3 Watersports to Try on the San Francisco Bay

Photo by Tim Porter

Considering our county is surrounded by water, many of us get a visual of the shoreline every day. And aren’t we lucky, as research shows such beautiful views have their positive mood-lifting effects. But for those who are ready to up the ante, the bay offers plenty of opportunities for physical exercise, from the newly popular stand-up paddle-boarding to the ancient sport of sailing. As daylight saving time kicks in, we’re taking inspiration from these three local water sports enthusiasts, who share with us their versions of aquatic paradise.

1. A Life in Sails

It was the freedom and independence of sailing that first hooked Seadon Wijsen, an eight-time national champion, on the sport. As the middle child in his family, he became his dad’s default boating buddy and never looked back. “I liked sailing early on, because I was respected more like an adult when I knew how to sail,” he recalls, “which is a nice feeling to have when you’re a kid.”

Wijsen gained further confidence and experience as a preteen crewing on racing boats and skippering his own El Toro, an eight-foot dinghy, on which he secured his first of many trophies in a regatta at Lake Merritt. He kept sailing in college as a top skipper on the UC Berkeley sailing team and continued to race regularly, including five Transpacs (S.F. to Hawaii) as well as international competitions in Asia, New Zealand and Europe. He has also worked in the sailing industry for the past two decades, most recently as a sales and marketing manager for North Sails in Sausalito. These days, rarely does a week go by without Wijsen getting on a boat, whether to practice for a race or just enjoy the day with Andrea, his wife.

“It is not always easy to just get out on a boat if you don’t know someone who sails,” Wijsen acknowledges. “It really is about networking. There are always a number of boat owners looking for crew here in S.F., whether for day-sailing or racing.” He suggests checking local yacht club websites or resources like the national magazine Latitude 38, published in Mill Valley. For those needing to learn the ropes (or sheets), he highly recommends the local sailing schools. “There are a lot of good schools and youth programs here in the San Francisco Bay Area that offer boats for charter after [you pass] certain skill levels, as well as yacht clubs that feature winter or summer evening racing series, in which the competitors are looking for crew.”

How to get started:

Modern Sailing School and Club, 415.331.8250, Sausalito
Marin Sailing School
Club Nautique, 415.332.8001, Sausalito
San Francisco Yacht Club, Belvedere, 415.435.9133
Tiburon Yacht Club, 415.789.9294, Tiburon (Paradise Cay)
Sausalito Yacht Club, 415.332.7400

2. Need for Speed

While colorful windsurfers have dotted the bay for a few decades, in recent years pink, orange and blue kites have joined the nylon parade. One of those red sails belongs to Colleen Coyle, who works in Larkspur as a mortgage broker with Bank of America, somewhat close to a popular windsurfing spot. Coyle started windsurfing back when she lived in Chicago but converted to kite surfing after moving to the Bay Area about three years ago. “Kiting and windsurfing the bay is so scenic and beautiful,” she says. “You just hear the wind and the water under you, and the occasional foghorn. It’s tranquil and exciting at the same time. It constantly reminds me that life is pretty darn good.” While both activities “are individual sports—[it’s] just you and your board—it’s extremely communal activity, as everyone on the water is enjoying the wind together,” she says. “Even if you are just waiting for wind, people are on the beach together and sharing all the details of their last great session.”

She also appreciates the exercise and the challenge of mastering new moves. “Once you get the basics down, you can quickly progress to learn jumps, tricks, wave riding or racing and push yourself to the next level.” Coyle tries to get on the water every weekend in the summer and also on weekdays if wind and workload allow. “The great thing about the Bay Area is that it’s always windy somewhere,” she notes. “It depends on the wind and what type of riding you want. Crissy [Field] is the most scenic, Third Avenue [South Bay]  is more consistent wind, Alameda is great for learning, Wadell down in Santa Cruz area has great waves, and Ocean Beach can be pretty exciting, but unforgiving, so you need to know what you’re doing out there.” Coyle advises always going with a buddy. “Admittedly, the sport can be a bit intimidating at first, so it’s good to have some moral support and someone to watch out for you.”

How to get started:

Boardsports School and Shop, 415.385.1224
The Delta Windsurf and Watersports Company, 916.777.2299
Saint Francis Yacht Club, 415.563.6363
Live2Kite, 415.924.9463

3. Surf’s Up

Riding the wave of the stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) craze, Stephen Pugh opened Bluerush Boardsports in Sausalito last April. The surfer and real estate broker figured the timing and location were right. “What better place to open a SUP business than Marin, with its incredible bodies of water to support the world’s fastest-growing water sport?” he rhetorically inquires. While many folks paddleboard in the ocean, including off Stinson and Bolinas, Pugh enjoys the water right near his shop. “The SUP rides on Richardson Bay are awesome,” he notes. “You can check out the houseboats and marinas while the seals are checking out you. Going north, you can cruise up to East Blithedale in Mill Valley at high tide or past the homes along Strawberry Spit. Going south, you can enjoy the Sausalito shoreline all the way up to the Golden Gate Bridge.”

The sport is a family affair: Pugh’s wife, Ravee, and seven-year-old daughter, Jiji, are also on board. Jiji just won her first paddleboarding race, which happened to be in one of the Bluerush Boardsports–sponsored competitions. Pugh holds semi-regular races based in Sausalito that attract SUP-ers from around the state. Besides for the community and competitive fun, Pugh says he paddles for pleasure, fitness and peace of mind: “It feels special, [and] at the same time I know I’m getting a great workout.”

How to get started:

Bluerush Boardsports, 415.339.9112, Sausalito
Sea Trek, 415.332.8494, Sausalito
ProofLab, 415.380.8900, Mill Valley
Outback Adventures, 415.461.2222, Corte Madera

Mimi Towle

Mimi Towle has been the editor of Marin Magazine for over a decade. She lived with her family in Sycamore Park and Strawberry and thoroughly enjoyed raising two daughters in the mayhem of Marin’s youth sports; soccer, swim, volleyball, ballet, hip hop, gymnastics and many many hours spent at Miwok Stables. Her community involvements include volunteering at her daughter’s schools, coaching soccer and volleyball (glorified snack mom), being on the board of both Richardson Bay Audubon Center. Currently residing on a floating home in Sausalito, she enjoys all water activity, including learning how to steer a 6-person canoe for the Tamalpais Outrigger Canoe Club. Born and raised in Hawaii, her fondness for the islands has on occasion made its way into the pages of the magazine.