Skiff Sailing on Steroids

Lots of chatter at Crissy Field Beach about fins being reshaped overnight, but the man who went two days without losing a heat in the Kite Course Racing World Championship says, “I had my board ready a month ago. There are guys who mess with their fins every day, but I just want a board that I know I can ride really well.”


At this point it would be hard to argue with Sean Farley, who won the 2009 US Nationals and came to San Francisco Bay on June 7 to sail and be ready for world-title races that began on August 8. Nobody expected Sean Farley to implode on day three and he didn’t. Oh, he dropped all the way to third in his first heat of the day—after five firsts—but in his final heat he took off with a lead big enough to fit a stadium behind him.

Hmm, should we reshape the fins one more time?

Sean sails for Mexico, and he won his first race on San Francisco Bay at age 16 in one of the Cabrinha Thursday Night races at St. Francis Yacht Club, the races that shaped the development of this game from grassroots to ISAF-sanctioned. Farley recalls, “I blew in and people were asking, who’s this kid from Mexico?”


Sean has come back often, generally on his way to or from the Gorge, to stay in touch with what he calls, “the epicenter of course racing; this is where it started.”

But only started. The big players in kiting are here. Now they have a new game, and they’ll take it with them when they go. As Paolo Rista said, “If you’re not 15-24, doing the stunts in waves can be a bit much. Racing brings people back in.”

With Thursday’s racing completed, Farley remained in the number one spot, followed by the very big name of Bruno Sroka, with Chip Wasson third followed in fourth by—

Johnny Heineken?

Yep. Local hero and grand master Chip Wasson last month gave a board to local home-for-the-summer college kid Johnny, who seems to have taken to this game rather easily . Johnny is a past 29er national champion, and he calls kiting, “skiff sailing on steroids.”

Wasson shakes his head and asks, “Why oh why did I give him that board?”

A cloud cover blew through, and Thursday winds were short of community-standard nuclear. The big rigs came out, and I found Johnny on the beach, taking some length out of the front lines on a 14-meter kite and then testing it there in the sand.

He won his next heat  .  .  .


The Format

Elimination heats continue to split the fleet into gold and silver divisions for further racing, after which the top 10 sailors will advance, Olympics-style, to a medals race on Saturday.

Talking to Dick Rose about Course Racing Rules

If Dick Rose isn’t the ultimate voice on the subject of sailing rules, I don’t know who is, and as course racing grew, kite sailors brought him into the conversation. Going into day three, Dick had these thoughts on a process that, he says, “Has been fun.  I have principles that I like to incorporate in the rules, and no one is telling me no.  These people are even appreciative.

“At ISAF, they want you to put your ideas through your national authority and then [think layers of stuff and lots of meetings and time and more meetings and etceteras] and eventually you go back to ISAF where it all begins again.  With these guys, I make up a rule and they say, ‘Hey that’s great.’ ”

Or if something doesn’t work out?

“Starting this process took me back to the mid-Nineties, when we did a major revision of the racing rules.  I sat down with my then-typewriter and a blank sheet of paper and thought, wow, a clean sheet. I hadn’t had another experience like that until this project. The geometry is bizarre.  Think in terms of the space that kites occupy.  When you diagram it, you’re moving around a sort of cone that starts with its apex on the surface of the water, and the cone extends into the air.  If someone is carrying a kite that is too small, or they’re running dead downwind, that cone is huge because the kite is looping.”

Note:  In light air the kite is looping because the rider is steering it through big figure-eight patterns to increase apparent wind. In heavy air it might be looping because the kite is darned well doing what the kite wants to do and the rider is just trying to  . . . keep . . . riding . . . please.

“I’ve learned this week, being on site for the Worlds, that when the kite is jumping around, that’s when they get into trouble, and their behavior is unpredictable to other competitors.  In a way it probably was simpler for them before they got rules guys involved.  Once upon a time they had no rules.  They just sort of stayed out of each other’s way and if that went wrong they apologized.

“Possibly they could have done fine that way. But they wanted to be part of the sailing world, and now they are, and with that comes some baggage.  A rule book. It was a bit of a shock to some of them Wednesday night when half the fleet wanted the last heat thrown out because they had small kites, and the wind dropped.  Their boards were just sinking. In other times they might have come ashore and agreed amongst themselves that it wasn’t a good race, so they should scrap it. But the race had finishers, and the race had winners, all within the stated time limit. The jury had a set of Sailing Instructions sitting on the table, and the SI’s said that a race had been completed. They asked, ‘Well, can’t you do it our way?’ And the answer is yes, but you have to tell us ahead of time, and then we’ll write the Sailing Instructions that way.”

Everybody’s on a learning curve here.

“The sport is going to get very expensive if they don’t get some class rules. Walk down Crissy Field Beach and look at their quivers of kites, look at the stacks of boards.”

That was one of the issues that popped up in windsurfing, as I recall.

“It’s up to them to figure it out.”

Suns New Jerseys