The SF Classic is no doubt the toughest race to finish. While the Challenge is very similar, you can go any way around the bay in that race, unlike the Classic. This race takes you on an epic tour around the bay, beginning with the Golden Gate Bridge and ending at Crissy via a long, exotic trip to Berkeley, if you finish. This year, the race began with the regular two triangles around Red Nun (a permanent buoy located west of the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge), an inflatable cone buoy northeast of the north tower, and the starting line pin. You round that triangle twice. If you decide to continue the tour, you round Anita Rock on the second time you finish the triangle. After Anita, which is located just off of the Crissy Field beach, you head on a northern reach towards Tiburon, where Harding Rock awaits. After that, you head towards the SF city front to round Blossom Rock. If you’re still alive and decide to keep going, you head north to Point Blunt, which is the southernmost tip of Angel Island, and the windiest part of the course with the gusts going over 30 knots on most days. Once you round that, you proceed to R2 and then R4, two small buoys located just northwest of Treasure Island. Next you round a mark at the top of the Berkeley pier. After that, you continue downwind to the X buoy, which is on the south end of the Olympic Circle. The final mark is the finish line. The line is located just south of the easternmost gap in the Berkeley pier. At this point, you can either go to the beach in Berkeley and get a ride back to Crissy, or you can speed back upwind in the Ultra Nectar Challenge.
I have heard countless stories of the difficulties of the Classic from my parents. The race is so long that at times you might not see anyone because there is so much distance put between you and the rest of the fleet over time. The tide is another thing – it can either be nice and smooth or super choppy. For wind, the conditions at the bridge are going to be very different from those near the Berkeley Marina or Point Blunt. In addition, on a foil it’s easier to go upwind or downwind in remarkable angles. But in this race, with so much reaching, it’s harder to go fast and still stay in control, so the wipeouts get extra gnarly.
My first experience with the Classic was an interesting one. I made a last-minute decision to take my 6 meter Edge, one of my favorite kites. It ended up being a couple sizes too small. The start began and the line was full of people sining their kites like crazy just trying to keep them in the air (Rikki almost crashed his R1 on top of me). But I was lucky to get a puff and managed to get out of there pretty quickly. I saw Erika leading the pack on the first upwind reach towards Red Nun, with a couple others not too far behind. On the first lap back to the starting line, I could tell there was no wind when Erika dropped her R1. I dropped my kite, too, but was able to relaunch it in a few minutes. In that time, I got passed by Chip Wasson, Nicolai Sponholtz, Peter Muller, and Benni Boelli (Peter and Benni were visiting for the Gold Cup). Once I got my kite back up I started chasing down Peter, who was the closest person ahead of me. Much later, when we were rounding Blossom, I managed to sneak past him. That’s when I started chasing Benni. I caught up to him when we were rounding R2 and I didn’t dare look back as we headed towards the top of the pier. I knew he was there and he was very slowly gaining on me. We rounded X at the same time, and heading towards the finish line, he had better speed since he was on a bigger kite and the wind was dropping. On that final reach, going as fast as I could, I hit something in the water and wiped out. I was able to cross the finish line not too far behind Benni and started heading back upwind when the wind totally died and I dropped my kite. After that the wind got even lighter and most people weren’t even able to cross the finish line.
Turns out only 6 out of 23 finished. I finished 5th and was the only tube kite to finish.
Thanks to the StFYC as always for another great event. And thank you to the Race Committee for the ride back to Crissy.
Congrats to everyone who finished and I hope to see you again next year!