US Surfski Champs – Preview

Thursday, 19 August 2010 21:15 | Written by 
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US Surfski Champs US Surfski Champs

San Francisco bay is a unique venue for a surfski race – the wind blows every afternoon funnelling through the Golden Gate, and the currents play a huge role in the conditions.


All indications are that Saturday’s race will be classic – the forecast says the wind will be blowing, and the tide also will be perfect – there’s an outgoing current of around 1kt, just enough to kick the waves up nicely for the incoming skis.

For the forecast, click here.


Last year I was overwhelmed with hospitality in the days leading up to the race: I paddled two 20km downwinds and had a trip under the Golden Gate Bridge all in the first 36 hours...  What a pleasure!  A few days later we paddled most of the race course and the downwind section especially, coming back to the finish at Berkeley, was epic.

US Champs 2009

The paddlers head out into wind, chop and currents - 2009 US Champs

On that day the current was much stronger than the forecast for Saturday.  When we got to Angel Island, where the current was strongest, I paused to look at my GPS.  I wasn’t paddling hard, but I was on a run with my paddle down; the GPS read 0.00kph!  The whole character of the sea was strange – it was like paddling up a fast flowing river, riding standing waves...

My guess is that, like last year, the paddle itself will be a spectacular experience – let alone the fact that this is the biggest race in North America.

The Paddlers

There’s a star-studded line-up too.

Jeremy Cotter (Australia) won the race last year, and after dropping out, sick, of the New York Mayor’s Cup last weekend, is doubly keen to prove he can do it again.

Dawid Mocke (South Africa) lost to Cotter here last year.  As they passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, Cotter put the hammer down and paddled away from Mocke.  Mocke didn’t reply, planning to conserve energy for the final section between Angel Island and the finish.  Bad move – he never caught up again and Cotter won by 38 seconds.

US Champs 2009

Dawid Mocke and Jeremy Cotter - 2009 US Champs

Shannon Eckstein (Australia) is paddling his second major international surfski race.  His first was in Hong Kong nine months ago, where the professional Ironman stunned the surfski world, beating a huge field from Australia and South Africa including Mocke, Hank McGregor, Clint Pretorius, Tim Jacobs, Jeremy Cotter and Caine Eckstein...

Sean Rice (South Africa) hasn’t come down from the high of beating Eckstein and Mocke in New York.  The 21-year-old won the 46km race around Manhattan in fine style, answering Eckstein’s challenge at the 25km mark, catching and overtaking him and ultimately winning by over two minutes.  Rice paddles for Team Think – and will be paddling a new boat, the Think Uno Max, for the race.

Tony Schumacher (Australia) visited the San Francisco Bay Model last year with Sean Rice as part of their race preparation.  Traditionally paddlers cut inside the indentations along the shoreline to avoid the incoming current – but Schumacher and Rice’s observations at the Model showed that the eddies were not significant and they were able to take a straighter line.  (They’re no longer team-mates however – Schumacher has moved to Team Epic!)

Ben Allen (Australia) is in San Francisco for the first time.  He beat Jeremy Cotter a couple of weeks ago at home in Australia – in a tight sprint finish on flat water.  Word on the street though is that he’s not as used to the bumps as his compatriots.

Mark Anderson and Michael Locke round out the Australian contingent...

US Olympians Greg Barton and Philippe Boccara are competing - fresh from New York where Barton came fourth behind Dawid Mocke.  

And the locals?

Wavechaser Warmup

Last weekend saw the final race in the San Francisco Wavechaser Summer Series.  The race covered much of the US Champs course and was held in superb conditions – the same conditions expected for Saturday’s race except that the tide was flowing strongly into the bay making for a hard grind out to the turning point, but a really fast downwind back to Berkeley.

Wavechaser - downwind!

Downwind! (pic:

Carter Johnson won the race; Patrick Hemmens came second with Dave Jensen and Robin Graham one second apart for third and fourth.

Carter Johnson

Carter Johnson on his way to win (pic:

Course Changes

The US Champs Course follows more or less the same route as last year with one exception – the Fenn hotspot has been placed near the start at Fort Baker.  This has a number of advantages for spectators and the followers of the live commentary on – we’ll be able to bring you exact positions half way into the race from our shore based spotters, as well as near live photos...

What the paddlers can expect

The race will start between 1pm and 1:45pm depending on the wind and the commercial shipping traffic at the time.

The paddlers will head out under the Golden Gate Bridge, into the wind but assisted by a slight current as the tide ebbs.  Heading out past Pt Bonita, they round a navigation buoy before heading back into the bay, with the wind and waves.

US Surfski Champs course

Click here for a larger version

The outgoing current will cause the waves to jack up – giving the paddlers beautiful rides.  They head back under the bridge, keeping to the left hand side of the bay towards Fort Baker.

Click here for more info on the currents expected on Saturday

Rounding the Fenn hotspot buoy, they turn slightly to the right, and make for the southernmost tip of Angel Island and then across the bay to the finish at Berkeley.

Live Commentary

We’ll be posting live commentary on – join us on Saturday from about 12:30pm San Francisco time.

More Info

Click here for the day's program

Click here for the short course

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