Thursday, January 26, 2012

Standup Paddleboarding @ Yellow Bluff, SF Bay

Last Friday I took my standup paddleboard to Yellow Bluff for the first time and it was challenging.  I hoped to arrive to perfect conditions and a smooth front wave that I could surf on.  The weather wasn’t great, but the radar showed a break in the rain from noon to 2pm that lined up perfectly with the 1:50pm max ebb.  By 12:15pm I paddled into the top of the eddy at Yellow Bluff without rain and with skies clear enough to see across the Bay.  Light winds from the south and strong currents set up an okay wave up front.

self portrait using the GoPro Surf Hero HD

At first it was difficult to stay in position, but after several attempts I finally got a really nice surf.  Turns out it was a passing passenger ferry that created the wave.  The ferry wake mixed with the waves of the tide race and created a nice set of waves – up to 2′ each, at least four of them at peak height.

Between passing boats I made my way into and out of the current practicing ferry glides and maneuvering.  Balancing the board in such confused water is pretty difficult and bracing is absolutely crucial.  I found myself bracing much more than I would normally brace while in a sea kayak in those conditions.  After playing in the waves for awhile, I paddled up the tide race into the eddy above.  It was a workout paddling up current at a fast cadence and reinforces the need to develop proper stroke technique.  While taking a breather in the eddy above, another boat passed and by the time I made it back down to the tide race, the wake had reached the top and turned into four nice, steep, clean waves.  With more skills I would’ve spun the board around and tried to surf them, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen so I headed straight into them.  I couldn’t resist the chance to plow the board over those waves at a quick speed.  I did pierce cleanly through the top of one while maintaining my footing.  After the charge I pulled into the eddy, took a break and then played for another 20 minutes.  As I paddled back to Horseshoe Cove the rain began falling again, the skies grew darker and in my mind I began planning my next trip here.

first good surf at yellow bluff
returning to the launch

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Round Alameda

Last Saturday I had the day off and felt I deserved some time to myself.  I decided to paddle a standup board around Alameda to challenge myself and do a route I've never done before.  My goal was to make the complete loop in 5 hours.  It's 15.5 miles around the island and I was hoping to ride the current around half of it.  I launched at Jack London Aquatic Center in Oakland just after 8am and headed north up the channel.  Within an hour I made it to the northernmost point of the island with a crystal clear view of downtown San Francisco, the Bay Bridge and Yerba Buena Island.  Paddling into the flooding current, I felt the wind at my back, dropped to my knees and took my first quick break while drifting in the right direction.   I chugged some water, removed a layer and snapped a few pics.  5 minutes later I was back underway.

San Francisco, The Bay Bridge & Yerba Buena with cranes

Alameda is on my left and I've moved into the bay far enough to pickup a ride from the flood tide.  This entire section is new to me and I'm trying to picture it back on the google map.  After passing CG ships, nesting grounds and breakwaters, I'm quickly down to Crown Beach.  All of a sudden it feels like San Diego with harbor beaches and palm trees, bike paths and lots of people - quite a nice stretch to paddle.  The air is starting to move a bit more and I'm happy my heading is downwind.  Along the way I take a 2nd break for a quick bite, more water and a few more pics.

I round the corner and continue to ride the flood up into the backchannel.  Wind is now at my side so I tuck in tight to the shore.  It means losing the main flood, but also allows me to paddle in glassy waters and check out the homes along the shore.  I turn again, to the north, waving to people on their boats and continue to ride the flood - but now I'm heading straight into the wind.  From here till the end I'd be slogging into the wind paddling hard from wind break to wind break.  It's exactly like eddy hopping up a river and I really enjoy the challenge.  The wind easily outpowers the current assist and it means lowering my stance, my grip and quickening my cadence.  Every stroke is critical and powerful.

Nearing the end of the route I see my finish point in the distance, glance at my watch and realize I could possibly finish in 4 hours.  This prompts me to paddle harder and increase my speed to try and finish by noon.  Another 20 minutes passes and land back at the dock.  In the end I finished the 15.6 miles in 3hrs, 49mins.  I averaged over 4mph and finished an hour faster than anticipated.  Nice.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I recently put together a short video to help promote the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium in February.  This was my first time playing with video.  Although it's super time consuming, it is really fun and quite challenging.


no snow, go surfing

With the lack of snowfall in the West this holiday season, Haley and I decided to go to San Diego in lieu of a week in the mountains.  Leaving Berkeley at 4am, lightly packed with clothing, surf gear, boards and a full bed in the back we quickly made time south, hoping to avoid any holiday traffic this Christmas eve Saturday morning.  Without so much as touching the brakes on the way through Los Angeles, we cruised into Ocean Beach before noon to meet up with friends. 

By 3 o’clock the dropping tide had improved the surf and the launch at sunset cliffs was tame.  The session went well for me, although the lineup was a bit more crowded than I like.  It’s creepy to be the only one standing among a crowd of sitting strangers.  I was well within my capabilities on a standup board in those size waves, but still felt the need to be subtle in the lineup.  

The session ends shortly after the sun sets and each surfs their last wave in.  Energy is high as the four of us discuss our experiences out there.  Since I’m still fairly new at sup surfing, my reflection usually goes like this – “I got my best wave ever today!”.  Wrap that day up with a delicious dinner and a night round the fire.

On Christmas day we woke up early to get Florence to the airport; she was off to Hawaii.  Coffee (Starbucks is open on Christmas day), nice home-cooked breakfast, some relaxing and off to Mission Bay for some flatwater paddling.  We launched sup’s at Aqua Adventures and paddled north to Sea World at a quick pace.  I’d never experienced such strong currents in Mission Bay before and was excited to see fast current and a small (small!) standing wave at the first bridge.  It was fun catching the eddies behind the pylons. 

On the hunt for a good, sunny holiday we followed our tour of Mission Bay with another surf session at sunset cliffs.  The waves were the same size as the day before but cleaner with flatter seas.  Good conditions produced a great session and again I got my best wave ever.  I paddled into one of the bigger waves of the day that produced two peaks, me on the south peak about 15 meters from the main.  I was paddling slightly left to get closer to the peak, felt the drop, turned to the south, set my edge and instantly felt it lock.  I was way up high on a steep face with a perfect trajectory down and forwards, building speed while perched on the edge of the board.  Great feeling. 

Afterwards we celebrated Christmas and spent the next three days visiting family, paddling, surfing, eating and relaxing with friends.  Great holiday trip and now we’re back to Berkeley still waiting for snow.