Frequently Asked Questions about Kiteboarding in the Bay Area
When is the sailing season?
For most people, the kiteboarding (sailing) season usually starts in March with the advent of Daylight-Savings-Time; and it is usually reliable into September/October. During this period you can sail almost every day if you are willing to do a little driving. Winds during this period will range from the mid-high teens to occasional “nuclear days.” There are many “boardheads” in the windsurfing and Kiteboarding communities that sail all year long! That will require sailing before, during and after winter storms, which usually results in gusty and sometimes rainy conditions. Additionally, the wind can shut-off with little warning. See below for info on where to sail during storms. Also certain locations (like Crissy Field) can get even flukier wind in the late fall and Aameda is usually windiest in the spring much lighter in the summer.
What are the common wind patterns?
The common wind pattern during the spring and summer is for the coast to be cool and the inland to warm during the day. The temperature gradient also results in a pressure gradient, which drives (or sucks) the wind, causing air to flow from high pressure (cold temps) to low pressure (warm temps). This air flow also contributes to coastal fog in the summer. Once the fog moves in overhead, the wind will drop drastically. If SF and the Peninsula are fogged in head east to Berkeley Alameda or the Delta.
In the spring after a storm front passes we will sometimes get clearing winds as high pressure builds up. These winds can be quite strong and gusty.
How cold is the water and what kind of wetsuit do I need?
At the beginning of the season in March and April, the water in the Bay is quite cold (50 degrees F,) and a full wetsuit, 5/3 or 4/3 is needed. As the weather improves the water warms up so a lighter full wetsuit or a convertible (short sleeves, long legs) can be used at some locations, though it is strongly advised to wear a full wetsuit when sailing in an area affected by Bay currents. If you spend a lot of time in the water or will kite far from shore a very warm wetsuit is recommended. An equipment breakdown can result in spending a long time in the water and hypothermia can set-in rapidly. Kiting the coast and Crissy at any time of the year requires a heavy-full wetsuit.
What size kites do I need?
The typical Bay Area kite quiver depends a lot upon ones size, weight and kiteboarding ability. On average, a quiver might contain three or four kites ranging from 5 sq. meters up to 13, 14 or 15. For example, a small woman of intermediate ability might carry three kites: a 5, a 7 and a 9; whereas a man of intermediate ability and medium build might carry a 9, 11 and 13. Again, kites might be in even sizes (6, 8, 10, 12…), depending upon a manufacturer’s base surface area. Kite size can also vary a LOT depending on if you are riding a twin tip, surfboard or hydrofoil.
Where can I take lessons?
Many shops offer lessons for first time beginners up to advanced sailors. Information on how to contact them is listed on the Schools page . Great places to learn include Alameda, Shoreline Park, Foster City Lagoon, and at Sherman Island in the Delta with trainer kites. PROPER LESSONS FROM A KITE SCHOOL ARE MANDATORY!!!
Where can I rent or demo equipment?
Most shops have equipment for rent or demo. Note that many shops do not rent wetsuits. Information on how to contact them is listed on the Shops page. Places that you can rent right at the sailing launch include Crown Beach Alameda (Boardsports School), San Francisco (Boardsports School), Coyote Point
Where can I get info on wind conditions?
Where is the best place to kite?
There is no one answer. The great thing about the sailing in SF is the variety of conditions. Everyone has there own favorite places. The Sites page shows the major kiting spots. Alameda, Coyote Point, 3rd Ave and Sherman Island often have great conditions. Crissy Field has spectacular urban scenery and the opportunity to kite near or under the Golden Gate Bridge but is a MUCH more advanced place to ride.. Waddell Creek is one of the main surf and wave kiting spots for Northern California.
Where should I go for storm sailing?
Typical winter storms are accompanied by winds out of the southwest. The two main locations that have good conditions during storms is Alameda and Pillar Point Harbor at Half Moon Bay. Alameda will have big chop and swells, while Pillar Point will have flat water because it is protected by a breakwater. Winter kiting is typically not the best and can be VERY dangerous as the winter wind is very unpredictable Please read the Winter Kiting Guide
How safe is the water?
In general, ocean water is the cleanest. Water quality in the Bay is not bad and you shouldn’t be worried; however it can vary from location to location, it can change with tidal influence (the more mixing and tidal exchange the better the flushing) and one should always observe and consider for themselves whether or not there might be a problem. It is a good idea to have your tetanus booster shot up to date. Also, any cuts should be disinfected with hydrogen peroxide immediately after sailing. The water quality in the Delta may be worse than the Bay because of the runoff of pesticides and fertilizers from the agricultural fields.
After heavy rains the water quality in the Bay can be markedly worse because of runoff from the storm sewers. Also, wastewater collection systems and some treatment plants can discharge partially treated water if its system becomes overloaded because of heavy rainfall. Local agencies will usually post warnings if this occurs. Note that the City of San Francisco is unique in the Bay Area in that it has a combined wastewater and stormwater system, which includes large storage-treatment boxes surrounding the City and two extra dedicated wet-weather treatment plants. During wet weather events (light to heavy rain), with the exception of extreme storms, all the combined wastewater/stormwater receives at least primary treatment and disinfection prior to discharge into the Bay and/or Ocean.
Info specific on the water quality at Crissy Field can be obtained at:
(415) 242-2214 or toll free 1-877-SFBEACH.
Where can I get info on local racing?
The St Francis Yacht Club sponsors kite races every other Thursday during summer months as well as other kite races thru out the year. Check out their Racing Calendar at https://www.stfyc.com
What about the tides?
The tides can give you much grief if you don’t pay attention or have an equipment breakdown. This can result in the “walk of shame”, a long walk carrying your gear back to the launch or a rescue. Normally the best sailing is during an ebb tide, where the water is flowing out of the Bay. Here the current is in the opposite direction of the wind. This increases the apparent wind, makes it easy to stay upwind and can cause big swells. This situation duplicates the typical summer conditions at the Gorge. When the tide is flooding staying upwind will usually require a lot of work. Get a tide table at a shop (they usually have then for free) or check out the tides on web.
Should I be worried about sharks?
There has been only one reported attack by a shark, probably a great white, of a windsurfer. This occurred at Davenport, which is located near Waddell Creek. There are much bigger problems, like drowning, getting tangles in kite lines, getting run over by a boat, etc., than getting attacked by a shark. However, the area from Pt Reyes, to the Farallons to Ana Nuevo (near Waddell) is known as the “red triangle” because of the high concentrations of great whites.
You shouldn’t be worried at all about sharks inside the Bay.
What should I carry in a safety kit?
Sailing far from shore in offshore or sideshore winds can be potentially hazardous in the event of an equipment breakdown. it is always strongly recommended sailing with a buddy. In addition we recommend carrying a safety kit, which should include a spare kite leash, kite line knife, a loud whistle, a waterproof strobe and a waterproof VHF radio. Many of the kite shops carry kite knives and leashes, and marine suppliers such as West Marine (Palo Alto, South SF, Sausalito, Oakland and Alameda) and Svendson’s (Alameda) carry flares and waterproof VHF radios.
Standard Horizon HX150 or similar is what a lot of kiters and sailors use.
Where can I buy or sell used equipment?
BayAreaKiteboarding has a Classifieds Section.
Many shops sponsor swap meets throughout the season. The swaps at the beginning and end of the season are usually the biggest.