US Champs 12 Step Guide – Reflections from Mid-pack

Tuesday, 31 August 2010 10:30 | Written by  John Dye
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US Surfski Champs - Let the therapy begin! US Surfski Champs - Let the therapy begin!

[Editor: John Dye sent us this great piece on the US Champs – race reports tend to carry the viewpoint of the elite paddlers, and it’s great to hear from paddlers who are a little more like the rest of us!]

A 12 Step Guide:

Reflections on the 2010

Wavechaser US Surf Ski Championships

Author’s Note:  Paddle Sport is my addiction, something I find difficult to live without.  Any substantial amount of time away from the water is tough to take.  With that in mind, I offer the following thoughts:

Step1:  Admit you have a Problem.  I prefer to admit I have a Problem at least twice a week, preferably 4 to 6 times a week leading up to Champs.  This admission is often met with the question from those around me, “You going paddling again?” fortunately those most important in my life have dealt with the Problem themselves, so they can relate.

US Surfski Champs 2010

The line up.  1 Minute to Start

Step 2:  Address the Problem:  It usually takes 1 ½ to 3 hours to address the Problem, preferably with 3 or 4 cohorts who also have also admitted the Problem and are addressing it in a similar fashion.  Saturday morning August 21st, I chose to address the Problem at Horseshoe Cove, Fort Baker, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, with about 100 of my closest friends.  This is a wonderful launch spot for dealing with said Problem.  Protected, small harbor right next to the Golden Gate where plenty of aquatic entertainment is on tap.

We were all looking forward to our therapy.

US Surfski Champs 2010

Bring It!!  Local paddler Steve Kasper (also an Old Guy) soaks in the pre-race instructions

Step 3:  Recognize that a power larger than yourself is necessary to keep the Problem under control:  fortunately these larger powers are plentiful and easily found around San Francisco Bay, site of most of my training and the Championship Course.  They vary in size, shape and form, but often have smooth faces, occasional cresting tops and enjoy traveling in packs, frolicking along, not a care in the world.  Much to the delight of some and the disgust of others these larger powers often travel in 2, 3, and even 256 directions at once on San Francisco Bay, creating a pin ball machine like effect for those in contact with them.  (That would be me)  But it’s all good, part of the therapy.

The engine that keeps the therapy coming is our California Central Valley, stretching all the way to the Sierras, hundreds of miles long.  The summer sun brings that huge shallow semi-dessert up to frying pan temperature.  That heats the air which rockets up away from our now skin scorching soil.  Where to get more air?  The Golden Gate of course.  This is the only break in the coastal range of mountains for hundreds of miles, separating a cool moisture laden marine layer from the frying pan inland.  The breeze hauls ass though the gate, heads toward Walnut Creek and Modesto looking for a parking lot of black SUVs to cool down, but it’s never enough, so the force of the engine just builds all day.  Dave Jensen and company just happen to be on hand to make the best use of the phenomenon.  Funny how things work out.

After 20 years of paddling sometimes serious, often not, I stumbled onto Wavechaser.  They have become my most local, direct, organized path to this engine, this larger power, this H2O fun zone I have become trapped in.  Wavechaser and the people who participate in their events are continuing source of community, health and fun for me.  12, 13 races a year, everyone is having a great time, safety boats, well thought out courses, food and drinks, wonderful organization and great boating.  This year’s Champs was no exception.

The start was timed for a building ebb tide (good) the day was getting warmer (also good).  Many of us were shedding gear by 1:45, going for just shorts and race jerseys.

US Surfski Champs 2010

The start venue

For a larger image, click here

Step 4:  Retain outside influences in dealing with the Problem:  Very Important.  Generous shuttle with paddlers from Bellingham, Washington.  Larry offers me the front seat, since I’m a local, and he needs me to guide him to the closest breakfast burrito.  In a pickup hauling 9 people to the start, that front seat is a valuable spot.  But no complaints from the faux migrant laborers in back.  Boy these guys are polite.  For a group that’s been paddling hard all week, they even smell OK.

Talk to Helen and Judy at registration:  Also Very Important.  Team Helen records all the times. Handles more details than anyone knows, makes the day run SMOOTH.  Since I preregistered, Touching base here takes roughly 30 seconds, plus I get my number, some swag, a pre-race snack and a hug or two in the process.

Step 5:  Prepare to face the Problem head on:  Scott Kelly and Dave Jensen are a great help here, giving course instructions and helpful inside tips.  Have a good time, wear your lifejacket, keep an eye on each other, and the beer at the finish is really, really cold, pretty much sums it up.

(No time to wash out the camelback.  Those brown spots in the drinking tube have not grown too much since last week, have they?  That scratch on the stern, that’s not through the laminate is it?  No, that’s not going to leak, its fine.  2 “GU” shots, leash, full kit, what could go wrong?)

US Surfski Champs 2010

Start action, heading out of Horseshoe Cove.

Step 6:  Experience the Problem: So far so good.  A nice start and out to the Golden Gate.  What a great course. Moderate upwind into 10 to at most 20 knot gusts, then downwind through a wide variety of conditions.  Some fun and games going around the bridge tower, past points Diablo and Bonita, out into the Ocean.  Here I get greeted by a side current I failed to read earlier.  Sloppy turn, but so what, surfs up.  Two dolphins pop up just to the right of my bow, gorgeous, smooth and slippery, then gone just under my paddle.

Dave Jensen advised all of us to be wary at Point Bonita, not cut inside the rocks, so of course we all headed right for them, many paddlers going through.  I’d only done that move once or twice, today it looked easy.  I regret not following through on my intents.  A rare moment of self preservation came over me and I went around the outside.  Better safe than starfish food

Step 7:  There is NO………………. Step 7.

US Surfski Champs 2010

The Fenn Hot Spot about 1/2 mile inside the Gate.  Looks flat?  Boy, was it.  But that changed soon enough.

Step 8:  Consider Golf or Tennis Instead.  Where are the waves? I’m spent and I’m not even back inside the bridge yet.  You would think the big surfing here would be out in the ocean, right?  NOT.  Here’s the deal: That wind engine I mentioned earlier?  It works best inside the Gate.  Get out to the buoy, work the currents, get back inside the gate, round the turn buoy by For Baker, then look for the best line along the face of Angel Island, out in the main bay, where I usually encounter the best advice on my “Problem”.

It was blowing so hard a minute ago.  I’m really doggin’ it here. I can’t move the boat with the paddle, so try something else, anything else.  Power boat wake, draft some seals, mass Cormorant hypnosis, anything.  Still nothing but the occasional bump and I know it won’t get better until we get inside the bridge, closer to Angel Island.  I make some ground up at Point Diablo and at the North Tower, cutting way inside by the rocks, staying out of the current.

Who are all these white haired 50 and 60 some-thing guys blowing past me at the Fenn Hot Spot Buoy?  How does that work?  Apparently it works really well for them.  I figure Greg Barton is up near the front making the 20 somethings nervous, but I’m getting my ass kicked by some really old guys back here. And those Bellinghamsters from the back of the truck are way out in front now.  Deanne Hemmens has done a horizon job on me too.  So much for that game plan.

Four navy fighter jets roar over and I get some of my energy back.  A little jolt from our ever expanding Military Industrial Complex.  I dust some guy with a Viagra sticker on his boat and feel better.  A tanker stands on his horn, really stands on it, and I know someone’s getting their money’s worth out in mid-channel.  I get a few waves and head for the “ZFW” or “Zone of Funny Water.”

(What is ZFW? Just inside the Gate on the north side there is an underwater horn which sticks up about 75 or 100 feet toward the surface.  It’s really deep here, and I don’t honestly know if that horn contributes to the ruckus on the surface, but it may.  Raccoon Straight helps too.  For whatever reason, the water here always provides for “Learning Opportunities”. I’m not super fast though it, but quicker than a few of the out of town-ers caught by surprise.  I’ll take it.)

US Surfski Champs 2010

Reivers Dustin, One of the many "Old Guys" who finished well ahead of me, takes out at the finish while I'm still negotiating with the waves.

Step 9:  ZFW. Surrender yourself to a pure and higher power, mix with water, then set blender to medium high.  Today the higher power is 3 footers at most, just short, erratic, some marching over from Hurricane Gulch and the sanitation plant (no navigation needed here. One whiff is all it takes.), and some coming from the South Tower. Add some popcorn waves, little guys that seem to explode along the eddy lines just for the fun of it, stir in power boat wakes, multiple sailing races, kite boarders, ferries and an outgoing tanker or two in and we’ve got a P-A-R-T-Y.

I feel like a three legged cat with a new litter box.  Too much to keep track of.  The small stuff is a lot of work to catch, but no complaints.  I dearly love the thinking game of finding my way through this incredibly rich surface medium.  So much going on, so much to learn.  I watch for the path of least resistance the quiet path though it, stay loose, let the boat bounce around, find its own way.  I’m thrilled to be out here just working it as best I can with no GPS, no heart monitor, reading the water, feeling it, listening to the bay talk to me, it’s talking to me all the time.  I just have to listen and understand, translate it to forward speed.

This is about as close to organized religion as I’m going to get.  For me this is organized religion.  The ZFW mellows out as we get closer to the Island, then the Waves get a little more regular.  Until….

US Surfski Champs

Enroute to Angel Island: a Tanker or two,  a wave smorgasboard, 85 fishing boats, 47 kiteboarders, multiple yacht races, Coast Guard, the list goes on.  As I said, P-A-R-T-Y.

Step 10:  Ride’EM Boys and Girls, Ride ‘Em!!  A good current is coming around the East side of Angel, a huge reverse eddy on the West side and there is a general rumpus all about.  I see a boater swimming with a very uncooperative ski out by the buoy, the overturned ski slowly spinning, right on the eddy line.  I head over that way, but he or she gets in, stays up, and pulls out of it.  Nice re-entry in tough conditions. Very Impressive.

Step 11:  When in Doubt, work right.  After clearing the island, the wind and waves build up for the best riding of the day.  The trick is not to be blown too far north and still ride ASAP to the line.  At this opportune time I re-discover the leak in my boat and readjust to surfing with 5 or 6 pounds of water sloshing about in the hull.  That explains a few things… Still good rides though.

US Surfski Champs 2010

Typical San Francisco Bay summer afternoon conditions.  Prominent waves from the Gate, with lesser additional wave forms thrown in.  Most boaters cut hard to their right, surfing on the leg from Angel Island to Berkeley.

I hook up on a Cal 40’s stern wave, headed for marina.  I ask the skipper’s permission to be a general annoyance, right on their butt.  They look at me as though I’m an unidentified lower form of aquatic fauna, but don’t say no.  One of the crew asks me where I’m coming from and I tell him Fort Baker by way of Point Bonita.  The whole crew does a double take, their eyebrows all go up above their Ray Bans as their jaws drop.  Bobble heads on parade.  For a brief moment, I’m the alpha male.  The wind carries an undecipherable comment my way, all I can make out is “DDDDDude!?!” as I peel off on a new wave train.  Thanks Guys.

I pick up one boat at the end.  Can’t thank the people at the line or cheer on the boats behind me.  Too Spent.

US Surfski champs 2010

Dave Jensen, El Jefe Race Organizer congradulates one of many who got on the podium.  (Yep, more Old Guys).

Step 12:  Recovery.  The Wavechaser brand of Recovery involves no Intervention, Come to Jesus, pledging of money, surrendering of prescription drugs, blood letting animal sacrifices, body parts, first born or checking account numbers.   There is some soul searching and modification of recent events though.  Usually the “No Shit, There I Was” variety of stories (see above) are told as people strip of wet gear in the parking lot.  It’s cooling off now, but, Sunny Warm Parking Lot, I Like.

Chicken and Vegetable Stew, Pasta, Salad, Corn on the Cob, Fruits, Cakes, Brownies, more Cakes, Shortbread,  a Harmonica Serenade, Raffle,  Bad Hair all round, Friends made, Beer, Giant purple buckets of Cytomax flying through the air, phone numbers exchanged, relationships built, New, Top Secret “It’s Gonna Change Everything” hull design ideas discussed in hushed tones, More Beer, and an never ending supply of Good Vibes, Prizes handed out, five guys and some boats stuffed in my Honda Civic shuttle back to the start right at sunset glance in my swag bag and see the label on the Laurel Glen wine bottle at the bottom.  A 1996 vintage red from Patrick Campbell.  That’ll work.

US Champs 2010

The post race planning for next years Trip to San Francisco begins.

Thanks Wavechaser.

John Dye is a free lance architectural project manager and designer.  He lives with his wife and daughter in San Rafael.  On a good day you can find him next to the Larkspur Channel on San Francisco Bay, asking the ferry skipper to adjust the throttle, make the wake a bit taller.

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