Always Ready

Swimming in Aquatic Park
Swimming in Aquatic Park

One Day in September

I jumped in the water
cold water
I swam in a circle
not a small circle!
I fought the current
something that might seem like a battle
but I held the water’s hand
and it pulled me
I pulled myself
harder
faster
I felt free
not for the first time
for the first time
I felt strong
not for the first time
for the first time
I was not afraid
swimmers and surfers don’t talk about sharks
the water of the Pacific is not cold

I swim in my own skin
I embraced the open water
I took in the view of the sky
and the taste of the salt

I rounded the corner
Alcatraz to my right
the Gate in my sight
I went with the tide
and flew with my friends
back inside the arms of the pier
a little safer
but again the current challenged my strength
I had been in the water now
for more than an hour
my right foot was numb
and yet my arms felt long

things always get harder for me when the end is in sight
at a mile and a half I had to pull hard
the tide rushed out through the pilings behind me

the remarkable thing is that I would say that I struggled
but it wasn’t a fight
it was hard
but I loved it
I felt awake and alive
long and lean
warm and wise

once we finished our swim I walked slowly inside
I sat in the sauna for what seemed like an hour
my brain slowly reconnecting
to my body as it thawed

I reflected on a decision I had made only just a week before
to not wait and test the water before jumping in
to not feed my fear by feeling the cold
before feeling the cold
I had said to my self: no hesitation
at the water’s edge

my dad told me not long ago that “I’ve had it easy”
yeah right
I’m sure that’s his own trip
although it’s true that many things have come easily
I always thought I was just good at… everything
or some kind of genius
and so he’s right in a way
it’s hard to seek challenge

one day in September
I learned something more about what I’ve long said
that I’ve believed it, and felt it, but I didn’t quite know why
always ready

Bowen and IN-Q
Bowen and IN-Q

The Long Distance Experience

A new specialty in kitesurfing is emerging. Long distance kiting is different from freestyle, wave riding, racing and free riding. While all of these disciplines continue to progress, something else is happening that isn’t about tricks, waves, or competition – it’s about exploration, adventure, and the unique feeling of making a journey by kite.

Long distance kiting is about traveling not just with your kite but traveling by kite. There are parallels in other sports: in paragliding it’s known as vol-biv, in cycling it’s bike-packing. It’s the difference between sport climbing and a multi-day climbing expedition, or between a day hike and an overnight backpacking trip.

Coming around the corner to Jericoacoara
Coming around the corner to Jericoacoara

Long distance kitesurfing can be done with just about any equipment, at any pace, in many places, and with varying degrees of support. Long distance kiting is its own thing, and for many of us it is the way that we enjoy the sport the most. Especially for riders who aren’t into freestyle or racing, and for more experienced and adventurous riders, long distance is a uniquely awesome experience and more and more kitesurfers around the world are getting stoked on long distance kiting.

It’s not just “downwind”

If you’ve been kiting for more than a year you’ve probably done a “downwinder” of some sort, either at your home spot or while on a kite trip somewhere. Usually this involves riding a few miles/km from a known launch and getting a ride back to where you started from. I did my first short downwinders at Ocean Beach in San Francisco and on the Outer Banks in North Carolina. It’s a great feeling to ride with the wind and know that you don’t have to worry about getting back upwind – just jump in the car/buggy/taxi/bus, and enjoy the ride back home!

These little downwinders are super fun, but I always wanted more. I wanted to go somewhere. What’s different about long-distance kiting is that you leave from wherever you start, and you don’t go back. You kite down the coast some distance, you arrive somewhere else, sleep there, and then continue again the next day. While we often use vehicles for gear support and/or safety, it is possible to travel this way without getting into a vehicle for days, even weeks at a time. The detachment from the world of roads and vehicles and the immersion in the journey creates a totally different feeling.

Variations within long-distance kiting include supported, unsupported, solo, crossings, distance records, and exploration, just to name a few. All of these areas are seeing rapid development, and I think we will see more and more in the coming years. There is still a ton of unexplored territory and many “firsts” yet to be achieved in long-distance kiting. For inspiration check out Louis Tapper’s original 2000km solo trip, the solo longdistance trips that Andre Penna is doing on his foil in Brazil, the mega-distance records that athletes like Nick Levi are putting up, the multiple world records set by the amazing Bridge family at the Isle of Wight, or the 600km “Ironman” trip” that I did last year.

Logistics

The most common type of long distance kitesurfing is done with the support of vehicles that travel along the route by land, carrying all of your regular-life stuff (most of which you quickly realize you don’t really need at all). It’s not usually necessary, but in certain conditions a boat or PWC is needed for on-the-water support. On the other hand, given the right conditions (first of all: warm air and warm water) long distance kiting can be done entirely unsupported, with just a waterproof backpack and some cash in your board shorts.

The north-east coast of Brazil is particularly well-suited for long distance kitesurfing, with hundreds of miles of sandy beaches, side-onshore trade winds, warm water, warm air, great food, great culture, and an absolutely incredible landscape – but there are many other places around the world where distance trips can be done, most of them undeveloped. Where? That’s part of what’s so cool about long-distance – most of it remains to be discovered!

Long distance equipment
Long distance equipment

Equipment 

Although some specialized gear is starting to emerge, long distance kiting can be done with just about any equipment. You can go long-distance on light wind race gear, wave kites and a surfboard, a twin tip – or perhaps best of all: a foil board.

When you select gear for a long-distance trip, the most important consideration is your skill and level of confidence with your gear. Choose gear that you have mastered – you want to be sure that you can make it work if the wind drops or if you need to go make landfall somewhere other than your planned destination. We’ll go over equipment in more detail in another article, but if you are doing a long distance trip in a warm place like Brazil, you really don’t need much beyond your board and your kite.

You also need to select equipment that is going to work well in the terrain and conditions that you’ll be riding in. My board preference is a strapless surfboard with relatively high volume and long rails. I use a 5’3” Firewire Vader – this board goes super fast on any point of sail, rips upwind, works well in both light wind and high wind, and is also relatively short, making it easy to travel with. I always ride strapless – you can use handles if you like, I just find that they get in the way of my feet!

When selecting kites, the most important criterion is that they are in excellent condition. I also recommend kites that have good range, especially if you are planning a solo trip. I fly the latest Boardriding Maui Cloud kites, and I love how versatile, nimble, and compact they are, but you can use just about any kite for your long distance journey.

Foil boards are opening a lot of doors for exploratory and long distance kiting. Foils require less physical effort for a skilled rider, and they allow you to cover ground in just about any direction, making it possible to plan long-distance routes that include upwind legs as well. The main issue with foils is that they require at least a meter or so of water depth. You absolutely do not want to crash your foil into anything hard – I’ve done it, it’s not fun, and it usually spells the end of your trip. Foils are also more likely to get tangled in flotsam or fishing nets, but that usually isn’t catastrophic. As long as you account for these factors, foils are an incredible tool for distance and for exploring. I love my Alpinefoil which, among other things, packs down very well for travel.

The Journey 

For me, the journey is what long distance kiting is all about. Whether you travel solo or as part of a supported group, down the coast or crossing from island to island like Mitu did recently in Cape Verde, there is very specific and unique feeling that you get from such a journey. Spending several days on the water, traveling entirely by kite and away from the world of cars and roads – away from the land for the most part, in fact, puts you in a unique state of mind.

You may be familiar with the idea of “Flow”. Flow is a state of mind and a state of being in your body. You find yourself in flow when you are totally absorbed in what you are doing. Your perception changes, and your intuition takes over from your conscious mind. It’s common to enter a flow state during intense physical activity, and it can happen for a few minutes or a few hours at a time.

Bowen in Brazil
Bowen in Brazil

The magic of a journey is that you extend the flow state beyond the immediate physical rush of action. You spend days immersed in the experience, in the feeling of your body working, and in the feeling of being part of the natural world. Being in Flow feels good – it’s recreational, but it’s also challenging, restorative and inspiring. Flow is also addictive – the more time you spend in Flow, the more you realize that other things – most things, really – are a distraction.

When people ask me about kitesurfing, I often describe it as a form of sailing, and as the combination of sailing and surfing. The essence of sailing is to make a journey by the power of the wind alone, to cast off from a known port and arrive on foreign shores. Long distance kitesurfing is how we as kitesurfers can experience this pure soul of the wind – a unique way to travel, to explore, and to expand your horizons in the sport. I encourage everyone to do some long distance kiting and feel how distance is different!

This post was originally published on SurfinSemFim

Swimming the Gate

I’ve been training all year to swim the Golden Gate. It’s about the same distance on the map as the much more popular Alcatraz swim, but the currents in the Gate are even wilder – there’s simply no such thing as slack tide in this massive funnel where San Francisco Bay pours in and out of the Pacific every six hours. I finished dead last but only one of a few who swam in “skin” i.e. without a wetsuit, my time was still perfectly respectable, and I felt great throughout the swim and afterwards.

Ansel Adams, Golden Gate Before the Bridge (1932)
Ansel Adams, Golden Gate Before the Bridge (1932)

As a San Francisco native and lifelong denizen of our beautiful bay, swimming the Gate has been in my mind for some years. I put the idea off repeatedly, shelving it under “foreign concepts” and “unnecessary hardship”, but it persisted. This year I got the message again and finally had the courage to commit. I really don’t believe in putting things off, but it sure can be easy to do, especially when faced with a calling that requires truly new skills. There’s something else about swimming – it’s not fear, and it wasn’t just getting past the point where swimming was simply unpleasant because I wasn’t that good at it. Swimming requires a huge amount of head game.

This past Saturday morning was probably the most beautiful morning on San Francisco Bay yet this year: sunny, warm, and relatively calm. Absolutely perfect conditions and I had no fear, no anxiety. And yet during the swim I was constantly confronted with a voice saying “just call it, this is unnecessary, what are shu doing here, the current is pushing you the wrong way, what’s the point, there’s no need for this, why bother” even while another voice was simultaneously saying “wow, this is amazing, the water is perfect, I’m not tired, check out the view, no problem, you got this, it’s not even that far, this is amazing, no worries, have fun, you’re almost there”. I’ve experienced this before while climbing and perhaps I’ve just forgotten how that felt – or perhaps that’s why I stopped climbing. And I’ve experienced it more recently while paragliding, which almost made me stop flying. In both of those cases I can attribute a large portion of the feeling to the situation that those sports entail: halfway up a 1000’ cliff, or dangling in the middle of the sky from bits of fabric and string. While you might think being in the middle of SF Bay in nothing but your sunga is similar, I feel quite comfortable in the water, and so I’m left to face the truth directly. The truth is that it’s not the situation, and it’s not fear. It’s reluctance to sincerely accept a challenge of unknown dimensions. To not postpone, beg off, be distracted or unprepared, to not quit or fail. To not commit to try, but to simply say yes.

My dad said to me not long ago that he thinks I’ve had it easy. I think that’s bullshit. A lot of things have come fairly easily to me, and I give him credit for teaching me so many physical skills early on, which gave me a great deal of physical ability and self confidence. Swimming, however, has not come easily. It was hard to choose to do this, even though I wanted to. I don’t mean to make any more of this than it is – lots of people have swum the Gate, and for a decent swimmer it’s no big thing – but for me, this was a real accomplishment. And – I had an awesome time. Super fun to be able to do something like this and enjoy it!

2016 Golden Gate Bridge Swim - San Francisco, CA, USA
2016 Golden Gate Bridge Swim – San Francisco, CA, USA

EO SF Swim and Black Sabbath

I’ve had several days lately that have blown my mind, and yesterday was one of them.

I got up at 6am and led an event as part of EO SF’s 25th Anniversary where I took 20 entrepreneurs from all over the world (not a dirty word btw, entrepreneur means business owner not “tech douche”) out in SF bay and treated them to a swim/float under the Golden Gate on a massive 4 knot flood tide. We jumped in by the red nun buoy outside the south tower and were swept in through the gate right next to the base of the tower in a roaring rip of whitewater, and then spent 20 minutes or so being spun around by upwellings and whirlpools in the middle of the bay.

This event was the culmination of many years of event production and experience creation, as well as the unique combination of my perspective as an SF native, a salt water hog and an EO member leader. I was so stoked to share my vision and love for the bay and the Bridge and incredibly gratified to see how others GOT IT in such a big way. We had an incredible time and definitely blew some minds.

EO SF Golden Gate swim
EO SF Golden Gate swim

Back on shore I raced back to my place, had a quick shower, changed and then to the Legion of Honor for EO SF’s 25th Anniversary celebration. I had to have a quadruple espresso to compensate for the change in venue. Fantastic event and I’m proud to be a member of EO and former chapter President of EO San Francisco. So cool to see so many fellow independent thinkers making their unique way through the world.

We had to leave the party a little early because I had tickets for a rock show. Black Sabbath in Oakland. Bloody amazing, as I imagine Ozzy might say. I can’t really describe how incredible it was to see them play. Sabbath is the soundtrack to so much of my life. They put on an unbelievable show, especially considering that Ozzy, Tommy and Geezer are all about freaking 70 years old. Thank you guys.

The end of the show was very emotional for me. I saw how affected the band was by their performance and the massive love from the audience. I looked around and saw every fucking person in the hall stoked out of their brains and just pouring love and rock sweat out in all directions. And I thought: what a crying shame it was that I had never seen them play in all those years when I was younger, when they were younger, when they were some of my idols. I wanted to go to those shows. I went to some – I saw Van Halen play at the same arena in 1983 – but I didn’t go to very many. Why? Partly because I wasn’t sure if I was cool enough. I had some cool friends and some of them went to a lot of shows but I didn’t get invited to the coolest shows. I didn’t realize at the time that all I had to do was show up.

Black Sabbath - The End
Black Sabbath – The End

But most of all because I was simply too fucking wasted too much of the time. Growing up here in SF was incredible and it was also an unholy mess in a lot of ways. Last night I simply got in my car and drove to Oakland, parked, went to the show, drove home. When I was 16 or 18 or 20 I could have done the same, except I would have been trashed before, during and after the show, unable to drive to or from, not to mention unable to remember much of what I saw or heard anyhow. And taking the bus or BART to Oakland or the Cow Palace is a lot less attractive when you know you’re going to be super fucked up. Getting wasted was standard operating procedure for all of us in those days, and it caused me and a lot of my friends to miss out on a lot of living. It also killed a lot of us. I have way too many dead friends from those days.

So it was heavy – and it could be no other way. Black Sabbath is the heaviest cornerstone there is. The soundtrack to my darker side, yes, the side of wasted youth, but that is long ago and now the dark side is just part of who I am. Now it’s dark joy. I was there with a million friends – my old college buddy Dave Pehling who I ran into in the crowd, the guy to my right who passed me a joint, the two screaming-hot chicks in the row behind us, and everyone else who was there to receive and re-transmit Sabbath’s unique rock message. A day and a night to remember – and this time, I will.

Enjoy your holiday

As I was walking through town one day with a friend, a couple passed us going the other way. They must have seen our glow, as they looked over and shouted: “Enjoy your holiday!”

Of course, they had no idea whether we were on holiday or not. And that is exactly my point. Business or pleasure? One life. AASB, no need to draw a line, everything is connected.

Enjoy your holiday, every day. 

Situational Awareness

One of the first things I remember learning from my father is that you don’t stop in the middle of the trail. If you need to stop to drink some water or tie your shoes, step aside so that people coming along behind you aren’t forced to stop along with you. 

This was a basic lesson in situational awareness and respect for others. In adult life I am always surprised when I see someone thinking far enough ahead to accomplish these simple acts of respect. Surprised that is, albeit pleasantly, because it’s so damn rare. In the States we’ve become resigned to the fact that everyone drives in the left lane, seemingly without a thought to the long-lost rule of “keep right except to pass”. In markets and trains and on trails and sidewalks I constantly encounter others simply standing in the middle of the way – and not always because they are staring into their smartphones. Just now I was moving down the aisle of a train with my rolling bag in tow and a woman leaning out into the aisle several rows up saw me approach, looked me in the eye even, and then turned her back to me and continued with whatever she was doing. Now, I’m sure she had something important to do, but when I reached her a few seconds later I had to stop, ask her to move out of the way, which of course caused us both some minor frustration, and then continue on my way. With a little bit of situational awareness she could have simply tucked herself into the row for a second as I passed, which would have given us both the satisfaction of a job well done (on her hand) and being noticed and cared for (on mine).

“Way” means road (check?). It’s impossible for me to imagine really, how one’s brain could operate in a manner so disconnected from others, from one’s surroundings. It’s also one of the basic building blocks of civilization – that is, giving a shit about someone other than yourself. This is part of what makes life better, and in many ways we’ve lost it.

Nothing’s Shocking

Jane's Addiction: Nothing's Shocking
Jane’s Addiction: Nothing’s Shocking

Why waste time being shocked? Fear comes from unfamiliarity. We may choose to reject certain actions of others, but we should not be surprised at the extent of human action.

Anything that has been imagined has been done, and everything that will be imagined will be done. It is impossible to stop the march of progress. We should devote our energy not to dismay but to civilization, the project of bending progress to good. 

As Above, So Below

Occult Classic
Occult Classic

This ancient phrase – a real occult classic – is attributed to the “Emerald Tablet“, a bit of lost (or invented) arcana that was of great interest to an eclectic series of early alchemists, philosophers and scientists including Aleister Crowley and Issac Newton, who produced the canonical English translation. AASB succinctly encapsulates the idea that “man is the counterpart of God on earth; as God is man’s counterpart in heaven” – and since God and man are one and of each other’s invention, then so are the real and the imagined.

To me this phrase is a more elegant way of saying “everything is connected” (Barry Commoner), and a reminder that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (Arthur C. Clarke).

Listen closely to the ether of which we are made.