If I were to label my relationship with kiteboarding Crissy Fields and the Golden Gate Bridge it would be, “It’s complicated”. I made a brief attempt to live in San Francisco. One of the big reasons for my move back to Santa Cruz was kiting at Crissy Fields. My first time out ended in a rescue, as did my second. After that I made a few attempts at kiting there, but never had fun. I spent the whole time fretting that I’d make it back to shore. I made a brief attempt to try the kite races which was like trying to run before I knew how to even crawl. I ran with my tail between my legs back to the familiar pounding of the waves at Waddell.
In the whole time I was in San Francisco I never made it “Through the Gate”, or kiting under through the Golden Gate Bridge. It feels like a failure to me. Also, all the Crissy kiters talk about it the way we talk about Magic Hour at the coast. It is, well, magical. It’s definitely a kiteboarding bucket list item to kite the Golden Gate Bridge.
One of my friends, John von Tesmsar, is a kite instructor and teaches off a power boat in the bay. I had just thought of him as an instructor for newbie kiters. Then he and Erin Loscocco started posting GPS tracking and pictures of crazy expeditions they did kiting all around The Bay. Despite my fears of getting back to shore at Crissy Fields, my first thought was “I wanna go too!” After posting whiny comments about wanting to go to I found out John does more than teach introductory kite lessons. He also takes intermediate and advanced kiters on expeditions around The Bay.
I decided that for once I was going to enjoy a session on The Bay. What is more enjoyable than knowing you have your own boat for support? Rescue is not only guaranteed, but also immediate. That settled down the scaredy cat part of my brain. I was still a little nervous. One of the best parts about John’s Bay kiting expeditions is the radio helmet. As I kited around he guided me around funky current spots and gave me information about where to go and what to avoid. That was one of my biggest fears of kiting Crissy, I know there are all kinds of current and wind shadow hazards. I just had no idea of where they are. And I find it hard to learn talking with someone on the beach. It means so much more to me to kite it with a guide.
Even with the boat support I was still a little nervous kiting by the Golden Gate Bridge. I’d spent a year making it much bigger in my mind than it really was, so to get out at all was huge for me. John gave such a good balance of information, encouragement and silence that after a bit I actually relaxed into it and even had fun!
After playing around at the Golden Gate Bridge for a bit we headed downwind towards the city. Suddenly I hit a patch of powered wind and did an unscheduled kiteloop jump. That’s the thing that is so nuts about kiting The Bay, the wind varies so much from spot to spot. You’re cruising along then you cross some invisible line and the wind suddenly ramps up or backs off. I sorted things out and we continued on, as we approached the Crissy launch I noticed myself sizing up the Anita Rock buoy and thinking, “I’ve got the right angle, there still seems to be good wind, I could probably make it to shore today.” Then the next thought, bouncing up like a buoyant balloon, “But I don’t have too! I have a boat!” We cruised on past.
John radioed me to go for the Bay Bridge. Really? OK,why not? It was such a beautiful evening. For some reason there was almost no traffic on the bay. One tanker was coming as we were launching. John positioned me where I could play under the bridge and be well out of it’s way while it passed. Another was heading out as we cruised past the St. Francis Yacht Club, but well away. There was one moment where both a ferry and a big-ass yacht crossed my path making conflicting chop – That ain’t easy to kite. Other than that there was no other boat around except for mine. It was magic hour criss-crossing between Alcatraz and the city front as the sun dropped in the sky setting the city aglow.
Just as we turned the corner to The Financial District the wind began to drop. Finally my kite went down just shy of the Bay Bridge. Whoosh, there was the boat and the throw line to climb aboard. It’s amazing to watch John manage the kite and boat. He has it so dialed and efficient. Before I knew it I went from kite down to on board having my first sip of beer.
That day opened up a new idea of kiting for me. Usually with kiting it’s about staying in the spot, riding the waves or throwing the tricks. Maybe it’s a downwinder from point A to point B to get to ride waves without going back up wind, or just to do it. But this was different. This was exploring – going on an expedition, an adventure. Experiencing the bay and the city and all the islands in a whole new way. It’s hard to describe, you really just have to experience it for yourself, being a tiny little craft out there seeing places so rich with history in a way you just can’t from a tour boat or from land. You get a sense of the power and magnitude of the bay and a whole new appreciation for the phrase, “City by the Bay”.
The Bridge to Bridge trip was a fun first trip, but I want to do more. I want to cruise around other parts of The Bay. It’s one thing to ride one of the tour boats around Alcatraz – and quite another to do it on a kiteboard. I thought taking the trip through the gate was crossing something off my kiteboarding bucket list. Instead it sparked even bigger ones.
If you are an intermediate or advanced kiter I highly recommend contacting John about going on a Kite The Bay Expedition. This is not for everyone. A certain level of proficiency is absolutely required. This isn’t just a put your money down and go kind of thing. John talks with everyone prior to booking to make sure it is really a good match. John prefers to use his own kites and has boards and wetsuits so if you are planning a family or business trip to San Francisco and it isn’t practical to bring your own gear this is a great option for getting in a session without the hassle of traveling with your gear.
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