wing foil crissy field

Crissy Field has a reputation as one of the toughest places to sail on San Francisco Bay, and it has earned it. With that said it may surprise you that Crissy can actually be the best place to learn to Wing Foil in the Bay Area. The key to sailing Crissy Field safely is all about information, planning, proper preparation and staying in the Kiddie pool!!! (photo by Bryan Mcdonald)

In fact, if you have sailed here for a long time you know about Larry Russo. For over 20 years Larry taught literally hundreds of women to windsurf right here at Crissy Field. While Larry was a Crissy expert in most cases he was teaching first-timers who had never done any sailing at all. The byproduct  or Larry's labors can still be seen today with a strong contigent of female sailors gracing the water. 

While Crissy can be a spot to learn it’s definitely not a spot for unsupervised first-timers or total beginners. Taking Wing Foiling lessons is a really important first step. Shortcutting the process of taking a few lessons is only asking for trouble. Learning any new water sport is not a trivial undertaking and this one is in 3D. Throw in the fact that Crissy is a dynamic & difficult place that demands doing the work before just showing up. Getting a few days under your belt somewhere more friendly is also important to acquire some basic skills. Setting up your gear, Launching, landing, and having a solid ability to paddle your board and wing together (self-rescue) are important skills that don’t involve sailing, and can be learned in a few days.

Learn About Our Wingfoil Lessons Here

What makes putting the effort into learning at Crissy special is that the wind is just so darn dependable. One of the secret ingredients to successfully wing foiling is simply TOW. Time on the water; and Crissy is the most consistent spot to get it. 

Crissy field

Gear is of course a key factor in success. A 4/3 Full wetsuit is the minimum and we also recommend 3mm booties. Booties are key to supporting the walking strategy we are about to share later. Booties also help for those longer walks when things don’t go as planned. A good helmet and impact vest are also essential as well as quality leashes for both wing and board. We recommend starting with no harness and no foot straps to keep things simple.

As a function of safety please make sure you have your name and phone number written on any of your gear that floats. Boards, Wings, Vests, and Helmets; All of it. Marine radios are a good call in general for Crissy, but strictly following this strategy does make them optional. Due to the consistently strong winds smaller front foils and smaller wings may make sense but we don't want to go down the rabbit hole on gear talk so give us a call at the shop to walk through the right setup for you.

To make things even easier we also have full Wing Foiling Kits available for Rental & Demo. We understand that buying big learner gear only to outgrow it 6 months later is another problem. To help out we have created a trade-down program to help make your entry into the sport less hassle.

Ideally for learning to Wing Foil, you’d like it as flat as possible and on most days that’s not Crissy. So here are two critical tips

  • Stay in the Kiddie Pool!
  • Know your tides & weather for the whole day.

Kiddie Pool

B - This is the main bathroom at Crissy Fields East Beach.

P1 - This is the recommended parking place. The area is grassy and it shortens the distance you have to carry your gear to get to the Kiddie Pool,

P2 - Park at Sports Basement on the street/warehouse side and access the Kiddie Pool directly. If the tide is ebbing this spot may save you some walking. It may however end up the same walk as parking at P1 just at the end of your day instead of the beginning.

P3 - This is really the highest upwind launch and gives you the most time to sail. The first 1000 feet are very light and gusty. It's a great spot to launch a stand up paddleboard and wing setup from here. It is almost impossible to return to this spot without walking.

TP - This is a good spot for Taxi practice. The wind is not strong enough to foil but good enough to just sail around.

PS - This is the Presidio Shoal Marker. It's a 15 ft tall telephone pole-like object with a red triangular placard with the number 2 on it. This marks the outside edge of being able to safely paddle back to shore on your own power. Passing Presidio shoal, or sailing anywhere outside the sweet spot is for intermediate to advanced sailors only.

AR - Anita Rock. A large concrete tower just off Crissy’s West Beach. Passing by Anita Rock signals you need to be working REALLY HARD to get to shore or you may end up at LD.

St Francis Yacht Club - To the western side of the St. Fyc cits a small beach we call little marina green. It's a safe sandy exit with a pretty easy walk back to Crissy. Once you are past this beach and headed eastward there is no way to get out of the water until Last Ditch. Passing little Marina Green is your notice the trouble is getting more serious. 

LD - Last Ditch Beach. The Wave Organ. A sandy beach with a treacherous set of riprap boulders. If you end up here be careful climbing out. It's called last ditch for a reason. If you get pushed past here you really need to start thinking about a boat-based rescue. There is really no egress from the water that is easy to get to. At this point, you need to seriously think about drawing the attention of a boat and or calling in for assistance. Good thing you already wrote your name and phone number on any gear you may need to ditch.

Now let's talk about tides. The Ebb or Outgoing Tides are good as the tide is helping keep you in the sweet spot longer. It's important to stay in the Kiddie Pool still as going outside of it you risk being sucked out the Golden Gate. The easterly moving tide is offsetting the westerly moving wind literally holding you in the sweet spot. The downside to this is of course significantly rougher water conditions.

The Flood or Incoming tide creates a much flatter and consistent learning surface with one unfortunate consequence. You get pushed out of the Kiddie Pool much quicker. We recommend days with light flood tides giving you a balance of flat water and a good time in the Kiddie Pool. Using a tide tool, like our favorite the BASK Trip Planner, it's important to do your homework and understand the entire day's tide cycle. Then start scouring the calendar for “good days'' with light incoming flood tides in the afternoon.

So now that you have found the perfect days to get on the water just what is the secret to using Crissy Field to learn? WALKING! The diagram above gives you three parking options with 3 corresponding strategies to support them.

P1 - Park at Crissy Field East Beach. Find a grassy rigging area in the westernmost end of the parking lot. This saves walking distance. Rig up and then walk along the beach with all your gear until you get to the top (westernmost) of the Sweet Spot to launch. As you are pushed downwind remember to return to the beach before you exit the Kiddie Pool and then yes WALK it back to the top. Repeat!

P2 - The sports basement parking lot. This changes the walk from the beginning of the day to the end of the day.

P3 - When I first started I rigged my gear here at Crissy Field West Beach.Then drove my car to East Beach and walked all the way back. This strategy maximizes sailing time. If you have a friend you can car convoy with, even better. The first quarter mile of the route is simple sailing with foiling really not possible until you enter the TP section. The TP Area is great for practicing simply taxing around off foil. This is also a great way to start your journey with a WingSUP.

With all these locations, car break-ins are rampant so do not leave wallets, backpacks, phones, or other items in plain sight. They will eventually get stolen.

Sailing with a buddy is also a great way to increase safety. By staying in the Sweet Spot and making all efforts to return to shore when you are not you should have enough buffer to get out of the water safely. If you do happen to get pushed past Crissy’s East Beach you still have 2 shots to get out safely. Shot #1 is the Little Marina Green Beach just in front of the St Francis Yacht Club. Shot #2 is marked on the map as LD - aka Last Ditch Beach (The wave organ). Going past Last Ditch is usually going to be a boat rescue so don't miss it as there really is no place to get out of the water past that point.

We hope this gives you the tools to go do your own homework and start preparing to sail Crissy. It truly is one of the world’s most iconic wing foiling spots so putting in the effort is well worth it. Give us a call at 415-524-8492 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any questions.

Crissy Field wing foil