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Crissy Field Guide:  The Wing Edition  Welcome to Crissy Field!  Crissy Field is a world-class winging, windsurfing, and kitesurfing site for experienced riders. Gusty and variable winds, strong currents and ship/vessel traffic make wing-foiling here challenging, exciting and potentially dangerous - even for experienced wingers.  The wind is often side-offshore and the launch can be tricky, with winds inconsistent near the beach.  

At Crissy we count on each other to be responsible and support one another.  Additionally, the continued access to this urban launch site without regulation seen in places like Miami and Chicago is due both to the continued advocacy from the SFBA as well as the stewardship and self-regulation of the community to make sure we are not over-utilizing the Coast Guard or otherwise abusing our access to the spot. Especially if new to Crissy, introduce yourself and ask other riders for an intro, overview of the area, and rigging advice based on the conditions. 

Every sailor is the captain of their own ship, and it’s important to understand that we all have personal responsibility for our own actions. There is no such thing as “something happened” out there—it’s always your responsibility. Your actions are important to everyone, especially if they have to put themselves at risk to rescue you.

Required skills for Crissy:

  • Strong swimming/paddling ability
  • Excellent upwind riding and transitions
  • Ability to get maximum range from your wing in variable, gusty winds
  • Mastery of water-starting in choppy & gusty conditions
  • Knowledge of tide charts, ebb, flood, and counter-currents
  • Knowledge of right of way on the water
  • Knowledge of how to call for rescue—and the ability to do so—if needed. 

Required Gear for Crissy Field

  • Wing Size - Ensure you have enough power to water-start in the wide range of conditions at Crissy. The wind strength and direction out in the bay and up under the Golden Gate bridge almost always differs from the wind on the beach. It’s usually stronger out in the bay, and a large wind ‘hole’ often develops near the beach, making it challenging to get out—and even more challenging to return at the end of a session.  If you are unsure about what size to rig, it’s generally a better bet to rig up a size so that you can get up on foil quickly and efficiently, and have a better chance of getting back to the beach if the wind is weaker when you are coming back in. The average wing size is 3m-5m, but of course, this depends on rider size and conditions.   
  • Board Size - Consider riding a slightly larger, more buoyant board especially if you are unfamiliar with the conditions and/or in lighter wind conditions, as this allows for easier water starts in choppy conditions and lighter wind.  ‘Sinker’ boards should only be ridden in high winds by advanced riders as they can be difficult/impossible to restart in light wind and turbulent water.
  • Wetsuit - It’s critical to be warm enough, and a good wetsuit will save your life if you end up on the water longer than expected. Most Crissy riders wear a 4/3 or 5/4/3 wetsuit.  There was a report of a kite-surfer that got swept out to sea and didn’t reach the shore until 2 am - no doubt their wetsuit helped them survive. Consider a hood/hat to keep your head warm. 

VHF radio is a critical piece of safety equipment, as the speed of the current can reach a maximum of +/- 4.5 knots (5+ mph), which exceeds the speed of an Olympic swimmer.  Smartwatches and cell phones often have no service offshore, so are not a true substitute.  A waterproof case is also necessary to protect the radio from corrosion and allow the microphone to be understood in wet/windy conditions. Experienced Crissy sailors consider a VHF radio as mandatory equipment, and most of us carry both a radio and a phone. Good to have two devices if you have an equipment failure and are getting ebbed out the Gate!  A guide to using your VHF is available here. Become familiar with the protocol and practice on the beach - before the need arises.

  • Additional Safety & Rescue Equipment — A hard-shelled helmet, strobe light, whistle, and impact vest and/or lifejacket provide additional safety and visibility, while a foil disassembly tool, booties, some cash and your cell phone can help a lot if you get picked up somewhere and need to get back to Crissy.  
  • Marking your gear serves two purposes: 1) it helps the Coast Guard quickly correlate gear found adrift to search for specific people in emergencies or avoid expensive boat/helicopter searches in non-emergencies (e.g. blown off the beach), and 2) helps people return your gear if found.  TIP:  Sharpie comes off a board with an alcohol swab - so is non-permanent. SFBA reps have free equipment ID stickers—just ask. 

Sharing the Beach & Wing Etiquette

  • Rig on the central lawn near the bathrooms and get input from the regular riders on conditions and equipment selection for the day.
  • Carrying your board down to the beach first, by itself, without the wing can make crossing the parking lot easier for you, and less likely to damage your wing.  The lawn has multiple places to tether your wing to prevent a runaway.
  • We share the parking, promenade, and beach with families, tourists, and dog-walkers. They always have the right of way.  On busy days, launch farther west/upwind to avoid crowds.
  • Ride predictably to avoid a collision with boats or other riders.  

Launching & Wind conditions increase as you go-offshore

Generally, it’s safest to ride when the wind is coming side-shore from the West/Golden-Gate-Bridge, and it’s blowing 15-20+ kts - typically 3:00-5:00pm during the season.   

  • From the beach to ‘Anita Rock’ …  generally lighter and inconsistent wind, often enough power to ‘slog’ downwind without the power to get up onto foil.
  • Anita Rock to the channel…  the wind picks up and fills in, brace for a sudden ramp of wind to pull you up onto foil.
  • Shipping channel… Strong and consistent wind - popular for those not heading to the bridge.  Stay alert to boat traffic.

Commercial Ship Traffic & Contacting the Coast Guard 

  • Always give commercial traffic the right-of-way. This means not crossing in front of ship traffic, and never (seriously, what!) ride between a tug and its barge under tow. Allow more than enough time and space for a large vessel to see that you are moving out of their path, as many large vessels take multiple miles to come to a complete stop.  
  • If you are stopped in the water with an equipment failure or for any other reason unable to move out of the way of an approaching ship, immediately transmit a message with your position and situation via VHF on Channel 14, which commercial vessels use to communicate with Vessel Traffic Service (VTS). Alternatively just use (emergency) Channel 16 to alert the Coast Guard, and they will relay as necessary. 
  • Remember that commercial traffic includes ships, tug boats, fishing boats, ferries, tour boats, charter sail boats, and the “Adventure Cat,”  a large sailing catamaran that is seen frequently in our waters. 

Riding Near the Towers and Fort Point

Keep your distance from each tower, as they cause massive wind-shadows and swirling currents.

  • North Tower – the area just inside (east) of the North Tower can be great during an ebb tide, as there is a shoal that sets up a swell there. Use caution in NW wind because the Marin headlands can create a wind shadow. 
  • South Tower and Fort Point – the stretch of water between the South Tower and Fort Point offer up some of the most challenging and interesting conditions in the bay, with ocean swells coming in and breaking around the point, and an ebb tide rushing out beneath the bridge. The wave conditions under the Golden Gate bridge will be dead flat on some days and on other days can deliver waves over 10-feet tall with many riders together, competing for position.  
    • Please consider this an expert location. Due to the increased number of wing riders at Crissy these days, and how attractive it can be to ride the wave under the South Tower, there have been a number of collisions and injuries recently. Riding here requires keeping your head on a swivel. 
    • All riders share this break equally (surf, SUP, windsurf, kite, wing), but please note that surf etiquette takes precedence over general sailing right of way in this area. Use your common sense—and always yield to prone surfers. 
    • There is always a wind shadow to the east (‘inside’) of the South Tower. You may see people crossing through the wind shadow but be prepared for it to be gusty, shifting, squirrely, and lack of wind. Yield to downed riders restarting in the wind-shadow. 
    • There is also a wind shadow behind the cliff and the Fort building on the ‘inside’ where prone surfers ride the Fort Point wave.  Please note the most critical part of the wave breaks right over shallow/exposed rocks.
    • Beware the ‘Voodoo’ chop near the ‘Red Nun’ buoy!  The area outside the bridge near the ‘red nun’ buoy is usually very turbulent, with refracted waves and swirling currents that can knock you off foil.  With a weakening wind gradient here, multiple wingers on medium-to-small ‘sinker boards’ have been knocked off-foil, unable to restart, and swept up in the out-flowing ebb current requiring a rescue.

Wearing a helmet, and rigging quick-releases to your board and/or wing can be a good precaution if you need to escape your gear at Fort Point.

Returning to the launch

With a lighter wind ‘bubble’ near shore, it’s not uncommon to come off foil inside of Anita Rock, that is, quite close to shore, and yet still get swept quite a distance by the fast current. To avoid this, plan your return to the beach with forethought, and when you have plenty of power. In variable conditions, this may require timing your run back to the beach to follow a strong gust of wind, and to stay with that gust all the way to the beach. 

  • Anita Rock…  This is the exposed rock, marker and weather station about 300 yards off the Crissy Field beach. When coming back into the beach, choose an angle that takes you in close to Anita Rock, and get your stance prepped while still in the good wind so that you can try to ride through the weaker wind just off the beach.  If you come off foil, you can waterstart heading back out and try again. 
  • Presidio Shoal… This is the stretch of beach and water west of Crissy Field before coming to the fishing pier. As you come back in from being out under the bridge, it can be tempting to run  downwind along the beach.  However, the wind is often inconsistent and light in this area, especially on a flood tide, so make your downwind progress further out in the bay (outside Anita Rock), where you can remain powered and foiling, and then cut into the beach just upwind or downwind of Anita. 
  • Last Chance Beach…  The tiny beach and stairs near the St Francis yacht club or ‘Last Chance Beach’ at the end of the breakwater running east from the St Francis are both downwind (East) of the Crissy launch, and can be reached via paddling if you come off foil inside of Anita Rock or end up pushed east by a flood tide. 

If the wind is offshore and you are close to the beach, lay flat on your board, and place the wing canopy up - with the leading edge over your ankles.  This will minimize drag and pull from the wing for your paddle in.

Currents, Tides, & Wind Direction

The combination of currents, tides, wind, and other weather conditions at Crissy Field requires a high degree of situational awareness from all sailors. 

In general, the safest and best time to ride is during ‘slack’-tide going into an ebb and when the wind has ramped (e.g. 15+ kts on the iKitesurf ‘Anita Rock’ sensor typically translates to 20+ kts in the channel). Many sailors enjoy ebb tides for waves and flood-tide sailing as well, for the smooth, flat water conditions. 

Wind Direction:

  • W: Ideal, sideshore wind flowing unobstructed from the open ocean under the Golden Gate. 
  • W-SW:  We get SW wind in pre-frontal conditions (before a storm). SW can be gusty and is side-offshore at the beach. Be cautious, as SW wind can make it challenging to get back to the beach, especially on a flood tide. Sometimes the best call is to aim for the yacht club steps or Last Chance beach. 
  • W-NW:  We get NW wind in post-frontal or “clearing” conditions (after a storm). Generally good, often colder, but the wind can be turbulent and gusty, especially near the North Tower and the Marin side of the bay. 

Wind strength:

  • Even though it might be light at the beach, it is usually—but not always—much windier once you hit the ‘wind line’ out in the main bay. Wind can increase or decrease as you head upwind (west) to the bridge. 
  • The wind in the bay is often/usually highly variable, and changes rapidly throughout the day. The wind usually dies or drops off rapidly at some point in the day. If you see other riders returning to shore, follow their lead. Don’t be the last one out under the bridge or struggling in light wind in the main bay when everyone else is packing their gear back on the lawn. 
  • Experienced Crissy sailors rig for the conditions out in the bay, which means they are often under-powered near shore. Newer Crissy sailors usually rig for the conditions near the beach, which means that they are often overpowered out in the bay. As you gain experience with the spot you will learn how different parts of the bay offer varying wind conditions—if you are over-rigged you can usually find an area with lighter wind. 
  • If unable to make it to the wind line and you are floating on the inside, paddle to shore. 
  • When the ‘bubble’ or light/warm wind by the beach increases, it is more likely to be side-offshore by the launch, and the wind has a tendency to shut off abruptly by the shore while you are on the other side of the bay. 
  • Late Season – Around mid-August, the wind pattern starts to change. The wind becomes more consistent, but the wind line moves abruptly offshore without warning.


Notes on Currents:

Stay aware of the changing currents and remember that the current will be different at the launch when it is time to go in, compared to when you started.  

  • The current usually changes first on the inside near the beach and then spreads across the bay.  
  • Flood tide tips – if it is flooding and on your first reach out and back you cannot stay upwind of Anita Rock, head in and land wherever you can, including at ‘Last Chance’ if necessary to be sure you get back to shore, and then wait for the wind to build or for the tide to change.

Safety & Self-Rescue Tips

  • When you initially set off and make it to the wind line, keep looking back and foiling back to where you started to confirm that you have enough power to get back to the beach. 
  • Buddy System – Use the buddy system and stay within sight of the pack.  If you are with a rider new to Crissy, consider rigging a wing 1-size too large — as swapping the wings on the water can sometimes make the difference between needing a rescue or not. 
  • Learn how to body drag to your board if your board leash breaks/becomes unattached, and use redundancy when swapping boards or wings on the water.
  • Check your gear.  Replace worn or fatigued leashes.  It is important to get your gear dialed ahead of time as you are more likely to crash more often in the rough and wild conditions at Crissy. Learn how to untangle your leash from your foil or body without risk of losing either. Equipment failure is always the rider’s responsibility—don’t be taken by surprise and end up in a dangerous situation due to negligence of your gear. 
  • When riding alone, consider sharing a ‘float plan’: inform someone about where you are launching from, what gear you’re riding that day, and when you intend to be back.

Contacting the Coast Guard & Rescue

If you think you should maybe call for help, do not wait to do so—CALL FOR HELP using VHF channel 16. Most of us now also carry our phones in a waterproof case, and you can call 911 and/or the Coast Guard Station Golden Gate Station at (415) 331-8247 directly and/or text a friend on the beach. Many of us also use Strava or some other real-time GPS location reporting system so that friends on the beach can get a position on us. 

  • If you experience an equipment failure, injury, or end up becalmed—and especially if you are near or outside the Golden Gate or in the shipping channel, or if it’s late in the day, call for help immediately. This means if you think you should maybe call for help, do not wait to do so. If it’s already an emergency, you probably should have called beforehand. Call for help while you are still warm and not panicked. 
  • If you are getting swept into the bay by the flood tide and you miss Last Chance Beach, stay out away from the piers downwind and wave down a boat or call the Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16 for help. The current is twice as fast there and you do not want to get sucked under the piers.
  • If you are on the beach and need to request on-water assistance for someone else or report an incident by phone, call the Coast Guard San Francisco Command Center at (415) 399-3451.
  • If you lose gear, report it to Coast Guard Station Golden Gate at (415) 331-8247 to avoid a search-and-rescue operation. 
  • Boat Rescue Protocol – If the Coast Guard, Fire Department (jet skis) or a Police boat come to your aid, do not refuse the ride. Only deflate your wing once confirmed they are taking you on board. Release your leading edge exhaust valve, then close it back up so that water will not get in; then roll up the wing. 
  • Further details in this guide referenced earlier.