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It's best to avoid floating into the rocks at 3rd. I did that too and lost a set of lines when they got tangled in the rocks. Getting in at low tide isn't fun, but it's much better to slog through mud than to get pounded into the rocks by the swell. It's just too easy to damage your equipment or yourself that way. The wind shadow at the lower launch doesn't matter because you would have had to self rescue at Alameda if you went downwind, so self rescuing into the lower launch means at least you maybe had some actual wind before you had to hit the beach.
I totally agree with Nick. I spent way too much time at Alameda with just enough wind to fly the kite but not enough to go upwind or learn much of anything except self rescue, over and over again. So go to Alameda, do some body dragging, learn to get up and ride, self rescue a few times when you end up downwind, and then hit 3rd Ave at low tide.
Also, for the Go Joe haters that might chime in - there's no substitute for being able to body drag to your board. You have to learn that skill right away. But the Go Joe allows you to locate it visually much easier and that alone saves huge amounts of time that you could be using more productively than dragging back and forth in a search pattern.
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Alameda is a great sport of learning but, as mentioned, it has a very high skunk rate. When the wind is good it can get very crowded especially on a weekend.
The Bay Bridge Toll Plaza is pretty safe. Best to stay in the large area right in front of the beach. The wind might be a little more cooperative than Alameda.
If you don't mind the drive and the air temperature Bodega Bay is probably the safest place around. Ankle to chest high water. Hard sandy bottom. Check the tides. Optimum is over 4' and flooding,otherwise it's a long walk to the deeper water and getting slammed can be painful.
Bodega overpowered was the first time I stayed upwind. I crashed a lot too but had so much power to use I gained back upwind progress very quickly.
I suggest booties as the little shell pieces will open up microcuts and you'll end up with tons of clay-like sand embedded in your foot.
You still should wait to go there until you've got some skill getting up and riding plus strong kite skills as the gusts can be brutal here and launching/landing was much harder than Alameda but a great practice for 3rd.
Helmet isn't a requirement but they seem to be getting more and more common on the beach. Usually when you fall in the water, your feet have a tendency to push your board away from you if it comes off the straps, but if you push it into the wind, it'll sometimes send it back at you. Mostly it's a good measure for launching and landing, where your most likely to come between a rock and a hard place.
Make sure you're getting a water sport specific helmet as throwing on a foam-filled bike helmet can cause more damage impacting the water, than no helmet at all.
I started out with the helmet, like all beginners should, then abandoned it after I got "good," then went back to wearing it which I do every time. It's really not that much of an inconvenience and I figure the first time I get that little ding in the noggin, I'll wonder how much worse it would've been without the helmet and be glad I got back in the habit.
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