By Lydia Snider
What’s on your kiting bucket list? You’ve probably got all the warm tropical places covered. If Kite the Golden Gate Bridge isn’t on your list you could be missing out on one of the most epic kiteboarding adventures of your life.
Kiting the Golden Gate Bridge at Crissy Field is a different flavor of epic than a perfect wave trip to a remote part of the world. Some people may not see the point. The water is cold, there’s all kinds of crazy boat traffic, and the currents are strong and constantly changing. You need a 15 meter kite to get off the beach and once you are out you need an 8. Many Crissy Field stories end with “….and then I was picked up by the Coast Guard.”
I briefly lived in San Francisco and during my first trip kiting out at Crissy I was rescued by the fire department. You can read about that adventure here: http://www.lydiasnider.com/not-quite-rock-star-debut-to-the-crissy-kiting-scene. They seemed stoked to get to take out their jet skis and boat to rescue a kiter instead of letting the Coast Guard do it. My second session I was picked up by another boat. Sounds fun right? Who’s in?
I never made it “Through the Gate” – the locals term for kiting under the Golden Gate Bridge. I really wanted to make friends with it and Crissy Field. The kiters who ride there regularly have such a powerful bond with the place. When they talk about Crissy it’s hard for them to put into words the feeling of how connected they are to it.
They know how to read the currents. The subtle shifts in fog. They chase the tankers to surf their wakes and throw airs off the bow of the tour boats to give the tourists a thrill. They frolic with dolphins outside the gate.
One of the long time Crissy kiters is John VonTesmar who is also a kiteboarding instructor. He teaches off his powerboat The Windseeker. With his boat and his special system for launching and landing off of it, the whole San Francisco Bay is available for instruction. Wherever the wind is blowing that day he and his students can get there.
For fun, in his off time he and fellow kiter Erin Loscocco (http://www.loscocco.net) take the boat and their kites for crazy expeditions around the bay. They’ve discovered nooks, crannies, and new secret spots and seen Alcatraz from angles few people ever will. Where some kiters might keep it a secret and hoard that experience John decided to open it up to others. Now as well as instruction he offers kiteboarding expeditions around the bay.
Since getting through the Gate has been at the top of my Kiteboarding Bucket List for awhile, I jumped at the chance when John and Erin invited me to join them on one of their expeditions.There’s a little part of me that tried to say, “It doesn’t count if you don’t launch from the beach.” My answer? Isn’t kiteboarding about having fun and enjoying the experience? Every time I launched from the beach I never enjoyed my session because I was so worried about getting back. If I enjoy it it counts!
Going out with John on The Windseeker was a whole different experience. With my history at Crissy I was a little nervous at first. John handed me a radio helmet so he could communicate with me. He gave me just the right amount of information about hazards and how to handle them, and guidance to the fun spots, like the little perpetual wave I never wouldn’t known about if he hadn’t pointed it out.
With his experience as an instructor I think he could read my body language and tell when I was nervous. He always seemed to have words of encouragement right when I needed them. And he knew when to shut up and let me just enjoy the moment.
Knowing I had boat support and an expert kite sherpa, I was able to relax and actually enjoy kiting Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time.Suddenly I understood why the Crissy kiters love the spot so much. It’s hard to put into words what it is like to be out there on just a kite and a board.
You’d think it would be like kiting in the middle of a busy city – boats, bridges, human construction, and business. But there is this other sense of the majesty of nature. The hills rise on either side. Dolphins and seals pop in to check you out. You can feel the power of the water in the currents and the swells. It’s very different than bombing down a wave face and no less powerful.
Our original plan was just for me to make friends with the Golden Gate Bridge. Conditions were great for a downwinder to the Bay Bridge so I surfed a tanker wake, smiled and waved for cameras on a tour boat, and had a lovely cruise down the city front.
Kiting across the bay you get to experience it in a way so few people in the world ever will. Most people pack onto the tourist boats like cattle and go on the standard route, snapping pictures of Alcatraz as they motor past. Being out on a kite – it’s like cruising around the neighborhood on a bike when you were a kid.
Checking out Alcatraz standing on the water gives you a whole different sense of the place that people who only get to herd through will never experience.
Cruising past the city front and the Financial District as the sun dropped and lit up the Trans Union building is an experience I’ll never forget. Getting to do it all knowing I had boat support and not having to worry about the wind dying (which it will) – that was priceless.
The Kite The Bay http://kitethebay.com basic expeditions are definitely for solid intermediate or better kiters. You need to be comfortable going both up and downwind, able to handle variable water conditions including chop and small swell, and know how to get the most from your gear in variable winds. The season for kiting Crissy Field and The Golden Gate Bridge is generally May through October.
John prefers to use his kites because they are set up for launching and landing off the boat. He can also provide a wetsuit, hood, and harness as well as boards if needed. If you travel to San Francisco for business or a family vacation you could cross this adventure off your bucket list without having to drag your gear on the plane. If you are an advanced kiter talk to John about custom expeditions. You may have the skills to do some of the crazy adventures he and Erin do.
About the Author: Before Lydia discovered kiteboarding she had a very respectable career as a special education teacher. When the stress of that job literally started killing her, her kite lines became her life lines. One of her current goals is to help establish a strong economic foundation in the industry and help shift kiteboarding business owners from survival to thrival. She will be contributing online stories to TKB every few weeks. Learn more at www.lydiasnider.com.