San Francisco Racing Nationals Finals Day 3: Like Showing up for a Formula One Race in a Ford Escort
And, The Big Air Wind Jam Preliminary Setup: The Long-Awaited Kicker
Posted Tuesday July 31st, 2007, by Stacey Fonas
On Friday morning, we moved from the BradyBunch architecturally-inspired Capri Hotel to the Hilton on Jones Street (one of the girls I was staying with had points), and all I'm saying is this: do not stay at the Hilton. No wonder Paris has so much money and can go gallivanting about the country the way she does: not only was it a MUCH LONGER walk, but they charge you for EVERYTHING, including the internet. Even at the lowly CAPRI had free wireless internet. Not so at the Hilton. To quote Kip from Napoleon Dynamite: "Well, that place was a rip-off." Thus, it's Paris's fault that these reports are so late: I didn't have any internet.
Friday 27th July 2007
As we were arriving this morning at Crissy Field for our LAST and FINAL day of the Racing Nationals (which made everyone happy, especially me), a big barge was pulling a smaller barge, upon which rested the much-anticipated kicker.
You can't see the kicker from this angle, but here's the horse that it rode in on:
How does it look? Ghetto and scary. At first, everyone was like, "WHAT? Big deal. That's stupid, it's only about as high as a regular kicker, what's the point?" but then as it was lowered into the water, everyone started looking at it a little differently, like, "Sh*t, I'm not so sure about this."
The thing about it is this: there's a ramp that goes up, and then right after that, there's a long flat bed at the top where all the people with cameras and street-clothes are standing. You're supposed to be able to edge up the ramp (over which a lot of water is being pumped), send the kite, and go flying (70 feet, we've been promised) over the flat part and the people. However, if you don't send the kite, you're just going to land on top of the flat part like you were landing on dry land, with your kite still pulling you, and it's going to be ugly. With a regular kicker, you can just ride up over the top and plop softly down into the water, but on this thing, if you ride over the top and don't send it, you plop right onto the dry, flat bed. It would be like positioning a kicker right at the water's edge, and riding off the kicker, on your board, into the sand. Carnage galore.
Worse, to keep the pumped water "on" the ramp (to give the rider something to edge against, instead of just being a flat surface that you flatten out your board and slide), the ramp itself is boxed in on both sides with a wooden frame. If it turns out that there's not enough water on the ramp to be flush with the frame, you won't be able to just slide off the downwind side if you don't make it all the way up. You'll either 1) get stuck in the box, or 2) have to ollie over the frame first ... otherwise, you'll run into it with your board, catch an edge, and fall head-first into the water. It looks incredibly sketchy, and I'm scared.
Here's a better picture of the ramp. I know you're thinking, "What's the big deal. It's not THAT big," but the slider is pretty far away and it was a lot bigger than the slider.
BUT ANYWAY, let's just finish up the Racing Nationals first. So, here is what I have learned: me showing up at this super-serious, super-technical, and super-professional event with my production twintips is like showing up at a Formula One race with a Ford Escort, non-deluxe model, with broken air-conditioning and bald tires. Can I get around the track? Sure I can get around the track. Am I going to look like a retard? Sure I'm going to look like a retard. And do I have a chance? Absolutely freaking not.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the right equipment, especially the right board, and about how far technology has advanced. And if you're thinking, "Oh, I'm a good rider, I could do it on anything," either 1) you have another think coming to you, or 2) I want you to try, and I want you to show up with your stock equipment next year, so I at least have ONE person to beat :) It's not like 2 years ago where anyone could show up with anything and do well. No No No. It is a completely different ballgame, and I will not make this same mammoth mistake again. However, if you want a good way to punish your kiteboarding children, don't beat them with aerodynamically-designed paddles to deliver maximum speed and pain. Send them to the US Racing Nationals instead, on their regular production twintips, and make them run every race.
But at least I didn't have to ride the Angry Board today, which relieved me of a lot of stress.
The Angry Board
Thankfully, Noel Jambor (our ex-RV driver) showed up today for tomorrow's Windjam event, and happened to have a Spleen surfing-ish directional which he graciously allowed me to borrow. When all was said and done, I did no better on the Spleen than I did on the Angry Board (it's complicated) but just knowing that I didn't have to go into battle against the Angry Board made it a lot easier for me to jump into the freezing cold water and head down to the starting line. Otherwise, I think I might have given up.
Current RV Driver Miguel Willis and Ex-Rv Driver Noel Jambor
I just have to show you Noel's shoes. The Shroud of Tourin called ... it wants its shoes back! Verily, verily, I say unto you, these are the most Jesusy Jesus-shoes I have ever seen in my life. "Are they comfortable?" I asked, not seeing how it could possibly be comfortable to strap little doormats to your feet with rope, but apparently they are. "Ten thousand prophets can't be wrong," quipped Noel.
So here's how today worked. The whole thing this week was called the "Nationals" and the races we did over the past 2 days were the "Qualifiers." We were each supposed to do six races, and we got to drop our one worst score. The top 35 racers made it into the Gold Fleet (and would race each other in the Finals for a winner), and however-many of the bottom-racers made it into the Silver Fleet (and would race each other for a winner.) Today was the "Finals." In total, there were 58 people who signed up for the entire Nationals, so that left 35 in the Gold Fleet, and 24 in the Silver Fleet.
If you didn't know all this behind-the-scenes information, you might look at just the rankings and think I wasn't doing as bad as I've been saying I've been doing: my overall ranking going into the finals was #37, out of 58. But this is ONLY because (except for me) the REST of the 58 people ... 24 in all ... who went into the Silver Fleet didn't seem to be all that serious about it. The other people in the Silver Fleet either 1) ran one or two of the six qualifiers, 2) ran a few races in the qualifier and then didn't bother with the finals, or 3) simply signed up for the event online, and then never bothered to show up (10 people didn't bother to show up, but were part of the rankings).
So technically, my sister, who doesn't even kite, could have signed up for the event, not attended, and now be "ranked" nationally. She could then be free to retire from her competitive kiteboarding career! This year, all you had to do to get into the top 35 was to 1) race almost every race, and 2) come in one position ahead of me. As long as you did this, congratulations, you made it into the Gold Fleet!
So they started the racing sequence with the slowpoke Silver Fleet out first. Give us your old, your tired, your poor ... and to be honest, no one really cared about the Silver Fleet anyway. Can you blame them? All the excitement and buzz went on when the Real racers went out onto the water ... if you can call it excitement and buzz. It's not a very exciting spectator sport: it's so far away, you can't really see any of the action, and after awhile, it's like the Indianapolis 500 ... the people in the front pass the people in the back and then you don't really know who's winning until the very end.
My first race, however, was my own personal best, as it was the only one I didn't actually lose! I finished 7 out of 8. I actually got to sit on the beach for a few minutes and rest before my next race!
For my second race, the wind picked up, but I stayed on my completely-depowered 11m Waroo Pro anyway and was fine. Although it was taking me longer to get upwind on the Spleen, there were still a couple of people I was beating upwind. Unfortunately (in all these races today), it's when I got to the downwind section that I lost the race, losing any lead I might have had. Although the Spleen went down a lot easier than the Angry Board, I still had a whole series of issues ... most importantly, a lack of skill. I'd never ridden a surfboard before, and I was wearing booties to try to get the footstraps to fit better. I couldn't keep it on my feet to edge it properly, so I'd pick up too much speed and explode. To make it worse, my second race had a downwind finish, and when you have a downwind finish, they just keep everyone there at the start/finish line, and make you go into your next race immediately afterwards.
Which means that EVERYONE (all 5 or 6 members of the dwindling Silver Fleet) is sitting there waiting for me at the starting/finishing line, tacking back and forth, milling around the boats, waiting for me to finish my second race so we can start the third. I panic. At this stage, I'd been experimenting on the "kiteloop method" of going downwind, and it wasn't working. I couldn't really feel my board (on account of the booties I was wearing to make the footstraps fit better) and here is what I look like on my way down: like I don't know how to kite. Here is what the rest of the Silver Fleet was thinking as they were watching me descend to the finish/start line. "What the HECK is she doing?" It looked like this: loop, loop, stall, loop in other direction, speed out-of-control downwind, crash, faceplant, crash kite, stop. Relaunch, find board, regroup, try it all over again. Loop crash loop crash loop crash ... the official laughingstock of the kiteboarding world.
The organizers were doing their best to be patient, and so were my fellow-members of the Silver Fleet, but it gets tiring tacking back and forth at the start line, not to mention how COLD it is, and I've been trying everyone's patience all week long. So I swear, the MOMENT I finally stumble across the finish line and hear the perfunctory little toot of the horn which tells me I've successfully crossed the line, they immediately blast the 5-minute warning gun. It sounds like this: (a plaintive little) toooooot (you finished!), and a big smokey BANG (get ready to start!). Everyone starts nervously jockeying into position for the best possible start, and then five minutes later, we're off on our third race of the day.
I already posted this picture in yesterday's report, but I need something to break up the boring commentary
Again, I lost the race on the downwind portion. By a huge margin. The rest of the Silver Fleet had already finished, and I was still heading towards my first downwind mark. By this time, no one was interested in waiting for me YET AGAIN, so as I'm heading to the downwind marker, I can see the Gold Fleet assembling itself in all its Gold Fleet Glory, getting ready to start their next race. To finish MY race, I still have to go upwind again, then downwind again, then way upwind again to the upwind finish ... I'm a long way off. As I'm just about to round my downwind mark, I have zero control of the board, and go careening RIGHT into it, poking it with the nose of my board so hard that I go into an accidental out-of-control backroll. Jay Stebbins couldn't have done it any better.
Mere seconds before stebbinsing the buoy
My board comes off, and as I'm body-dragging back to it, I can feel the Gold Fleet RIGHT at my heels, chomping at the bit, waiting for their final gun to go off. I hear the director couting: "TEN, NINE, EIGHT" over the microphone, and I feel like it's me with a bunch of sharks swirling at my back. I'm desperately trying to get my board on before getting chopped up in the propellers of 35 state-of-the-art-ish racing boards, and I JUST manage to get to it on time. Then I'm off ... BANG! ... then we're all off, and I'm in front ... the back of the pack and the leader of the pack all at once ... and YES I'm embarrassed, but they soon overtake me, and I'm swallowed mercifully into anonymity again.
Fortunately, that was the last race the 2007 Silver Fleet would EVER have to do ... I thought we were going to have to do 4 races, but they only made us do 3 (we just didn't get to drop our worst result, but BIG DEAL. My worst result, uh ... ALL of them???) During my third race, I had officially decided that I'd had enough, that I'd learned enough, and that I just wasn't going to do any more. Which just goes to show that I hadn't officially learned enough of anything, because I still didn't understand the importance of simply finishing every race you could, and how that affected your ranking, given that there were a lot of people who didn't show up or who just did a few races.
Simply because I showed up and finished, I ended up not looking so bad ON PAPER. But make no mistake: had everyone of the other 58 people raced and finished every race, I would have ended up 58th, without question. Thank God for the slackers, because here is the funny part: in the Silver Fleet, I finished third overall. There are actually people below me!! There's a lot to be said about showing up for every race, and not giving up, at least in this instance. But it also goes to show that not all the people that show up and do these events are the fastest or the best in the world, even in their names end up being listed somewhere; sometimes, they're just the ones who showed up.
So that's it for the US Racing Nationals. THANK GOD. There's an awards dinner tomorrow night, but it's not like I'm going to be winning any awards or anything, so I'll just sit in the back, drown in my wine glass (there's been no time for that this week), and hide.