We Left Our Hearts In San Francisco: SUP Downwind Adventure Under the Great Golden Gate
“ Getting off of the boat under the massive support of the Golden Gate Bridge was really very exciting! From what I remember we all took a moment to talk plan, signals and safety before we stood up and paddled. It wasn’t long before I caught my first, and I think longest, glide of the day. Wow! That was an awesome feeling which was almost completely stripped from me by my first and longest swim of the day (1 of 6). The first fall is always the worst, so from that point it was all fun.” Eric Diana, CT
San Francisco, California
September 24, 2016
Well we didn’t see Tony Bennett singing “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” paddling near by but the song was definitely on my mind. One month ago the Bluerush Boardsports Protector loaded up 4 excited SUP downwind warriors for an amazing downwind adventure, which began underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. That moment stole our hearts forever. (PHOTO GALLERY BELOW)
It was a beautiful, clear and crisp day in the Bay Area with sailboats abound on keel tacking back and forth and their sails trimming and fluttering in a perfect breeze. The city was buzzing and not in a cloud in the sky.
There were white caps and wind lines changing with the currents from Alcatraz to Angel Island setting up to be the most perfect, glide catching and bump hunting day. The tide appeared to be slack and what I remembered about my years of windsurfing there in the bay, it was the best set up for speed and windy thrills.
Thanks to our amazing host Stephen Pugh of Bluerush Boardsports in Sausalito, who has earned many open ocean downwind paddling stripes of his own: assured an amazing day to be had by all. The moment we announced this fantastic downwind opportunity, the slots sold out in 2 days. It just goes to show the draw and growth of downwind stand up paddling and how it’s often the next step for many paddlers.
Our three fantastic paddlers Janice Callahan from the Bay Area, Pat Alteri from Sacramento and one of my regular SKYPE clients whom I’ve never met, Eric Diana who flew all the way from Connecticut just for day; were super stoked and a little bit nervous. I made sure they were all pre-qualified in skill to make sure the group would be able to stick together and handle the conditions. I could feel their jitters and a bit of nervous laughter as we loaded the boards onto the boat.
Stephen and I were plotting out the best place to launch and were watching the wind gusts starting to fill in nicely. Any way could maximize our glides and be safe as a group was our top priority, as Stephen would escort along the way. I was hoping not to fall into the fifty degree waters as I was not as prepared as my mainland crew.
Looking out and up to the iconic 3-mile long Golden Gate bridge and up the steep North tower, this was going to be our target put in spot. The water was just calm enough bordering the wind line so when the boards were lowered into the water it was calm enough to mount safely.
Next it was a serious skippers meeting on water safety along with hand signals to make sure everyone was alert and aware of where they were and the rules of the group. It was go time as we approached the awaiting wind line to a field of bumps and glides. All systems go.
Off we went! First Eric then Pat then Janice. Stephen had a nice pace behind us with his co-captain and daughter Jiji ready to lend a hand or shout out some motivation. We just headed down and wherever the wind took us is where we paddled. It was such a freeing feeling. Looking all around at the city skyline and the Bay Bridge and of course Alcatraz was better than any postcard I’d ever seen.
You can see by the photos no one lacked of a smile or great glides. In the corner of my eye I would often catch Eric working on his fancy footwork that he only experienced on his Indo Boards during our training session. He was perfect and really digging in and then WOW he was catching serious glides in full on surf stance.
Next out of the ride side of my hat’s visor, there was Pat so focused and nicely dialed into a perfect downwind cadence. A few short powerful strokes, step back and glide. It was so cool to see him flying across the swells
Pat writes: “The most exciting part for me was catching that first glide where you feel almost out of control going so fast, your vision narrows and you feel so much adrenaline/excitement that it seems like your flying. Checking the gps afterwards and realizing I was reaching speeds of 19-25 mph! Such a rush! “
Janice, hoot’n and hollering a little bit in the back laughing out loud sometimes form sheer terror of the speed and drops she has never experienced. It was so awesome.
A few times we’d wait as a group and as part of my hand signals, the thumbs up and nod of the head by everyone, meant all good to go again. Up to their feet then went, scanning and hunting for bumps the glide machines were on the take for more thrills and a couple spills.
The cold water numbed my feet but I didn’t care. I looked over at Pat and he was focused and flying. He had a big smile as he was on the hunt.
As the wind carried us it was time to pick an island to paddle to and then to make sure we navigated where the boat could dock safely. It just so happens that Angel Island has a fantastic little inlet that provides not only a nice wind block but offers spectacular views of the island up close. With so much history surrounding me I was in total awe. But first we had to gather the downwind gaggle and make sure we all made it around the North end of the island.
We were met with a very sticky and tricky current or potato patch that looked like you were paddling into some strangely textured vortex. It even looked daunting to me, but I thought okay here goes nothing. I’ve and we all have a 50/50 chance of at least trying to stand all the way through. No way was I going down that easy.
I saw the look on Pat and Eric’s face and was not worried at all but curious as to how they would get through this small but critical stretch. Eric was absolutely hammering along with Pat closing in behind him. These guys were going for it and I loved see that.
Janice was taking her time enjoying the last part of the ride and taking it all in. She was looking good with a nice smooth stroke and super stoked. I gave her a whistle and encouraged her she had to step up the cadence and get going! She laughed again with her contagious giggles and she too put the hammer down and glided on in.
At last we were all together again as the sun warmed us and everyone was talking story on how epic their first downwinder was. This made me so happy. We could not have asked for a more perfect experience.
Loaded up, stoked and feeling the cool vibe Stephen offered to surprise us with a little post paddle cocktail or drink at the ever so fancy San Francisco Yacht Club in the most gorgeous part of the bay, Belvedere. Stunning and charming homes sprinkle this special California enclave. Belvedere means “beautiful view” in Italian and that their views of the Bay are indeed beautiful.
I have to say it was cool to pull up in the Bluerush Protector right up front and bask in our glory and gliding victories. What a treat and what a way to wind down the day. Mahalos Stephen.
Before I close, I wanted to share with you more thoughts from Eric and Pat on how they felt about their first downwind adventure:
Pat Alteri, Sacramento, California writes:
“Suzie’s friendship & mentorship means so much to me. Following her book and instructions have helped me increase my balance and endurance while also improving my recovery from a back injury. Getting to downwind in SF Bay with her was a very surreal and awesome experience. The wind was just enough to get some pretty sweet glides while not being to intimidating for a novice downwinder. I feel very accomplished to have been able to stand on my very narrow board and not fall in once!
The most exciting part for me was catching that first glide where you feel almost out of control going so fast, your vision narrows and you feel so much adrenaline/excitement that it seems like your flying. Checking the gps afterwards and realizing I was reaching speeds of 19-25 mph! Such a rush!
Thank you so much Suzie and Imagine for letting me hang with you.
Keep the stoke
Eric Diana shares:
“The trip really meant a lot to me! I’m a flat water paddler who almost always has land within 200-300 yards of my board. High winds and chop are usually a nuisance rather than a desired state for my paddles. Finally, my feet don’t move more than 6-8 inches during a normal paddle, although they do switch around a lot for comfort. The SAN Francisco Bay violated all three of those principles of my paddling life.
Getting off of the boat under the massive support of the Golden Gate Bridge was really very exciting! From what I remember we all took a moment to talk plan, signals and safety before we stood up and paddled. It wasn’t long before I caught my first, and I think longest, glide of the day. Wow! That was an awesome feeling which was almost completely stripped from me by my first and longest swim of the day (1 of 6). The first fall is always the worst, so from that point it was all fun.
I accomplished a lot. I caught a few glides and started to see the bumps as something that I wanted to go for instead of away from. It is quite an amazing feeling. I got to use my bracing skills and most of the time they actually worked. I was told that I moved my feet around a lot. I didn’t notice that I was doing it, which is probably better since it was a more natural movement rather than a forced effort.
The San Francisco Bay was beautiful! Sometimes when you are paddling in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable zone, you forget to look around. You forget that you are in nature and that it’s so wonderful. Thankfully, I kept my head up a bit and got to look at the surrounding beauty. Not an easy task when you are trying to look at the water to figure out how to catch a bump.
The point when the nose of my board would get under the water was a little scary at first. Those kind of conditions would sometimes get me on my knees in the past. I now am much more comfortable in rougher water conditions and look forward to my next downwinder! I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience and a better coach to take me out!
Suzie – you are amazing! Thank you for giving me the confidence to go out to California to try my first downwinder. Without your encouragement I would never have gone out for that trip.”
Remember safety is number one. Always wear a leash and a PFD if required and be with knowledgeable and experienced paddlers if attempting a downwinder in any body of water. Learn the currents, tides and be aware at all times of possible changing conditions. Wear bright colored clothing, pack a hydration pack and take your phone in a waterproof bag that is easily accessible. And when in doubt don’t go out.
Downwind paddling is my specialty on Maui. I am very grateful for my many years of ocean SUP experience and have been a coach to many of the the top paddlers in the world.
If you’re looking to catch your first or 100th glide and you’d like to increase your skills and ocean confidence contact me through my website here. I can coach you no matter where you live via SKYPE. To really up your downwind skills come to Maui and spend a few days with me and go to the next level.
Bluerush Boardsports and Imagine Surf for supporting our downwind adventure. Also a really big shout out to our onboard photographer, Treston Vorac for all of the great photos.
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Aloha and Mahalo,
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