Kiteboarding Travel Guide: Santa Cruz and Bay Area, USA - Destinations EP 20




Spot at a Glance 

QUICK CONTACTS

Calikites (Gear) - https://www.calikites.com/

Wind Over Water (Lessons at 3rd Ave) http://wowkiteboarding.com/kiteboarding-lessons/

Kite The Bay (Boat Lessons in SF) https://www.kitethebay.com/

Boardsports California (lessons in Alameda) https://boardsportscalifornia.com/kiteboarding/lessons-2/

Sherman Island Kite Spot Guide http://www.mackiteboarding.com/news/-kiteboarding-travel-guide-sherman-island-california-usa-destinations-ep-15/

WIND BY SEASON

Summer is prime time for kiting in Santa Cruz and San Francisco's Bay Area. With at least 10 kite spots available to the experienced kiteboarder, you can get a session in almost any day of summer if you're willing to drive 1-3 hours. Waddell Creek is the kite spot close to Santa Cruz where the wind blows most summer afternoons. If there's no wind on the coast, that often means that there's wind inland, so check spots like Alameda or Sherman Island. While there can be wind in other parts of the year, the best conditions for kiting are between April and September. Bring a warm wetsuit and watch the forecast!

WAVES

The Northern and Central California coast are well known for their 1st class wave riding conditions. Waddell Creek near Santa Cruz is about as close as it gets to a pure wave spot, and the best beach to start if you're looking for waves. This is an intermediate to advanced spot. While you can bring a twintip here, you'll want to brush up on how right-of-way rules apply to waves. Remember that a kiter that is riding a wave has right of way!! This is one of the best spots in the USA for wave riding action, so bring your directional! There are several other wave spots along the coast suitable for advanced to expert riders, but be cautious of the cold water and heavy waves.

SLICKS

There are a few kite spots in the Bay Area where you can get a (mostly) flatwater session in. Many of these spots can be choppy depending on the amount of wind and the direction. If you want to get away from the waves, check out San Mateo, Alameda, Pittsburgh, or Sherman Island. It's likely that you'll find fellow kiters on the spot, so don't be afraid to ask for advice before you get on the water. The launching conditions all over the Bay Area can be dangerous, so kiters that are below intermediate to advanced level should kite with a buddy!

BEGINNER

Waddell Creek, Crissy Field, and all of the other ocean spots on the Northern California coast are not beginner friendly. The Northern California coastline has some heavy, ocean conditions and should be approached with caution. However, there are plenty of reliable kite schools in the Northern California area that do lessons at other sports within a 1-3 hour drive of Santa Cruz. If you'd like to do lessons near the Golden Gate Bridge in the heart of San Francisco, get in touch with Kite The Bay. Closer to San Mateo, you can reach out to Wind Over Water for lessons at 3rd Ave.

ALTERNATIVE ACTIVITIES

There are endless activities other than kitesurfing in Santa Cruz and all around the Bay Area. There is always something going on in San Francisco, from sporting events to cultural events to live music and art, you will not be bored. For those that prefer the outdoors, there's incredible hikes, breathtaking scenery, surfing, cycling, and more. If you're ready for a relaxing beachy holiday, you can't go wrong with wandering the shopping streets in the surf city of Santa Cruz, and food and drinks with a view anywhere on the coast. See our travel guide below for recommendations.

ACCESSIBILITY

There are several airports that provide access to kiteboarding in the Bay Area and Santa Cruz, including San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. A rental car is absolutely essential - especially if you want to explore all of the kite spots in the area and enjoy some amazing scenery. For the experienced kiter, there's a minimum of 10 different spots to ride within a 2 hour drive of San Francisco.

Spot Guide 

The west coast of the United States is as beautiful as it is varied, with kite spots all the way from the North border to the South. Now.. California has always had the reputation for being a surfer's paradise, but it's also an awesome spot to go kiteboarding.

In this edition of Destinations, we're exploring some of California greatest kite spots around Santa Cruz and the San Francisco Bay Area!

San Francisco is an incredible Destination, whether we're talking about kiteboarding or not. In the city where technology and creativity meet, you can't help but be inspired. From the lush forests of Marin County, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and further south along the surf coast all the way to Santa Cruz... you'll never run out of things to do. And with at least 10 kite spots within a 2 hour drive of the city and all kinds of riding conditions, this is a must visit for the experienced kiteboarder.

In this article, we'll give you a brief introduction on kiteboarding in the Bay Area and Santa Cruz, with some handy need to know before you go information.

WINDY SEASON

Summer is prime time for kiting in Santa Cruz and the San Francisco Bay Area, but finding the right spot to ride is always the key. You can get a session in almost any day of summer if you're willing to drive up to 3 hours - or a whole lot more if you really mistime it with traffic! While there can be wind in other parts of the year, the best conditions for kiting are between April and September.


The wind conditions can vary greatly from spot to spot, so this is an area where it's important to watch the forecast and be prepared for anything. If you're planning a trip and want the highest probability of a session, bring gear that will work for anything from 10 to 30 knots. Expect difficult and gusty conditions in the kite spots closest to the city, and much more steady wind in the less built up areas.

The average wind speed in the summer is about 18 knots with wind blowing most afternoons in the summer, but the weather and location are critical. Be ready to change up your location to get the conditions you want. Sometimes when there's no wind at the coast, it means spots further inland like Sherman Island and Alameda may be on fire. The opposite can also apply, when the forecast is light inland, spots like Waddell Creek close to Santa Cruz are probably working!

As far as weather and temperature, you want to be ready for any kind of weather. Summer in San Francisco can bring incredibly cold temperatures so bring a jacket! Water temperature on the coast spots is also very cold, so a 5/4 wetsuit is recommended. Further inland and in spots like Sherman Island, the water and weather is much warmer - you can sometimes get a bikini and board shorts session in!

LAUNCH SPOTS

In our video spot guide, we've covered the basics on spots like Crissy Field and Waddell Creek, so we'll start with a bit more detail on those spots and an intro to other spots in the area.

Before you kite in the Bay Area, it's good to know that most of these spots can present very difficult and dangerous conditions both on the beach and on the water. Many of these spots are for advanced to expert riders and the local riders really want to protect their beaches. While many of these spots are on the 'must kite' list for a lot of kiters, preparation is critical.


Crissy Field is one of those 'bucketlist' kite spots. and kiteboarding under the iconic Golden Gate Bridge with the sparkling city of San Francisco in front of you is a dream for many kiters. However, this would be considered an expert only kite spot and one that should be approached with great caution. While looking attractive from the small sandy beachfront, the water can be swirly and dangerous and the wind can be extremely light near the beach. Making it back to the sandy beach is essential, so be ready for some crafty kite and board tactics and possibly even a small swim to get back in. There is a lot of commercial ship traffic and some of the boats can create even more difficult conditions with massive wind shadows or wakes. Many of the local kiters ride with a PFD, VHF radio, and a strong knowledge of the tides. If you're not an expert level rider, the safest way to ride this spot is with boat support which is offered by companies like Kite The Bay. This spot is super popular amongst foilers, so if you're a foil nut, this is a great place to ride. Those on a directional and twin tip can also enjoy this spot, but the lighter conditions near the shore make it more difficult for twin tippers.

Waddell Creek near Santa Cruz may be one of the best wave spots on the west coast of the USA. There are incredible cliffs dropping off into the Pacific Ocean and epic swells when the forecast is good. This is about as close as it gets to a pure wave spot and the best beach to start at if you're looking for waves. At Waddell, you've got side onshore waves that are perfect for regular (left foot forward) riders. If it's a good wave session you want, you should keep an eye on the forecast, because the swell forecast can make a big difference for your session! You might even consider leaving your twin tip at home here. Be ready for cold water and heavy waves. Always prepare for the swim back to the beach, not for the session! It wouldn't hurt to speak with some locals on the beach before you get out on the water.. Knowing right of way rules for wave riding is absolutely essential when riding here. Right of way rules for waves is very different to right of way rules on a twin tip. The last thing you want to do is get in the way of a local kitesurfer on a wave.

Here's the basics on wave riding right of way to keep in mind:

-Kiters on a starboard tack (right shoulder or foot forward) have right of way

-Kiters on a wave have right of way over riders that are not on a wave (even riders on a starboard tack). Remember, kiters on a wave may be riding fast on a downwind tack and changing direction quickly, so turn back if you see a rider who is on a wave

-First kiter on the wave has the right of way on the wave... do not drop in!

-If a kiter is going out from the beach and into the breaking waves, they usually have right of way over even a rider on the wave, because they are in a higher risk zone trying to get out over the waves. If you're outgoing from the beach and you see a rider on a wave ahead of you, they may or may not yield right of way... so be sure to time your tack out appropriately just in case

-It's always the riders responsibility to avoid a collision, so even if you should have right of way, you may have to give it up in the interest of safety!

Ocean Beach in San Francisco is also a spot that offers wave riding conditions with the convenience of a kite spot that is close to the city. Here, there is a huge sandy beach and a long beachfront. The waves here are often disorganized and there are a lot of strong rips and currents. This is another spot that is for experienced watermen and strong swimmers only. Be prepared with the appropriate safety equipment for heavy water conditions.

3rd Avenue is closer to San Mateo and an easy drive from the city. This is definitely the busiest spot close to the city, and offers nearly flat or choppy water (in strong wind). This spot works well for intermediate riders, however excellent kite control is a requirement here - like in every spot in the Bay Area. You can rig up your gear on a carpeted area, but after you launch you'll have to walk a ways and down a slippery ramp to get into the water. Speak to the locals on the spot before you get out on the water - they'll be able to point out the emergency exit spots downwind in case you run into trouble. This is a great spot to do lessons, so you can connect with kite schools like Wind Over Water, Kite 415, KGB Kiteboarding, and several others that work in the area. This is a great spot for your first kite session in the Bay Area, especially if you're going solo and want to link up with some other kiters!

Alameda is another spot that works for riders of nearly every level with waist deep water. From the city, drive across the bridge to Alameda Beach where there's a stretch of sandy beach where you can pump up and ride. There are posted rules for kiteboarding in this spot, so make sure to read and respect the rules!! You can also chat to any of the local riders on the spot for help with launching and landing and any inside info that you may want before you get on the water. Expect semi flat to lightly choppy water with warmer water conditions than the California coast. If you're looking for kite lessons, Boardsports California are the crew to contact for this spot.

Pittsburg is a lesser known spot that's only about an hour from downtown San Francisco, but offers some nice conditions in a unique environment. Drive into Riverview Park and walk out onto the rocky spit which is also the launch area. This is a spot where you definitely need a kite buddy to help with launch and landing in the tight space. Perfect kite control is ideal here as there are lots of rock and obstacles in the launch area. You'll have to walk down a concrete ramp but step carefully as it can get slippery. You also need to be able to get back to your takeoff point, or you'll be facing a very difficult swim and hike back to town through tall grass. In this spot, knowledge of the ebb and flood tides is essential. What looks like an 18 knot day can turn into an apparent wind of 6 knots or 30 knots based on how fast the water is moving and which direction. This is a spot that is ideal for foilers who can float above the moving water.

Sherman Island is about 2 hours drive from San Francisco and is a spot that we have covered in a previous edition of Destinations. This spot has a difficult launch, but amazing conditions once you're on the water. Check out the detailed spot guide here.

There are several other beaches that are kiteable in the California Bay Area, but we'll leave those spots up to you to discover! As always, practice caution and don't be afraid to ask for help on the beach.

TRAVEL GUIDE

TRAVEL

Fly into San Francisco (SFO), San Jose (SJC), or Oakland (OAK) and rent a car. A rental car is necessary to experience the kite spots in the area.

You'll want to practice a high level of travel awareness in the Bay Area, where car break-ins are frequent. Do not leave any valuables in the car anywhere in the Bay Area, and keep your personal belongings out of sight.

ACCOMMODATION

Hotels are usually the simplest option in and around the Bay Area, however the prices can be very expensive at peak times. Expect to pay close to $100 per night for the cheapest hotels and up to and over $300 per night for nicer spots. There are also several AirBNB options available.

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Without a doubt, these are some of the most incredible kite spots in America. For the experienced kiteboarder, you can be sure to have some unforgettable kiteboarding experiences here. Don't forget to check out the video spot guide for a visual introduction to a couple of the spots in the area.

If you have any questions about kiting in northern California and the appropriate gear to bring, send us a message here on the chat or reach out to me on Facebook or Instagram.

We look forward to sharing the next Destination with you.


Crystal Veness

Duotone Kites USA team rider and a MACkite team rider. Originally from Canada, she now calls the entire world her home, playground, and her workplace. She goes where the wind blows - so if you see her at a kite beach somewhere in the world, say hello! Her primary goal is to share her love of kiteboarding and travel and all the lessons learned along the way with the world.

Website: CrystalVeness.com

Instagram: @crystalintl

Facebook: Crystal Veness

Written and produced by Ryan (Rygo) Goloversic and Crystal Veness

27th Sep 2019 Crystal Veness

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