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.  

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


I love statistics- keeping track of things and analyzing the data to see what I can learn. For many years, I've used twitter to keep track of my sessions on the water, then at the end of the year I can look back and graph everything to see the trends for the year: how many sessions, how many times on any particular kite, how many times in each month I've sailed, even how many days I've spend racing. All this data may seem like useless information but when properly presented, it gives a better idea of how I've spent my time. After all a self examined like is a life worth living...

2017 continued the trend of getting over 100+ days on the water for windsurfing and kiteboarding since I moved to San Francisco 17 years ago. This year I increased my number of sessions by 14 sessions over the 2016 stats. That averages out a session every 2.3 days- just enough to keep this wind junkie satisfied. 
I kited in 62% of all my sessions- getting more proficient and comfortable in all conditions. My kiting sessions are on stat from last season with 112 sessions- the majority on the foil where Im finally graduating from a seasoned kook to a salty grommet. For the 1st year, I expanded my kiting to hard water when I got to snow kite in Utah for 8 winter sessions.

My windsurfing numbers actually increased from 2016 when I only managed 27 sessions to this year with 42 sessions. I still get tons of joy from windsurfing- whether its exploring outside the golden gate bridge in big winter  swells of or racing around the short track slalom course on the city front. 

The season never really stops but only slows down a bit in the winter months when the wind is not as constant like the spring, summer and fall but with foiling, its becoming less and less of an issue. In the sketchiest of days when the wind is up and down, I'm more likely to get a session in on the windsurfer as it still a safer option for getting back to shore unassisted. While the foil has opened up more light wind days, it can end in disaster when you need to self rescue on the water after dropping the kite and failing to relaunch. I end up taking more risk when I know I've got the support of a rescue boat- especially during the St.FYC events.  
The best advice over the years- don't get too greedy.
I always sail with a VHF radio as I know the Coast Guard is only a short call away for the last resort rescue. 

Its been 32 years since I started this journey- hoping on a windsurfing board on Clark Lake at Camp Store in Jackson, Michigan. I really got hooked a few years later as my dinghy experience led me to racing windsurfers. Its been a wild ride- taking me to over 20 countries and 5 continents. 
While I'm still a relative noob in the kiting world, it has engrossed me just like the days of early windsurfing. The kiting experience continues to evolve. It seems like just yesterday, I learned on the twin tip board, the switched over to the directional board, followed by the race board and now- 3 years later on the foil board. One step forward, 2 steps back.  

With 112 sessions this year on the kite, I spent the 66% of my kiting session on the foil board. Its really changed the sport completely. My foiling transitions are still a work in progress but the foil kites really allow more float time when trying to pass the eye of the wind. When conditions are lumpy or nuking, I often opt for the surf board making the most of the ebb.

This year I introduced another foil kite into the quiver with the 9m hyperlink to replace the 10m edge.  It's been a love hate relationship with the foil kites as I'm finally getting comfortable managing the bridles and keeping the kite relatively dry and untangled. Sometimes, all you want to do it kite, not untangle bridle lines and swim in a wet foil kite. The hyperlink has been a great success in terms of getting the benefits of a foil kite with out all the hassles if a full on race kite. At this point, its still the rider who's holding back the program- not the kite!
All in all I still used the 8m edge the most on both the surfboard and the foilboard. Its the workhorse of the quiver with almost 50% of all kiting sessions. The 13m chrono 2 finds it sweet spot in 10-16k while the 7, is reserved for the big days of 25k+.

I still love to windsurf. Its hard not love after all these years- even with kiting taking most of my time on the water. My most used windsurfing board (still after 4 years) is still the mikes lab 89cm xl slalom board. Matched with the avanti 9.2 and a 59cm kashy fin, this combination is unstoppable when racing in under 15k. Its also the go to board for getting out the gate and exploring the winter swell. The 100l mikes lab slalom board is to go to after the wind is above 16k. On the course, it floats out of the gybes like nothing else. Finally, for those big days on the slalom course, its my 85l mikes lab slalom board- pulling in at least one bullet on the course this year!

I upgraded my 10m avanti sail this season to the smaller 9.2  as its just as powerful and easier to handle.  It's one of the best sails Ive ever had in my quiver and it show with almost 70% of all my windsurfing sessions on this sail. The 7.6 hits the sweet spot with the smaller board and last but not least- you always must have that one sail in your quiver that you only use 1-2x a year but its so worth it when you do. The 6.3 was the ticket for high wind slalom and the xs slalom board. 

I spent less time racing this year than previous years with 19 race days and 78 races- all on the San Francisco Bay. For the 1st year, I did a long distance race on the kite foil. The Bay Challenge was run as part of the Hyrdofoil Pro Tour, so I ran the course with the kites. OMGF, coming back upwind from Berkeley with the 9m hyperlink in gust up to 25k was exhausting but I finished.
I was way out of my league entering the Hydrofoil Pro Tour but when it comes to your own backyard, you cant say no. Despite alot of DNFs, I learned a ton and feel more comfortable in big fleets on the kite.
I entered the Thursday Night Kite series for the 4th year and am slowly climbing my way from the back of the fleet. Ive yet to master the foiling tack so this really sets me back. However- pushing yourself is the fastest way to learn. Its honestly more a mental thing that I havnt been able to get over but Im not giving up anytime soon.
The other local series are the St.FYC Friday night slalom and Crissy Field Slalom Series run on the city front. Both are incredibly fun and taking bullets in multiple races always makes it sweeter. It came down to the wire for the CFSS as I won the last 2 races of the regatta bumping myself up to 2nd overall for the season. No matter how many times, I remind myself, its always worth saying again- Never ever give up!

This year again, I spend the vast majority of my kitting and windsurfing at Crissy Field with 100+ session. This place has been my backyard for the last 17 years- sneaking out of work early to get a session, running the local kite and windsurfing series from here and most importantly- the community. Its like walking in to 'Cheers' where everyone knows your name. Even getting skunked at crissy is ok because its so damn beautiful.
I made it up to Sherman 2x this season, after both wondering why I dont come back more.
The kite lauch is a bit sketch especially on holiday weekends but once you're on the river, you can always find some space.
Finally- I made it to Skyline Utah for some snow kiting this year. It was a first and probably not the last trip there with a whole new world of kiting to explore, even without a proper beach.

All in all, another great year on the water with no complaints. Im still giddy getting 150+ days a year on the water doing what I love.

Friday, September 1, 2017

2017 Ronstan Bridge to Bridge Race- the unwritten rules

Thursday Aug 31 saw the annual Ronstan bridge to bridge race hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club with 39 foiling boards, kites, cats & moths. Its an all out drag race from the mouth of the San Francisco Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge downwind to Yerba Buena Island at the foot of the Bay bridge. Anything can happen and it usually does.
Bring what you've got and run it hard is the motto of the race
There's no rules except for some unwritten ones if you want to finish this race.

Rule #1- get to the starting line.
At the last min I switched from the foiling kite to the windsurfer as getting to the starting line was the main priority.  With super sketchy winds at the beach & a 3k flood tide, anything less than a 13m kite wouldn't get you close.
I rigged up my Avanti 9.2 rig on the Mikes Lab 89cm wide board with 59cm kashy fin.  That was enough to get me to the bridge with plenty of time to take a few downwind runs across the start line. A few weren't so lucky- a 40' cat flipped just inside the gate and turtled within a minute & several of the foil kites went down in the lighter breeze outside the gate.
You cant win the race if you cant get to the starting line!

The race started in 10-12 knots and quickly filled in to the low teens as the fleet approached the middle of the bay above Alcatraz. The foiling kites sent it the deepest looking like they might do the whole race in 1 tack. I tried to keep up with the foiling windsurfers but they too were sending it 10 degrees deeper than I could on my xl slalom set up. As the puffs filled in from behind, I was able to catch some but this race would be won a the end.

Rule #2- stay out of trouble.
2 of the foiling windsurfers just in front of me tried to cross each other on the down wind but that's were it ended as carbon, monofilm and bodies collided. Sometimes it just better to duck than to keep yelling starboard. On the foils, boards are traveling faster and decisions are split second. 2 down more, lets see who else I can catch.
On the approach below Alcatraz to the Bay bridge, 2 outbound freighters were splitting the fleet with an extra blue and gold ferry in the mix for additional chop and traffic. 'Stay out of trouble and just keep on the tack that takes you towards the finish line,' I reminded myself. Sure enough I connected a few puffs from behind and was right up there in the mix with Xavier on the foiling windsurfer.

Rule #3- get to the finish line.
The top kite foilers looked like they were just making it across the finish line but for the rest of us, this was still a race.
We sailed through graveyard of downded foil kites 1/4 mile from the finish line as the wind bubbles above Yerba Buena Island leaving most of the kites high and dry. I realized, the only chance is coming in hot from the outside. I gybed back to line myself up for the last move of the game. If I could call it right and catch the final puff, Id go from zero to hero. Chris Radkowski on the F4 foil and windsurfer had the same idea and was coming on strong behind me as the puff carried us down to the finish. Within 10 seconds, Xavier, Chris and I all crossed the finish.  It was a bit anticlimactic slogging across the finish line in 2nd but that still beats not making it across at all.

I'm not positive on the number of finishers but nearly 3/4 of the fleet had to be rescued as the light wind and flood tide proved to be too much. The 11 minute barrier still stands as Johnny Heineken, Daniella Moroz and Joey Pasquali took the line honors on the foiling kite boards & 15m+ kites.

A huge thanks to Ronstan and the St. Francis Yacht Club for continuing the tradition.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Day 2-3 hydrofoil pro tour- all good things in all good time

Its hard to imagine having a no wind day on the SF Bay August, but we got skunked. Day 2 of the Hydrofoil pro tour was a wash out of rain showers, a healthy marine layer but no wind and no races on the score sheet. 
Racers woke up for day 3 with a bit more optimism as a light teen breeze was filling through the golden gate but more important- an afternoon seabreeze for the long distance race.  3 morning races were held in light conditions with the majority of the fleet on 15-17m kites. The euros still have an advantage in these light conditions as the local fleet doesnt get much time on the water in sub 14k conditions.

The sure awesomeness and level of sailing athleticism and talent is truly amazing when watching Saturdays racing. I am still in awe how the foiling fleet has turned maneuvers like tacking into a pirouetted dance of elegance. There's hardly a moment when the top racers arent getting 110% out of their foils and going upwind at 25k and downwind close to 40k.
My bromance with the foil kites is growing stronger by the day as I get more time on the water with these efficient  machines. As wonderful as they are flying through the air, it becomes a whole another story when you the kite goes down on the water. Saturday's endeavor only lasted a few brief minutes for me as I was scuttled with the 13m kite. My kite went down like a wet noodle in the sub 10k lulls as I tried to make my way around the course. I got my first foil kite self rescue, having to pack the kite up on the water and then deal with the aftermath of untangling a wet sloppy, twisted  mess back on the beach. It wasn't as bad as I though but the 13m kite was out of commission and I missed the remaining 2 course races of the morning.

The fleet got a good 90 min break as the fog lifted and breeze filled in the course. With the windsurfing fleet joining the kiters, the next race would be an all out sprint to Berkeley and back. The SF Bay Challenge has been a tradition in the board fleet for 25+ years with each edition slowly chipping off the elapsed time. This year however, almost 15 min were shaved off the overall time with Nico Parlier finishing in just over 30'.

I had other goal- just to make it around the course for the 1st time on a foil board and foil kite.
I had done the race at least 15x on the windsurfer, winning a few on the way but this was a different game.

I rigged the new 9m ozone hyperlink which had plenty of power for the 25 mile+ tour of the Bay. I got off to a late start but was happily on my way downwind in 15-20k of breeze, happily foiling past Alcatraz before things started to get pretty heady. The swells were such that if you didn't stay on your toes and adjust the ride height of the foil, you would fly right out of the water in the troughs. I had more than a few wipe outs as I had to adjust my riding style to a less deep and aggrieve approach to a omfg survival mode. The downwind haul past Alcatraz gets a bit monotonous but there's always another kite or 2 to keep you focused. I rounded the leeward mark off the Berkeley pier and immediately headed back upwind for the beat back to the finish at the St.FYC.
Even with a 9m kite, I thread the fine line of piching and staying on the foil just to survive the 25-30 westerlies coming down the Bay. I though I might find some relief below Alcatraz coming back upwind but immediately got yarded in some squirrely puffs.  I lost my board for a few min as the swell picked it up and blew it a few hundred yards down wind.
2 steps backward, 1 step forward.
I regrouped and realized there's no easy way out of this but I had to get to the finish line.
Sure enough in just over an hour and change, I crossed the finish line and made it around the course for the 1st time on a kite.  Im just 1 of 3 sailors who was done this race on both a windsurfer and a kite.

Despite being in the back of the fleet, it's the small victories like this and figuring out the foil kites that keep me on my toes and coming back for more. After almost 30 years of competitive racing, you begin to realize the real challenge is how far you can push your own limit not necessarily the scores at the end of the day.  For me its all about persistence. I may not be the fastest but I'm not going to give up. eventually, I'll get there but enjoying the ride along the way.
1 more day of racing and Im stoked to get back out on the 9m foil kite and try to make the time limit.
All good things in all good time

Friday, August 4, 2017

2017 hydrofoil pro tour day 1 report

 It started off with good intentions as all sailing ambitions do but by the end of the 1st day of the 2017 Hydrofoil Pro Tour kite regatta I was already deflated but definitely not defeated.

I achieved at least one goal by getting some numbers on the score sheet in lieu of the usual DNF's  (by default of not finishing within the time limit) but the day was trying to say the least.
An unusual August weather pattern has light and variable breeze inside the San Francisco bay in lieu of the normal raging summer seabreeze. This caught most of guard, including myself as I would have to break out the big kites. I upped by game this regatta to include a quiver of all foil kites. I'd flown a few foil kites before but it was time to step up and race the full program.

With a variable 10-16k breeze at the 1pm start, I took out the 13m chrono2 foil kite and oh my- what a treat. I can see how all the transitions are so much easier on a foil kite with all that lift. I had my hands full in the puffs and certainly not quite enough in the lulls but managed to find my way around the course without any major catastrophes. In race 1- I just missed the time limit. Bummer
Race 2 started in 14-16k but soon faded to just 8-10k at the top mark. I got out of dodge quickly by gybing after the top mark and getting back to the wind line. I stayed out of trouble and got around the course, finishing in the back of the pack but within the time limit. 

Whoo hoo! Getting on the scoreboard is a small step but a major victory for this grom kiteboarder.
The afternoon session didnt go exactly as planned as I never made it too far off the beach before the shit hit the fan. With a super sketchy bubble at the beach, most of the fleet struggled to get their kites up and flying without falling out of the sky. 
Its a sad state of affairs when the foil kites fall out of the sky like limp under cooked noodles but its all part of racing. With the kite twisted, bowtied and sinking like a sea anchor, I decided to save face and swim in. The boiling cauldron of lines and bridles found themselves in a hot sandy mess as I dragged the wet noodle back to the beach. It took a few extra hands and plenty of patience to untangle the mess but did get everything sorted again but alas- not quite enough wind to make it to the starting line for the last race of the day.
I spend the next 20 min flying the kite on the beach, learning some finer points of backing the kite down in the window and clearing the sand and moisture from internal cells . It's definitely a more complicated beast but more efficient to say the least. 
I remind myself that the struggle is all part of the journey and if you can overcome adversity, you make it through to the other side as a stronger individual. 
At the top of the fleet, its the young euros who are showing their strength in the light breeze. With a fleet of 46 kiters, its split down the middle with 23 locals and 23 visiting racers. After day 1, only Johnny and Joey sit in the top 10 with the rest filled in by the visiting European and South American fleet. Its a 4 day regatta so hopeful we will get a decent sea breeze at some point.

Official 2017 HFPT results: here

Monday, May 15, 2017

San Francisco Slalom Season opener in 2 acts

Act 1
When it rains, it pours and when it blows, it blows the dogs off their chains in San Francisco.

Things started off pretty heady for the first St. Francis Yacht Club Friday night slalom race of the season on May 12th as the puffs hit 30 knots & 4-6' breaking swell buried the 2nd downwind slalom mark, set a few hundred feet of Crissy Field.  A dedicated group of wind junkies, half of which were on extra small bump and jump or wave gear, braved the conditions to carry on a tradition that has been going strong since the early days of windsurfing in California.
Downwind slalom racing, especially in a big breeze is one of the most spectacular to watch & one of the most exciting disciplines to compete in. 
At 1 min before the start, its a chaotic symphony of windsurfers jockeying for position as they scream towards the starting line set just off Anita Rock on the San Francisco city front. Like clockwork, the fleet blast across the starting line in an all out sprint towards the 1st gybe mark, hitting speeds of 25 knots and flying across the chop all within a few feet of each. The first to arrive quickly lay down their sails to de-power while carving around the mark. In an instant, they are back on the new gybe going deep across the troughs of breaking swell. A few get knocked down, while the rest hold it together. 
Its an all out obstacle course as several fleets of inbound ocean racers cross at the exact time the fleet gets ready to round mark 2. Chaos erupts as the yachts broach in a hellish 30 knot+ westerly puff and the mark is buried in the breaking rollers coming in the San Francisco Bay.  A few boards go down, just to save themselves from what would otherwise be an impending death sandwich between the fiberglass hulls. Those that emerge, do so by the skins of their teeth, threading the fine needle of control and all out balls to the wall, hold it together for your life windsurfing.

2 more gybes to go and its all over.
The fleet rips back towards the east end of Crissy Field where there's a slight relief from the 4k flood tide ripping across the course. Even the racers on 4.5 m wave sails effortlessly carve around the mark in stiff 25 knot breeze and quickly make their way towards the last gybe mark set in an all out furry of wind and waves. Positions change as rapidly as the wind but the top racers are able to maintain control and consistency in their maneuvers around the course. 
1 more 'OMFG reach' and the 2-1/2 minute race will be over. 
If you can avoid stuffing the nose of your board in the breaking swell and round the StFYC B buoy- set just in front of the club, the race is over. If not, you'll have to watch the rest of the fleet fly by as you try to muster the energy water start to make it across the finish line in dead fucking last (DFL.)
When its all over, everyone heads back upwind for another shot at redemption. 
You're only as good as your last race and for the rest of the fleet who didn't score a bullet, there's victory to be had or lost once again. 
4 more races are run as the breeze settles down to a reasonable 20k and the flood builds and flattens out the course.

I have the duty of race committee this evening with 2 other racers as the only way this series works is by volunteering 1 of the 4 race nights towards race management. You get to see how and why the series works by actually taking part and running it. The marks don't set themselves, nor does the start or finish go off without the help of 4-5 person team. A huge thanks to the kite racers who showed up and maned the race deck for finishes. 

By the time its over, the fleet looks like its returned from a naval battle with broken sails & twisted carbon but there's a slight twinkle in the eyes of these wind junkies- ready to do it all over again tomorrow.

Act 2
18 hours pass and the fleet is back where they stood the day before.  This time, the Crissy Field Slalom Series breaks ground for their 3rd season.Its a grass roots effort to get out the fleet and encourage new racers to join in the party  It's 2 pm and already blowing their dogs off their chains for the 3rd day straight day in a row.  The San Francisco Bay is a sea of white caps, frothing in a wind blown seascape. The marks get set & 18 racers get consolidated into 1 fleet for a winner take all 10 race series. 
photo credit: @lyrahcolvin

I'm not sure if I was just stubborn or stupid but it took me the better half of the day to get my shit together. I was a hot mess trying to keep down a 7.6 rig and 105l slalom board with a 42cm fin in the 25k+ of breeze. 
It's definitely doable but not advisable.

I'm smart enough to know that if you hold out long enough you can pick a few racers off at each rounding but being overpowered- I was not doing myself any favors in pushing the top of the fleet. I go down hard the 4th race breaking a foot strap and retire before swallowing my pride and switching down to my smaller gear. I haven't sailed the 85l board & 6.3 m rig in what seems like years but its rigged and ready on the beach. It takes me a few runs between races to adjust the harness lines and get things settled but before I know it, race 5 has started and Im in the lead at mark 1 just in front of Xavier who is breathing down my neck. I put everything I have into the next reach, closing the gap on the 6.3 m rig and sending it faster than I ever have before. The 59cm board just flies right over the top of the water until it doesn't & I charge right into the backside of the breaking swell and get catapulted over the handlebars spinning like a rag dog in the spin cycle of a washing machine. I emerge and try to water start as the fleet goes wizzing by but realize my boom head has disintegrated in the chaos. A few more rollers wash over me for good measure sending my gear tumbling and me swimming after it. I finally manage to jury rig the boom back together with some spare line and drift back to shore in a water start position.
photo credit: @lyrahcolvin
As luck would have it, we have a 30 min break after 5 races and I regroup on the beach derigging the 7.6 and switching the boom to the 6.3. I fine tune the mast position back 1/2" and go out for practice run. The board & rig feel dialed and Im off like a race horse leading the entire 6th race and taking the bullet! 
It's all about the come back I remind myself.
I stay in the top 3 for the rest of the races except when I get taken out at the 1st mark in race 8 as Jean is squeezed out of a tight rounding and drops his rig in front of me. 
In years past, I would have been furious, yelling, screaring & protesting but now, just let that shit go. 
You've got to take the good with the bad.
No reason to get upset, just move on.
Going into the last race I know its tight for points between 3rd and 6th and need to finish strong as I've already used my share of throw outs and then some for the day. Its already starting to lighten up to 18-24 knots but have no choice but to stick with the small gear. I send it and get a flying start near the pin end neck  neck with Xavier. We go into the 1st mark overlapped but he squeaks out with just a bit more speed and finesse and gets a jump on the next reach. I follow suit and am able to hold off the rest of the fleet for a strong 2nd place finish on the last race. This puts me tied for 3rd with Vincent who's been sailing very consistent all day in the top 5. I lose the tie breaker as windsurfers go by who ever has the better throughout to determine the tie. 
Back at the beach, every racer recaps his day with postmortems and 'what should have beens' but its always the racer who sails the most consistent  and makes the fewest mistakes that ends up on top.
As with most races here, it's Xavier Ferlet who takes 6 bullets for the day and walks away with a nearly flawless afternoon of racing. In 2nd, local board head, Soheil Zahedi shines with his best performance to date; however, the awards work a bit differently in this series than most. 

We gather our prizes and in kind gifts from sponsors and first let the volunteers come up and choose the best items because without them, none of this would be possible. Next up is the B fleet who aren't even expecting to be recognized, nonetheless get a prize. From the back of the fleet up, we call off the racers names to come pick a prize. The racers in the back and middle of the fleet are stoked. They never get prizes but will sure to be back again for the next race.
This is how you build and maintain a fleet- from the bottom up. 
Beer and pizza slowly bring back the fleet to life and if they could, these wind junkies would be back tomorrow for another race.

Luckily for my recovery time, the next race is a month away on June 9th & 10th with the Friday Night Slalom & Crissy Field slalom Series. Until then, I've got plenty of kite racing to keep me occupied and humble again in the back of the fleet. 

A huge thanks to the Crissy Field Slalom Series sponsors for making it possible. Without you guys, we'd just be sailing back & forth!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

winter sessions

 It took a major commitment to get there and even more just to get suited up everyday at 10,000' but snow kiting in Utah has got to be one of the great winter trips for wind & snow lovers. Like anything worth while, just getting there was an adventure in itself.

It began as a caravan from San Francisco with half the crew flying and the other half driving 20+ kites, snowboards and skies to Skyline, Utah. Somewhere east of Winnemucca, Nevada at 3 in the morning, Johnny's car broke down so we packed everything into 1 SUV with 5 sets of wind and snow gear, dog and riders for the remaining voyage east. Sometimes you need to scuttle half the fleet just to get to your destination.

After 15 hours in the car, we arrived to beautiful wide open Utah. The setting at Fairview Canyon at mile marker 14 on HWY 31 aka- the Big Drift- is awe inspiring. The 180 degree Utah sky at 10,000' is just sublime. We rigged and had our first afternoon session in the rolling hills, meadows and steep bowls surrounding the launch site. Besides us, there was a handful of snow mobiles that might buzz by then disappear but nothing else but back country for miles around.

Snow kiting is just as it sounds. You choose either skies or snowboard and get pulled around on your kite- up, down, around and over what ever terrain you choose. It's an absolute beautiful and pleasant
way to explore the back country and get to experience the similarities of paragliding when coming down the mountain on an updraft..

I rigged my 13m foil kite, launching with ease and immediately got pulled across the meadow on my snowboard
Holy bejesus this is fun!
It took me the rest of the day to get comfortable going back and forth and finding the subtitles of the site but I was hooked. My goal  was to get more time with the new foil kite and that's what I got- from relaunching in gullies to down looping up the mountain.

Snow kiting has all the benefits of kiting on the water without the consequences of water itself.  I dropped and tangled my kite quite a few times in the 8-12k breeze and easily unhooked and walked up the line and bridle to unsort it all out. Granted- even walking the length of 15m line and untangled your kite in powder is an exercise itself. Transitions are almost effortless without the footwork required on a normal foil or directional board.

I got a bit greedy towards the end of the day and kited myself right into a gully and wind shadow dropped my kite in the process.  All the waiting & pulling on my lines would not launch this kite. Then came the pack up and 1/4 mile hike back to the launch in the knee deep powder. One step at at time, I thought to myself as a huge grin spread across my face from my 1st day of snow kiting

Day 2 began just where day 1 finished except my legs already felt like rubber chickens from working muscles I never knew I had. We arrived early at the skyline launch as a major weather system was moving through that afternoon.
I went for the 13m foil kite again but this time explored an adjacent hill with the wind direction slightly more south than the previous day. Everything was starting to click and I was starting edge on port tack instead of just being dragged on the snowboard, I could now navigate half way up the hillside on the updrafts but crashed on the transition as you needed to turn your board uphill to transition to the new tack. With enough practice and lift from the foil kite, I managed to nail a few uphill turns and even unintentionally get a few downhill glides.
OMFG- what a trip.
Jumping while kiting is fun but jumping while snow kiting with an updraft takes it to a whole other level.
To see what expert level kiters like Johnny, Chip and local rider Patrick could do was simply awe inspiring. They made snow kiting look more like paragliding getting giant soaring glides down the face of the mountain while down looping their way back up for an endless cycle.

downlooping up the mountain...

carving and gliding down the mountain...
We took a short break refueling like ski bums in the parking lot and had an epic afternoon session of white out conditions on small kites. Its an entirely different sport when you're powered up on a kite than in light conditions when you're searching for power.  The 8m ozone edge tube kite was more enough to keep me powered in 15-20k up, down and around the mountain turning quickly and accelerating me on every uphill. Chip was even kiting with an 8m while towing his 11 year old behind on skies. Share the stoke when you can!

Day 3 & 4 we switched venues to a location called Electric Lake along the Huntington Canyon Scenic Drive as the Skyline Peak was in white out conditions. It was more rolling hills and room to explore as the newbies including myself were still mastering the basics. I had the chance to really explore some terrain and get into carving the board downhill as you would usually do without a kite. The kite just allowed you to turn around and do it over and over again and then some!

No lift tickets, waiting in lines or even crowds at this spot.
I'm not sure I can ever go back to regular snowboarding at a resort again.

The exploratory aspect was very cool. You could go practically anywhere- sometimes where you least expected- down the rabbits hole into trenches and gullies where our other buddy Eric found himself waist deep in a hidden stream and no wind to get out  A cold wet hike out and he was quickly warmed with some whisky back at the base with a good story to tell.

Day 5 was supposed to be just a travel day back to SF but we woke up to another perfect bluebird day with fresh powder and a gentle breeze. We arrived at skyline early find a fresh blanket of snow as far as they eye could see and proceeded to get one the best day so far! The 13m chrono2 foil kite wasn't quite enough to get me up to the top where the stronger winds were but made for a perfect session as I finally mastered some big carving turns on the snow kite in the gentle hills and meadows.

I really cant emphasize how fun & accessible snow kiting is whether you're a newbie or a pro. The hardest step was committing and just getting there, after that the fun was nonstop.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 by the numbers....

I love statistics- keeping track of things and analyzing the data to see what I can learn. For many years, I've used twitter to keep track of my sessions on the water, then at the end of the year I can look back and graph everything to see the trends for the year: how many sessions, how many times on any particular kite, how many times in each month I've sailed, even how many days I've spend racing. All this data may seem like useless information but when properly presented, it gives a better idea of how I've spent my time. After all a self examined like is a life worth living...
By all means, 2016 was another great year on the water with 140 total sessions from January to December.  I'm down 24 sessions form the 2015 season but my days kiting went up from 104 to 113. For the 2nd year in a row, I've kited more than windsurfed. While last year it was a 3:1 ratio, this year, I kited 5x for every windsurfing session logged. I don't plan on ever giving up windsurfing but as I get older, kiting- especially foiling is a lot easier on my body. I don't have nearly as many lower back issues as when I was racing formula boards with 10-11m rigs or pumping the RSX in light winds. 
It's my 4th year kiting and 31st year windsurfing. So much has changed over the years with the equipment getting better and better each season. It's a constant development and evolution of the sports that keeps me coming back for more. I upgraded my medium slalom board this season after having gone a bit to far last season and breaking the previous one in half. A new Ml slalom board never disappoints. I upgraded the foil board as well getting a custom 2nd hand Mikes Lab which makes a world of difference with the ML foil, Finally- I delved into the world of foil kites upgrading to a 13m chrono2 which will start the learning curve all over again. If there's one thing Ive learned over the years it's that you always need to constant adjust to stay current,  Never get too comfortable and always be pushing you limits. 
The season never really stops but only slows down a bit in the winter months when the wind is not as constant like the spring, summer and fall but with foiling, its becoming less and less of an issue. In the sketchiest of days when the wind is up and down, I'm more likely to get a session in on the windsurfer as it still a safer option for getting back to shore unassisted. While the foil has opened up more light wind days, it can end in disaster when you need to self rescue on the water after dropping the kite and failing to relaunch. I end up taking more risk when I know I've got the support of a rescue boat- especially during the St.FYC events.  
The best advice over the years- don't get too greedy.
I always sail with a VHF radio as I know the Coast Guard is only a short call away for the last resort rescue. 
Kiting has taken from over windsurfing just like windsurfing did for sailing nearly 25-30 years ago. Before it used to be every day kiting meant a day not windsurfing. Now in 2016 its changed so that every day windsurfing is 1 less day kiting. While kiting can still be a bit intimidating, Im able to kite in most all conditions from nuking 30-35k on a 7m and surfboard to a low wind limit of 10k on a 13m and foil board.  65% of my kiting sessions came on the foil board while the other 35% were on a surfboard. If its over 20k, I usually opt for the surfboard and have as much fun as I can as I'm still a relative noob in the kite world. I must admit, even for back and forth sessions mowing the lawn and playing in the voodoo chop, that the SF city front delivers on a regular basis, is way more fun on a kite than a windsurfer. 

The 10m and 8m ozone edges are the backbone of my quiver providing nearly 71% of the total sessions for the season. These 2 kites works double duty on both the foil and surfboard in the middle range of the wind zone. On the light wind days, the 13m ASV and now 13m Chrono2 foil kite provide enough power to make it out in as little as 10k of breeze. While I only used the 7m 4 times, it's  a necessary part of the quiver if you want to kite comfortably in winds above 25k. 
My windsurfing sessions were down form 60 in 2015 to 27 this year season. While this may be case for alarm, it all balances out with time on the water- whether it be on a kite or on a windsurfer- it's all good. Looking closer at the data, I found I used the Avanti 7.7 and medium ML slalom board as much as I used the Avanti 10m and 89cm ML slalom board- 13 times each. Both are an essential part of racing on the city front with the medium set up being used most of time when the wind is over 16k and the XL set up when racing is a bit sketcher and holes are present at the inside gybe marks. The 10m and XL 89cm ML board are also key to getting out in the fall and winter months where I can sail up to the Golden Gate bridge and enjoy the swell. There's nothing quite like riding XL swell outside the gate in the winter months being the only one out. The solitude never felt so good. Finally - the XL set up made for a couple of good long distances races this year around the Bay. 
Viva la windsurfer!
Over 140 sessions this season, I used my 2 foils boards the most- almost 45% of all my sessions logged. In July, I upgraded to a smaller foil board- buying a 2nd hand  ML board. It took quite while to get used to the reduced deck area but combined with the ML foil, it is way more predicable, steady and comfortable than what I was riding before. The custom surf board was the next most used board with 39 sessions or 29% of all sessions. Its my go to for having fun in 20k+ or when sailing on the coast in waves. The windsurfing board quiver has been reduced to just 2 boards- a 105l, 70cm wide ML slalom board and the 89cm ML sled. 
All in all, the majority of my boards are made by Mike Zajicek of Mikes Lab in El Sobrante, Ca.  Ive trusted him to make by boards since 2003 and he's never disappointed. 
"In Mike, we trust!"

This season, I spent all of my race days at one venue- the SF city front racing under the burgee of the St.FYC or the Crissy Field Slalom Series.  The St.FYC is unparalleled for running board racing whether it be on a foiling kite board or slalom windsurfer. For this- I am eternally grateful.  We are spoiled with their superb race management, and after racing socials at the club. 
This year was the 3rd season for me on the St.FYC Thursday Night Bluerush Kite Series with just over 24 races for me over 8 evenings of racing in the summer months. While I finally made some progress getting around the course, the bar is constantly being raised and I missed out on quite a few finishes by not making the 10m time limit. It's all good though because racing is not really against other people but against yourself.  The same applied for the Hydrofoil Pro tour which came to town again in 2016. Just showing up to race can go a long way. I put myself way out of my league finishing almost DFL in most of the races but came away being a stronger and wiser kiter. 
In all good time, I remind myself.
I race because I enjoy the process and am always looking for ways to of improve.
Racing puts you out of your normal comfort zone and forces you to keep up with those around you.
Never give up is my motto. 
This was my 1st year in 16 seasons not racing the Friday Night Course racing series. Last year, we split the series so that 4 of the Friday nights became a separate slalom series. While I only was able to make 2 of the 4 race nights + a night for RC. I managed 1st and 2nd's taking 4th overall in the series. For the 2nd year, Ive helped run and organize the Crissy Field Slalom Series. Its a grass roots effort to get more people racing on the city front. This year, we introduced more racers and had 4 great events. With a busier schedule than normal, I was only able to make 2 of the events but  managed to win the 1st race day proving this old dog has still got some game left in him. 
My kite board race days went up from 13 to 16 in 2016 while the windsurfing race days went from 13 to 7. Any day racing on the city front is a good day to say the least. Even if you are DFL, getting around the course can be victory enough if you've got the right mindset.  
This season, I spend the majority of my time kiting and windsurfing at one beach- Crissy Field 
90% of my session logged where from Crissy. Its like my back yard with nearly 1 of 3 days of the year spent there. I cant imagine a better place to enjoy the SF Bay from. Its one of the few urban beaches in the US that you can get easily over 100 sessions a year at without trying too hard. This place delivers the goods from a constant supply of sea breeze, to voodoo chop to swell and racing. Even after 18 years of sailing on the SF Bay, sailing under the golden gate bridge is still one of the most spectacular things I've ever done. It gets me every time.
I made it up to Sherman island this year after a few years of not going at all. Its about an 1-/12 trip up there but very well worth it to kite in warm, fresh water. My goal is to kite here more next season as making progress comes more rapidly here when the wind and water are not intense as Crissy. 
Another milestone was kiting in Hood River for the 1st time in many visits there. I'd always windsurfed and this year I had a blast exploring the river on kite. I even got a nuclear morning with 25-35k of breeze &  5-8' swell on the 7m and surfboard. 
Finally, Stinson beach and the gulf coast of Florda rounded out the list of venues sailed this season

I still can't believe how fortunate I am to get 140 sessions this season. Having a passion like kiting and windsurfing certainly leads to a more balanced and happier life. Looking back, I wouldn't have it any other way. 
As always- enjoy the ride.
Happy new year.