Culture

Why Bay Area athletes are chasing container ships, at great peril


A wing foiler in the bay off Crissy Field East Beach in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, June 27, 2024. Some Bay Area boardsailers are riding the wakes of cargo ships coming in and out of the Golden Gate, thrilled by the adventure, but potentially risking their lives. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

Surfing the industrial-size waves of a giant ship in San Francisco Bay is a thrilling experience: smooth, silent and sublimely fast.

It can also be extraordinarily dangerous. And illegal.

“The ship can suck you in, drag you under and chop you up like a Cuisinart,” said David Wells of the San Francisco Boardsailing Association, which has started an educational campaign to prevent tragedy in those who venture too close.

Bay Area athletes have long loved extreme water sports, and for decades the cold, windy and wild waters of the Golden Gate have lured kiteboarders and windsurfers seeking to push their limits.

The new sport of “hydrofoiling” — using boards that skim across the water at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, floating two feet above the chop – has turbocharged enthusiasm. The hydrofoil enlists the same principles as an airplane, using a wing to create lift.

If a hydrofoiler catches the powerful wake of a commercial ship, they can experience a blissful ride that’s up to three miles long.

Most foilers are responsible, staying out of the way of large ships, according to the U.S. Coast Guard and San Francisco Bar Pilots, who guide large vessels through one of the nation’s busiest maritime channels.

But others are not. They’re nicknamed “splats,” like bugs on a windshield, by frustrated ship captains.

“It’s enticing to get up there, close to the ship’s swell. That’s human nature. But it creates a major safety issue,” said Capt. Anne McIntyre of the San Francisco Bar Pilots.

Foiling gained fame when Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison allowed foils on the America’s Cup boats in 2013. A wing-shaped device, a foil sits beneath the board and lifts it above the surface of the water. Sailors feel suspended between water and sky.

The innovation was quickly embraced by surfers, kiteboarders and windsurfers, challenged by the new and different way to ride. Kite manufacturers took note, designing increasingly agile and high-tech equipment.

A wing foiler in the bay off Crissy Field East Beach in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, June 27, 2024. Some Bay Area boardsailers are riding the wakes of cargo ships coming in and out of the Golden Gate, thrilled by the adventure, but potentially risking their lives. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

Interest in foiling exploded during the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among tech types, as people looked for fun outdoors. Crissy Field, a beach at the foot of the Presidio of San Francisco, emerged as a world-renowned foil site, drawing professionals and gutsy amateurs.

Just as it did for the America’s Cup boats, a foil adds speed and grace to a board.

“It’s like a magic carpet ride. An amazing sensory experience,” Wells said. “It’s very fluid – a ballet-like sport, with incredible speed.”

Unlike kiteboarding or windsurfing, “you’re flying above the water, not slapping on the water,” he said. “There’s less wear on the body because you’re not absorbing the chop.”

A hydrofoil needs less wind than a kiteboard or windsurfer. While some riders use …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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