Windsurfing doctor Juan Vargas thrives on freestyling on the Bay 

After spending his day in labor and delivery, Dr. Juan Vargas prescribes for himself a dose of windsurfing.

Vargas, the chief of obstetrics at San Francisco General Hospital, may head to Candlestick Park, Crissy Field, Treasure Island or the Berkeley Marina, depending on where the Bay’s breezes are ideal.

With 18-20 knot winds, the conditions were optimal for the freestyle portion of the U.S. Windsurfing Nationals in July at the Berkeley Marina.

The elder statesman in the local freestyle windsurfing scene, Vargas, 47, was pleased with his sixth-place finish at the nationals.

“It was great fun for me. It was a little intimidating in that I never competed in a freestyle event before,” said Vargas, who missed the 2010 Windsurfing Nationals held at the St. Francis Yacht Club, the first official competition featuring freestyle windsurfing.

Comparing his sport to skateboarding, BMX racing and freestyle skiing, Vargas performed a move every 20 seconds during the 7-minute heats.

“It’s about the elegance, fluidity and complexity of the tricks,” Vargas said. “You want to stick with the tricks that you know that you can land.”

One of those tricks with “silly names” is the Spock 540, a move that involves sliding backwards on the board with a simultaneous spinning component.

“It took me 400 attempts before I landed my first Spock,” Vargas said. “The sensation the first time that you land one of these tricks is phenomenal.”

A competitive tennis and soccer player in his native Chile, Vargas and his family moved, due to political reasons, to Venezuela in 1975 and a few years later to suburban Washington, D.C.

Living near the Potomac River, Vargas recalls that he “got the bug for adrenaline-rush sports.” He became an avid rock climber and kayaker, dabbled a bit in surfing and tried windsurfing when he was 17.

Vargas didn’t return to the sport again until he was 35. He was completing his residence training at UCSF — where he remains today as a faculty member — and was having trouble sleeping during the day after working all night.

He exchanged the tossing and turning in bed for the Bay and soon was hooked on the sport.

The windsurfing doc thrives on the camaraderie among his peers on the water, how they cheer when the others land big tricks.


Hitting the waves

WINDSURFING MECCAS: San Francisco Bay, Maui and the Columbia Gorge (60 miles east of Portland)

FREESTYLE WINDSURFING: Involves moves out of the water: achieving air, spinning and gliding tricks.

VARGAS AT NATIONALS: Placed sixth in freestyle windsurfing at the recent U.S. nationals in Berkeley

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David Liepman

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