. It's a bit hard to get to but once you're there, the magic happens. We got 12 out of 12 days on the water- foiling and doing down winders on the surfboard. I've never has so much fun in my life. For the full Brazil report- go here

Some of the years' highlights:

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.