Sunday, July 26, 2015

3 day bender on the city front

Thursday - July 23rd: beer can kite racing in 'fukitsnukin' conditions.'

25-30k is not helping my kite foiling campaign one bit, but I make do with what I can and head out on the surfboard & 7m kite to get more comfortable in the big breeze. I survive the night but don't get anywhere close to getting around the course. Its blowing the dogs off their chains. Foiling in anything over 20 knots still comes with unexpected results at best and bodily or equipment injury at the worst.   Do no harm is my mantra.
I've gotten about a dozen or so sessions in 25k+ conditions & direction board this season and am getting more comfortable kiting in strong winds. Like most things, it's time on the water that gives the most opportunity for improvement but I really got back the basics this week with some kite lessons from Gebi on the beach. It's amazing what a few hours of learning better kite control on the beach can do for your riding.I'm down looping now through my light wind gybes and pulling more from the center lines to power the kite.
Soon it will be time to face my demons downwind on the foil but for now it's building the basics up on the surfboard in the big breeze. I got 2 hours on the water perfecting some new skills and building up my confidence. I got in to watch the last race of the night in the StFYC BlueRush Thursday Night Series as the fleet was on their 6-7m foil kites and foil board in 25-30k making it look all too easy. The international foiling fleet is arriving slowly with the top dogs already here for next weeks Foil Gold Cup  In all good time, I slowly remind myself.

Friday July 24th: St.FYC Slalom windsurf racing.
This was the 3rd Friday night slalom race of the season with another evening of big breeze in the city front course. I'm stoked just to have gotten to the starting line this week as my board was in 2 pieces at the last slalom event in June. Local board builder extraordinaire Mike Zaijeck was able to work his magic and reconstruct everything back together again. While she won't be winning any beauty contest, she's still fast as hell and just 1/2 pound heavier. #inmikewetrust

The high wind course was set with 5 gybes from Anita rock to a finish off the St.FYC race deck.
The key to slalom racing is getting a good start and coming out of the 1st mark in good position with speed. If you can stay out of trouble the rest of the 2 min race, it's all good.

Race 1: I sailed conservatively knowing the fleet would make mistakes and I could capitalize on them. I may not be the fastest in the pack but making your gybes and not swimming around the marks goes along way to getting to the finish line in as little time as possible.
Al, CRad & Soheil all led pack on the 1st race but eventually they all went down and I was able to pick up a position at every rounding and grabbing the 1st bullet if the night.

Race 2 saw CRad  in good position again as he kept the lead to the 3rd gybe mark where he took a wide gybe and I was able to sneak inside with a tighter rounding.
Always be ready to seize the opportunity when it presents itself.

By race 3 Xavier had shown up and was in full control with better board speed and nailing his starts. I had to up my game if I wanted to win. I rounded every mark just behind him for the next 2 races and never got any opportunity to even get my foot in the door.

Race 5-the breeze was still up to 18-22k and I was well powered in the 7.7 avanti m-2 rig & 42cm z fin. The fleet was early for the start and Xavier took the bait going over early. I seized the opportunity and led around the course getting the last bullet of the night and winning the evening.
Huge thanks to the St.FYC the the volunteers who mad the event happen.

Saturday July 25th- Crissy Field Slalom Series.
The 3rd Crissy Field Slalom Series of the season went off in epic conditions with 22 A and B fleet windsurfers taking to San Francisco the city front course in a building breeze and tide. By the last race it was blowing 25-30k+ with big ugly voodoo chop all over the course-perfect for slalom racing!

I was still on a high from winning the previous night and went in with the same strategy but with 22 boards on the line it would require a different approach. We ran the A and B fleets together so as to get more racing in.  PRO Robbie Dean set a 5 buoy down wind course from Anita Rock to the H beam set just west of the St.FYC with 10 Heats run from 3pm to 6pm

Race 1-I rig the avanti 7.7 and 45cm F4 fin and ML slalom board  rigged for some extra power but I didn't quite have the top end to get off the line well. As a result I was stuck in the middle of the fleet and got took out by someone not quite up to par on the mark rounding rules. While it's good to know the rules, it's better to avoid the collision. Sailing is always faster than swimming. I take my 1st throw out of the day on the 1st race.

Race 2 - out of the corner of my eye I saw a few people go down at the start near the pin end and immediately realize I'll have a few less to deal with at the 1st mark!
If you can come out with speed and power you can always gain a few positions here. I managed a good gybe and powered over 1-2 guys who took it wide but Jason Voss  had a good lead and control of the race baring any disaster. Chris Radkowski and I battled hard but I was beginning to feel the effects of the big fin. I couldn't quite put the hammer down on the reaches as Chris stayed in front of me to the finish and I get a 3rd.

Race 3- Xavier Ferlet and Jason Voss came out if the start with great speed and form. If I was going to get them, I would need to be a bit more aggressive but with already too big of gear for the conditions I had to ease off and maintain some control just to stay alive. That was enough for a 3rd place again as the pecking order was begging to get established.

Race 4- things were really starting to heat up with the wind gusting to 25k+ and the sea state getting aggressive. Soheil and Jean had a great race and maintained their place in the top 4 as I had to settled for 5th just behind the top pack.

Race 5. Hot of race 4, Soheil had the best start and mark roundings and maintained good control on the smaller 90l slalom board and 7.0 rig. He got his first bullet of the day as Xavier and I settled into the top 3.

We got a 30 min break and a chance to rig down. I switched to the 42cm z fin, added more downhaul, moved my booms down and laced my outhaul to the inner most position for best control. While I was still op'ed in 25-30k and big chop, I had better control. However there was no question, I would have been better off on smaller gear- just not motivated enough to rig another sail. This series is about finding the fun in racing again.

Race 6- Xavier and Jason got a good jump on the fleet and maintained control to the finish and I was able to hold off the rest of the fleet for another 3rd by sailing conservatively and picking up 1 board at each mark with good gybes and staying upright. The pecking order was beginning to  get cemented, so it seemed.

Race 7- The conditions were getting more challenging with the chop playing a major factor. Jean and Xavier had an epic battle in the leading positions on the last and most difficult leg to the finish with huge mounds of chop and gusty wind off the beach. Jean pushed Xavier deep and he responded by climbing above and the cat and mouse game continued till Xavier went down just before the finish in in epic fashion burying his nose and cartwheeling through the water but not before 5 sailors were able to pass him to the finish line just 100' away.
Jean took his first bullet of the day while I managed a solid 2nd in from of Jason in 3rd. Sometime all you can do is just let the others make mistakes and seize the opportunity.

Race 8-9. It's all a blur as it was so damn windy, choppy and full of confusion on the course with the full range of kiters and rec sailors acting like obstacles at every mark and reach. Not to mention- there was an incoming ocean race with 30-60'ers raging into the bay under spinnaker right through the course. I had to settle for 5th both races as it was getting hard just to get around the course without a major incident.  Jason sealed the deal for 2nd overall with 2 bullets as he looked in most control in those conditions as Xavier did his best for 2nd. Not surprisingly, Olan pulled off another solid race with a 3rd place on his wave gear and 5.0 showing it not about what you ride but how you ride it.

Race 10-  One last race to test the fleet. I gave it everything I had threading the fine line between control and sending it to the point of explosion. Just a few racers were left as conditions turned on more than most could handle.
Racers were going down hard in the last leg to the finish as the chop turned into 4-6' breaking waves and the wind was up to 30k+. Olan again managed to put the petal to the metal with the smaller gear and was gybing in full control. I surprised myself staying in 1 piece and ended up 2nd as Jason was breathing down my neck the whole race but I never gave him chance to make the pass.
Huge shout out to Olan for showing us its not about what you ride- but how you ride it!

All in all, some of the best 2 days of slalom racing we've had in awhile. Overall 3rd for the day behind Xavier in 1st and Jason in 2nd. Huge congrats to the rest of the fleet showing great form both on and off the water. Results can be found here:

A huge thanks to Robbie Dean and Jessica Barhydt  for their stellar effort on the water. You guys exceed our expectations every time!

The fleet was then treated to a post racing BBQ and awards on the beach- but with a new twist. Instead of giving the best awards to the top 3, the back of the fleet was awarded the best shwag donated from Ultra Nectar Clothing company and wind anemometers form iwindsurf.

A huge thank to the series sponsors for making this inaugural season happen: 101 Surf Sports, Adam Darriau Building and Design, Aerotech, Alamo Square SeaFood Grill, BlueRush Boardsports, Boardsports California, Fanatic Windsurfing, North Windsurfing, F4 Fins, iwindsurf, Ronstan, Sailing Anarchy, sb Design, Sports Basement, Ventana Windsports, Streetsailing, Ultra Nectar, WC Magnetics, Soheil Zahedi IT Consultant, Sandy Point Windsurfing & StepStone

I was so spent that I decided to skip Sunday's SF Classic race, one of my all time favorite long distance race so that I can recover in time for next weeks bender- 4 more days of kite foil racing in the Gold Cup hosted by the St.FYC from July 30-August 2nd.  I'm in no way ready for an event like this but all you can is try and hope you learn something and have fun in the process.

Photo credit: Eric Simonson- Pressure Drop

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Keeping pace with the Joneses

The SF Bay Challenge: take the biggest windward leeward course you can fit on the San Francisco Bay and the 2 fastest board sailing classes, add lots of wind & tide and what you get is no less than a spectacular weekend of racing from the city front down to the Berkeley pier and back.

The foil board kite surfers we're going to dominate. No question. That is if they could keep themselves out of trouble.  As for me getting down to Berkeley and back on a foil board. Simply not possible at this point. I'm lucky to make the leeward mark on the foil Kite board but not an endurance race like the Challenge yet.

I rigged avanti 10 & ml89 + 64 Kashy fin for the breeze and flood tide.
Good start with speed 1/2 way down the line. I tacked and rounded closely in 3rd behind Xavier on 9 & Tom in 9.3. The bigger sail was beginning to pay dividends at the top of the course. I even extended the lead past Alcatraz & got going very deep and fast. Ml 89 cm mini formula board has a great range but 10 was becoming all too much in the middle of the course in the steep chop and gust approaching 30k. At the leeward mark, Soheil, Eric and Jean had all made their move as I was in survival mode.
Eric who split tacks and stuck to the north side of Alcatraz challenged Tom and Xavier as they closed in at the finish. At the end it was the foil kites who dominated in just under an hour and the windsurfers in at 1:25 as Stefaans took the line honors with Erika just behind- both on foil boards and foil kites.
In hindsight I'm thinking a 9.3 may be the better high wind formula rig and light air slalom sail that makes the perfect 1 sail quiver for the 89cm board. 
This year it was all about keeping up with the kite foil fleet but I managed to pretty much forget out the windsurfing fleet. Most upgraded to the gaastra sail which has great range and speed + the JP or *167 is standard fare. There's 4 or 5 guys who can win a race in our fleet out of 7. No room for error or lack of keeping up with the Joneses.

Back up wind I was taking a beating. Port tack was straight into 3-4' breaking sets on the Berkeley shoals.  Meanwhile, Johnny Heinekin took himself out from the lead by wrapping his kite in the mast head of an approaching J105 fleet on the Berkeley circle He managed to climb the mast and dislodge his kite from the rigging but was out of the race. Great effort!

I stuck to the city front which was the wrong side as there was no relief from the flood. It took 3 long tacks to get through the city front gap at Alcatraz. On top of that the SW gust were spastic and unreliable as well as swarms of commercial traffic. 

Sunday saw the return of the breeze. I was spent - both figuratively and literally. After 2 course races in the city front the 10.0 was still too much with the gusts approaching 25k+. The top 3 fleet leaders all had 9.3 or 9.0s. Even Jean on the 7.7 and fw board was keeping pace. The 1st race I extended a big lead at the leeward mark but gave it all up upwind as the only the only real way to keep pace with a fw board upwind is by playing the uphaul with your front hand even in the gusts. Easier said than done. It was a race to the corners with long upwind legs and my angle was getting taken advantage of. I had to watch the remaining 2 races from shore as I was cashed out. Totally spent and not dialed into the conditions.


After 3 races, Johnny reappeared at the top of the foil fleet-Interesting enough with the new mikes lab foil with the kick back cant proving once again the Joneses are always evolving at a faster pace than the non Joneses. 
Huge thanks to the St. Francis YC, their volunteers and the competitors who made it through the last race for a great weekend of racing.
Photo credit- Chris Ray

Monday, June 1, 2015

Just when when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

If you would have told me- there would be 35+ windsurfers racing on the SF city front in 2015 I would have laughed at you and told you to get a to kite and join the foiling revolution.

While the San Francisco Bay windsurfing scene provided the roots for the latest kite & foil board racing, whats old is new again. 3 new slalom series are making their debut in SF this summer- proving windsurfing - a sport nearly 50 years old is still alive and well and constantly reinventing itself. This time around, we've learned lessons and are building the fleet from the bottom up with a focus on the B fleet and getting more non racers into the fold.  

Slalom is a quick, easy to understand format with broad reach starts, 3-4 gybe marks and a reaching finish 4 minutes later. Its probably the most exciting windsurfing discipline around- as the fleet comes charging into the 1st mark lit out of their minds, laying down carving gybes. Its a concept even the non racer can understand.  If you can gybe a windsurfer and get back upwind, you can race. No specialized equipment needed for the B fleet but the A fleet is totally open.

It started as a grass roots effort to get more people back into windsurfing racing and ended up surprising us all by the amount of enthusiasm generated. The Crissy Field Slalom Series began as a pipe dream with no RC boat, marks, anchors or even an PRO but with some modern ideas it all worked out. The idea to crowd fund the series came about with no sponsors and none of us wanting to go into debt to make the idea work if competitors bailed at the last minute with no wind. We reached out to the community-asking for small donations and gave racers a discount if they pre registered for the series. Soon enough we had 35 sailors signed up, paid & raised 150% of our goal. The basics were covered to run the series. 4 races are planned, once a month on Saturday afternoons at Crissy Field. With as many sailors registered for the B fleet as the A expect fleet, it was already a success.

The 2nd series is more a less a spin off from our existing Friday Night Course Racing at the St. Francis Yacht Club. In lieu of course racing, we're trying slalom races for 4 of the nights. Even before the 1st race, we had more people signed up for the slalom racing, than the regular course racing. The StFYC has been monumental in developing and fostering the sport of windsurfing from the beginning with the Friday Night Windsurfing series, the SF Classic (run since the late 70')  and Bridge to Bridge race, just to name a few.   The 2 series share the same course- utilizing a series of set permanent and set marks from Anita Rock down to the A & B buoys off the StFYC.

The 3rd series is the Rio Vista Grand Slam to be held on July 9-12th on Sherman Island in the delta. Its bound to be a great windy event with slalom, freestyle and speed disciplines.

For the lowdown on the 1st weekend of racing- keep reading....

Week 1-
Organizing 2 events is way more work than I ever imagined. I'm lucky to have Jean and Soheil teamed up for the Crissy Field Slalom Series. Its been 2 months of organizing, fundraising, and developing a plan for the series to start from scratch. A huge shout out to all the sponsors making the series happen as well as the volunteers conning together at the last minute. 
Robbie Dean was hired to be the PRO and he provided the boat, marks, set the course. We got volunteers as beach masters and scorers at the StFYC race deck. Everything was falling into place and I was able to focus on the racing.
I was really worried there for a minute as the B fleets first race day saw them floundering around the 1st mark in very light wind conditions but they all floundering together and came back for more with smiles on their face.
We ran the A fleet back to back while the B fleet got some extra time to get back upwind to beach & starting line and started every 3rd heat.  11 heats were run with the A fleet getting 7 races and the B fleet 4 races as the breeze finally built to 25-30k for the last 2 races making for some very exciting slalom racing .

It's been an a weird wind pattern the last few weeks with the puffs big but the holes even bigger. Normally you rig for the puffs here but this week it was all about the lulls. For the 1st 4 races, I had the ML 89cm wide board and avanti m-2 10.0 rig with 59cm kashy fin and made out extraordinary at the 1st mark rounding where it was lightest and most of the fleet had 70cm wide boards and 8.6 as their biggest rig. Even though we were sailing the lightwind course, there were still streaky winds on the 2 inside gybe marks at the top of the course.
If you've got an advantage- you've got use it.

I scored a 4, 1, 1, 2 putting me close behind Sean Kelly going into the last race before the break. That's when the wind picked up. The 10.0 became more of a handful than it was worth and I struggled to let 2 boards pass me on the final reach to finish as it gusted up to 20k.

We took a quick break and I secured the avanti m-2  7.7, 70cm ml slalom board and 45cm F4 fin for the final 2 races. I was lit as it approached 25k down the course. I had a great start as Sean and I got out to an early lead after the 1st mark. He's got great board handling skills and gybes and never once gave me an opportunity to pass. Another 2nd it would be.
The final race it was solid 25-30k and the chop was building. I sent it with everything I had and nailed the start with just Xavier in front at the 1st rounding. Sean was out as he blew up at the mark just behind me. I pushed and even made for the pass as Xavier made a conservative but wide gybe on mark 2 but he put the hammer down and took the last bullet, nailing the rest of his gybes and having blistering speed to the finish. Another 2nd but that would be enough to secure 2nd for the day. Jason Voss and Jean Rathle were right up there in the mix  looking comfortable in the breeze.  Chip Wasson made his re-appearance on some borrowed gear- making it actually look harder than it is.
I'm glad to see us both struggling in each others native fleets.

On the StFYC Friday night side- I had just enough volunteers 2 hours before the race to pull it off. Still through it didn't go as smooth as planned. Volunteers always seem to vanish and appear at the last minute. Our marks slipped in the flood tide and we had to adjust the fly. I was on RC for the night with JK on the start boat.  We were sharing the city front course with the woodies and the GGYC keel boats and errored on the side of caution calling it after only 3 races when all 3 fleets started to converge. There's nothing worse than a woodie-windsurfer sandwich to ruin your whole weekend.

All in all- a successful 1st weekend racing with 2 events proving their concepts and ultimately bringing a a few more slalom fans into the mix. I couldn't be happier seeing new and old friends at the beach enjoying racing again for the 1st or hundredth time.

Again- a huge thanks to the following for their support: Bluerush Boardsport, 101 Surf Sports, Boarsports California, F4 foils, Westerm Magnetics, Stepstone, Darriau Building and Design, SandyPoint, Aerotech, Ronstan, Ultra Nectar, Streetsailing, Soheil Zaheti IT consulting, North Sails, Fanatic, Alamo Square Seafood Grill, La Ventana Windsports, Sailing Anarchy and sb Design,

More photos here from Daniel Wong
Friday results
Saturday Results

Thanks for Daniel Wong, Christophe Sabineu, Lyrah, James Mazzanti, Stephanie and Olan for the photos

Monday, May 25, 2015

baby steps

Big breakthroughs on the St.FYC Bluerush Thursday night kite series last week.
Although by looking at the score sheet- you would hardly notice.

The good news is I can get around the course.
Its not pretty- especially downwind but its getting better.
I beat last weeks record by getting around 2 races and starting the 3rd.
Not in any record time, mind you- not even within the time limit and using the unofficial shorter windward mark- set for the 3 remaining course boards still racing.

The beginning foilers in the fleet have started an unofficial b fleet.
This way- we can at least make all 3 starts while sailing the shorter windward mark, down to the leeward gate and back up to the finish.

Im finishing just as the fleet is starting their next race so I just continue right through the start/finish line and keep racing.  The next goal is to shave a few minutes off my time and make the 10 min. time limit after the 1st finisher.

If I can get some numbers on my season score instead of DNFs, Ill be stoked!

For fleet building, I think its just as important to focus on the back half of the fleet as the front.
Its something I'm learning this year as I see the racing from a different perspective.
If you ever really want to test yourself- go do a race.
It pushes you beyond your normal boundary and you quickly find your weakness so you can turn it into a strength.

Downwind is still a struggle.
I'm fighting the urge to keep things under control while knowing quite well I've just got to bear off and accelerate through the turn, go fast and bring the kite low in the window. Easier said than done! Blow ups are still common as I lose control of the pitch of the board and the foil breaks free from the surface of the water.

Im so close to making a gybe on the foil board.
Mind you its not a foiling gybe but a touchdown gybe where the board is on the water.
The footwork shuffle once I get the kite around has still got me falling over the front of the board!
Down looping the kite through the light wind gybes is still challenging but keeping tension on the lines is essential

As a result- Ive gone back to the basics and have been trying to focus on my kite and board handling skills with the surfboard and conditions I normally would windsurf in.

The unofficial rule this season: 20k and above and I go windsurfing.
20k and below- I go kite foiling.
But rules are meant to be broken.

So far this season- 55 session as of May 25: 24 on the foilboard, 23 on the windsurfer and 8 kiting on the surf board!

Up next is the start of slalom windsurf racing in San Francisco with the first Friday night slalom race of the season at the St. Francis Yacht Club + the Crissy Field Slalom Series on Saturday afternoon.
Big thanks to Chris Ray for the photos

Friday, April 24, 2015

Breaking through the Wall

Week 2 of the St.FYC Thursday Night Kiteboarding Series.

1 mark at a time, I'm going to get around this course- even if it takes me the whole series.
It took just about everything I had to make downwind to the starting line, up the 1st beat, around the weather mark then back to the beach in survival conditions. The wind was a spastic 15-25k and I had the 7m ozone edge out on the foil board for the 2nd time ever.

Normally I switch to windsurfing when its over 20k but this was race night.
It was time to take my beatings!

I've reached a plateau of sorts in that I can ride the foil board pretty steadily - and even make my way upwind but for the life of me, I can't go deeper than a beam reach on starboard tack.  Port tack's a bit easier downwind but still another 20-30 degrees to go.

There's both a mental and physical barrier to get through this wall. I've crossed it once before and omfg- was it scary. The generation 1 spots foil starts wobbling side to side instead of the normal front to back when you send it fast downwind but then, so Ive heard, it becomes a bit easier once the apparent wind comes forward and the kite moves down in the window. The hesitation comes from being yanked over the front repeatingly when trying to send it deep.

I can picture it in my head.
I understand the concept.
But my body just isn't letting me do it yet.

Granted I'm in this way deeper than I ever imagined.
Foiling is one of the most exciting things I've ever done.
The feeling of flying above the water, with out a sound is awesome.
But I realize I'm still in my infancy in this sport- putting in less than 75 days over the past 2 seasons.
What comes for granted for some who've been at this sport for the past 10 years, is taking me everything just to figure out.

But there lies the fun of it- or so I try to convince myself.
While I would love to just skip this step and jump into expert mode, I'm prepared to pay my dues on this one. The most rewarding things in life are usually the things you have to overcome yourself.
A personal transformation of sorts.
One step at a time.

Monday, April 20, 2015

slalom racing is back!

Lots of slalom racing planned for this summer in San Francisco and the Delta with 3 different race series in the works!

After a trial run last season, slalom is back on the schedule at the St. Francis Yacht Club. 4 dedicated slalom races are being run as part of the Friday Night Series on May 29 , June 26, July 24 & August 21. A 4-5 mark downwind slalom course will be set with a start at Anita Rock and a finish off the St.FYC race deck with an A fleet start for experienced racers and a B fleet start for less experienced racers.  The series will count your best 3 scores and 1 night of RC is required to be counted for the overall series championship.  You can also register for drop in races any night of the series.  Series and race information available here.

In addition to the Friday Night slalom series at the StFYC, there will be more racing on Saturdays afternoons off Crissy Field using the same course on the following dates: May 30, June 27, July 25 & August 22. Its set up to follow the Friday Night races so come on Friday afternoon and get 2 days of racing in.  The Crissy Field Slalom Series is being crowd funded up until 1 week before the 1st race, so if you want to make sure the event happens and get in on a discounted early registration fee – donate now at The Crissy Field Slalom Series Fundraizr site.  More event info can be found at the registration page.
Finally – there is the Rio Vista Grand Slam in Sherman Island on July 9-12 with slalom racing Friday, Saturday and Sunday and freestyle and demos added to the mix.  More info can be found here.

PS- Despite the rumors of kite foiling fever – the  reports of my windsurfing death have been greatly exaggerated!

Friday, April 10, 2015

1st kite foil race: postmortem

After nearly 17 days of learning and getting the hang of the foiling kiteboard- I thought I might be able to get around the course. A major feat still- seeing how I can't even go downwind, tack or gybe yet but even the the worse case scenario was- a ride back in the safety boat supplied by the St.FYC and the Thursday night kiteboarding series.

The wind was light to medium so I laid both the 10m and 13m race kite on the beach but quickly realized I had only 1 race bar that fit them both. What could possibly go wrong?

I launched the 13.5 ASV and was quickly overpowered in the gusts but underwhelmed in the holes near shore. I foiled downwind to the starting line, checked in and made a few practice runs across the starting line. It certainly was a bit un nerving being around 30 other kites when I dont even have that good of control myself but I managed to start a good 30 seconds late and avoid any conflicts. 
Whoohoo- last year at the this time when I first started on the raceboard, it took me several races just to get across the start line. At least, Id made some progress. 

This year it seems like I'm starting over again for the 3rd year in a row.
Year 1 saw me learning to kite on the directional board.
Year 2 saw me learning to ride the course board
Year 3 seems me learning to ride the foil.

For the most part- the first beat was good. I stayed foiling upwind and locked in but when I went to transition at the beach, the kite became unhooked from the harness. Oh boy! 
A quick struggle and lack of relaunch in the light wind had me pulling the plug and swimming in as I was just downwind from Anita rock. The safety boat saw me swimming and offered a lift to the beach. 
Maybe, Id be able to make the next race but realized my 1 working bar was tightly wound with no chance for an easy transfer. 

Sometimes, preparation is just as important as skill in any stage of the game. I was out for the night but got to watch the remainder from shore- getting a better idea of how its all done. 
The video from race 3 shows the light air at the beach and everyones attempt to tack through it. Vlad has some choice works for Daniela, his daughter when she decides to gybe instead of tack and puts her foil kite in the water. Its the same spot where I went down and Ill be the 1st to admit- I should have just avoided that area all together and just went outside to where there was more breeze. 
Live and learn. 
Next weeks goal: Get around the course!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Baja take 3: rediscovered, reinvented and redefined


This was our 3rd trip to Baja peninsula over the past 4 years but this years packing list included a few new things. It was all or nothing so the whole family came along for the trip + the new foil board & quiver of kites.

The entourage included 1 oversized stroller & toddler car seat (which apparently airlines have no problem taking both for free!), 48 diapers, an energetic toddler, assorted beach and swim toys, wife & 4 kites and foil & board (which airlines have no problem still charging for.)
Still it was easier than traveling with windsurfing gear.

I came to La Ventana for the 1st time in 2012 competing on my slalom windsurfer.
In 2013- I took the slalom gear for the races but stayed and learned to kite.
Finally in 2015 after 2 years of kiting under my belt, I went down with only the kite foil board-determined to get out of my comfort zone and into a new stage of discovery.

We were lucky for wind as it's almost the end of the season in baja. Out 9 days, I got 6 days on the water- uping my total to 15 days on the foil board so far.  The 1 day without wind was a blessing in disguise as without it, any recovery would have been impossible. Getting to La Ventana from SFO couldnt be easier. A 2-1/2 hour direct flight with Virgin Atlantic and a set $50 fee for the 'surfboard.' 
Our days with a 20 month old began early. 6am to be precise. Wide awake and ready to go. I tried to take the morning duty with SUP, kayak,yoga and sand castle building excursions on the beach with a very enthusiastic water baby. I can't say enough about La Ventana Windsports resort right on the beach. It's a family and kite friendly venue that had everything we could ask for- 3 meals a day of great food, a beautiful setting of 12 different units perched right on the beach and in a vegetated interior yard, sup and kayaks, perfectly maintained mountain bikes and beach cruisers, and a hot tub at the end if the day to soak them sore bones and muscles.
Needless to say, the late morning nap was a must for baby and me.

By 11-12 the wind was nearly always in.
The 1st 2 days here were basically an extension of the steep learning curve with many falls, tumbles launches and crashes. I had sore ribs, bruises on my thighs, butt and waist, cuts on my feet, swollen ankles, nicked brow and brim and a stiff neck from the whiplash of hitting the water at full speed with a helmet on. I'm still considering the impact vest. The kook helmet is mandatory. Even in warm water a wetsuit softens the blow.

Something began to happen by the 3rd day- I got more comfortable and began to know what to expect.  Bar pressure plays a big part. I rode both the 11m & 7m kites in 14-22k.
My rides were getting longer and I could easily lift off and begin to foil at will and touchdown when needed. By the last 2 days I began to get into the rhythm of keeping the foil up and steadily riding without getting launched every 10 seconds but sometimes I still got randomly launched over the front of the board.
By the end if the week I was able to get going upwind on both tacks more efficiently. The foil really wants to track and is almost effortless once you find the sweet spot.
Downwind. It's a different story.
Somehow the mental block or muscle memory has not triggered yet on starboard tack. Perhaps it's the side shore conditions or the steep northerly chop but for the life of me- I can't go deep at all on starboard tack just yet.
In all good time, I remind myself as I didn't get to this point by making it easy for myself.

Foiling is attune to an epic powder day in the mountains.  Oh my, that floating feeling of riding 2-3' above the water is like flying. There's no sound except for the occasional touchdown and splash of the hull against the water- reminding oneself of that other reality. Then with a slight pull if the bar, the board jumps up again. It's absolutely the most efficient and fun kind if sailing I've ever done.  I'm having a blast putting myself through the paces and paying my dues.

The best day I had was Thursday in flat water and 12-14k with the ASV 13.5m2 race kite. The foil is in its prime in flat water and light to medium wind. I found it was all about keeping the proper line tension as I glided up and downwind with relative ease.
Granted, I'm still a kook when it comes to making any type of transitions from tacks or gybes but I tried a few - all ending in disaster.  Things can go wrong quickly if you're not careful. My last gybe of the trip ended up with the foil upside down between my lines and finally becoming separated from the board while I got dragged downwind to relaunch the kite. A kite-mare narrowly averted with only the board washing up on the rocks and a few scratches on the front foil.
What I can say after 6 more days of riding here is that I've rediscovered the joy, surprises and excitement that captured me for the past 25 years on the windsurfer.


Kiting and windsurfing are unique in the sense that they never stop evolving and reinventing themselves. Now even more so with kiting than windsurfing but compared to any static one design class- there's always something that come along new each season with the latest developments that makes last years setup almost obsolete. It's the reason we aren't racing the original windsurfer with teak booms and a dagger board any longer. There's no stopping progress. Besides the development of the foils, there been a huge push to foil kites. The high aspect ratio platform is just more efficient than a standard tube kite- almost like the how the camber inducer changed how we raced windsurfing sails. As with life,constant development and reinvention are necessary to stay relevant.

Sometimes you can throw money at a problem to find a solution but this was not one of those times. All that matters now is time on the water for me.  The temptation to get the latest gear will have to wait as last years foil and kites will have to hold out till I can outgrow their performance and even get around the racecourse.


As a foreshadow to what's coming next in my kite foiling progression - the 1st stop of the Kite Foil Gold Cup was going on just down the beach at Playa Central- the 2nd best little secret in La Ventana behind La Ventana Windsports. The Withington family had built a kite pro shop with lessons, restaurant and bar and is place to be in La Ventana- especially if you are a racer. They imported the best kite race director- Robbie Dean and Jessica Barhydt  from San Francisco along with 45 of the best kite foilers in the world. I took part as part of the jury as there's no way I was ready to even get around a course just yet.

The kite rules are a work in progress- something that still needs to be redefined - especially with the foil class as a boards are now moving 12m a second and that makes keeping clear a rather challenging proposition- especially in close quarters like the start or mark roundings. There were several request for redress as kites got tangled but for the most part, the jury found racers failed to keep clear even if they had the right if way. Note to self- always look for an exit strategy.  As they are written, the rules want you to avoid collisions and tangles at all cost and protest later. Not the opposite- as usually happens in most racing classes.
Like windsurfers, the kiting race community struggles with how seriously to take the rules. It's a beach culture after all and we've come here for the most part to avoid the restrains that society already puts on us. With that said, the racing rules are a necessary part of the game and without them,the game could not be played fairly at the level it's evolved to be.

Anyway you look at it, tangling is slow and will most likely end up with 1 or 2 lost races.
Giving way may only take a few extra seconds but goes a long way at the end if the day.
Many thanks to Kaenon and patagonia for their continued support.
Huge thanks to Michael Petrikov for the photos

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Kite foiling- the first 5 days: the ups and downs

The first 5 days of learning to ride a foiling kite board have been an overwhelming experience. I've gone from wanting to give kiting up completely, to having realized that this might possible be the coolest sport ever.

Below is a video of one of my buddies learning to foil. It pretty much sums up everything I experienced the 1st 2 days.

Day 1, February 16th:I felt like a total newb. I could hardly water start the foil board, nonetheless try to ride it in a straight line.  I wiped out dozens of times just going out a few hundred feet past Anita Rock and back- which took me almost 30 minutes.  It felt like trying to ice skate with roller skates.

How is this even possible, I thought to myself.

For the most part, I tried to ride bow down so as not to foil and learn some control but the foil is super sketchy in displacement mode. The early season gusty winds didn't help much either was I was either left op'ed or left floundering with a 9.0  kite.

I face planted into the board, catapulted over the side, tumbled off the back, and crashed to both leeward and windward- all in epic fashion. The most terrifying- when the board came foiling towards me after having jumped off. At least one of us got to foil.
I made it back in without killing myself, anyone else or getting rescued!
Foil board 1: Steve 0

Day 2, February 20th: Waterlogged, exhausted but not yet defeated. I got a serious beat down today getting chucked off the board multiple times at full foiling height. I wasn't trying to foil but the board just jumps out of the water once you reach a certain speed and tends to leave the unprepared behind. I spent most of my time in the water- trying to waterstart the board flat. Little did I know, if you turn it on its side, you pop right up. By trial and mostly error, I'll eventually get it but this is really going to hurt.
Foil board 2: Steve 0

Day 2.5, February 22:  I get a little bit too ahead of myself and try to go out when there's not enough wind. My kite doesn't even stay in the sky and I never make it off the beach. My kite still ends up a sandy and wet mess washing up in the shorebreak and I spend the rest of the afternoon untangling my lines as the wind finally comes up.

Day 3, February 24:  Everything got very quiet and before I knew it, I was foiling. There was no sound as the board lifted off from the water. In all my years of sailing and windsurfing, Id never felt anything like it.  I leaned forward to control the pitch and rode what seemed liked minutes but was actually seconds before coming crashing down.  The multiple beat downs I was experiencing were taking their toll but it all seemed worth it for that brief 5 second introductory ride I managed to get.
Foil board 2: Steve 1

Day 4, February 25th: I managed multiple lift offs and foiling rides today. I'm not extually sure how it all went down but if you go fast enough, and keep the board flat, the magic happens. I close my eyes and squeeze my butt expecting for the the worst, but for a moment-its like floating on your own personal cloud. The steady 15k westerly gave me a great base to work with on my 11.0 kite.
I felt much better riding the board bow down going both upwind and downwind- giving me some added confidence.
Gybing or tacking aren't even in the picture yet. To transition, I put the kite at 12.0 and jump off and turn the board manually through the wind.
Foil board 2: Steve 2

Day 4.5, February 26th: First self rescue on the foil. To be fair, I'm not counting this one as I spend more time trying to swim the board and kite in after I realized I was not going to make it back to Crissy where I launched from in the flood tide. I barely make it to last chance beach and make the walk of shame home. The backsides of my knees are blistered from the awkard 30 minutes of swimming.

Day 5, March 1st: That moment I knew I was hooked on windsurfing some 25 years ago. Yea, it's happening again with foiling. It was a perfect day- A steady 15k breeze and a flood tide. I got multiple controlled lift offs after having learned to 'ollie' the board up and out of the water. It's something I wasn't doing in previous sessions and made the lift off much easier and predicable. The feeling of foiling is unlike anything else I've ever done before and I manage to ride the board controlled at full height for several 10-20 second rides at a time. I get going scary fast and know it wont end well as I explode into a god-awful mess.
I get up and try it again with a grin on my face.
This just might be the best thing that ever happened to me.

Total score after 5 days of foiling-
Foil board 2: Steve 3.
I think Im going to stick with this.