While windsurfing has been eradicated from too much of North America, it thankfully remains part of the culture (counter-culture?) on San Francisco Bay. Latitude 38 editor Tim Henry headed to one of his favourite windsurfing spots at the Berkeley Marina on August 5 for this update.
Berkeley is not exactly among the famous locales on the Bay, especially when compared to the epic scenery of Crissy Field, the gnarly ebb swells at Third Avenue in San Mateo or the nuclear sea breezes along the Delta. Berkeley is tame and quiet by comparison.
So we were surprised to see the grass in front of HS Lordships full of brand-new and stylish boards and sails, and lots of young windsurfers with their specialized vernacular. The event was part of US Windsurfing’s 2017 Nationals, and included foil-sailing, course racing, slalom, and the freestyle portion we stumbled on.
As windsurfers, one of the first things people usually ask us is, “Why don’t you kitesurf?” One of our contributors even wondered if anyone still windsurfed at all anymore.
“I’d say that windsurfing is making a comeback,” said David Mertens, a competitor and one of the organizers of the Rio Vista Grand Slam, which takes place in June, and is part of the International Windsurfing Tour. “When kiting started, windsurfing took a big hit. A lot of people left windsurfing. And, kiting is definitely an easier sport to get into. But windsurfing has made a lot of progress to make it more accessible for beginners, in terms of technology and the way the boards and the sails are. It’s easier to learn today.”
Because it’s tame, Berkeley is one of better spots in the Bay Area to learn. The basin is relatively small, and the South Basin near the Cal Sailing Club is in a lee, offering flat water and slightly calmer winds. There’s no major shipping traffic (as there is at Crissy Field and Treasure Island), and in the event of major gear failure or injury, sailors simply drift a half mile to shore.
“The Cal Sailing Club does a fantastic job,” Mertens said. “They’re probably one of the best clubs in the Bay Area that promotes windsurfing. But then you also have communities everywhere around the Bay, where there’s camps for kids on the weekends or during the summer. Yeah, windsurfing is coming back.”
When snowboarding came along, a lot of people thought that skiing would become dated and obsolete. But instead, skis got better, and skiing itself progressed.
“And some of the guys that were doing extreme snowboarding, they went back to skiing because it was more challenging for them,” Mertens said. “That’s kind of where windsurfing is. A lot of people have come back from kiting to do windsurfing. Because they wanted to challenge themselves, and because you’re always learning in windsurfing.”
Hanging around the young crew of windsurfers made us feel a little dated. The moves have names like ‘Spock 540s’, ‘Vulcans’, ‘Double Flakas’ and ‘Double Funnel Punetas’. Seriously. “Like in the competition today,” Mertens said, “there’s probably 200 known moves, plus all the variations like one-handed or no-handed or whatever, right? And there’s more added every year.”
Going through old issues for our 40th anniversary, we were surprised to see how much we used to cover windsurfing. Maybe that’ll make a comeback too.