San Francisco Racing Nationals Racing Day 1: Dead Last: That Which I Feared Has Come Upon Me
Alternatively titled: "Stacey Fonas: the Jay Stebbins Boardercross Equivalent to the Great Sport of KiteRacing"
Posted Thursday July 26th, by Stacey Fonas
Wednesday July 25th
8:35 AM: After turning off my computer at 4 AM (I promised them I'd do my regular work, if they let me come here), I spent a terrible night of not really sleeping, just kind of laying there in a nervous, half-awake state. When we woke around 7, Melissa (Gil) and I woke up in our Very-Brady hotel room, and opened the door to a FREEZING 56 Degrees Farhenheit! And drizzly. And grey! We're from Florida - this ain't right! I didn't bring warm enough clothes for this weather! But we just got a call from her boyfriend Damien, and the Rider's Meeting is at 9:30, so we need to get moving. Chrissy Field is very close - 5 blocks, according to the people at the hotel desk - so we're just going to grab our golf bags and head on over.
9:32 AM: We're going to have a talk with the people at the desk, and read them the definition of the word "close." Chrissy Field WOULD have been close, if it had been only 5 blocks, but it was more like 8 blocks just to get to the water and then another mile or so to get to the Yacht Club, which feels like a lot longer when you're dragging 168 pounds of kite equipment behind you. (We googled it later and the route we had to take is at least 2 miles.) I felt like one of those rickshaw drivers, trotting along pulling my load behind me. But at least it warmed us up! We were, however, a few minutes late getting to the meeting.
10:30: The Racing Nationals are being held by the St. Francis Yacht Club, which overlooks Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the San Francisco Bay. Top drawer, wealthy, and sticklers for convention, which you can predict as you walk through the dark wood-trimmed corridors, lined with rows and rows of framed pictures of Previous Yacht Club Presidents. This means that they're running the races with all the same complex and confusing rules of traditional sailing races. Very proper, very technical, very beyond my comprehension.
During the meeting, I decided that my One Big Mistake in preparing for this event wasn't my selection of gear. I should have studied racing rules BEFOREHAND. There are about 85 million of them, with special appendices, and the diagrams, terminology, and the complexity of the courses (4 different ones which we need to memorize) allude me. Under pressure, I cannot process and remember it all. So I draw miniature diagrams of the courses onto the palm of my hand, in pen (which are gone as soon as I jump into the water) ... cramming for a final in a class I haven't attended all semester. At the end of the meeting, Sky Solbach said he could sum it all up in 10 seconds, that this is how he would have run the meeting, had the meeting been his to run. I wish it had, because here it is, Sky Solbach's Quick and Easy Guide to Kiteboard Racing: "Go fast, and don't run into anybody."
Alcatraz on the left, Yacht club on the right. I'll get better pictures today, so you can appreciate the whole YachtClubby-ness of it all. It's old-school swank, and they're basically letting the competitors have the run of the place ... saunas, hot showers, etc.
But, it turns out my biggest mistake in preparing for this event was NOT "Not Studying the Rules Beforehand." (Sky was right, which I found out as soon as the first race began: if you know how to kite politely in a group of people and where to put your kite when someone is coming at you, you're fine, and no one's going to "protest" you at the end of the day.) My final, biggest, most fatal mistake did have to do with my selection of gear, afterall: I should be riding a custom speed board ... or at least a surfboard. I'm attempting to kite these races on a regular freestyle twintip, and just don't have a chance. The custom speed boards, are winning it, or at least doing better than me! The foil board is even doing well, and it's a super-fun to watch, hovering out of the water, like something out of Back to the Future.
Moreover, the way MY races are going, even if I were NOT a polite person, the rules REALLY WOULDN'T HAVE MATTERED to me anyway, because when everyone's so far ahead of me - like they were - I'm in ZERO DANGER of running into them. This is NOT the report I WANT to be writing, about how I'm failing miserably and am ready to give up. But it must be told. It's actually a fairly typical "Stacey-type" story, and people here seem to be fairly entertained by it. Except I don't usually do so bad at kiting events. After this week, I think I'll quit kiting and go into the entertainment business. But anyway ...
At the end of the day, after the races were over, everyone was asking me how my day went, and whether I had fun, to which I'd answer, "Really bad," and "No," respectively. They, of course, would try to placate me by saying this: "Oh come on, it couldn't have been that bad." And as punishment to the people who try to placate me, I say, "No, it really was that bad," and then I proceed to give them the entire story, whether they want to hear it or not, because that's what happens to people who try to placate me. This is what I tell them:
Unfortunately, it never got windy enough to fly the 9m. Although even with the best kite in the world, it doesn't have a chance without a proper surf/racing board.
Of the three races I ran today, I came in DEAD LAST on the first one. DEAD LAST. And it wasn't like I was neck-and-neck with anyone for the distinction of the title. No. Everyone ... EVERYONE ... was WELL on the beach by that time, resting for the NEXT race. I could only hope, when I landed my kite, that everyone would think I'd just stayed out longer, for my own private little expression session, after I'd finished the race.
And my second race was even worse. Not only did I come in DEAD LAST for my second race, but the organizers got tired of waiting for me to finish, and started the next race while I was still out there (alone) finishing my second race. But that's not even the worst part. The worst part is this: EVERYONE in that NEXT race ... EVERYONE ... passed me up and finished their race before I did! I am not kidding. Not only did everyone in MY race beat me, but everyone in the race AFTER my race beat me! And again, it wasn't like I was fighting neck-and-neck with anyone from that NEXT race for a dead-last finish. No. Oh, no. That distinction was mine, all mine!
I was THE ONLY ONE OUT IN THE WATER for QUITE A LONG TIME, so long, in fact, that they were already getting ready to start my NEXT race while I was still trying to finish my CURRENT race. When I landed my kite, and found out that everyone was all the way down at the starting line (and that for the THIRD time in a row, they were making our group run Course C, the most grueling one) I decided to forget it. There was no way. I just couldn't do it. So, I DROPPED OUT of my third race basically because I was still finishing my second race as my third race was starting."
So you can see, my day really WAS THAT BAD. Two dead-last finishes, and one "no show." It just doesn't get any worse than that. The girl in the HELMET did better than I did! The only people who finished beneath me overall are the people who dropped out completely, I'm told, but I refuse to even look at the Results Sheet to know for sure because I just don't want to be faced with the whole black-and-white humiliation of it all. If I don't see it, it doesn't exist! I have never failed so badly in my life. NEVER!
The truth of the matter is this: the surfboard-style boards are winning the races, and you need one of these to do well. The freestyle twin-tips that I'm riding just don't cut it. I'll be tacking back and forth ... and back and forth and back and forth 15 times or so ... getting upwind like a normal kiter ... but then a surfboard would just come and diagonally cut up the course, and be there in 4 or 5 tacks. I was even on a 13m kite my first race, and it made no difference. I did not have a chance, and honestly, there doesn't seem to be any point in continuing, unless I can scare up someone's second-string surfboard. I can't be competitive with the boards that I have. It's pointless for me to even try. I'm not being a quitter ... I'd have quit the first two races if I were being a quitter ... it's just really, really stupid for me to even be trying this on these boards.
They've asked us for our suggestions on how to make kiteboard racing better, since it's still in its infancy and here is what I'm going to tell them: level the playing field. Make it more like windsurf racing, where everyone has to use the same formula boards. Make it about the rider, and not about the gear. The boards right now are what make the difference, so right now, work on standardizing the board requirements. The kites don't matter so much at this point, as long as you have one that flies to the edge of the window (ie, Waroo or Waroo Pro over the Bularoo ... what makes the Bularoo better in the waves makes it not as good for racing). My kites are fine, I just don't have a speed board, and I cannot compete here. It is a waste for me to continue to go out there and ride on my twin tip. This really sucks, and I feel like I'm a really bad kiter.
But this is great! say the people who live here and do the Thursday night Racing Series, and are all doing extremely well. Look at everything you're learning! That's awesome! Hmmm, I don't think they'd say that if they were on my board. Walk a mile in my shoes, Kite a mile on my board, and I think they'd know where I'm coming from.
P.S. Thanks to Miguel Willis, for letting us store our equipment on the RV, so we don't have to lug it back and forth. Miguel is also struggling with these races, on the Chubby, but he's still doing better than I am!