Some days we ride man-made waves. Ships, fishing boats, ferries, whatever throws a wake. A morning check of wind, tide, swell, and commercial vessel traffic has become the new norm. “Green” ships on AIS are the best, these are the freighters. “Reds”, tankers, are rarely fast enough to throw a good wake. Gybe on the starboard bow wave just outside the bridge and you can jump onto a line of lefts that will run all the way past Alcatraz. It’s common to see a ship heading downwind with a flock of what look like ducklings playing, all on their own endless wave. The best part is you can talk to your buddies on the adjacent waves. You might even get a holler and wave from the crew on the ship, who appear to like these escorts into the Bay.
On adventurous days, we’ll go well outside the Golden Gate. The typical thermal wind fades outside – it’s easy to be sucked out in an ebb, unable to get foiling. But the swell near mile rock can be tempting, and the risk adds to the fun. The goal is to be just cautious (lucky?) enough to make it home.
Earlier this spring, a friend and I got the rare offer of boat support outside the Gate. This provided an opportunity to push farther out than is safe to do alone. We took off from Crissy and met photographer Abner five miles upwind at Point Bonita. Days of wind swell jacked up on a shoal called the Potato Patch, creating an endless playground of rolling hills with steep double-ups sprinkled throughout. It’s a pretty surreal experience gliding full speed downwind for miles, connecting lump after lump that far offshore. Even on my quick Mike’s Lab foil it was easy to get maxed out on speed. Riding chop inside the Bay requires snappy turns and well-timed pumps to stay in the energy and avoid outrunning the waves. The open ocean is all about long, drawn out snowboarding turns, still staying on the steepest part of the wave but not cutting back too hard, and risking being outrun by the swell.
The evolution of the sport is what keeps many of us engaged, I’m no exception. I’d like to spend more time offshore, and also to figure out how to get out in bigger beach breaks. But, no matter what comes next, I’m sure it will continue to expand my understanding and appreciation of the Bay.
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Follow the bridge a few hundred yards south and Fort Point might be breaking. The wind swirls around the old fort, which often completely shadows the inside. On a kite we only tasted the shoulder of this wave, but the ability to drag a wing into the shadow, dodge the rocks, and pump (or paddle) back out has opened this place up for daily riding.