Oceans of Whitewater (Part 2 – Surfing the Gate)

The entrance to San Francisco Bay is spanned by perhaps the most beautiful and iconic bridge in the world. The mile wide Golden Gate is also a whitewater playground. Consider this: at a maximum ebb of 6 knots it is estimated that the equivalent to 2.3 million cubic feet per second is pouring out through this 330 foot deep submerged river canyon! Combine that with powerful Pacific swell and persistent wind and you are guaranteed to find plenty of the white stuff.

It is crucial to understand the tides before venturing out the Gate. With currents at over six knots in places, you need to be confident you can work the eddies effectively to ensure you don’t get stuck outside. And paddling a kayak with a good hull speed is a big help and I have found the new Karma Unlimited/RG prototype to have plenty of speed to make the huge ferry glides that are necessary to navigate this immense river.

Surfing the race at Yellow Bluff

The best place to launch is by the Presidio Yacht Club in Horseshoe Bay, on the north side of the bridge. For an easy warm up, head east and then north to Yellow Bluff, a tide race that forms on the ebb that sometimes produces excellent surfing waves dependent upon the wind direction and how many wind driven waves and boat wakes are running through. Occasionally large swells will roll all the way up to Yellow Bluff, stack up in the race and wrap around the Bluff giving the best rides of all – be careful, I have seen a kayak wrapped around a rock there!

Riding the roller coaster down the race towards the bridge

Once you have had your fill at Yellow Bluff and if you are really feeling adventurous and have the energy there are two other locations that will really put all your boating skills to the test. From Yellow Bluff it is possible to ride the tide all the way to the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. Note that the tide accelerates the closer you get to the bridge so use your ranges and paddle hard! Be mindful as well that you are crossing a shipping lane with huge container ships and oil tankers as well as multitudes of smaller craft and you can assume that none of them will see you so you had better stay out of their way.

West of the South Tower where the tide runs at up to six knots

It is unlikely that you will be able to make headway against the tide once you get to the south tower but if you work the eddies you can avoid being swept out to sea towards Japan. The eddies are massive and the scale of everything is really quite intimidating. Long period swell can be well over six foot and is travelling really fast. A surf ski is the best craft to catch these deep water monsters but closer in towards Fort Point you will find waves that are very surfable in sea kayaks like the Journey and longer whitewater kayaks like the new Karma Unlimited & RG. Using the current you have an effortless dry hair paddle out on this point break. Stay well away from the board surfers. It is one of the most territorially aggressive surf breaks I have ever encountered but the boardies don’t like the current so as long as you stay on the outside you will be fine.

Watch out for the rocks!

And the location is truly spectacular. You are literally surfing under the one of the most beautiful man-made structures in the world and every time you turn sea-wards the Marin Headlands remind you how wild this place is. The waves are unpredictable and the rocks mean business so keep your head on a swivel and save some energy for the paddle back. Before heading back to the north side of the Gate you would be smart to put some money in the bank and paddle up to the fishing pier at Crissy Field before heading out into the current.

Crossing back to the Marin side of the Golden Gate

Don’t worry if you drop below the bridge as you cross. The eddy on the north side extends almost all the way to Point Diablo and is very powerful so it will bring you back to Lime Point inside the Gate with little effort.

Surfing the wave at Lime Point

And the fun is not over. By now the tide will be low enough to have produced a fun feature just inside of Lime Point that is fun to surf and boof. I have done an ender in this hole in a full size sea kayak so give it some respect on a really big swell day.

Surfing the Gate requires skill and stamina and a boat with good speed but it is one of my favorite playgrounds and is always a memorable experience. I am having a love affair with my Karma Unlimited/RG prototype and I will be sad to give her up when I get my full production RG!

Check out the video here.

 

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