Our community is mourning the loss of Jean Rathle. Below is a heartfelt message from a friend of Jean Rathle.
Remembering Jean,

It's very hard to put in words the sadness I have for the passing of my friend Jean. Jean was my best friend. But I was not his, and I suspect many of you are in the same boat. Jean just had too much spirit for me, or any one person. Our connection was based strongly around all things water. A shared love for being on, in, or around the water that is, we both believed, inherently programmed in our DNA. In fact Jean was convinced, and I think science backs him up, we are all just “Fish out of Water”. Well, Jean spent his life trying to crawl back in. Freud may have something to say about that, but that’s another letter. 

I met Jean in the mid 90’s, and while I am not sure of the exact date, I know for sure it was at Crissy Field. For what we loved to do together, Crissy field was like Disneyland to us. Disneyland with no ride operators! Just such a special place to go to crawl back in. Surfing & Sailing all at our front door and free parking too! With respect to his water life, if I had to pick one label to put on Jean, it would be that of Sailor. You see he did not see it as Kiteboarding or Windsurfing. It’s not Winging, it's all just Sailing.

While you will hear much about his prowess as an athlete, I think the part he loved most was seeing others partaking in the ways of the wind. His desire to share these experiences with friends was more important than the experiences themselves. Whether it was the Crissy Field Slalom Series, the Desert Sailingman events, or just recruiting a passerby in the parking lot, for him the enjoyment came from doing it as a tribe.

As much as we loved Crissy we often took our act on the road. Our range was Bodega Bay to Waddell Creek. Our shared “swiss army knife” philosophy around what gear to play with was based on translating that day’s forecast into the right gear to use. Key to the swiss army knife approach is having all your gear with you all the time; like me Jean was a “Van Guy”. And his Van was particularly well stocked. He was constantly tweaking his gear and quickly exploring any new technology that popped up. He could do this because over the years he literally built his own wholesale distribution network. He cut deals with vendors to keep himself fully stocked and always on the cutting edge, and in return he would feature them on the beach. I know in particular he would want me to thank especially Steve and Marty Gottlieb for all the support over the years following him from Florida all the way to SF. If a piece of gear did not work for him he was skilled at selling it for top dollar after years of building a network of customers. Even if he did like a piece of gear it was always for sale because next year's gear would already be in his line of sight. His mountain of gear grew so large he literally became his own Swap Meet. To this day if you see an Exocet or Kona Branded board or Aerotech Sail there is 95% chance you can trace it back to Jean. 

Given this love of gear you can imagine the twinkle in his eye when I told him my dream “I think I want to start a windsurfing shop.” Jean was the mutual friend that introduced me to Cort Larned that made that dream come true.  Once plans were finalized to make the shop a reality Jean was one of the first people on site with a hammer in hand. He was a skilled craftsman at his trade an he literally helped build the store into what it is today. I can honestly say without him it would not be there. 

Jean was a competitor. With that said, what Jean loved most about competition was the camaraderie that came with it. The bonding that occurs when a group of people propel themselves forward using competition as a tool. And also a damn good excuse to share a beer together after. He won many paddle and wind races but one that sticks out to me was the 13 Mile Ride the tide SUP race that required all the skills of a waterman. The day featured a highly unusual forecast of 30 knot winter winds from the south. It was definitely pushing the envelope of what is safe conditions for racing. While clearly you need to be fit to SUP 13 miles that particular race you needed to know your seamanship. Big biceps were no match for calling proper lay lines, playing the back eddies, and surviving the gnarliest voodoo chop San Francisco Bay could throw at you. He crushed it. Half the racers never even finished. His first place finish in the St Francis Yacht Club Slalom Windsurfing season series, at my expense, was one he was particularly proud of, but there were many more. Jean was not necessairily a "natural" at things. He was an excellent athlete who applied deliberate effort, and lots of it, to constantly improve.  

Jean wasn’t really a funny guy as in a good joke man, but he really enjoyed just being silly. While there are so many stories to tell I tried to think of one that captured as much of Jean in one story as possible and that was at our SF Giants SUP Races. The Waterman, The Silly Guy, and The Family man all rolled into one. The idea was to promote 101 Surf Sports we‘d hold SUP races in McCovey Cove. We’d do a short SUP sprint race that the Giants could show on the Jumbotron between innings to entertain the crowd. The entertaining part was that we would dress in silly costumes and knock each other in the water. He was of course all in. I can only imagine when he took this idea to his son Shane. “All you have to do is paddle a little and I push you in the bay - at night.” But he’s a Rathle and Shane was into it! While we did many of these races together, one particular race was on “Will Clark Day''. The Giants mascot Lou Seal often paddled with us. Yes the guy in that costume is quite the athlete and can SUP in it! There were two rules when we raced with Lou. #1 Don’t get Lou wet. #2 The Seal wins. Well it was Will Clark night and we as a team conspired ahead of time that Will Clark needs to win it on Will Clark night. Lucky for Jean he got to play Will which meant A - he wasn’t going to be pushed in the water and B - he got to take down the Seal. Listening to a grown man in a Seal costume cursing his defeat as he paddled back to the stadium was a “thrill” I will never forget.  

I have thought a few times to myself that at least he died doing what he loved. And while there is some truth to that, I think if died doing what he really loved, he would have died on Halloween. I know dressing up in costume with his family for a night of revelry with friends was his happiest place on earth. We shared many stories of our kids over the years who were about the same age. One common theme I can share with them was that when we did talk about his kids it was often about their art. Whether it was digital or mixed media he was more than proud of their work.  

This past weekend we celebrated Jean with a community flying of the sails. Windsurfers, Kiters, and Foilers all coming together to send our love to the man and his family. Like a blessing from above as the ceremony concluded the westerly wind kicked in out of nowhere. Despite the fact that it wasn’t in the forecast, a warm 20 mph wind blew for about 2 hours as the sun set behind the Golden Gate. We were all treated to some of the finest spring sailing Crissy has to offer - in the dead of winter. It was awesome, and just what he would have wanted.

I am blessed to know exactly how Jean would want me to process his passing. In fact he reminded me regularly on almost** every email with the same saying “Sail On!” 

I will miss him dearly. I send my love to all his family and friends. Smooth sailing from here Z, I loved you like a brother. 
David Wells
** Sometimes - Paddle on