Oct 20, 2008
Author: Kevin Kan
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Ride Guide: Crissy Field
I can recall the thrill of windsurfing Crissy for the first time. Maybe it was the trepidation of tackling San Francisco Bay’s most challenging and scenic windsurfing spot, or the novelty of duck-jibing under the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time, but I can remember my first Crissy day like it was yesterday. I can’t say the same for most places.
Sometimes this place frustrates me. It’s not that there are never any good days here; it’s just that windsurfing at Crissy Field can be so epic that I find myself coming back in search of those perfect days, and when it doesn’t live up to those expectations, it’s a letdown.
I don’t know that anybody here really knows what confluence of factors make the perfect Crissy day. There are so many to contend with: ebb tide, flood tide, tidal eddies, big ocean swell, wake from container ships, fishing boat and tourist ferry traffic. The sailing area is so expansive, there could be huge, glassy swell in one spot and crazy voodoo chop in another. Consequently, the best bet here is to get on your board and go explore. First, launch from the beach and head upwind and across the bay to the stronger wind and chop of the Golden Gate’s North Tower. Next, venture back across the bay to the South Tower to ride the big ocean swell and watch the surfers at Fort Point. Then make your way back to the beach to rip some jibes or tricks in buttery flatwater.
This is just one suggested adventure. Feel free to ask any of the abundant locals for tips. And no matter what course you take, don’t forget to jump off the wake of an incoming container ship—just don’t try it on an outgoing ship, or else you’ll plummet like a rock in the ship’s huge wind shadow.
Crissy Field Riding Tips
Safety Issues: The water is cold and the wind can die quickly, so make sure you have a good, warm wetsuit in case of a long swim back to shore. There is a lot of boat traffic, including massive container ships, fast-moving ferries and many other boats, so always be aware of your surroundings. If you sail at the North Tower or outside the Golden Gate, always take a buddy and look out for each other. Some sailors will carry a marine radio or flares to signal the Coast Guard, as the currents will make you difficult to find.
Coast Guard: These fine folks will rescue you if you break down and somebody notifies them. Their priority is to rescue people and not necessarily your gear. If you know they’re coming to help you, de-rig before they arrive. This will make it easier for them to get your rig onboard. Please, be courteous.
Wind: Normal windsurfing season runs from the start of May through the end of August, with most sails using 4.5 to 5.5 m2 wave and freeride sails. Wind direction ranges from southwest to northwest. Typically, the wind builds early in the afternoon and blows until dusk.
Marine Layer: It’s a good sign when the huge fog bank sits outside the Golden Gate Bridge. When it penetrates the bay, it usually kills the wind; however, I’ve also sailed occasional powered-up conditions inside the dense fog, so it can be hard to judge.
Ebb Tide: The current when water is flowing out of S.F. Bay toward the Pacific Ocean. Most sailors prefer this tide as the water and wind flow in opposing directions, allowing windsurfers to use smaller gear. For tide direction, either consult a local or check a tidal chart.
Flood Tide: Roughly half the day the water flows into the bay from the ocean. On normal sailing days this means wind and water are moving in the same direction, causing the water to flatten out. Use larger gear to fight against the flood, which can run upwards of five knots in strength.
Words by Kevin Kan / Photos by Colin McRae (aerial) and Shawn Davis